Friday, December 30, 2011

Review of first India-Australia test match

Hello friends,

India lost the first test of an away series like they usually do, but this time, there is not a feeling of abject surrender among the cricketers and fans. The main reason for that is, we managed to take 20 wickets without giving away too many runs and were in the game right through till the last innings. But the old folly of bad batting in abroad conditions cost us once again. I dont know if it is a matter of application or simply in the mind that we lose the first test of away series so regularly. Let us examine some aspects of the test match.

First, let us look at the positives. It was heartening to see the bowlers hit their straps right away on day one and reduce Australia to 214 for 6. But after that, the old failing of letting the lower order take away the game, came back to hurt us. This is quite puzzling to me since in Indian conditions, we are able to get rid of lower order batsmen with relative ease and even in the second, third and other test matches in away conditions, we are able to do it, though with less frequency. So what is it with lower order batsmen in away conditions ? The good thing is, Dhoni made statements that suggested that they are aware of the problem and will look to rectify in the future. As I have always said, recognizing the issue means half the problem is solved. It would be nice if we work on developing a bowler who is especially skilled at taking lower-order wickets. It could be one of the regular bowlers, or someone like Sehwag or Kohli/Rohit/Raina/Sachin who can be used to target lower order batsmen with variations, or firing the ball full on the stumps. This is just an idea, but one worth considering since we have been struck by this problem too many times now to ignore it.

The other positives were the fact that Zaheer came through the entire test without any visible pain, though he did clutch his hamstring once in the second innings. He also looked in top form while bowling, using his brains and variations to get crucial wickets. Yadav showed a lot of promise and showed what some extra pace can do for us in away conditions. Even though he got a lot of batsmen bowled while inside-edging the ball to the stumps, in my mind that is also due to his extra pace that batsmen end up being a bit late on the shot and the ball takes the inside edge instead of the middle. Ishant bowled well with less luck and I was surprised to hear that he once touched 152 kmph in the second innings. Hopefully, his ankle will last the entire series, as will Zaheer. Ashwin bowled well in that he was able to control the runs for the most part, which was his primary job, but I was not happy to see that he bowled a lot of deliveries that were too short. Maybe he just got a little carried away by the bounce on offer, but I would like to see his length on the fuller side much more in the coming tests.

Now lets look at the batting. The most disturbing aspect of the batting was the fact that a lot of batsmen got out to familiar mistakes that they have been making of late, especially on the England tour. Gambhir got out poking at deliveries in both innings, Dravid was bowled off the incoming one in the second innings, Sachin got out flashing at a wide one in the second innings, just like he did in South Africa and England earlier this year. Laxman got out to really slow starts in both innings and that resulted in his dismissal both times, though the modes were different. He needs to work on getting his feet moving and being much more positive at the start of his innings, like Sachin is and even Dravid is sometimes these days. Kohli once again looked a little out of place in the test match setup. That is another puzzling matter to me. A batsman whose game is based on getting set and then attacking the bowling even in ODIs and T20s, should be completely at home in test matches where he has all the time in the world to get set. But he does not give the feeling like he belongs, which is something he needs to rectify urgently otherwise Rohit could replace him as early as the third test. Dhoni is another one who is becoming a liability at the test match level. Even Ashwin is batting better than Dhoni these days in tests. With Kohli and Dhoni not performing, the pressure on the likes of Sehwag, Dravid and Sachin is much greater and unless these two start doing well, I dont see India posting the 350s and 400s like they used to when they were number 1.

For the second test at SCG, I see that the curator is looking to once again have a track with a fair bit of grass on it, which means that there will be help for the bowlers right through if they land the ball in the right areas. Also, the first day will offer more help to the bowlers, like it did at the MCG. So I hope India wins the toss and bowls first, and that this time, they are able to restrict the Aussies to a total under 300. One other point worth considering for the team management is, with Gambhir looking out of sorts, it may not be a bad idea to push Dravid to open with Sehwag and have Gautam at number 3. Dravid has opened in tests before, as recently as in England and is batting well at the moment. If Dravid can bat out time and not keep Sehwag away from the strike for long periods, then we could see Gambhir also come into his own when he bats since the ball will not be that new and the bowlers would have bowled their first spells as well. But I know this will most likely not happen since the team management will think they should not break up a successful opening partnership. Anyway, I just wanted to throw my idea out there which I dont think is that bad and out-of-place.

I was thinking about the idea of playing 2 spinners in the second test since it is the SCG. But the article I read this morning convinced me against that idea. These days the SCG is not like the track of old where it would be a batsmen's paradise for the first 3 days and break up on day 4 and 5 offering lots of turn to the spinners. The Aussie curators these days are preparing tracks like MCG where there is help for bowlers on all 5 days while at the same time being good to bat on as well. There is also no breaking up on the last 2 days, so the track maintains its nature for the entire test match. In my opinion, such tracks are perfect for test matches and I would love to see such tracks in India and the rest of the world as well. Anyway, for the SCG, I would go in with the same bowlers and in fact, retain the entire eleven unless there are injury concerns.

Lets hear it from you guys. My next post will be after the Sydney test match, so stay tuned.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Preview of India-Australia first test

Hello friends,

It is probably a bit too late to post a preview of a test that starts in less than 24 hours, but some of my thoughts will be relevant through the series, so I decided to post this anyway.

India have had a decent build up and practice before the first test match, but I suspect that the Canberra track will not be similar to the tracks that India will face in the test series. So most of the benefit will be in the minds of the players and if they have gained some confidence, that will help. One of the people who will have benefitted is Virat Kohli who seems to have sealed his spot as number 6 for the first 2 tests at least. The number 6 position is vital to India's prospects and it is good that Virat has some runs under his belt before the first test. Another plus from the warmups is the form of Ashwin. It is his first tour down under and as I mentioned in my previous post, there is a big difference in bowling in Australia compared to India, so that is another positive for us that Ashwin has bowled well and has the confidence of a few wickets under his belt.

It would have been nice to have some runs for Gambhir and Sehwag, but Gambhir did score some runs in the second innings at Canberra. Sehwag has done well in Australia before, but he needs to once again realize his importance in setting up Indian totals and wins and adapt his game accordingly. The current crop of Aussie pacers can all swing the ball at pace, so Sehwag will need to leave a lot of deliveries initially in every inning and make the bowlers bowl close to the stumps, so that he can play on the leg side or down the ground till he gets set and then unfurl his attacking shots.

A lot of people think that this series is about the battle between the Aussie pacers and India's experienced batting lineup, but to my mind, if India are to win, the pacers, particularly Zaheer, are equally important. I really hope that Zak can play the entire series without getting injured. Its been a long time since we saw Zaheer bowl in a test match, so I am looking forward to seeing him bowl at the MCG. I read somewhere today that they are using drop-in pitches these days for MCG tests. The difference between such pitches and the ones earlier at the MCG, is that the drop-in pitch does not change character too much as the match goes on. So earlier, the fourth and fifth day pitch would offer assistance to the spinners, Shane Warne in particular, I dont expect to see such wear and tear this time. So other than the first 2 hours or so offering generous help to the pacers, particularly swing bowlers, I dont expect to see much help for the bowlers in this pitch.

So the plan for India should be fairly simple. Win the toss, bat first and look to post a big total after seeing out the first session. If they bowl first, they should look to take 3-4 wickets before lunch time and then try to exert pressure on the remaining batsmen by bowling tight lines and not offering easy runs. Dhoni should definitely look to extract 10+ overs from his non-regular bowlers each day. Given that Zak and Ishant are not at their peak fitness, they should be managed carefully and Dhoni should exercise caution in the first test regarding using them. My one concern is regarding the form and effectiveness of Dhoni at test match level. He needs to contribute regularly and needs to place a premium on his wicket. Ashwin is a good number 8 and has the confidence of a test century with him, so that is not an area of concern. I hope the team management do not spring a surprise and pick Ojha instead of Ashwin at the MCG.

Lets get ready for an exciting test series and hope that India perform to their potential this time. I hope this series is all about what happens on the field and that there are no unnecessary controversies like last time. I will post again after the first test, so stay tuned.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Review of India-WI ODI series and a look ahead to Australia

Hello friends,

So India wrapped up the ODI series comfortably by a margin of 4-1. The whitewash was not achieved, but there are a lot of positives to take away from this series. The biggest positive is the emergence of youngsters in batting as well as bowling. As I was watching the last ODI, I observed that other than Gambhir, who is around the 30 age mark, all the others in the team were around the 24-26 age group. It is great news for Indian fans that there is good bench strength being created which has the potential to carry Team India forward for the next 8-10 years. With everyone being very young, the fielding has automatically seen a dramatic improvement from the early 2000s when the ODI squad would include several players who were just average to very ordinary fielders like Dravid, Kumble, Srinath, Joshi, Prasad, Ganguly. Now we see lots of diving around in the field and for the first time, opposition batsmen are wary of India's fielders where earlier, they would think a single is there for the taking by simply tapping the ball to the fielders.

It was nice to see that the selectors and team management tried all the available options in the squad and that almost everyone grabbed their chance to stake their claim for future matches. I was happy to see Manoj Tiwary come in for the last ODI and promptly score a hundred. I mentioned in this blog during the IPL that Tiwary appears to have worked on his batting and the difference has been evident in his batting since the IPL. Also, Irfan Pathan came back after a long absence and showed that his swing and zip have returned and that he belongs in the squad from now on. I wish the selectors would have taken Pathan to Australia instead of Mithun or Vinay Kumar. In my opinion, Pathan poses a greater threat to the Aussie batsmen than either of the other two with his ability to swing the ball late and away from the left-handers, and his talent and commitment in his batting.

Rahul Sharma also finally got his chance to play and proved that the hype about him generated from IPL, is not without reason and that he deserves many more chances in the future. I specially enjoyed the fact that most of the wickets he got were from hitting the stumps, which reflected in his accuracy and ability to surprise batsmen with his pace, much like Anil Kumble. It will be nice if Kumble can now spend some time with Rahul Sharma and impart some invaluable tips to him.

Sehwag proved in the fourth ODI what everyone have been believing for a while now - that he can easily break the double-century barrier if he applies his mind to it. I only hope the confidence he has gained from this, will help him and Team India in the tough Australia tour ahead. We need Sehwag to bat long in the test series as we have seen when he is out there, runs come quickly and as soon as he is out, the bowlers and pitch change character and batting becomes much more difficult.

Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma should be well rested for the Australia series and that is another plus point, besides the fact that Zaheer got through 2 Ranji games without any trouble and still feels fit and confident to lead India's bowling attack. I was watching New Zealand's close but amazing victory in the Hobart test and I made some observations. Let me share some of them here.

1) The Aussie bowling attack contains fast bowlers who are all capable of hitting speeds of 145 kmph on a consistent basis and they can also swing the ball at that pace. Batting is not going to be easy against the Aussie pacers. With India having the penchant of collapsing on foreign pitches, especially in the first test, they have to be very watchful in Melbourne since the MCG pitch is very difficult to bat on till around lunch on day one. In fact, if Dhoni chooses to field first after winning the toss in MCG, I would not criticize him too much as I am already dreading another collapse for around 100 if we bat first

2) As potent as the bowling is, the Aussie batting has deteriorated remarkably in the last 2-3 months as can be seen by several collapses in the last 2 series against SA and NZ. So that is a good sign for us. We should look to capitalize on their batsmen's lack of confidence and get them out cheaply. The mantra here is to not experiment too much. Line and length are very important with a little swing. If our bowlers stick to the basics, they can get Australia out quickly

3) From what I have seen of the Australian summer so far, the weather conditions and pitches seem to favor fast bowling more than earlier years. I think the curators will be asked to leave a decent covering of grass on the pitches to blunt the Indian batting. So we have to be prepared to grind it out against the new ball and score only once the ball gets a little older and the bowlers finish their first spells. To this regard, I see Gautam Gambhir and Dravid as the key batsmen from our side to nullify the threat of Aussie bowling so that the likes of Sachin, Laxman etc. can cash in later. Even Sehwag should be prepared to leave a lot of balls initially and look to score only when he gets a rank bad ball

4) The one thing I am happy about is the choice of spinner for this tour. Going by his recent showings, Harbhajan would have given back any advantage gained by the pacers. But Ashwin can be counted on to maintain the pressure with his tight bowling and variations. We have seen a lot of times in the past, especially in foreign tours, that the pacers would bowl brilliantly and have the opposition in trouble, but once the opening bowlers finish their spells, the third pacer and spinner would come on and release some pressure allowing the opposition batsmen to bat their team out of the hole. But this time, with Ashwin and (hopefully) Yadav being the third and fourth bowlers, we can hope to see the pressure maintained on the Aussie batsmen. In my opinion, Ashwin should be the first choice spinner for the tests, especially with his ability to score runs at number 8

Lets hear it from you guys. Indian cricket is in a good position and an exciting series awaits. What do you think are India's chances in Australia ? Do you believe, as I do, that we have a realistic chance of finally winning a series there, or do you think India will go there with much build-up and like they have done several times in the past, fail once again, especially with the bat ? In my opinion, India have a good shot at winning the series, but only if they can survive the Aussie bowlers, who are very pacy and talented, but inexperienced. Unlike previous times, the Aussie batting is not as strong this time, so for India to win, the batsmen will have to dig deep and produce good scores.

My next post will be a couple of days before the first test match, so stay tuned.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Review of first 2 ODIs against WI

Hello friends,

India have put in professional performances in the first 2 ODIs and as a result, are now up 2-0. The heartening aspect of these wins was that both were achieved on the back of some stellar performances by our youngsters. In the first match, Rohit and Jadeja had the match-winning partnership that stabilized the sinking ship during the chase and though they could not complete the win, the young fast bowler duo of Aaron and Yadav held their nerve to seal the win. In the second ODI, the win was achieved due to the mammoth partnership between Virat and Rohit and this time, Rohit ensured that he completed the job. The bowlers have also stuck to their task for the most part, except for a while during the second ODI when the let Ravi Rampaul lead the WI innings to a respectable score from the horrible position they were in after the loss of their 9th wicket.

Ashwin had a bad game in the second ODI, as did Aaron, but it was nice that India still won and now that they have had their bad game out of the way, hopefully they will perform well in the remaining matches. In fact, I would even be tempted to rest Ashwin and give Rahul Sharma a chance in the third ODI or at the latest, in the 4th and 5th matches. This is not to punish Ashwin for his bad performance, but now that we have seen that we can win even with Ashwin contributing very little, it would be nice to give him a rest before the tough Australia tour. He is one of only 3 players who have played all the test matches as well and he has performed with both bat and ball unlike the other 2 (Sehwag and Gambhir), so he must be more tired than the others.

I was watching the partnership between Virat and Rohit in the second ODI and it was nice to see that there was no panic even though the target was stiff and India had lost 3 wickets early. These youngsters are so confident of their abilities and go about their job with so little fuss, it is almost as if they are born to do just this. Virat has established himself in the ODI lineup as a batsmen who can bat long as well as score at a very decent pace. I think he is going to be the fulcrum of the middle order in the future and I really wish he can translate his amazing talent and poise to the test arena as well. Rohit has also made a name for himself as a special talent and it is nice to see him perform consistently for India over the past 2 ODIs and take his average from the low 31s to 34+ in the last 2 games. Like I said in the previous post, there will be slots opening up in the middle order in tests over the next year or so, and if these 2 can perform true to potential for the remaining 3 ODIs and in Australia, it may even hasten the retirement of the big 3 from the test match setup, knowing that Team India will be in safe hands in the future.

Jadeja continues to show how a proper number 7 who does his job in the line up brings so much more to the team than someone like Yusuf Pathan who is a wild card. With the re-emergence of Jadeja, India looks stronger in all departments. Jadeja illustrated his importance perfectly in the first ODI where WI might have relaxed slightly when they had India at 59 for 5 in the chase of 211, but he batted superbly with Rohit and got India close enough that the number 10 and 11 were able to complete the job. While on that, I was as confused as everyone else, why Varun Aaron refused that single to deep fine leg off Umesh Yadav's bat. It seems that the pressure got to him and eroded his ability to stay calm and think logically. But if he had more confidence in his batting, he got it right when he hit that important four a little later and then Yadav finished it off with a nice stroke made with a straight bat. In fact, I was watching both Aaron and Yadav bat and they dont look like typical number 10 and 11, they appear to be better than pure tail-enders, which augurs well for Indian cricket in the future.

I also cannot help but feel sad for this WI team. They seem to be doing a lot of things right in this Indian tour, but they have no results to show for all the hard work and fight they are giving, especially in the last 3 games. What they seem to lack is the application and focus to do the right things for an extended period of time. Also I believe that their captain Darren Sammy is more of a liability than an asset. He has not contributed much with bat or ball, and his captaincy skills are quite ordinary. I think they need to find a more aggressive captain who can help maintain pressure on the opposition with his field placings and bowling changes.

For the next 3 ODIs, I would definitely like to see Rahul Sharma get a game or two. Also maybe if India win the series in the next game, they should look to rest Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir and give Manoj Tiwary a chance. If u are not going to test ur bench strength against teams like the WI and after you have won the series, when are u going to do it ? Sehwag and Gambhir have a long tour of Australia ahead of them and I am sure, could use some rest before that.

I will post my next update after the 5 ODIs are completed. Stay tuned.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Review of third India-WI test match and a look ahead

Hello friends,

So India wrapped up the test series against the WI 2-0 instead of 3-0, though they came very close to achieving a whitewash. The last day of the Mumbai test was great to watch and I stayed up till 3:30 am when the match ended and could not take my eyes off the TV. The spinners bowled really well on a pitch that suddenly turned very helpful, to give India a real chance of a whitewash. Unfortunately, Sehwag got out at the wrong time for India. In fact, through this series, I have noticed that both Viru and Gautam have given away their wickets after getting set. This is unusual from both of them, especially in tests when they are known to get huge scores and bat very long once they get set. I hope this is an aberration, rather than the upcoming trend for both, as we need them to bat long and score big in Australia because if they do, they setup the game very nicely for India with the pace at which they score.

It was nice to see Virat Kohli get fifties in both innings. This will help his confidence enormously and if he gets some runs in the ODI series, he will have sealed the number 6 slot for at least the first Australia test match. The biggest gains for India from this test series were the bowlers. Ishant showed that he can bowl tight lines and maintain pressure on the batsmen for extended periods of time. The 2 newcomers - Yadav and Aaron - showed lot of promise with their pace and ability to pick wickets out of the blue and turn the match in India's favor when things are drifting away. With their pace and ability to bowl full and straight, they will also be useful in knocking over the tail, which has been a problem for India in the past. But the biggest gain for India came in the spin department. Ojha got 20 wickets and Ashwin got 22 wickets in this series. These are very good numbers and lets not forget that these wickets came in not-too-helpful conditions, especially in the first 2 tests. Only in Mumbai they got some bounce and on the fifth day, extravagant turn as well. So that is great for India and augues well for the future. I have long felt that Harbhajan has taken his place for granted. He has not bowled consistently well for a long time now, but since he made those 2 centuries against NZ, it had become even more difficult to drop him. Now he has not been selected for the Australia tour as well, and that I am sure, must have hurt. I hope he takes this disappointment in the right manner and goes back to the drawing board and works out how to take wickets.

Coming to the ODI series against WI, it was great to see that Dhoni and Sachin were rested. Dhoni needs to be fresh for the Australia tour and it is good that they have started to manage Sachin's workload as well. It might have been tempting to play Sachin in the ODIs since it would have been almost a certainty that he would have scored his hundredth century if he had played. But he too needs to be fresh for the Aussie tour. I am looking forward to seeing Viru's captaincy after a long time. Viru is a very aggressive captain and it will be nice to see how his style differs from Dhoni's.

I would like to see Rahul Sharma given a debut in this ODI series. He has been in the dressing room for a long time now and though I did not think he merited a place in the test squad, he definitely deserves a chance in the ODI setup and I hope he gets a chance to display his skills. Rohit is another batsman I am looking out for. Like Virat, Rohit is also amazingly talented and when on song, his batting is wonderful to watch. The middle-order will have a newish look to it with both Yuvraj and Dhoni missing. This means that both Raina and Rohit can play, along with Jadeja. The fielding should be very good, with most of the players being in the 23-24 age group. Lets hope we can achieve a whitewash in the ODI series.

