Monday, November 26, 2012

India-England test series

Hello friends,

I am back on the blog after a hiatus, caused due to the fact that there was nothing very interesting going on before the England test series, and after the test matches started, I was a little busy to post here. But now I am back and hope to continue posting regularly during India's cricket season.

I just witnessed the pathetic performance of India during the second test match in Mumbai. It is ironical that on a track with lots of spin and bounce from day 1, the famed Indian batting line-up (brought up on such tracks) came apart against the spin bowlers from a country that is famous for seaming, swinging conditions. I seriously hope this is just a blip and not a regular occurence going forward. We definitely missed Dravid and Laxman in this test match. Also it was worrying to see that our spin bowlers could not extract as much life from the track as their English counterparts. At least, they have identified the cause of the batting failure, which is Monty Panesar and the pace that he bowls at. That was definitely the difference between the 2 sides. The English spinners bowled at a much quicker pace and extracted maximum life out of the track by getting the ball to grip and bite the surface every time, whereas the Indian bowlers bowled much slower and as a result, the ball did not grip the surface as much.

The part that concerns me is the fact that we did have 2 spinners out of 3 who can and have bowled at a decent pace - Ashwin and Harbhajan. But for some reason, Ashwin bowled slower than what was needed, and Harbhajan was clearly lacking in confidence that he had in his hey-days. The one other bowler who could have extracted good turn and bounce out of this surface with his pace was Sehwag, but Dhoni once again did not give him much of a bowl at all. These things are pretty obvious even to someone watching from afar like me. This is where the role of the captain and coach come into play. One disturbing trend I am seeing for the past 1-2 years is that we are not able to adapt to conditions on the fly and change plans accordingly. It appears that we are approaching test matches with a fixed mindset and if things change during the match, like we read the pitch wrong, or the opposition produces an unexpectedly good performance, we are not able to adapt and change plans during the match. I blame the captain and coach equally for this. The hallmark of great sides is the ability to read conditions correctly and in case of sudden changes to plan A, the ability to switch to plan B instantly and continue to perform at expected levels.

One immediate example I can state for this is the way South Africa have fought back in both the test matches against Australia in their current series down under. In both games, they started well, but Australia managed to pile on the runs and put them under pressure, but they switched plans mid-way and produced fighting, grinding performances in the second innings to bail themselves out of trouble. People like AB De Villiers and Faf du Plessis, who are natural hitters of the ball, batted on and on and simply blunted the potent Australian attack in testing conditions in the recent test match. I cannot imagine someone like Veeru Sehwag or even MS Dhoni bat in that fashion to save a test match. The point here is not that they should bat slow in such situations, but the fact that they lack the application and dedication needed to produce such a performance.

Ok, enough of dwelling on the past. Lets now look at what we must do to regain control in this test series with England. It is not that difficult a task even after what happened in Mumbai. First of all, I think a couple of changes in the team are due for the next test match. I dont see a place for Harbhajan in this team based on his current form and confidence level. He has simply lost his mojo that got him 32 wickets in 3 tests on similar tracks against a confident, strong Aussie line-up. I would get someone like Amit Mishra into the side for the next 2 matches if the wickets we will get are going to be anything like the Mumbai track. Mishra bowls quicker than Ojha and Ashwin and if he can be somewhat accurate, I can see him being successful aganst this England line-up which is still not that confident about playing spin, barring a couple of players. The other change I would make is to get Ajinkya Rahane into the team instead of Yuvraj. Yuvi has always been suspect against spin and with India playing 3 spinners including Ojha, who is also a left-arm spinner (much better than Yuvi), his bowling is not needed at all. Rahane has spent his life playing on such tracks and knows how to get his runs, just like Pujara.

The other issue we are facing is how to stop Cook. I have seen in the past that Cook, like most batsmen, tends to play a little away from his body in the initial stages of his innings, thereby being a potential candidate for nicking the ball to the keeper or the slips. Since the focus is so much on spin this series, we sometimes open the bowling with spin at both ends and that is playing into Cook who is not being forced to play away from his body. I would give Zak an extended spell at the beginning of the innings with enough support in the field behind the wicket and brief him that his sole agenda would be to remove Cook early. If Zak does that, we would have removed a huge obstacle from our path and the confidence of the remaining England batsmen would also dip considerably which we should then jump on. In my opinion, KP is not as dangerous to our plans as Cook because being an attacking player, he always gives us a chance to get him out. If we can bottle him up for a period, he is bound to try something unorthodox to score, which would give us a good chance to dismiss him.

