Friday, June 24, 2011

Review of first test between India and West Indies

Hello friends,

India won the first test match, as was expected before the start of the series, but had a few anxious moments on the way. The most disconcerting of them was being 85 for 6 on the first day. I continue to be frustrated by India's batting in the first innings of a test series. This has become a regular feature of Indian cricket, starting very badly, especially with the bat in overseas conditions in test matches. Even if the conditions are suitable to batting, they somehow get themselves into a huge hole. But the good thing these days with this team is, that they are able to somehow get themselves out of the hole and perform well in the same test match. With earlier teams, after such a bad performance, they would lose the first test and then try to get back into the series and level it, as they did a few times, in Australia, England, Sri Lanka etc. They need to address this issue otherwise they will find their number one status being questioned, and rightfully so.

Anyway, back to the game, Raina and Harbhajan batted beautifully to regain control in the match. What was nice to see was the manner in which they wrested control, by batting positively, in fact by scoring runs rapidly instead of hanging around and seeing off a few overs, or a session etc. Harbhajan batted in the way he knows, but it was nice to see Raina not go into a shell and look to score at all times. If this is the way Raina is going to play his cricket, I see good things in store for him. He also looks to have spent some time tackling the short ball and now visibly drops his wrists instead of going up with the ball with a hop or hanging his bat in front of his face, like he used to in the past. For a test batsman, he still continues to hit quite a few balls in the air, which he needs to be careful of. Other than that, I like the Raina I saw in this test match.

The bowlers did a good job, especially in the first innings. PK showed that he belonged in the test match arena by making the batsmen play a lot of balls and taking out top and middle order wickets in both innings. I am convinced that he definitely needs to be on the plane to England. The conditions will suit him even more and he could be a terrific asset, especially with Zaheer at the other end. This will give us two attacking pace bowlers and if Ishant/Sreesanth/Munaf can up their game just a bit to attack the stumps more thereby making the batsmen play a lot of balls, we could have a very decent pace attack in England.

Ishant had a decent outing. Even though he took 6 wickets in the match, there were times when he looked below par because he did not make the batsmen play enough, in my opinion. But the 6 wickets would have done a lot of good to his confidence and that is equally important for any player. So I hope we see an improved Ishant in Barbados where the track is expected to have a bit more bounce and pace for him. I was a little disappointed by the performance of our spinners, especially on a track that was turning a lot from day one. In this department, I believe Bishoo outperformed our 2 experienced spinners by a long way. Harbhajan continues to perform well below par with the ball and Mishra was probably affected by the breeze that was quite heavy at times. Also, the WI batsmen looked to attack Mishra a lot more than they did Harbhajan, so he will have to be careful of that in the next test if he plays.

A word about Mukund and Kohli, the other debutants in this match. Mukund looked good in both innings, particularly the second innings when he was batting with Dravid who looked better in the second innings compared to the first. But Mukund threw it away at the wrong time. At the top level, you dont get too many chances and now the WI coaching staff would have taken note of Mukund's videos and would have a better plan for him in Barbados, so he needs to ensure that he does not give away a start. If he performs well in the next 2 matches, he will at least be in the minds of the Indian think tank for a rotation, so he needs to ensure that happens. As for Vijay, he looked very much in T20 mode in the first innings and was a bit unlucky in the second receiving a shooter. So I will watch him closely in Barbados before commenting on him. Virat probably knows that he also blew his chances in the first match. I liked the fight he put up late on the second day and he looked like he would do anything to stay not out at the end of the day, which he did. I also loved the way he responded to Fidel Edwards' aggression by blowing him kisses after almost every ball. In my opinion, that is a great way to respond to a fast bowler at the top of his aggression and I hope others take a cue from him and follow that method.

Looking ahead to Barbados, I think we should bring Munaf in for Mishra if the track looks like what is being promised by everyone - pacy and bouncy. I have not seen the Barbados track take much spin in the past, so playing 2 specialist spinners could be a luxury. Besides, Munaf will enjoy the extra bounce and if he makes the batsmen play more than he usually does, he could pick up a few wickets. Other than that, I would not make any change to the batting lineup and would give all the youngsters another chance before thinking of bringing Badrinath in. For WI, I think Andre Russell should play, but the question for them would be whom to drop because it would not be fair to drop either Rampaul or Edwards. Sammy is the weakest link in their lineup, but unfortunately, he is their captain :) So it is a tough decision for them in that regard.

