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.