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.


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