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.