Looking ahead to Australia, I think this is a very good squad. It is nice to see that the selectors have not forgotten the performances of Praveen Kumar in England and have rewarded him for that. Also, they have given a chance to both Aaron and Yadav instead of selecting one of the two, which is also good to see. In the batting, the only weak spots are numbers 6 and 7. Virat/Rohit will be severely tested in Australia and I hope they prove themselves worthy of playing test cricket because if they prove themselves in this series, their future will be pretty much secured with the big three set to retire in the next year or so thereby opening up more slots in the middle order. Fingers crossed regarding Zaheer and I hope he shows good fitness and form in the 2 Ranji matches he is slated to play before the Australia tour. I have only one complaint against this squad. I think they should have seen Pujara play in the Ranji match that starts on 29th, and then chosen the squad. He should have been given a fair chance to prove his fitness and form before the team to Australia was announced. Anyway, if he does well in the Ranji games, he may still get a chance to go if someone gets injured.

Lets hear it from you guys. I am not seeing comments from any one for the last few posts. I hope you all are reading my posts. There is a lot to look forward to in the next few months and Indian cricket seems to be headed in the right direction with all the newcomers doing well and it looks like we have put the England tour debacle firmly behind us.

My next post will be after the first 2 ODIs against WI, so please stay tuned.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Review of second India-WI test match

Hello friends,

It was great to see India complete an efficient innings victory in Kolkata in the second test match against the West Indies. Also, like I had hoped in my previous post, India batted first and were able to post a huge first innings score with most of the batsmen getting good runs and spending time in the middle. I am sure the confidence of the batsmen is back now after the battering it had received on the England tour, which is a good sign with the tough tour to Australia looming ahead.

Sehwag and Gambhir gave us the perfect start, but it was disappointing to see both of them throw away the chance to get a hundred with loose shots. This shows that while they are on the way back from their injury lay-off, they have some way to go before they can claim that they are back to full form. Rahul, as usual, did not miss out on making a big score on the flat track and Laxman got his confidence back with an important, though easy, hundred. Sachin also gave it away when looking set once again. I think the hundredth century is definitely playing tricks in his head, even though he will not admit it. It was obvious in the way he suddenly accelerated in the second innings in Delhi to an extent that he was actually taking too many risks, and it also showed here when he got out playing a loose shot. Sachin without any pressure in his mind, would have played a little more cautiously and made full use of the docile track and the friendly bowling to get a hundred. I am beginning to think that he will only get his hundred in the ODIs and not even in the next test match. But if he does, there can be no better place for him than Mumbai to get the most coveted of all milestones he has so far.

It was sad to see Yuvraj struggle in test matches once again. Yuvi has a style of batting that is better suited to one-day and T20 cricket. The high back-lift, flourishing blade and playing away from the body, somehow does not fit into test cricket, though Veeru has done very well with those same traits. But one important thing to remember is that Veeru bats at the top of the innings when there are lots of gaps in front of the wicket and bowlers take a while to get into rhythm, which could result in a few loose balls at the start of his innings. Also, once Veeru settles down a bit after the initial flurry, he does show a fairly tight defensive technique and has a very good sense of picking the right balls to hit. When Yuvi bats in the middle of the innings, bowlers are sometimes pumped up after taking a few quick wickets, or they get the second new ball which they see as a new lease of life, and are willing to put in some extra effort in their bowling and with the fields relatively spread out, he does not get boundaries as easily as Veeru does. To bat at the number 6 position, you need a decent defense and an ability to wait for the bad ball, rather than try to make a good ball into a bad one and give it a whack, like Yuvi does often.

In that sense, I am not too disappointed that Yuvi has been left out for the Mumbai test and that Rohit gets a chance to stake his claim for the number 6 position ahead of the Australia tour. I am sure it had more to do with the way Yuvraj batted in the two test matches, rather than the actual scores he got. It would be nice to see what Rohit has to offer. In fact, I would like to see Rahul or Laxman rested for the Mumbai test match and even Virat get a chance to show his credentials before the squad for the Australia tour is selected. Also, maybe Ishant can be given a break and Varun Aaron can be tried in Mumbai. If that happens, probably for the first time ever, we will see two fast bowlers from India bowling in tandem at 140+ kmph. Just the thought of that makes my mouth water and I hope the selectors see it the same way as I do.

Lets talk now about the bowlers. Yadav continued to show improvement and has become a decent prospect for the near-term future. He hits the right lengths and gets the ball to reverse and do a bit of the seam as well. The one area I would like to see improvement is in his bowling with the new ball. He does not seem to get much swing, even though there is help from the conditions, particularly as seen in Kolkata. Maybe his wrist position is not quite correct, or his release needs to improve. But it would be nice if he is sent to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore after the test matches to work on those little things before the Australia tour. He should not be played in the ODI series since that would be too much load for him and he could get injured or even worse, could lose his zip because of bowling too many overs. In any case, we have PK, Aaron and maybe Vinay Kumar for the ODIs, so we should not over-burden Ishant and Yadav for the ODI series. The other bowlers also stuck to their task and their job of winning the test was made much easier once they got the WI out for 153 in the first innings.

As Dhoni said, I like the look of this Indian bowling attack in terms of pace as well as spin options. It is a varied attack, particularly with the spinners. When Zaheer comes back, this attack will look even more rounded and dangerous in all conditions. Speaking of Zaheer, I hope the selectors ask him to play at least one or two first class matches where he bowls around 20 overs per innings, before they decide on his fitness and form. The worst thing that could be done, is have Zak play a couple of one-day matches where he bowls 8-10 overs in each game and use that to declare his form and fitness. He needs more bowling than that under his belt before the first test against Australia. I hope Zak and the selectors are thinking about this.

One more point before I end this post. I am glad that Cheteshwar Pujara is back to fitness and will test out his fitness and form in the Ranji trophy match on 29th November. Of all the candidates for the number 6 spot - Yuvi, Virat, Raina, Pujara - (we have not seen Rohit bat in tests yet), he looks the most comfortable in the test arena and it would be great if he scores some runs and makes a good comeback before the selectors sit down to pick the squad for Australia. He is also a good fielder, especially close to the wicket and can play a defensive role (as witnessed when he helped Laxman add some crucial runs in a test in South Africa, though he made only 10) or attack as the situation demands (as seen when he made those wonderful 72 runs on debut in a potentially tricky fourth innings chase). So I have my fingers crossed for that Ranji match on 29th November.

Lets hear it from you guys. I did not see a single comment on my previous post. I hope you all are reading my blog and enjoying my analysis and comments about the India matches. I am looking forward to the next test in Mumbai and I hope India can complete a clean sweep there, which would be the second clean sweep after the torture of the England tour. I will post after the Mumbai test, so stay tuned.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review of India-WI first test match

Hello friends,

India completed a good victory in 3.5 days, much to the relief of all fans, including myself. It was nice to see the determination of the Indian players after they were bowled out for 209 in the first innings. They seemed to have been jolted by that collapse and took it in the right way and I could see that they were determined to win this match after that.

If the Indian team, particularly the batsmen, play the way they did after their batting collapse, there are very few teams who can stand up to them, particularly in Indian conditions. It helped that all the bowlers chosen for this test did not have any baggage from the horrible England tour, except Ishant to an extent. For that reason alone, the selectors need to be given their due. It is not easy to erase the bowling slate completely and select a new-look attack for the very next test match after they got a hiding in the previous test they played. It takes guts and conviction to do that and I am glad the selectors did it this time.

It was great to see Ojha and Ashwin reap success from some very good bowling. Ojha, I have always said, did not do too much wrong when he got chances, but never got his due, mainly due to the presence of Harbhajan. At his best, Ojha is very miserly and builds pressure by bowling lots of dot balls and gets his wickets that way. Ashwin, on the other hand, gets his wickets with subtle variations and bowling wicket to wicket. So these two spinners complement each other very well and I hope they form a good partnership for India in the future. Due to the nature of their bowling, Ojha can be effective in the first innings itself, while Ashwin will be more lethal in the third and fourth innings of a test match. Like I said in my previous post, this WI series is their best chance to stake a serious claim for the near to mid-term future. If they can each pick up about 18-20 wickets in this series, it will make the selectors think seriously about taking them to Australia as well.

Sehwag played like he usually does, but gave it away in both innings. This is the way he usually plays, but somehow, I think once Sehwag plays more matches and spends more time in the middle, he will not give away his wicket when he gets set and will get the big scores that we have seen him do in tests. Sachin showed determination in the last innings and looked certain to take India to victory, until he got tempted by the prospect of the 100th century. Once he got that in his mind, you could see the way he changed his game and in my opinion, that caused his downfall. If he has continued in the cautious manner in which he played till he got to 40 or so, he would have definitely been there at the end, though he may not have got to the hundred. After all, he is also human, so I am ok that he fell while trying for that landmark. At least, he did not get out when there was still a possibility of defeat.

Laxman batted beautifully as usual and it was great to see him score runs effortlessly. Laxman is usually a nervous starter, and from the bowling side's perspective, it is imperative to not give him boundary balls for the first 20-25 balls that Laxman plays. This time, he got a nice leg-side delivery as his first one and happily put it away for four and that set him on his way.

Yadav bowled well in the second innings. In the first innings, he did what I had said he would do. He bowled outside off stump for most of the time and did not make the batsmen play enough. This is why I had said that Varun Aaron would be a better bet for the first test. But it was nice to see that he was ready to learn from his mistakes and correct them in the second innings. I hope the selectors give a chance to Aaron as well in this series just to see what he is made of and whether he is worthy of being taken to Australia.

I hope the track in Kolkata will have more pace and bounce in it. It will be good for the spinners and will also help our batsmen to score big. One of the things I want to see in the second test is our line-up getting a score of around 450-500. If India wins at Kolkata, I want to see Dhoni rested for the last test match and at least the first 2-3 ODIs, if not for the entire ODI series. Lets hope India put in a performance at Kolkata that suggests that they are back to their confident ways in test match cricket.

Lets hear it from you guys. What were the aspects you liked about the win in the first test and what aspects do you think we still need to improve ? The next test starts in just 4 days, so my next post will be after the second test match. Stay tuned.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Thoughts on team selection for first WI test

Hello friends,

Having read the comments on my previous post, I decided to post my thoughts on the team selected for the first test against the WI.