Regarding the threat of Panesar and Swann, the only way to combat that is to spend more time in the nets in the next few days and try to face similar bowling. I am confident that the Indian batsmen are technically equipped to handle both England spinners and just need the confidence that will come from extended practice. It is a good thing that we won the first test match, so even after this thrashing in Mumbai, the series is still tied at 1-1. If we do the basics right, tweak the team a little and spend time on practice, I think we can still win this series. Lets hope that happens !!

I will continue to post updates through the test series. My next post will be after the third test match. Lets discuss about the Mumbai mauling in the meantime and let me know what you guys think regarding my analysis of what we need to do.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

T20 World Cup

Hello friends,

The T20 World Cup is upon us and it is time for me to blog regularly. As you all might have seen in several websites, this WC is more open than the others. The main reason is, there are no mysteries among the players as a lot of them are active around the world in different tournaments and know each other’s game well. As a result, each team now possesses a few game-breakers who can win the game single-handed on their day. Teams like West Indies, who struggle in the longer formats, are a genuine threat in T20 due to the presence of match-winners like Gayle, Pollard and Narine. Also the pitches in SL these days are not as spinner friendly as they used to be. So teams like England, Australia and South Africa – who have been known to struggle on sub-continental surfaces – have a good chance as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to watch these matches live on TV here in the U.S. though I am hoping I can watch live streaming somewhere, but I will still be following the matches closely and will be able to update the blog regularly. Lets see how India will fare in this tournament based on the team we have got.

India’s strength for a while now has been the batting and the weakness has been the bowling. It continues to be so for this tournament as well. But in Ashwin and Balaji, I see 2 good T20 bowlers who are capable of holding their own against any team and in any situation. Also Pathan has been bowling well since his comeback and now should have the confidence back as well because of some good recent figures. The weakness, surprisingly, is in the opening combination. Sehwag and Gambhir are in horrible form at the moment and it must now be telling on their confidence as well. Fortunately, we have Kohli at number 3 who is in the form of his life and that helps to offset the opening blues to an extent. India are in a relatively easy group with Afghanistan and England. As I write this, India have beaten Afghanistan in their opening match. If they bat to potential, they should beat England as well. Once they get to the knock-out stages, anything can happen, particularly in this format. Personally, the only expectation I have is that India reach the knock-outs, preferably by beating England as well. The familiarity that the Indian team has with conditions in Sri Lanka should help them in the knock-out matches to an extent. Lets see how far they can go.

A few things I will keep an eye out for regarding Indian performances are – Yuvraj’s return to form and fitness, Irfan’s performance with the ball, Rohit’s batting and the bowling at the death (overs 15 to 20). I am seeing that Zaheer is being hit all over the park in his last few outings in T20. Maybe it is time to give him a break and try Ashok Dinda. I like the fact that Dinda has pace and can swing the ball as well. But he is not very experienced and the extra pace, if not controlled with good line and length, can work against him as well.

Lets hear it from you guys. Are you watching the T20 World Cup with a lot of interest and expectations, or it is just another tournament/series for you ? I will continue to post updates on this blog during the tournament, so stay tuned.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Return of the blog

Hello friends,

I am back after a long break from blogging. After the IPL, the only series India played was against SL that contained 1 T20 and 5 ODIs. I did watch some parts of that series, but was not motivated enough to blog about it. In the end, it turned out to be an easy win for India in that series.

