Monday, November 26, 2012

India-England test series

Hello friends,

I am back on the blog after a hiatus, caused due to the fact that there was nothing very interesting going on before the England test series, and after the test matches started, I was a little busy to post here. But now I am back and hope to continue posting regularly during India's cricket season.

I just witnessed the pathetic performance of India during the second test match in Mumbai. It is ironical that on a track with lots of spin and bounce from day 1, the famed Indian batting line-up (brought up on such tracks) came apart against the spin bowlers from a country that is famous for seaming, swinging conditions. I seriously hope this is just a blip and not a regular occurence going forward. We definitely missed Dravid and Laxman in this test match. Also it was worrying to see that our spin bowlers could not extract as much life from the track as their English counterparts. At least, they have identified the cause of the batting failure, which is Monty Panesar and the pace that he bowls at. That was definitely the difference between the 2 sides. The English spinners bowled at a much quicker pace and extracted maximum life out of the track by getting the ball to grip and bite the surface every time, whereas the Indian bowlers bowled much slower and as a result, the ball did not grip the surface as much.

The part that concerns me is the fact that we did have 2 spinners out of 3 who can and have bowled at a decent pace - Ashwin and Harbhajan. But for some reason, Ashwin bowled slower than what was needed, and Harbhajan was clearly lacking in confidence that he had in his hey-days. The one other bowler who could have extracted good turn and bounce out of this surface with his pace was Sehwag, but Dhoni once again did not give him much of a bowl at all. These things are pretty obvious even to someone watching from afar like me. This is where the role of the captain and coach come into play. One disturbing trend I am seeing for the past 1-2 years is that we are not able to adapt to conditions on the fly and change plans accordingly. It appears that we are approaching test matches with a fixed mindset and if things change during the match, like we read the pitch wrong, or the opposition produces an unexpectedly good performance, we are not able to adapt and change plans during the match. I blame the captain and coach equally for this. The hallmark of great sides is the ability to read conditions correctly and in case of sudden changes to plan A, the ability to switch to plan B instantly and continue to perform at expected levels.

One immediate example I can state for this is the way South Africa have fought back in both the test matches against Australia in their current series down under. In both games, they started well, but Australia managed to pile on the runs and put them under pressure, but they switched plans mid-way and produced fighting, grinding performances in the second innings to bail themselves out of trouble. People like AB De Villiers and Faf du Plessis, who are natural hitters of the ball, batted on and on and simply blunted the potent Australian attack in testing conditions in the recent test match. I cannot imagine someone like Veeru Sehwag or even MS Dhoni bat in that fashion to save a test match. The point here is not that they should bat slow in such situations, but the fact that they lack the application and dedication needed to produce such a performance.

Ok, enough of dwelling on the past. Lets now look at what we must do to regain control in this test series with England. It is not that difficult a task even after what happened in Mumbai. First of all, I think a couple of changes in the team are due for the next test match. I dont see a place for Harbhajan in this team based on his current form and confidence level. He has simply lost his mojo that got him 32 wickets in 3 tests on similar tracks against a confident, strong Aussie line-up. I would get someone like Amit Mishra into the side for the next 2 matches if the wickets we will get are going to be anything like the Mumbai track. Mishra bowls quicker than Ojha and Ashwin and if he can be somewhat accurate, I can see him being successful aganst this England line-up which is still not that confident about playing spin, barring a couple of players. The other change I would make is to get Ajinkya Rahane into the team instead of Yuvraj. Yuvi has always been suspect against spin and with India playing 3 spinners including Ojha, who is also a left-arm spinner (much better than Yuvi), his bowling is not needed at all. Rahane has spent his life playing on such tracks and knows how to get his runs, just like Pujara.

The other issue we are facing is how to stop Cook. I have seen in the past that Cook, like most batsmen, tends to play a little away from his body in the initial stages of his innings, thereby being a potential candidate for nicking the ball to the keeper or the slips. Since the focus is so much on spin this series, we sometimes open the bowling with spin at both ends and that is playing into Cook who is not being forced to play away from his body. I would give Zak an extended spell at the beginning of the innings with enough support in the field behind the wicket and brief him that his sole agenda would be to remove Cook early. If Zak does that, we would have removed a huge obstacle from our path and the confidence of the remaining England batsmen would also dip considerably which we should then jump on. In my opinion, KP is not as dangerous to our plans as Cook because being an attacking player, he always gives us a chance to get him out. If we can bottle him up for a period, he is bound to try something unorthodox to score, which would give us a good chance to dismiss him.