Lets talk about the good things first. It was a great move to drop Harbhajan from the test squad as well. This shows that the selectors are not hesitant to tell him what they think about his performance of late. He has been riding on past glory for a while now, especially in tests, more so because of the 2 hundreds he made last year against NZ. But one thing I like about Srikkanth is that he always speaks his mind, even if it may lead to a little controversy. Giving Ashwin a chance over Harbhajan is a very good signal that the selectors are looking beyond Bhajji for better options and it should spur Harbhajan to work on his bowling and try to force his way back to the team, if he takes it in the right spirit. He has stopped bowling the doosra for some reason, which used to be his trump card to take wickets, especially in test matches. Without that weapon and with his new propensity to fire the ball flat, he was not going to take wickets in tests for India, so it is a great decision to drop him and pick Ashwin instead. I am sure Ashwin will do well. But he needs to attack a little more. He is an attacking bowler by nature, but in tests, bowlers need to attack even more than in ODIs and T20, to take wickets. Dhoni needs to give him attacking fields and let him know that his main job is to take wickets, even if he goes for a few boundaries in the process.

Another good decision was the one to include both Aaron and Yadav in the test setup. It shows that the selectors and Dhoni are looking for pace, which is good, especially considering the Australia tour that follows the WI series. One more good thing is, with Harbhajan gone, India will finally give a chance to Pragyan Ojha. In my opinion, Ojha is another cricketer who needs more chances and who deserves to be in the squad. He has not done much wrong in the chances he has got, though he needs to take more wickets to be considered seriously. Given that this series is taking place in Indian conditions, this is his best chance to impress.

Now lets look at the not-so-good decisions regarding team selection. I was shocked to see Praveen Kumar left out of the squad altogether. When he debuted in tests in England, he did quite well. In fact, besides his bowling, it was his batting that impressed. With him around, India were not blown away as soon as the 7th wicket fell, as PK would throw his bat and get a few crucial runs. I understand that PK wont get much swing in India, which has been given as the reason for his exclusion, but PK also keeps things tight and gets the ball to do enough to create doubt in the minds of the batsmen. He could also get some reverse swing, though that is doubtful given his lack of pace. To get reverse, bowlers need to bowl at a decent pace, preferably 130+, which PK does not achieve. But he could have easily been included in the squad in place of Rahul Sharma. Which brings us to the final dubious selection. In my opinion, it is a little too early to include Rahul Sharma in the test squad. I appreciate the selectors making note of IPL performances to spot future talent, but in this case, they seem to have taken the desire too far. If they wanted to include Sharma in the test setup, they should have tried him for at least 1-2 ODIs to see how he bowls in Indian colors against international opposition.

Even though IPL provides a test against lot of international talent, it is not the same as playing for your country against another country. For one, the pressure is much higher when you play for your country as opposed to playing for your club. Also, 10 overs will test a bowler more than 4 overs. Rahul Sharma needs to prove that he can take the pressure in ODIs against different opposition, before being selected to play test matches, which is the ultimate test for any cricketer. I dont think he will play in the tests, which means he is there merely to make up the numbers. If that is the case, the selectors should have gone with PK, who will not be there to make up numbers.

In the batting, the number 6 spot is a straight toss-up between Yuvraj and Kohli. Given the form he is in, and given that he has the extra motivation to do well against WI against whom he failed recently, I would go with Kohli for the first test. If India had another off-spinner or a leg spinner along with Ashwin in the first test, it may have tilted the scales towards Yuvraj due to his left-arm spin option. But Ojha covers that angle for us. Also, I would have Yuvraj play at least one first class match before bringing him into the test match lineup. It is never easy to come back from injury and the main thing any batsman needs is to spend time in the middle and feel balls hitting the middle of the bat on a consistent basis in match situations, not the nets. Yuvi has only had a couple of T20 matches as match practice after his return.

The only other spot that needs to be decided is that of the second pace bowler. Again, it is a toss-up between Yadav and Aaron. Given what I saw in the ODIs, I would pick Aaron over Yadav because he likes to bowl at the stumps, as opposed to sticking to a line outside off stump, which is what Yadav seemed to prefer. I did not see much movement from either bowler, but Aaron got some balls to bend back, which is a good sign. He can be very useful once the ball gets old and reverse swing comes into play. Also, India have always had a problem with cleaning up the tail of opposition teams, so Aaron's propensity to bowl at the stumps will be useful in that aspect as well. Lets see what the team management decides.

To respond to the comments by annonymous, I read the Fanie De Villiers interview as well and was impressed with his analysis of the game. I agree with him, that you dont need too much difference between your regular delivery and slower one, to induce mistakes from the batsmen. The point about getting batsmen caught at midwicket off the slower ball, brought back lots of memories about the number of times he did this to Sachin. At one point, he could almost get Sachin out at will with his slower one.

The WI test starts in less than a week. Lets hear it from you guys regarding the team selected and what you think should be the starting eleven for the first test match. I will try to post just before the start of the match with a little more about the starting eleven and the pitch and conditions and what India's strategy should be.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review of last 2 India-England ODIs

Hello friends,

So India achieved the 5-0 result that all Indian fans were hoping for. It was very satisfying to see the manner in which they won all matches in the series. Also, a few youngsters who were tried in this series, impressed and some others consolidated their position.

From an England perspective, they are in a more difficult state than India were after their tour of England. When we went there and lost everything, we at least knew the problem areas. In the tests, it was mainly the batting that let us down and in the ODIs, the bowling and fielding was below-par. So we could at least pinpoint the areas where we needed to show improvement. For England, the situation is worse since they lost some matches with the bat when they collapsed, particularly against the Indian spinners, but they also lost a couple of games with the ball by giving lot of runs to India, particularly in the ODI where we chased down 298 and in the last ODI where Dhoni and Co. scored 91 runs in the last 10 overs. In the fifth ODI, England should have and could have restricted India to a total around 240-250. Given the way they collapsed against the spinners, they might still have lost, but if they had got to 128 for no loss while chasing 240 or 250, who knows, maybe they would have batted differently. Another aspect of the England batting that would be worrisome to their management, is the lack of footwork of the batsmen against spinners. They seem to play the spinners off the pitch, which is very difficult to do since the reaction time is very little. Even the so-called Asians in the line-up like Bopara and Patel, appear to be more English than Indian in their mindset and approach. They need to improve on this and do it soon, otherwise teams will stack their bowling with spinners and hope to win against England that way.

I watched Varun Aaron a little in the 4th and 5th ODIs and I like what I see so far. Like Umesh Yadav, he does not give up on pace even in his later spells and bowls at 135+ on a consistent basis, which is good to see. With his pace, he gets some natural reverse-swing and I think Dhoni understood that, which is why he would bring Aaron on after 15 overs or so. I hope he spends time with the likes of Manoj Prabhakar, Wasim Akram and develops some swing with the new ball. His stock delivery appears to be the one coming in from outside off, but it would also help him and India if he can develop the one that goes through straight. For a primarily inswing/incutter bowler, even the one that goes straight can get lots of wickets. A prime example is Makhaya Ntini of SA who did not really have the away-going delivery, but picked up lots of wickets by simply fooling the batsmen with the straighter one, used well in the middle of his incoming deliveries.

I think India should definitely take Aaron and Yadav to Australia. They will enjoy bowling on those wickets, and it would be nice to see if they can rattle the Aussie batsmen with their pace occasionally. Hope they both have a good series against WI in the mean time, so that their confidence will be high for the tough Australia tour.

I saw an article in Cricinfo today that the selectors are thinking about resting Dhoni from the WI series. If this happens, it will be very very good for Indian cricket in the near and middle term. Dhoni is, without doubt, the hardest working cricketer in the country at this time and badly needs to take his body and mind away from cricket for a reasonable amount of time. It would also give us a chance to look at other contenders for the captaincy role. This is needed in these times, because a player could lose form and confidence very quickly and if Dhoni loses form with the bat or gloves or both, we should not be in the situation that we have to play him simply because there is no other alternative for the captaincy role. Lets hope the selectors rest Dhoni from the WI series, even if only for the ODIs or tests.

I am feeling pretty good with the strength of the Indian ODI team. Like I said in my previous post, when the seniors come back, the ODI team will be even stronger and it has a settled look to it. It is the test team that I have concerns with. I am not sure what is the right way to deal with Dravid, Sachin and VVS at this time. With Dravid, I am more inclined to think that he should go now. Sachin also I think can limit himself to playing only ODIs. But whether we should simply drop them all at the same time and go with young blood, or phase them out slowly, I am not sure at this time. Given the fitness issues of Sehwag and to an extent, Gambhir, if we drop the big-three, we could be looking at a very raw batting line-up and that could cost us a few games. I want India to get back to the number 1 ranking quickly and for that, I think we need some solidity in the middle order, so maybe we can play the big three in the Australia series and if we win and get close to number 1, maybe we can start phasing them out at that time.

Lets hear it from you guys. There ots of cricket to be played in the near future, and lots of things to talk about, regarding Australia tour and future of the test batting (and bowling).

My next post will be before the first test against WI, so stay tuned and keep the comments coming.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Review of 2nd and 3rd India-England ODIs

Hello friends,

First of all, let me apologize for not writing after the second ODI. With only 3 days gap between matches, it becomes difficult to write after every match. If I let go on the first day and get to be a little busy on the next, we are already close to the start of the next ODI.

Anyway, it was very satisfying to see India beat England comprehensively for 3 matches in a row and seal the series with 2 games to play. Like Dhoni has said, I am not a big fan of calling this a 'revenge victory' over England. For me, it was more about the guys getting their confidence back before the tough challenge of facing Australia in Australia and trying to beat them there. With 5 ODIs scheduled against a weak West Indies side in November, I am sure there will be no shortage of confidence in the boys by the time they take off for Australia.