The real action starts now, with 2 tests against NZ, followed by the T20 World Cup, Champions League T20, and series against England and Australia. The biggest news prior to the NZ series is obviously the retirement of VVS Laxman. While I think VVS could have played for another year or so with no questions asked, especially now that Rahul Dravid is retired, I also think that VVS made the right decision to quit now at the start of the season. Once again, he has shown that he is the ultimate team man putting the needs of the team above everything else. So now we have 2 identify players for 2 vital spots in the middle order - number 3 and 5. I think Virat will move up to 5 and probably Pujara will bat at 3 in the NZ series at least. That still leaves the crucial number 6 slot open and it will be interesting to see who fills that slot in this series and the next few matches after that. For the NZ series, it looks like the battle is between Raina and Badrinath with Raina probably having the slight upper hand to start with. In Indian conditions, I dont think Raina is a bad choice, but I will be closely watching his technique, ability to bat with the tail and against the second new ball before making any conclusions about him being our find for the number 6 position.

This series against NZ should not challenge India too much. The wickets will not be very conducive to their fast bowlers and with Vettori out, they don’t have a world-class spinner and I think the Indian batsmen will be able to play the other spinners well. However, this series is important because it gives us a chance to see the contenders for the number 3, 5 and 6 spots. If Pujara and Kohli do well, that will be great because they do possess the talent to succeed at the top level and will hopefully be around for a long time since they are so young. The real challenge for India this year will be against England. They are a team that has been dethroned from the number 1 position and will be smarting from their comprehensive defeat against South Africa, so they will come to India with a point to prove. Their bowling attack will challenge the young ones in the Indian batting order the most, so that is a battle I am looking forward to.

As I write this, Pujara has made a hundred on day one of the Hyderabad test and that is good news. Kohli also did well, but Raina has failed. India need another 100 runs at least so that they can call the shots while bowling. I will be watching the spinners, Ashwin and Ojha, particularly in their approach to bowling in tests in India. Ashwin needs to attack more in my opinion. Ojha is an attacking bowler by nature, but he needs a good performance against NZ to make his position more secure as the second-choice spinner in tests.

I would like to share one more news before ending this post. India U-19 team have done very well to reach the finals of the World Cup in Australia. The pitches have not been easy to bat on, but our batsmen have done enough to setup totals for the bowlers to defend. The heartening aspect of India’s performance has been the fact that it is the bowling that has been carrying the team. Hopefully, some of these players will go on to make the senior team. Some of the guys I have been impressed with are Sandeep Sharma the opening bowler, Baba Aparajith the all-rounder, Harmeet Singh the left-arm spinner and Unmukt Chand the opener.

I will continue to post regularly from now on. My next post will be after the Hyderabad test, so stay tuned.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More thoughts on IPL 5

Hello friends,

The IPL season is on in full swing and 52 matches have been completed out of 72 league games. I am continuing to watch most of the games and am enjoying the matches. I thought about posting on this blog for the past few days, but somehow could not bring myself to do it. One of the reasons was that I did not have anything new to say other than what we are seeing regarding the matches. However, it has been a long time since my previous post and so I decided to do this one. My next one will probably be after the finals where I will do a review of the entire tournament and present some possible gains and disappointments regarding Indian cricket.

* At this stage, Delhi and Kolkata seem to have sealed their spots for the knock-outs. I suspect Mumbai will also make it. The last spot will be a fight between Rajasthan and Punjab, with Chennai and Bangalore having an outside chance. My money is on Rajasthan at this stage, particularly with the class of Watson and the match-winning abilities of Shaun Tait. I dont think CSK or RCB will make it this year. CSK is looking a little flat in their performances and in my opinion, Dhoni is experimenting too much, especially on the field with his batting order and choice of bowlers at crucial stages. The reason RCB probably wont make it is simple - their bowling is very weak

* I am loving the fact that Sehwag and Gauti are both in red-hot form at this time. With Gauti, it was a matter of time before he came back to form, but Sehwag's form is heartening, especially because the reason he is in this form is simply because he has chosen to spend more time in the middle and play a lot straighter (in the V). Since we know Sehwag for a while now, I wont get too excited and start to think this is the beginning of a change in his attitude since we know he can easily go back to his old ways. So lets enjoy his form while it lasts and hope he continues this thinking in ODIs and Tests as well

* I always used to like AB De Villiers and his uncomplicated style of batting, but after the game which he won almost single-handedly against Deccan Chargers, I am now a big fan of him. He is, what I call, a complete package. He can score all around the wicket, score quickly with orthodox shots, at the same time, possesses some of the most unconventional shots in the game as well and the skill to execute them when needed most. In my opinion, after this IPL, his will become the most important wicket for opposition teams when they play South Africa in the future