Regarding the threat of Panesar and Swann, the only way to combat that is to spend more time in the nets in the next few days and try to face similar bowling. I am confident that the Indian batsmen are technically equipped to handle both England spinners and just need the confidence that will come from extended practice. It is a good thing that we won the first test match, so even after this thrashing in Mumbai, the series is still tied at 1-1. If we do the basics right, tweak the team a little and spend time on practice, I think we can still win this series. Lets hope that happens !!

I will continue to post updates through the test series. My next post will be after the third test match. Lets discuss about the Mumbai mauling in the meantime and let me know what you guys think regarding my analysis of what we need to do.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

T20 World Cup

Hello friends,

The T20 World Cup is upon us and it is time for me to blog regularly. As you all might have seen in several websites, this WC is more open than the others. The main reason is, there are no mysteries among the players as a lot of them are active around the world in different tournaments and know each other’s game well. As a result, each team now possesses a few game-breakers who can win the game single-handed on their day. Teams like West Indies, who struggle in the longer formats, are a genuine threat in T20 due to the presence of match-winners like Gayle, Pollard and Narine. Also the pitches in SL these days are not as spinner friendly as they used to be. So teams like England, Australia and South Africa – who have been known to struggle on sub-continental surfaces – have a good chance as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to watch these matches live on TV here in the U.S. though I am hoping I can watch live streaming somewhere, but I will still be following the matches closely and will be able to update the blog regularly. Lets see how India will fare in this tournament based on the team we have got.

India’s strength for a while now has been the batting and the weakness has been the bowling. It continues to be so for this tournament as well. But in Ashwin and Balaji, I see 2 good T20 bowlers who are capable of holding their own against any team and in any situation. Also Pathan has been bowling well since his comeback and now should have the confidence back as well because of some good recent figures. The weakness, surprisingly, is in the opening combination. Sehwag and Gambhir are in horrible form at the moment and it must now be telling on their confidence as well. Fortunately, we have Kohli at number 3 who is in the form of his life and that helps to offset the opening blues to an extent. India are in a relatively easy group with Afghanistan and England. As I write this, India have beaten Afghanistan in their opening match. If they bat to potential, they should beat England as well. Once they get to the knock-out stages, anything can happen, particularly in this format. Personally, the only expectation I have is that India reach the knock-outs, preferably by beating England as well. The familiarity that the Indian team has with conditions in Sri Lanka should help them in the knock-out matches to an extent. Lets see how far they can go.

A few things I will keep an eye out for regarding Indian performances are – Yuvraj’s return to form and fitness, Irfan’s performance with the ball, Rohit’s batting and the bowling at the death (overs 15 to 20). I am seeing that Zaheer is being hit all over the park in his last few outings in T20. Maybe it is time to give him a break and try Ashok Dinda. I like the fact that Dinda has pace and can swing the ball as well. But he is not very experienced and the extra pace, if not controlled with good line and length, can work against him as well.

Lets hear it from you guys. Are you watching the T20 World Cup with a lot of interest and expectations, or it is just another tournament/series for you ? I will continue to post updates on this blog during the tournament, so stay tuned.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Return of the blog

Hello friends,

I am back after a long break from blogging. After the IPL, the only series India played was against SL that contained 1 T20 and 5 ODIs. I did watch some parts of that series, but was not motivated enough to blog about it. In the end, it turned out to be an easy win for India in that series.

The real action starts now, with 2 tests against NZ, followed by the T20 World Cup, Champions League T20, and series against England and Australia. The biggest news prior to the NZ series is obviously the retirement of VVS Laxman. While I think VVS could have played for another year or so with no questions asked, especially now that Rahul Dravid is retired, I also think that VVS made the right decision to quit now at the start of the season. Once again, he has shown that he is the ultimate team man putting the needs of the team above everything else. So now we have 2 identify players for 2 vital spots in the middle order - number 3 and 5. I think Virat will move up to 5 and probably Pujara will bat at 3 in the NZ series at least. That still leaves the crucial number 6 slot open and it will be interesting to see who fills that slot in this series and the next few matches after that. For the NZ series, it looks like the battle is between Raina and Badrinath with Raina probably having the slight upper hand to start with. In Indian conditions, I dont think Raina is a bad choice, but I will be closely watching his technique, ability to bat with the tail and against the second new ball before making any conclusions about him being our find for the number 6 position.