Coming back to the second and third ODIs, one aspect that has been particularly satisfying for me is that, it is not as if all matches followed the same pattern and India won by doing the same things each time. The first match was won defending, the second was a perfect lesson in the art of chasing, while the third one was the toughest where they chased down a huge total and had to endure fall of wickets and a tight finish to get over the line. As I said in my previous post, it looks like the one week rest has done Dhoni a lot of good and he looks fresh and hungry again. But the selectors must not get carried away by this and should not play him in all the remaining 7 ODIs and 1 T20 before the Australia tour. I was looking at the schedules and they are very tight. We finish the England T20 on 29th and the first test against WI starts on 6th November, hardly a 1-week gap between matches. The ODI leg of the WI series finishes on December 11th, with the first test against Australia starting on Boxing Day - December 26th - just 2 weeks after the last ODI against WI. So the board should be careful and manage the players properly, otherwise we will see a very tired lot of cricketers on the tough tour of Australia and that would be playing into their hands.

I hope the selectors rest Dhoni, Gambhir and others who play all formats, for the last 2 or 3 ODIs against WI. Anyway, coming back to the England ODIs, like I mentioned in my previous post, having Jadeja at number 7 is proving to be a huge bonus for India these days. He seems to have worked on his batting a lot, especially his strike rate. I am sure everyone remembers how he used to come in and consume a lot of deliveries and even cost us a few games with his slow batting. But thanks to T20, he has improved a lot in his strike rate and is now always looking to attack and score quick runs. He is providing us the boost that was expected from Yusuf, which we never got on a consistent basis. In the third ODI, even though we were chasing a huge score and even during the wobble in the middle when we lost a few wickets, I never felt the tension and never thought we would lose. Somehow, having seen all those matches when India chased down huge totals effortlessly, has made me very confident of this team when it comes to Indian conditions.

The one good thing I keep thinking about and feeling happy about is, this is a virtually second string team that we are playing with and for us to perform so creditably and beat a good side like England is great. Look at the players we are missing from the ODI squad - Sachin, Veeru, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Munaf, Rohit Sharma. When these guys come back, India will have a very strong ODI team and I hope we take the strongest possible team to Australia for the tests and ODIs.

Another plus point from the 3 ODI victories is the speed that Umesh Yadav generated. It was great to see him hit the upper 130s and the 140s regularly. Too bad that he is injured for the last 2 ODIs, but it is a golden opportunity to try out Varun Aaron who is reputed to be even quicker than Yadav. I did not like that they chose to replace Umesh with Mithun, but hopefully he will not get a chance to play and that they will play Aaron instead. In my mind, a complete Indian attack will be - 2 swing/seam bowlers (preferably 1 right-arm and 1 left-arm), 1 quick bowler (like Yadav or Aaron) and 2 good, different-from-each-other spinners (one of whom should be a good bat as well). This is a very good attack to have and should make our bowling perform much better than it has till now.

For the next 2 ODIs, I would also like to see Rahul Sharma play instead of Ashwin or Jadeja. Maybe Ashwin can be rested since he is a proven performer and we need him fresh for the WI ODIs and the Australia tour. Jadeja is doing well in his comeback, so it makes sense to let him milk his form and confidence while it lasts. I would also give Manoj Tiwary a chance instead of maybe Virat, who has been playing non-stop since the start of the ODI series in England.

One other good thing I noticed is how Dhoni has used the slow medium bowling of Virat on Indian pitches. Virat has filled the void to an extent that was created by the absence of Yuvi in the bowling department. He should be used more in Indian conditions and encouraged to develop some more variety so that he will be useful for a couple of overs even in overseas conditions.

Lets enjoy the remaining 2 ODIs and hope that it is a clean sweep by India. I noticed that none of you commented on my previous post. Lets hear it from you guys. There is a lot of cricket to be played ahead and it will be nice to see more people commenting on my posts and sharing your thoughts.

I will write again after the last 2 ODIs are completed, so stay tuned.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on India-England first ODI

Hello friends,

It was nice to see India post a comprehensive win in the first ODI against England. The size and ease of victory is what gave me more joy than the actual victory. India ticked off most boxes with that win, but they need to post a comprehensive win for the series and only then will Indian fans, myself included, be satisfied.

I think the 1 week rest has done lot of good for Dhoni. He looked fresh and agile in the middle and also in his decision-making. In that way, Chennai Super Kings not making the semi-finals of CLT20 was a blessing in disguise. It is nice to see that Dhoni is in great batting form. Also, Ravindra Jadeja continues to play like he has a point to prove. As long as that fire in him is burning, he will continue to perform well. It will be interesting to see whether, after a few more good performances like these, he will get complacent and drop his standards. I hope not, because there are a lot of contenders for his slot and if the team does not do well, his will be one of the first places to be scrutinized. For a like-for-like swap (bowling all-rounder or batting all-rounder), we have Yusuf and Yuvraj (when he returns) and Irfan (if he does very well in the upcoming domestic season). One other way his position could be sacrificed is if the team management decide to go with 7 proper batsmen (especially once Yuvi comes back) and use a few others (Raina, Yuvi, a fully-fit Sehwag etc.) for the 5th bowler option. So he should continue to perform and I hope he realizes this.

Having seen Jadeja perform, I think it is difficult for Rahul Sharma to get in to this setup, which is sad because he deserves a look-in. I hope Rahul stays in the squad for the remaining 3 matches as well and that the management try him in the 4th or 5th ODI, especially if India wrap-up the series early. I hope all pitches behave like the one in Hyderabad, a bit on the slower side, but once the batsmen get in, they can play shots, like Dhoni and Raina proved. This will test the England batsmen and will suit our pop-gun attack (I am talking about the pacers here). Having said that, it was nice to see Umesh Yadav run in and hit speeds of 135+ consistently and hustle the England batsmen at times with his pace. I wish they also try Varun Aaron at some time this series, and that he does the same as Yadav.

Lets hope for another win in the second ODI. I will post again after the second ODI, so please stay tuned.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Random thoughts regarding CLT20 and Indian team selection

Hello friends,

It has been a while since my previous post. I have been watching CLT20 and enjoying pressure-free cricket even though at this stage, it looks like Mumbai is the only IPL team that will probably go through to the semi-finals. Chennai have lost 2 matches from winning positions and KKR looked a bit flat in the first 2 games. RCB hit decent scores while batting, but gave it away with ordinary bowling in both matches before winning today's game by a big margin after another fantastic batting performance from Chris Gayle, followed by disciplined bowling for once.

I also saw the Indian team selected for the first 2 ODIs against England. And the first thought that struck me was one of extreme happiness at the dropping of Harbhajan. Mind you, he was not rested or injured, he was DROPPED and that, to me, is pretty significant. Another selection that made me happy was the inclusion of Rahul Sharma in Harbhajan's place. This tells me that this selection committee is having their thinking caps on and are willing to make some tough calls if necessary. Rahul Sharma deserves his place in the Indian team IMO and it is good that his IPL performances are being rewarded before it fades away from memory completely and he too loses the confidence that he obviously would have gained from it. I like the look of this Indian spin attack - 2 very tall spinners (Ashwin and Rahul Sharma) who use their head while bowling and look to take wickets as well as contain in shorter formats.

Now lets talk about some not-so-good selections. For an ODI series in India, they have gone in with just 5 proper batsmen, but have picked 5 medium pacers !! What kind of thinking is that ? Is Dhoni looking to blast out the England batsmen with his pacers in Indian pitches ? That was a huge blunder, in my opinion, to pick 5 pacers. I agree that Varun Aaron deserved another chance and I can even agree with Umesh Yadav's selection, provided he is going to bowl fast when he gets a chance. But they could easily have selected one more batsman instead of one more pacer. Like someone mentioned in the comments of my previous post, I dont see the reasoning behind the selection of both Vinay Kumar and S Aravind. If it was felt that Aravind deserved a chance after showing good improvement in IPL, then VK should have been dropped. VK got his chances in England and did not quite set the Thames on fire with his performances there. He is a useful bowler, good to have around, but he can be easily replaced if we need to try new talent, particularly on Indian pitches. And going with just 5 proper batsmen is risky because if one of them gets injured, which appears very likely these days, we could be thin in batting.

Looking at the Indian batting lineup for the first 2 matches, I dont see us getting 300-plus even if pitches favor batting. Guys like Parthiv are good for cameos, Ajinkya is still new and relatively untested, and Gambhir is returning from injury while Virat and Raina have not been in the best of touches recently even in CLT20. This lineup does not give me the confidence that, say, a lineup like Sachin, Veeru, Gauti, Virat, Yuvraj, Dhoni. That was a line-up that you could look at and say, if conditions are good for batting, we will easily score 300 and possibly much more. Anyway, they have picked from the ones we have available, so no complaints there, other than one more batsman for a pacer.

Once again, Irfan Pathan was ignored and that is sad. In my opinion, he is a much better cricketer than some of the guys that have been tried since he was out of the team. We seem to be looking at Irfan as our complete all-rounder, which is wrong. Irfan should be used like a batting all-rounder in my opinion. Dangerous floater in the line-up, capable of batting anywhere and hitting quick runs or buckling down depending on the situation, and being available for 4-5 overs with the ball. He can be given the new ball, or used for a few overs in the middle, particularly when India bowls under lights, since he may be able to get some swing even with a slightly older ball under lights. There are many options available with Irfan, and to me, that is a good thing to have for a captain - the fact that he can use a particular player in more ways than one. Irfan has been selected in one of the teams for the Challenger Trophy, so lets hope he can make use of that opportunity and get the selectors thinking about him again.

I think the ODI matches against England will be good and I hope the Indian players are still feeling bad about their performance in England, even though their minds would have been cooled somewhat by the CLT20 tamasha. But for India to do well against England, they need to be smarting from their England tour performances, only then we will see passion in the middle and some good, solid performances.

Lets continue our discussion with your comments. Do you guys agree with the selections made for the ODI series, or do you have other choices that you would like to see in the Indian team ? What performances in the CLT20 did you enjoy ? Lets hear it from you.

My next post will probably be after the Challenger trophy matches, which I hope to follow at least partly on TV, if it is shown, but I will definitely follow the scores on the internet and note the good performances. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review of 3rd and 4th ODI

Hello friends,

So India cannot win or tie the ODI series as well. With one match to go, England have won the series after the tie in the 4th game. The only consolation for us Indian fans is that the ODI series will not be a complete whitewash, like the tests and T20 were, thanks to the tied game. It will give us a little more joy if India can win the last ODI. Lets hope for the best.

