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.