One final word about Dravid. I have been saying that Dravid does not seem to be enjoying his batting like Sachin or Laxman, and that he should retire soon. But in this test match, he proved that he still has the fire and skill to win matches for India. The situation was tailor-made for him in the second innings. He had more than enough time to bat the way he does and secure the match for India without worrying about the run rate or time. But I would still love to see him score a bit more quickly than he is at the moment. I mean, if he had scored another 40 runs or so in the 260-odd balls he faced, India would have had even more runs on the board and could have attacked even more and not faced even the few moments of anxiety that occurred when the openers started positively or Bravo and Chanderpaul were batting or when the tail-enders were attacking and scoring quickly. I know it sounds odd to criticize someone who won the match for the team, but I would still love to see Dravid be a bit more positive when he is in the middle and increase his strike rate by 10-15 runs as it will make a difference to the team.

Lets hear it from you guys now. Were you confident that India would win the match or did you have doubts ? What do you think the result of the test series will be ? Lets keep the discussion going and hope India seals the series in Barbados.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Some thoughts on India-WI ODI series

Hello friends,

India have won the ODI series against WI with one game still to play. There is no surprise at the result, given the lack of serious talent in the opposition. However, I am glad this young Indian team kept their nerve in crucial moments and sealed the series in 3 games itself. I have not been watching the games with great interest, but I am following the matches on Cricinfo since Indian batting mostly takes place when I am in the office :) Let me share some of my thoughts on the games so far and on some individual performances.

* The biggest positive to come out of Indian batting performance is obviously Rohit Sharma. What was good to see was, even though India chased and won in the all the 3 games, the challenges thrown at Rohit were different. In the first game, India faced a smallish total, but lost a few wickets early before Raina stepped in to take care of the slow run-rate and took some pressure off Rohit, which allowed Rohit to focus on his own game and ensure that he stayed till the end. In the third game, he faced the biggest challenge - loss of all main batsmen with lots of runs still to get. Once again, Harbhajan stepped forward to give support and Rohit played his natural game and together with PK, won the game with ease in the end. I hope this performance gives Rohit the confidence to take his game to the next level and deliver more consistently for India

* The best bowler for India in these games has been Amit Mishra. It was very nice to see a leg-spinner unleash his full bag of tricks in ODIs and the WI batsmen had very little clue against him. Mishra at his best can be very good because he does have variety and is fairly accurate as well, unlike someone like Piyush Chawla who does not possess a proper leg-break and when low on confidence, can go for plenty. Once again, I hope the selectors and Dhoni were watching and have already made notes to have Mishra in their plans for the future

* PK made a seamless return to top-level cricket and is bowling very well. The best thing about PK is that he does not experiment too much (unlike a Sreesanth, who needs to be told before every game that he should stick to what he does best) and when PK bowls well, he bowls a lot of maidens which definitely add to the pressure on the opposition batsmen. It is heartening to see PK in the test squad. I have been maintaining for a long time that PK needs to be in the test team as well. He can be a good support bowler to Zak because he gets the ball to nip both ways and maintains good control over line and length at most times. Lets see what role he gets in the absence of Zak and how he performs if he is given a chance in the starting lineup for the tests

* There has not been much to note regarding Raina's captaincy. He has been doing his job efficiently, without needing to show any brilliance in strategy or planning. He has been around for a while now and played under Dhoni a lot as well. It showed in some of his moves. He did not try to do too much, and in a way that is good. He knows that he is a stop-gap captain and is only the third choice behind Dhoni and Gambhir

* Now for some negative feedback. It was sad to see that Yusuf did not take his chances in the 2 games that he got to seize his opportunity and put some doubts to rest regarding his capability. He seems to have gone back to bad shot selection that plagued him before his turnaround innings against NZ last year. I think Yusuf has outlived his chances for now and should be benched with someone (maybe the coach Fletcher or Dhoni) telling him to work on his shot selection once again