Frankly, I dont know what to write these days in my blog. The Indians are looking miserable with the bat, ball and in the field on this tour. At the Oval, on a good batting track, they did not have the patience and skill to see out the first 10 overs and were 25 for 4 before Anderson's first spell ended and had to fight themselves out of a hole yet again. It is to their credit as an ODI team that they were able to get even 234 in the end. It was nice to see Jadeja perform well in the 2 games he played. He was able to provide the vital 5th bowler option and he also seems to have worked on his batting, especially the pacing of his innings. When he used to be part of the Indian team earlier, he would bat very slowly in such situations and cause frustration to everyone. But now, probably thanks to the surplus of T20s, he does not get bogged down at the crease and looks to score constantly. On the evidence of what I have seen from him in this series, I think he is a good candidate to keep in the rotation and can be useful in the future.

It is sad to see Virat Kohli struggle in England as he did in the WI tests. I hope he comes good in the final ODI as I see him as one of the people who will form the nucleus of our batting in the future at least in ODIs, if not in all formats. This is where I regret that cricketers these days have very little down time and are playing constantly through the year. It is obvious looking at Kohli that some time in the nets under the guidance of an able coach will help him, but look at his schedule for the rest of this year. After playing the last ODI on Sept 16th, he dashes back to India to play the first game of the Champions League T20 on 23rd. After the CLT20, he will play in the ODI series against England in October. It is only after this series, that he can go back to the nets at NCA or wherever and correct the faults that have crept into his technique.

Cricket calendars are only going to get more crowded going forward, so it is very important that the boards recognize this and balance player workload in order to see more even contests. Lets hope the BCCI develop a pool of about 20 cricketers and follow the rotation policy that teams like Australia adopted successfully when they were at the top.

I am now waiting for this series to end, and looking forward to watching some tension-free cricket in the CLT20. The last 2 months have been painful from an Indian cricket fan perspective, so I would welcome the CLT20 where I can watch cricket without getting too caught up in the results and performances of particular teams.

I see that you guys are also bored with the England series and have probably already moved on to other things, considering that there was no comment on my previous post :)

I will keep this blog alive with regular posts during the CLT20, so stay tuned and keep adding your comments.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review of first 2 ODIs

Hello friends,

After 2 ODI matches, England lead 1-0. It could have been 1-1 if rain had not played spoilsport in the first game. The second one India lost due to lack of teeth in the bowling department. One positive note about the 2 ODIs so far is, the batsmen have improved and are setting good, competitive totals. Though I am still getting the feeling that they are not performing to full potential and we are giving wickets to England bowlers pretty easily. There is virtually no contribution from numbers 8 to 11 which is putting additional pressure on the top 7 batsmen, particularly Raina and Dhoni as they come at 6 and 7 and must be having it in the back of their head that if they go early, India will fold pretty quickly. In spite of that, it is nice to see Raina back to the muscleman mode that he displays only in limited overs matches.

Another positive and pleasing thing to see is the way Parthiv and Rahane are batting at the top of the order. Parthiv is batting quite well at the moment and is looking to take the attack to the England bowlers which, as I have been saying all tour, is the way to handle them and give them stuff to think about. Rahane has played 3 eye-catching knocks so far and it is nice to see him come good. He looks to be someone to definitely keep in the radar for the future in all formats. His shots, though played in the air at times, have an aesthetic look to them and dont look ugly at all, while being very effective. He appears to know where his field is and looks to attack at every opportunity, which is nice to see. I am sure he does not play in this manner in the longer format and has adopted this approach only for the shorter format. Rahul is also looking to hit more in the air and in the gaps, possibly a positive influence of the IPL on his batting.

It is the bowling which worries me. There is a sameness to the attack as far as speed is concerned with all the pacers operating in the 120-130 kmph range and looking to do the similar things in their bowling, like relying on impeccable length and line and a little wobble to keep the batsmen quiet and thereby, buy wickets. I think this is where someone like Varun Aaron needs to be brought in for the extra speed he provides. We are already down 1 game with only 3 more to come, so it would not hurt at all to try Aaron in the next game and see what he can provide. The England batsmen were always looking to attack the pacers and had no reservations about going down the track and hitting across the line. So it would be nice if Aaron can come in and bowl a few bouncers that whiz past the heads of the England batsmen. Also the lack of a proper fifth bowler is killing us. Lets see what Ravindra Jadeja can provide here. I am not a fan of Jadeja, but if he can contain the batsmen a bit and create some pressure with his bowling and in the field, I will forgive him even if he does not score too many or if he scores slowly as he has done in the past.

Lets hope for a full game in the third and remaining ODIs. I still believe this Indian team can challenge the England team over a full match of 100 overs. Before I end, I want to make a mention of Dhoni's captaincy which has really fallen apart in this tour. Some of his decisions on the field and in the team selection are very baffling to me, like the choice of the 3 pacers and the reluctance to use Ashwin earlier in the previous match. Granted that Ashwin's first over went for 16 runs, but he did bowl 2-3 dot balls even in that over. Dhoni used Kohli for a couple of overs and even tried Raina before Ashwin was brought back. When he came back, he took 2 wickets and gave only 27 from his next 4 overs. I believe he should have come back sooner and could have made a difference. Such simple mistakes are what I am seeing in this Dhoni and that worries me. I think it is time for Dhoni to be forced into a break and some thought needs to be given to his place in the test team. If he has to play the Champions League this month (and I suspect he does, because he is the main box office draw for CSK), then he should not play the ODI series against England that follows. Lets hope the BCCI folks show some sense and force Dhoni to take significant time away from the game.

Now lets see what you guys think. Do you believe India can still win this series or even one game ? Do you agree that the bowling needs to be changed a bit and that Dhoni needs to get away from cricket ? My next post will be after the third ODI, so stay tuned.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review of T20 and preview of ODI series

Hello friends,

After creating some hope in us fans about a possible turnaround in the limited overs series, India lost again in familiar fashion in the T20 match yesterday. The sad part was the manner of defeat that brought back all the memories of the test series. The defeat was caused once again by inept batting that could not even last 20 overs.

The England bowling attack for the T20 was not as threatening as in the tests. Bresnan and Broad did not bowl well at the start and thanks to Rahane and Dravid, India were sitting pretty at 105 for 1 after 11 overs. Once again, the downfall was not caused by good bowling, but bad batting. It almost seems as if these guys have a mental block against any bowler wearing an England shirt. If that is the case, England are going to thrash us in the ODI series as well because Anderson will be back and they will be fielding almost the same attack as in the tests.

It was so nice to see Rahane doing well in his first game in India colors. He appears to be a batsman in the classic mode, but with the modern mindset that is caused by IPL and a profusion of limited overs cricket that is the norm these days. That means, he does not hesitate to hit over the top, but his classic upbringing means that he will not hit out recklessly. In other words, he appears to be a batsman from the Virat Kohli and Gautam of batting. This augurs well for India in the future. He needs to be kept in the rotation. I did not see him field, but since he is only 23 years old, I hope he will be a good, athletic fielder because we need such fielders in the ODI series to prevent England from controlling the middle overs.

Coming to the ODIs, Sachin will obviously walk in to the line-up and that means, Parthiv will have to go. I want to see Rahane open with Sachin as that would be an invaluable experience for the young man and will help him and India enormously in the long run. After that, we have Virat (batting at his favorite number 3 position), Rohit, Raina and Dhoni followed by the bowlers. One cause for concern is that this means we will go in with 4 regular bowlers and have to rely on Raina, Rohit and Virat for completing 10 overs. Coming to that, it was obvious that India were going to struggle with the fifth bowler quota in the T20, so it was baffling to see that Dhoni did not give Raina even 1 over, even after Rohit went for 16 runs in his only over. I dont know if Raina was injured, but if not, it is another mistake by Dhoni the captain.

Anyway, regarding the bowling, I would like to see Aaron or Mishra in the line-up instead of Vinay for the first ODI. If the track is relatively quick, Aaron should play simply to see whether he can rattle the England batsmen a bit with his pace. If it is slow and devoid of grass, then Mishra should be given a go. Mishra is a better bowler than his bowling analysis from the last test indicate. With Ashwin also playing, Mishra could be expected to up his game and challenge Ashwin for the spinner's slot since he is a competitive cricketer who likes to fight. That leaves PK and Munaf as the 2 pace bowling options. Seeing Munaf operate yesterday, especially his last 3 overs, it was another miss by Dhoni to ignore him completely for the test matches instead preferring to give 3 chances to Sreesanth and even playing RP Singh over Munaf at the Oval.

For India to win matches in the ODI series, Sachin has to bat long. When Sachin does that, we look so much better as a batting side and all the others perform above potential as well. Lets hope Sachin gets his 100th century and can win us at least 2 games on his own.

Lets hear it from you guys now. What do you think should India's lineup be for the first ODI and the others ? Do you think India will be more competitive in the shorter format ? For me, it all boils down to how they tackle the 3 England pacers in the mind. If they can throw away the demons of the test series, they will do well, otherwise I see another miserable series with the bat for India. Lets hope for the best.

My next post will be after the first ODI, so stay tuned.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review of fourth test and overall test series

Hello friends,

In the end, we saw another spineless performance from India on a good track that helped England easily take the series 4-0. I am glad we did not draw this match or effect any kind of turnaround as that would have papered over the cracks and caused more damage than good for Indian cricket overall. I am also glad, as are a few others (judging by the articles in the press) that Sachin did not get his 100th hundred at the Oval, for the same reason.

What was sad to see, like I kept saying through the series, is not the defeats, but the manner in which they were arrived at. It has been a long time since we have seen such a listless performance from India both with bat and ball. I dont believe that one man (Zaheer) alone was responsible for our march to Number 1 ranking and all the wins over the past 2 years or so. So, in the same way, I dont believe that his absence alone took out the fight from our entire team. It did make a big impact, but what can be said about the lack of fight from the esteemed batting order, arguably the best in the world ?