* Sunil Narine is another cricketer I am enjoying watching in this IPL. I would say he is one of the smartest buys in the entire roster of cricketers this year. One of the reasons he is so successful, in my opinion, is the pace he bowls at. I have seen other bowlers with good variations as well, but Narine is so successful because he bowls at a quicker pace than the others. So the time for batsmen to pick him and decide how to play each ball, is much lesser than with other bowlers like Murali or Ashwin or even Mendis. Of course, Narine is also very accurate, so the margin for error for batsmen is almost zero

* One good thing I am seeing in this IPL, is that a lot of Indian cricketers who are doing well, are very young. Last year, Paul Valthaty did well, but he was 27 years old. This year, the trend is that if a cricketer does well and I start to think that he could be a good prospect for India, I hear that he is 19 or 21 or 22. Some examples are Mandeep Singh, Pawan Negi, Ashish Reddy, KP Appanna. I will write more about the gains from this tournament in my next post which will be after the IPL is over

* When IPL5 started, I was wondering if it will invoke and sustain interest in the public and in me since it is a very long tournament and there is a possibility that people could be burned out by too much cricket. But it is good to see big crowds at almost every game and what is helping is the fact that there have been a lot of close games. In fact, this IPL has seen more close games than any other edition in the past. There has not been a super over yet, but lots of games have gone into the last over and several of them have been decided on the last ball. That has sustained the interest and with only 20 games to go before the knock-outs, I think the interest will continue

* One other observation I made, and I saw this in a few articles as well, is the lack of proper off-spinners in the IPL and the abundance of left-arm spinners. I remember being worried a few months ago that India does not have a good left-arm spinner other than Ojha who, for some reason, does not get picked regularly for ODIs. If I were to have a choice between off-spinners and left-arm spinners, I would choose to be in the situation we are seeing now with lots of left-arm spinners, but very few off-spinners. The reason is, for ODIs and T20s at least, a lot of batsmen can bowl off-spin like Sehwag, Raina, Rohit. But left-arm spin is a specific craft and anyone cannot just turn up and bowl left-arm spin. So I am not complaining with this situation that we are seeing in the IPL

I think I have captured a lot of my thoughts. Now it is up to you guys to come out and talk about yours. Lets see some comments. I was happy to see 5 comments on my IPL-preview post, but I saw none on my previous post. IPL is one tournament where everyone has lots of varied thoughts and opinions, so lets share them here and discuss.

As I wrote earlier, my next post will be after the IPL finals where I will try to list the gains and disappointments with respect to Indian cricket, so stay tuned.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some thoughts on IPL after the first quarter

Hello friends,

The IPL is going on in full swing and 25% of the matches are now complete. I watched a lot of the games and have been enjoying some good performances. Here are some random thoughts from me at this stage of the IPL -

* Mumbai is looking very good once again. They are the most all-round team with all 3 disciplines - batting, bowling and fielding - being very good. With them, it is all about performing on the day, so let's see how far they go

* Chennai are playing as they do every year, slow starters. They have lost a couple of games they should have won, but won one game that was almost gone for all purposes. Usually their resurgence coincides with the arrival of Michael Hussey, but this year Hussey only arrives late April which may be too late this year. Anyway, this year, Faf du Plessis is more than filling Hussey's position, so they should do better in the early stages as well

* For me, the star of the IPL so far is Ajinkya Rahane. He batted beautifully for his 98 in their first game, and even better in his hundred against Bangalore. It would be great if he can continue his form. This will help his chances to be Rahul Dravid's replacement in the test team. Rahane by nature is a correct batsman with a good technique and the temperament to bat long. All he is doing in this IPL is showing that he can adapt to the shorter format as well without sacrificing his basics

* RCB have been the surprise package so far, in a negative way. They are a better team than what the results show so far. Their problem is clearly in the bowling. They have 3 good reliable bowlers in Zak, Vettori and Murali. Their problem is with the 4th and 5th bowlers. Royals targeted these 2 bowlers very well and scored almost 100 runs of the 8 overs of these 2 bowlers. They should bring in someone like Syed Mohammed who bowled well on occasion in the last IPL