* I continue to be unimpressed with Parthiv's keeping. Time has stood still as far as his keeping is concerned. He continues to miss simple takes, especially on the leg side to spinners. Watching Parthiv highlights the one aspect of Dhoni that is least talked about, his keeping. It would have been easy for Dhoni to lose focus on his keeping with so much attention being paid (rightfully so) to his batting and captaincy. But not only has he kept that facet of his game efficient, he is actually better than just safe behind the stumps. He is quite good and does not miss much. Parthiv's batting also does not impress me too much. He is good for 30-40 runs, but even when he walks out to bat, you know that he will not get you a hundred or even a 70-80. That is a pity because he looks good when batting and is a natural. I would suggest putting Parthiv on the back burner when Dhoni returns and looking for a replacement other than Parthiv for the next time we need to play without Dhoni

* I hope India win the last ODI. That will show everyone (including themselves) that the 4th match was just an aberration and that they have learnt from their mistakes. These little things are important, especially for a young team like India is at the moment. It will give them some confidence going into the Test series, which I would like them to win at least 2-0 unless the weather intervenes. Even though Sachin is missing along with Zak, it will be good to see Dravid and VVS in action in the tests and I will definitely be watching Dravid's performance in particular. I am of the opinion that Rahul should retire now when he will still be remembered fondly, rather than after a few more failures, especially with guys like Virat, Badri etc. ready to step into the test side. But if he has a good series (something in the range of 300 runs from around 4-5 innings), then I am ok for him to continue and test himself in much tougher conditions in England before making the call on his retirement

That's all I have for now. Lets hear it from you guys. Have you been watching the WI series and if so, with how much interest ? What do you think of the performance of the team and of the individuals ? I will post again before the start of the first test with my take on the team composition etc., so stay tuned.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Preview of India-WI series - part 2

Hello friends,

Here is the continuation from the previous post.

First of all, I like it a lot that the selectors finally gave in to the player's requests and chose to rest Dhoni, Sachin and Zaheer for the T20 and ODI leg of the WI tour and in Sachin's case, for the entire tour. With Veeru and Gautam also out injured, we are looking at a new-look Indian side and a new captain in Suresh Raina. For Raina, this is the opportunity of a life time and I am sure, even he will be surprised at the turn of events that have suddenly catapulted him to the most demanding job in cricket (actually, the most demanding job in cricket right now, is being captain of Pakistan :), but this one should be close to the top). In fact, if ever being captain of India had less expectations and pressures, it is now, right after a World Cup win and with more than half of that squad missing, against a low profile team that should not pose too many problems. So in that aspect, Raina is lucky with the timing of his captaincy assignment.

Most of the squad members selected themselves, so I am pretty happy with most of the team. The pace attack looks a little weak, with PK, Munaf, Ishant and Vinay Kumar, especially with the unpredictability of Ishant and the sameness of Munaf's bowling, but the West Indian batting is definitely not one to be feared, especially without Gayle and Pollard who have not been selected for the first 2 ODIs and the T20. Spin bowling is pretty good with Ashwin, Harbhajan, Mishra and Yuvraj. I am once again sad for Ashwin as I think he will again not get many chances, though he deserves to be selected in every game, especially after what he did in the IPL finals. With Harbhajan being vice-captain, he will definitely play every game and I am afraid the team management will still think in traditional ways that it is not necessary to play two off-spinners and will instead pick Mishra or a third seamer for "variety". If that happens, it would be sad because I have always said that Bhajji and Ashwin are very different bowlers, with their roles also being different as Ashwin can be used up front and Bhajji in the middle overs. Let us see if the they follow the traditional path or whether they have the sense to think out of the box.

Regarding the batting, I believe these are the best of the lot from the reserves. I am happy for Badrinath who has finally got his due after showing so much consistency in the recent past including the IPL. Rohit probably deserves another chance and in the absence of Veeru and Gauti, Vijay is the right choice. Tiwary also deserves a chance after his recent showing in the IPL where it looked like he has taken his batting to the next level that he promised a couple of years ago when he was first selected for the Indian team. I am not so convinced that Shikhar Dhawan deserves a spot ahead of someone like Rayudu. I suspect Dhawan is there because they chose Parthiv Patel as the keeper and opening batsman to partner Vijay, and then decided that they needed to cover for Patel on both fronts, so they brought in Wriddhiman Saha and Dhawan :) I know this does not sound nice, but I am glad they did this, as I dont like what I am seeing from Patel on both counts - keeping and batting, so I am definitely not complaining that they covered both options that Patel provides.