In my opinion, the few points worth thinking about after this debacle regarding the batting order are -

1) Someone needs to spend a long time with Sehwag (preferably a psychologist) talking to him about the role that he plays in this side and how desperately we need him to spend time in the middle. For a batsman of his class, I dont think that is too difficult a job, is it ? All he needs to do is spend the first hour or so leaving a lot of balls outside off stump and only play shots when the ball is close to his body. Once he does that, India is automatically a much better batting side and has the ability to exercise control on the match

2) We must look at the seniors (Rahul, Sachin and VVS) and seriously consider the possibility of playing only one of them for the next year or so. It is not only about their batting, we are missing young legs in the field and as was evident in this series, their reflexes while catching have significantly reduced. Rahul dropped at least 2-3 catches and England were able to milk a lot of extra runs in the field by hitting to these senior players. As PK suggested in the comments section of my previous post, since we are batting poorly anyway, we might as well do so with youngsters in the lineup

3) The one definite fact to emerge out of this test series is that Raina has to go. He should definitely be in the plans for the future, but right now he has too many chinks in his armor to be a test batsman. That spot can be given to Yuvi or Kohli or Pujara or some other more deserving candidate who looks more comfortable against all sorts of deliveries

4) I know this may sound controversial, but I think the management and selectors need to think about Dhoni's presence in the lineup. He has done great things in the past, but his batting looks very ordinary at times at test level and his captaincy in test matches needs to be looked at more closely as well. Even providing some leeway for the horrible tour India had, some of the decisions he took made absolutely no sense like playing R P Singh at Oval and his stubborn support of Sreesanth. The major issue here is the absence of a replacement for Dhoni the wicket-keeper. There seems to be no one in sight who can do a competent job over 5 days. At least some thought needs to be given to having Gambhir as captain for test matches

5) It is also time to think about grooming a replacement for Harbhajan for test matches. I dont think there is much left in him at this point and it is time to look at bringing Ashwin in to the test side. We cannot brand players as ODI players or T20 players without giving them a chance in tests. They said the same thing about PK, but look how he came through when tried in test matches. In fact, his bowling and the spunk he showed with the bat were among the few positives for India during the tour so far

6) Last but certainly not the least, it is time to think about life after Zaheer. It is now clear that Zak's days are numbered and it should be left to him (in fact, he should be told) to choose one format and thereby extend his career as long as possible. Meanwhile, we should use him while he is around to first identify some future prospects and then groom them under him. To this point, I think it is a good idea to take a close look once again at Irfan Pathan. He provides us a wicket-taking option with the ball (provided he has got his swing back, of course) and also provides us with a very good number 8 or even number 7 if we decide to go with 5 bowlers

Lets hope some serious soul-searching happens as a result of the disastrous performance in England. If that happens, I think it will be a blessing in disguise for Indian cricket that we played and lost so badly in this test series.

On to the ODIs now. Contrary to what some people are suggesting in the press, I think India will do much better in ODIs and might even pose a serious challenge to England and win at least a couple of games. One key player for us is Virat Kohli. It was nice to see that he did well in the practice match against Sussex. He needs to spend more time over the next 2 practice games as it is imperative that he has a great series if India are to do well in the ODIs. The batting needs to revolve around him so that we can get big scores and put pressure on a confident England side. Lets hope the Indians give us something to cheer about in the ODIs after causing so much frustration and disappointment in the tests.

Lets hear it from you guys now. Do you agree or disagree with my points above regarding the future of the test team ? What other ideas do you have ?

My next post will be after the T20 match and before the first ODI, so stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review of Edgbaston test

Hello friends,

I know it has been a few days since India lost miserably to England in the third test. I have no reasons for not posting on this blog. Simply put, I had nothing to say and after the initial sorrow and disappointment at the loss of the series and the number 1 ranking, the only feeling that remains is anger. Anger at the incompetence of the famous Indian lineup to cope with the England bowling and conditions, anger at the BCCI for not having even one practice match before the first test, anger at the bowlers and team management for not being able to pose any concerns to the England lineup and for giving up too easily in this test match and often in this series. I could go on and on, but that will do for now.

The real problem is, there seems to be no way to turn this around other than go out and get 500 or more in the Oval test. If that happens, it will do good for everyone - the cricketers themselves who will get some confidence back before the ODI series, the fans who will continue to hope and not be forced to believe that this Indian team is headed for number 4 or 5 in the test rankings. If we dont do well in the Oval test, we will get back to India and in a few weeks, this tour and its issues will be swept under the carpet without taking any corrective action. I know some of you are probably thinking that we should fail at Oval too, so that BCCI will be forced to make some changes. But I dont believe change is the only way to go here. I agree that it is time to groom youngsters and look to phase out the big 3 from the Indian team. But think about this more rationally. They have done well in England before and even here, Dravid got 2 hundreds. So I dont think it is skill or talent that is missing here or even determination to do well, since we have seen that in abundance before. Somehow Sachin and Laxman could not face up to the wonderful England bowlers in this series. I am not defending them, it is definitely a cause for concern that such great batsmen failed again and again in this series and a lot of times, fell to similar type of shots and deliveries. But whether this alone is enough reason to kick them out of the team altogether, I am not sure. Anyway, the 'young' alternatives we have like Raina and Virat have not exactly set the world on fire with their accomplishments.

Like someone mentioned in the comments section of my previous post, we should look at other replacements like Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Rahane, Manoj Tiwary etc. And we should also look to blood them in some low profile series like Bangladesh or some home series. But looking ahead only as far as our next test series, it is in Australia and for that, I am of the opinion that we need the big 3 to be in the team. Australia is a very tough place to tour and if we blood too many youngsters in that tour, I think we will be eaten up raw by the Aussies and also, the youngsters could be severely impacted in terms of confidence and that would only set us back in terms of development for the future. But more on that later.

For now, we need to focus on the Oval test and how to get our batting in order for that. I was really angry at Sehwag for getting out first ball in both innings. I dont buy the 'getting back from injury' and 'this is the way he plays' argument for one second. He is a professional and has been in this situation before. Moreover, the entire country and the team was counting on him to produce some of his magic and lift us out of the doldrums. Having known that, he needed to show more caution and play the situation appropriately. Hopefully, he will spend more time in the middle at the Oval.

For the Oval test, our bowling (I cannot use the word 'attack' after what happened in the first 3 tests) should be 2 pacers and 2 spinners. Sreesanth should be benched and Ojha should play. It is almost September and the Oval track has traditionally assisted spin, so Ojha should be a certainty. If PK is injured, RP Singh should play. He cannot do much worse than the others and being left-arm, he provides a different angle for us. We could also try Virat one more time instead of Raina. He needs to spend time in the middle, both for his own confidence at test level, and also before the ODI series that follows.

Lets hope for a better batting performance from India in the last test match. Lets hear it from you guys out there now. Are you still hopeful of a turnaround in the team fortunes in this test match or are you already looking ahead to the ODI series and the Australia series in terms of test matches ?

I will post again after the Oval test, so stay tuned.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Preview of third India-England test match

Hello friends,

I followed the county match with Northamptonshire with interest, only to see whether Sehwag and Gambhir would spend some time in the middle and whether Zaheer would be fit for the third test. It looks like Veeru and Gauti are fit to play, but Zak has been ruled out of the series and is expected to be out for more than 4 months. While I am excited that our best opening partnership may be back at Edgbaston, I am not too disappointed that Zak is gone. I have been saying for a while now that we must learn to live without him as his days are numbered anyway. This gives us an opportunity to see where we stand in the bowling department. Also, 2 events occurred recently that would help our bowling attack in the third test, an attack which took 20 England wickets in Trent Bridge without Zaheer. The first event is the absence of Trott in the England line-up. Trott has been in very good form almost since he came in to the test side, but even more so over the past year or so. England's batting has revolved around him more often than not in the recent past. So his loss would be a huge blow to England, especially since I am sure they are aware that Strauss and Cook have not been at their best in this series. That puts more pressure on KP, Bell and Prior in Edgbaston, which will help India's bowlers.

The other good thing, in my opinion, is the loss of Harbhajan, especially considering how he was bowling in the past 4-5 test matches. I have been suggesting that he should be dropped, but I also knew that his 2 test match hundreds would ensure that he remained the first pick among spinners. So now, the team management has to pick Mishra for the third test. Even though Mishra may go for some runs, he could get us some wickets, especially if the England batsmen play him from the crease, like some of them are prone to do. England probably plans to leave some live grass on the wicket to assist seam and bounce, and that could also help Mishra get some turn and bounce for us. If Dhoni uses him wisely and gives him good fields, with an in-and-out combination (at least a couple of catchers and about 3 on the boundary), Mishra could be useful for us.

But what will help us to win the third test, is definitely the batting. India need to start batting as they are known for. Sachin needs to come good now and we also need a big score from VVS. This will not only ensure that we have good runs on the board, but also that we are scoring at a decent pace. These are the kinds of players - Sachin, VVS, Veeru, Gauti - who will upset England's plans quickly because of the pace at which they naturally play. Someone like Rahul, who has been invaluable for us in the first 2 tests, does not create fear in the opposition enough to make them change plans midway, because he does not score quickly. And having seen the rest of India's batsmen over 2 tests, England will be confident enough to wait patiently and continue to execute their plans, because they know that the score will not move that quickly even though Dravid is looking rock-solid at one end. I am not undermining Rahul's importance here, just stating that how important it is from Team India's perspective that the other batsmen also score big and spend a lot of time in the middle.

My team for the third test will be - Veeru, Gautam, Dravid, Sachin, VVS, Raina (deserves one more chance especially with Yuvi gone), MSD, Mishra, PK, Ishant, Munaf.

I would replace Sreesanth with Munaf for this test match. Sreesanth is too unpredictable in my opinion and unless there is a cloud cover or something and the forecast is expected to aid swing a lot, I would not continue with Sreesanth and would bring in Munaf for the steadiness he provides and the ability to make batsmen play more than the others.

Lets hope for a turnaround from India in this test match, led by the batting. My next post will be after the test match, so stay tuned.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Review of second India-England test match

Hello friends,

India were completely outplayed in the second test match and as a result, find themselves 0-2 down in the test series after 2 matches. Once again, the match has been lost by the batsmen. Some may point out that India were 67 runs ahead in the first innings before they allowed England to make 500-odd in the second innings and so lost the match. But in my opinion, where India lost the match is in the first innings with the bat where we failed to get around 400 or so that would closed out defeat as an option or at least made defeat as a remote possibility. With those runs behind them, who knows the bowlers may have bowled better and we might have restricted England to much less than what they eventually got. The quality that distinguishes great teams from the good and ordinary ones is the streak of ruthlessness. It is a streak that England are currently displaying and it is no wonder that they are at the doorstep of becoming the number 1 test side in the world.