* Pune is playing well this year and so far, have the results to show for that. Ganguly is doing a good job with marshaling his bowlers, but needs to spend more time at the crease. They have a varied bowling attack which is good, because they can do well in all conditions, and whether they bat or bowl first. Rahul Sharma continues to impress and I am enjoying Steve Smith's batting. He should be playing for Australia in all 3 formats pretty soon. Pune's only problem is that they tend to lose wickets at regular intervals, especially at the start of their innings

* The 2 least attractive teams from a viewer perspective this year are Deccan Chargers and Kings XI Punjab. Both teams don't look that strong as well and it would surprise me if either team made it to the knock-outs

* The team that has surprised me this year in a good way is Delhi Daredevils. They are strong on paper, and have translated the strength into performance as well. But while their batting is very strong, with the formidable trio of Sehwag, Mahela and KP forming the core, it is their bowling that looks a little weak. There is a lot of dependence on Morne Morkel and if he strikes regularly, as he has been doing so far, they will do well with the ball, otherwise they could go for a few runs

* KKR is another team that has not achieved the results promised by a strong team. The worry for them is that Yusuf, their star player, has done almost nothing so far. He needs to perform better as he is their game-changer and can turn close games into easy victories

So far, the response by the Indian public has been encouraging. Games at Chennai, Bangalore and the fantastic new stadium at Pune have looked sold out, which is good. Let's hope the public are able to sustain their enthusiasm over the course of this long tournament

I was very happy to see 5 comments for my previous post. It just goes to show that though a lot of u don't seem to care much for the IPL, it is difficult to keep completely away from it :-). Let's keep the comments coming. I will post another update next weekend, please stay tuned.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Preview of IPL and my reasons to watch

Hello friends,
The IPL is almost upon us and while some of us are going ‘uh-oh, another loooooong meaningless series of T20s’, I am not that negative about it. I am not looking forward to it and crossing days off my calendar in anticipation, but I do have some reasons to look forward and watch the IPL which I will share with you all now.
First and foremost, I have always said, is the fact that IPL is tension-free cricket watching. I welcome a tournament where I don’t have to bite my nails in extreme tension, or get overly frustrated when my team loses. I treat the IPL like watching a good masala movie with all the ingredients where I watch with interest, get entertained and forget about it soon after. Also, like I said in my previous post, I am going to follow the performances of certain players while also keeping an eye out for potential talent that will help India in the future. A good fast-bowling allrounder, a nimble wicketkeeper that can bat,  some bowlers who can bowl at 140+, bowlers who can bowl yorkers, spinners who can bowl in pressure situations are some of the skill sets that I will be looking out for. Besides these, as always, there is the interest in watching certain players perform like Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Sharma, Iqbal Abdulla, Irfan and Yusuf Pathan, Manish Pandey, Munaf Patel and some others that I cannot recall at this time. I also watch some overseas players with interest like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Albie Morkel, AB de Villiers, Sunil Narine and a few others.
Looking at the teams, I think the strong teams this year are CSK, MI, RCB and KKR. The others are ok, but these look the strongest and most balanced just like last year. One person I will miss a lot is Yuvraj Singh. I hope he gets back to normal very soon and can come back and perform for India just like he did before his illness. Let me now write about a few random thoughts regarding some of the teams and players.
I read the article that Sachin has handed over the captaincy of MI to Harbhajan. Unlike some media people and fans are thinking, I don’t read too much into the decision in terms of Sachin wanting to lighten his load so that he can ease his way out of cricket or stuff like that. I think it is purely a decision based on the fact that MI have done well with Harbhajan as captain and now that the pressure of the 100th hundred is gone, probably Sachin wants to reduce further stress on himself by not captaining MI. Maybe he is also looking to play fewer games this year so if he is just a player, it would be easier to sit him out of a few games.
One man was responsible for making the 2011 IPL very popular with the crowds – Chris Gayle. I am looking forward to seeing him bat this year as well. When he is at the crease, it is like watching a very good thriller movie, you never know what to expect next. I thoroughly enjoy his hitting and make an effort to not miss any of his innings.
This IPL is a good chance for some of India’s ‘fringe’ cricketers to stake claims for themselves considering there are some slots available in the team. Players like Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Sharma should grab their chances and look to impress with their performances. Consistency is what I look for. I would be happier if a batsman made 40s in 10 of the 16 league games, as opposed of 3 or 4 60s and 70s along with 1 hundred in 16 games. In the bowlers, I will be looking for variety and control more than results. So I would prefer a bowler who bowls good slower balls and yorkers and has control over his line and length, rather than someone who goes for 8+ runs an over but takes 15-20 wickets in total. The core Indian team is pretty much settled at this time, we need some specific skills, especially in the bowling department and that is what I will be looking for from this year’s IPL.
There are some cricketers who are not quite in the national reckoning, but are quite talented and this could be a break-through year for them. I will keep an eye out for such cricketers as well. Some names that come to mind are Shami Ahmed, Suryakumar Yadav, Ali Murtaza, KP Appanna, Harshal Patel, Vijay Zol.
So as you can see, there are some solid reasons for following and watching this year’s IPL. Lets hope for some good entertainment in the next few weeks and that we can spot some good talent that will serve Indian cricket well in the future. I will post on this blog from time to time during the IPL, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review of Asia Cup and a look ahead