This series against NZ should not challenge India too much. The wickets will not be very conducive to their fast bowlers and with Vettori out, they don’t have a world-class spinner and I think the Indian batsmen will be able to play the other spinners well. However, this series is important because it gives us a chance to see the contenders for the number 3, 5 and 6 spots. If Pujara and Kohli do well, that will be great because they do possess the talent to succeed at the top level and will hopefully be around for a long time since they are so young. The real challenge for India this year will be against England. They are a team that has been dethroned from the number 1 position and will be smarting from their comprehensive defeat against South Africa, so they will come to India with a point to prove. Their bowling attack will challenge the young ones in the Indian batting order the most, so that is a battle I am looking forward to.

As I write this, Pujara has made a hundred on day one of the Hyderabad test and that is good news. Kohli also did well, but Raina has failed. India need another 100 runs at least so that they can call the shots while bowling. I will be watching the spinners, Ashwin and Ojha, particularly in their approach to bowling in tests in India. Ashwin needs to attack more in my opinion. Ojha is an attacking bowler by nature, but he needs a good performance against NZ to make his position more secure as the second-choice spinner in tests.

I would like to share one more news before ending this post. India U-19 team have done very well to reach the finals of the World Cup in Australia. The pitches have not been easy to bat on, but our batsmen have done enough to setup totals for the bowlers to defend. The heartening aspect of India’s performance has been the fact that it is the bowling that has been carrying the team. Hopefully, some of these players will go on to make the senior team. Some of the guys I have been impressed with are Sandeep Sharma the opening bowler, Baba Aparajith the all-rounder, Harmeet Singh the left-arm spinner and Unmukt Chand the opener.

I will continue to post regularly from now on. My next post will be after the Hyderabad test, so stay tuned.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More thoughts on IPL 5

Hello friends,

The IPL season is on in full swing and 52 matches have been completed out of 72 league games. I am continuing to watch most of the games and am enjoying the matches. I thought about posting on this blog for the past few days, but somehow could not bring myself to do it. One of the reasons was that I did not have anything new to say other than what we are seeing regarding the matches. However, it has been a long time since my previous post and so I decided to do this one. My next one will probably be after the finals where I will do a review of the entire tournament and present some possible gains and disappointments regarding Indian cricket.

* At this stage, Delhi and Kolkata seem to have sealed their spots for the knock-outs. I suspect Mumbai will also make it. The last spot will be a fight between Rajasthan and Punjab, with Chennai and Bangalore having an outside chance. My money is on Rajasthan at this stage, particularly with the class of Watson and the match-winning abilities of Shaun Tait. I dont think CSK or RCB will make it this year. CSK is looking a little flat in their performances and in my opinion, Dhoni is experimenting too much, especially on the field with his batting order and choice of bowlers at crucial stages. The reason RCB probably wont make it is simple - their bowling is very weak

* I am loving the fact that Sehwag and Gauti are both in red-hot form at this time. With Gauti, it was a matter of time before he came back to form, but Sehwag's form is heartening, especially because the reason he is in this form is simply because he has chosen to spend more time in the middle and play a lot straighter (in the V). Since we know Sehwag for a while now, I wont get too excited and start to think this is the beginning of a change in his attitude since we know he can easily go back to his old ways. So lets enjoy his form while it lasts and hope he continues this thinking in ODIs and Tests as well

* I always used to like AB De Villiers and his uncomplicated style of batting, but after the game which he won almost single-handedly against Deccan Chargers, I am now a big fan of him. He is, what I call, a complete package. He can score all around the wicket, score quickly with orthodox shots, at the same time, possesses some of the most unconventional shots in the game as well and the skill to execute them when needed most. In my opinion, after this IPL, his will become the most important wicket for opposition teams when they play South Africa in the future

* Sunil Narine is another cricketer I am enjoying watching in this IPL. I would say he is one of the smartest buys in the entire roster of cricketers this year. One of the reasons he is so successful, in my opinion, is the pace he bowls at. I have seen other bowlers with good variations as well, but Narine is so successful because he bowls at a quicker pace than the others. So the time for batsmen to pick him and decide how to play each ball, is much lesser than with other bowlers like Murali or Ashwin or even Mendis. Of course, Narine is also very accurate, so the margin for error for batsmen is almost zero