I think India should win the series against WI - the T20 as well as the ODI series. Let us look at the tests later once the ODIs are over.

Lets hear it from you guys now. Its time to talk cricket again, with the Indian team having some tough assignments in the near future like the England tour and the Australia tour after that. But the WI series should be a good one for the players to become prepared for tougher battles ahead and also for the new coach Duncan Fletcher to get his feet wet and get to know the players without worrying about a tough opponent right away.

I will post regularly during the WI series, so stay tuned and keep the comments coming.


Preview of India-WI series - part 1

Hello friends,

The IPL is over and India are ready to play the next series, against WI in the Caribbean. First, let me share some thoughts about the IPL and some players that I enjoyed watching.

I have been a Chennai fan from the time IPL started, so naturally I am thrilled that Chennai won this year's IPL and defended their title. What was nice to see that Chennai showed a sense of occasion and produced their best game of this year's IPL, in the finals. They did not have too many superstars other than Dhoni and, to an extent, Raina. But they did the smart thing by retaining 4 players and bought back a lot of their other players. In tournaments like IPL, it has now been proved that one important factor is player comfort with other players and coaching staff. Clubs with new teams took a long time to settle on the right combination and that showed in the performance. In that matter, other than Mumbai and Chennai, all teams had new-look teams. Even Mumbai had many different players from last 3 years, though they retained 4 players.

But the problem for Mumbai was not the player familiarity, but to some extent, Sachin's captaincy. It was shocking to see a great player like Sachin, who has so much knowledge of cricket in general, prove to be a very poor captain in terms of team selection and deciding batting order and bowling options. For instance, I am fairly convinced that Mumbai lost the semi-final against Bangalore in the very first over when Sachin gave it to Abu Nechim instead of Malinga, Munaf or Harbhajan, and Gayle looted 27 runs in that first over. Once again, like last year's final, he did not use Pollard properly, this time through the entire tournament. Also, Rayudu was doing very well at number 3 for most of the matches, but when he wanted to use Harbhajan as pinch hitter, he sent Rayudu all the way down to 6.

Now, let me write a a few lines about some players that I enjoyed watching. One guy I liked to see and who did very well, was Iqbal Abdulla. He played for KKR and is a wicket-taker. He bowls left-arm spin, which we badly need in the Indian team since the only one we have at the moment in this art, is Yuvraj. Abdulla is very young (I think 21), so the selectors should look at this guy hard and look to get him in the squads at least.

Another spinner I enjoyed watching was Rahul Sharma. He appears to be an Anil Kumble-like bowler who relies on bounce and accuracy to keep batsmen quiet and as a result, gets wickets as well. The only negative as far as he is concerned, is that he needs to develop some more variety like the googly and a decent leg-break, even if it does not turn too much. I remember Kumble started out taking lots of wickets because of the surprise factor when batsmen could not handle the ball coming in the air and particularly off the deck, so quickly. But around the late 90s and early 2000s, batsmen, particularly some Pakistanis and South Africans, started playing him like an inswing bowler and immediately, Kumble lost his effectiveness. Then he went back to the drawing board and developed a leg break that actually turned a bit, and a slower googly and promptly, started taking wickets by the bucketful again. Rahul Sharma needs to do something similar now itself and he has the best guru to learn it from, Kumble himself. I hope he sets up some time with Kumble sooner rather than later when the people and selectors are still having him in their minds.

Unfortunately, I could not spot much talent in the pace bowling department, which is our biggest concern at the moment regarding what will happen there once Zaheer leaves. Varun Aaron promised with his pace, and Sreenath Aravind is a good talent, who obviously benefited a lot from having Zak at mid-on during the matches. Other than these, I did not see much that excited me. Irfan Pathan clearly needs to bowl a lot more to be back to his old rhythm and confidence. Balaji is good, but can be in the rotation at best, along with Vinay Kumar and maybe one or two others.

I think this post has gotten too long, so I will post my thoughts on the Indian team for WI, in the next post.