It is true that the Indian bowlers allowed England to come back after having them 124 for 8, but even 221 was not a good score on this track. The pitch held no demons, the odd ball misbehaved and the ball was swinging, but even that was less on day 2 and 3 compared to day 1. In England, usually the best days for batting are days 2 and 3, especially if the days are sunny and warm like they were in Trent Bridge. And in this test match, and partly in Lord's, India got to bat in better conditions in the first innings. Having bowled England for 221, they had no business to get bowled out for 288. This is where they should have exhibited the ruthless streak that is the hallmark of great teams like Australia of the early 2000s, West Indies of the late 70s and the 80s, and the current England side. Unfortunately, India never showed the ruthless streak even when they became the number 1 test side and held on to the spot over the past one year. Their number 1 ranking was achieved on the back of some sterling comeback performances and dominant batting. When the bowlers got England out for 221, it was the perfect stage for the much-vaunted batting lineup to bat to their full potential and setup the match for India. But they failed to do that and only Dravid once again showed the class in batting with some support from Yuvraj and Laxman. One of the positives to come out of the 2 test matches has been the return to form of Dravid. He has once again started looking like the Dravid of old, grinding down the opposition and rescuing India from embarrassing situations.

The other big difference between the 2 sides has been the scoring rate. I had mentioned in my previous test review that India should score quicker to put pressure on England's bowling and at the rate at which they are scoring, England's bowlers operate in the comfort that even if it takes time to get this Indian team out, there is not much damage being done in the mean time because runs are coming so slowly. It is not surprising that England's bowlers looked a little vulnerable only when the batsmen were scoring runs quickly - whether it was Dravid and Yuvraj going after Swann in the first innings or when PK and Harbhajan were swinging their bat merrily late in the second innings. I am surprised at the slow rate at which the famed Indian lineup is scoring. Strauss has set attacking fields at most times in this series, which means there are runs to be had if batsmen play positively. This is why the person I am missing the most in this series is not Zak, but Veeru. Even if he does not score too many runs, when he is at the crease, he forces the opposition captain to think different and a little defensively. I am praying hard that Veeru can play in the third test. If Zak is fully fit as well, I would like to think that the Indian team will be significantly stronger than they are right now and should pose a much tougher challenge for the England team.

The other change I would make is, bring Amit Mishra for Harbhajan. It is time we do away with convention and think of Harbhajan as our lead spinner. In his current form, he does not deserve a place even though he has 2 hundreds from the number 8 position. At this point, Dhoni and the selectors should think about how they can challenge the England team differently since obviously what they are doing right now is not working and England are brushing aside India like some lowly number 7 or 8 team instead of the top team that they are. If Veeru, Gauti and Zak can come back, that will test England, but Amit Mishra will also pose different challenges to them. I know he can leak runs, but then even Swann was not economical or threatening in the second test. If Dhoni has the right field for him with some catchers and some in the deep, maybe Mishra can even buy a couple of wickets by throwing the ball up and having the England batsmen hit to the boundary fielders.

Right now, I am looking at the 2-day game at Northampton, mainly to see whether Veeru, Gauti and Zak are fit and ready for the third test. If that happens, it would lift the spirits of all Indian fans ahead of the all-important third test which India must win to stay alive in the series and to give themselves a better chance of holding on to the number 1 ranking. One of the positives of the second test was the fact that we bowled out England twice in the match. So the bowlers have shown that they can take 20 wickets. Yes, I know they took 20 wickets giving away 765 runs, but like I wrote earlier, if India had made around 400 in the first innings, maybe the bowlers could have bowled with more confidence and restricted England to 350 or so in the second innings.

Lets hear it from you guys now. What do you think about India's performance in this match ? What do you think are India's chances of drawing the series and/or holding on to the number 1 ranking ? I will try to post before the third test since there is a big gap of 9 days before it starts. But lets hear what you think.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review of Lord's test match

Hello friends,

So India were outplayed by a far better England team and were comprehensively beaten in the first test match. I know people are talking about Zaheer's injury and also Gautham's injury and Sachin's illness as the reasons for this loss. But in my opinion, we lost it in the first innings with the bat. England had declared at 474, which is not a monumental score like 550 or 600 which only gives one team the chance to win. I was pleasantly surprised by Strauss' declaration at that competitive score. If India had got around 600 in the first innings or even 550, things could have been very different and Strauss would have faced a lot of flak. But he backed his strong bowling unit and I suspect, the fact that India start poorly in any test series and looked to have not come to terms with the English conditions. I doubt he will declare at this score in venues like Trent Bridge and Oval.

Anyway, to come back to the Indian first innings, other than Dravid, not one batsmen looked too comfortable and score big. Mukund was looking very good, but got out in the most unlucky manner, dragging a wide ball to the stumps. In fact, the one facet I have noticed about Mukund's batting is that he looks quite good at the crease and calms the nerves of the viewers and I am sure, the dressing room as well. But he has tended to get out when well set. I am sure it is a matter of time before he starts getting the big scores regularly. This is one guy who should definitely be in the radar for the opening slot, even more than Vijay. Sachin started well, but seems to have a mental block at Lord's and gets out when looking good for more. No matter how great a player is, sometimes even they develop mental blocks against certain venues or certain players. One prime example I can think of, is Roger Federer of tennis. Even when he was at his peak, he would lose regularly to Rafael Nadal. It had got to a point where all Nadal had to do was show up, and Federer would lose, irrespective of what stage in the tournament they were, or the type of court they played in. Sachin appears to have a similar mental block at Lord's. These things cannot be proven and if someone asks him, he will vehemently disagree and parrot out some stats and scores in other grounds. But I can think of no other reason why he fell in the 30s when looking good and untroubled in the first innings. I am sure his highest score of 37 was playing in his head and that made him anxious and he poked at a fairly wide ball that he would have left alone 9 times out of 10.

Coming back to the batting, Laxman fell to a strange shot in the first innings. I have never seen him flick the ball in the air for so much distance. His flicks sometimes go in the air, but only for short distances before landing and then racing to the fence. Again, it could be due to some inner nervousness on the part of the entire Indian team, particularly the batting. That also explains the tentativeness of Dhoni's batting in the first innings where he took more than 100 balls to make just 28. I think this hype about India starting slowly in away test series and the build-up of the potent England attack, got to the Indian team collectively and resulted in the kind of performance they put up. Of course, this is not the only reason, but in my opinion, could be one of the major factors behind the first innings performance.

Once we lost Zaheer, it was always going to be very difficult to dismiss the England batsmen twice. But I am encouraged by the individual performances of PK in the first innings and Ishant in the second. It gives me hope as an Indian fan that this England team can be bowled out twice in a test match. Now if only Harbhajan can take some wickets and look more threatening with the ball. Dhoni has said he was impressed by the pace at which Harbhajan bowled in this match, much slower through the air. But to my eye, Harbhajan these days does not look like a bowler who can even trouble the top batsmen, let alone taking wickets. There is something missing from his bowling, whether it is loop or confidence I dont know. But he looks just a pale shadow of the bowler he was in early 2000s or even in the series against SA late last year.

It looks like Zak is not going to play in Trent Bridge. In my opinion, Munaf would be the right replacement for him. Even though Sreesanth promises a lot more wicket-taking ability, it would be too big a risk in my opinion to play him. Munaf is steadier and can build pressure from one end for PK or Ishant to take advantage of at the other. Sachin seems to have recovered from his illness, so he should play. I dont know the extent of Gambhir's injury, but if he does not play, I would continue to open with Dravid and play VVS at number 3. I have always felt that VVS is better at 3 than Dravid bcos he scores quickly and can take the game away from the opposition. Look how KP batted after getting set in the first innings and how Prior and Broad took the game away from India through positive batting even though they were in some trouble in the second innings. I have long maintained that one way to get out of troublesome situations is to score runs at a decent pace and not hang around. In places like England, you need to keep scoring because sooner or later, there will arrive one ball with your name on it and you will get out. Bowlers will always get some assistance in the air and off the pitch, so it is important to keep scoring and not stagnating. Look what happened to Sachin in the second innings. Granted he was recovering from a viral infection, but the way he was playing, I knew he would be gone any moment. At the moment, the only Indian batsmen who looks to keep the scoreboard moving at all times, is Suresh Raina. I am liking what I am seeing with his batting, the way he is playing close to his body and looking to play straight in the initial part of his innings. Also the way he looks to score runs at all times. We need more such cricketers in the future and then we will be well placed in the test arena even after the departure of the big three.

In fact, the one guy I really missed in the first test match is Virender Sehwag. When he is in the team, the entire look of the batting unit changes and the feeling in the opposition changes from respect to fear for the batting lineup. I cannot wait to see him back in the side. Hopefully, he will play in the third test.

Looking ahead to the second test match, I would not be too shattered if Gambhir sits out of that one. He did not look at his best even though he got starts in both innings. The other more crucial point is, he will most probably be replaced by Yuvraj. If Yuvi is fully fit, I am sure he will be hungry to do well and keep himself in the reckoning for a spot in the squads in the future, especially with Raina having almost sealed the number 6 slot now. Yuvi is another cricketer who will not hang around and will look to score runs all the time. But the biggest plus for India will be his bowling. Dhoni kept saying that they missed having someone like Sehwag or Yuvi who are decent replacement/fill-in bowlers (unlike himself :). Trent Bridge should also be a good track for batting, and if the weather holds up like it did at Lord's, I hope the Indian batsmen can put up a much better performance now that they are rid of their first match blues as well.

My primary goal at the start of this test series was that India should not lose by a 2 game margin, which would ensure England took over the number 1 ranking in tests. So if England win the series 2-0 or 3-1, then they will become number 1 in tests. I am hopeful that that will still not happen and that India can at least draw the series from here.

Lets hear it from you guys out there. Did you watch the first test match and what do you think are the reasons for India's loss ? What do you reckon are India's chances in the second test match and the series ? My next post will be after the second test match, so stay tuned.