Hello friends,

India had a decent outing at the Asia Cup even though they did not make it to the finals. I am not too disappointed with that since these days, with the number of matches they play, I tend to look at each match separately instead of looking at the tournaments or series as a whole. And if u look at it that way, they beat SL and Pakistan, and lost to Bangladesh. They have not and probably will not lose to Bangladesh often, so I am ok with this one-off loss. What this showed us and, hopefully the team management as well, is that India have a weak bowling attack at the moment even on Asian pitches and we need to make some changes if we want to win matches consistently. Two things I can think of are - we need a quick bowler who can hit speeds of 140+ on a regular basis while maintaining a decent line and length, and a good left-arm spinner to complement Ashwin. Yadav and Varuna Aaron answer to the first requirement, but we need to find atleast one more so that we can rotate the 3 in case of injuries and workload. Ojha answers to the second one but again, we probably need one more. Another position I would love to have in the ODI team is that of a pace bowling all-rounder - someone like Shane Watson or Albie Morkel or even Ravi Bopara. This will give some flexibility to get through 5-6 overs in the middle of the innings and also give us some good runs with the bat

Coming back to the Asia Cup, one of the most satisfying performances in recent times came in the game against Pakistan. Virat Kohli played the innings of his life and we chased down 330 with so much composure, it was scary. I hope Virat continues the form he is in, at the moment he just cannot do anything wrong. One of my friends made a very interesting observation about that Kohli innings. The last 2 people who made 183 for India ended up becoming captains within a short while. Ganguly made 183 against SL in the 1999 World Cup and became captain in 2000. Dhoni made 183 against SL in 2005 and was made captain in 2007. I like trends, so if we go by trends, Kohli should become captain soon. It certainly helps that he is the vice-captain at the moment. In that Pakistan game, it was also satisfying to see Virat and Rohit share the partnership that decided the match for us. Also Sachin batted with visibly more freedom after getting to the 100 centuries landmark in the previous game. And that is the other big plus for India from the Asia Cup - Sachin getting the monkey off his back and getting the coveted record. Now it would be very nice to see Sachin choose only one format to play in, preferably test matches.

So as you guys can see, though we did not make the finals, we had a lot to gain from the Asia Cup. Now on to the tamasha that is the IPL. I know some of u are not too fond of it, but personally I like the IPL bcos it is tension-free cricket watching and I treat it like a masala Bollywood movie - watch, enjoy and forget each game as soon as it is over. I also like to watch a few players in action, so I track their progress and enjoy watching them play. I also treat the IPL as an exercise in talent spotting. A few good cricketers have been spotted at the IPL and gone on to play for India, the biggest of them being Virat Kohli. I will write another piece in a few days about the IPL and the players I will look out for.

Lets hear it from u guys. There are a few days to go for the IPL to start and we can share our thoughts in the mean time. Like I wrote above, I will post again in a few days about the IPL and share some thoughts on it, so stay tuned.