* One good thing I am seeing in this IPL, is that a lot of Indian cricketers who are doing well, are very young. Last year, Paul Valthaty did well, but he was 27 years old. This year, the trend is that if a cricketer does well and I start to think that he could be a good prospect for India, I hear that he is 19 or 21 or 22. Some examples are Mandeep Singh, Pawan Negi, Ashish Reddy, KP Appanna. I will write more about the gains from this tournament in my next post which will be after the IPL is over

* When IPL5 started, I was wondering if it will invoke and sustain interest in the public and in me since it is a very long tournament and there is a possibility that people could be burned out by too much cricket. But it is good to see big crowds at almost every game and what is helping is the fact that there have been a lot of close games. In fact, this IPL has seen more close games than any other edition in the past. There has not been a super over yet, but lots of games have gone into the last over and several of them have been decided on the last ball. That has sustained the interest and with only 20 games to go before the knock-outs, I think the interest will continue

* One other observation I made, and I saw this in a few articles as well, is the lack of proper off-spinners in the IPL and the abundance of left-arm spinners. I remember being worried a few months ago that India does not have a good left-arm spinner other than Ojha who, for some reason, does not get picked regularly for ODIs. If I were to have a choice between off-spinners and left-arm spinners, I would choose to be in the situation we are seeing now with lots of left-arm spinners, but very few off-spinners. The reason is, for ODIs and T20s at least, a lot of batsmen can bowl off-spin like Sehwag, Raina, Rohit. But left-arm spin is a specific craft and anyone cannot just turn up and bowl left-arm spin. So I am not complaining with this situation that we are seeing in the IPL

I think I have captured a lot of my thoughts. Now it is up to you guys to come out and talk about yours. Lets see some comments. I was happy to see 5 comments on my IPL-preview post, but I saw none on my previous post. IPL is one tournament where everyone has lots of varied thoughts and opinions, so lets share them here and discuss.

As I wrote earlier, my next post will be after the IPL finals where I will try to list the gains and disappointments with respect to Indian cricket, so stay tuned.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some thoughts on IPL after the first quarter

Hello friends,

The IPL is going on in full swing and 25% of the matches are now complete. I watched a lot of the games and have been enjoying some good performances. Here are some random thoughts from me at this stage of the IPL -

* Mumbai is looking very good once again. They are the most all-round team with all 3 disciplines - batting, bowling and fielding - being very good. With them, it is all about performing on the day, so let's see how far they go

* Chennai are playing as they do every year, slow starters. They have lost a couple of games they should have won, but won one game that was almost gone for all purposes. Usually their resurgence coincides with the arrival of Michael Hussey, but this year Hussey only arrives late April which may be too late this year. Anyway, this year, Faf du Plessis is more than filling Hussey's position, so they should do better in the early stages as well

* For me, the star of the IPL so far is Ajinkya Rahane. He batted beautifully for his 98 in their first game, and even better in his hundred against Bangalore. It would be great if he can continue his form. This will help his chances to be Rahul Dravid's replacement in the test team. Rahane by nature is a correct batsman with a good technique and the temperament to bat long. All he is doing in this IPL is showing that he can adapt to the shorter format as well without sacrificing his basics

* RCB have been the surprise package so far, in a negative way. They are a better team than what the results show so far. Their problem is clearly in the bowling. They have 3 good reliable bowlers in Zak, Vettori and Murali. Their problem is with the 4th and 5th bowlers. Royals targeted these 2 bowlers very well and scored almost 100 runs of the 8 overs of these 2 bowlers. They should bring in someone like Syed Mohammed who bowled well on occasion in the last IPL

* Pune is playing well this year and so far, have the results to show for that. Ganguly is doing a good job with marshaling his bowlers, but needs to spend more time at the crease. They have a varied bowling attack which is good, because they can do well in all conditions, and whether they bat or bowl first. Rahul Sharma continues to impress and I am enjoying Steve Smith's batting. He should be playing for Australia in all 3 formats pretty soon. Pune's only problem is that they tend to lose wickets at regular intervals, especially at the start of their innings

* The 2 least attractive teams from a viewer perspective this year are Deccan Chargers and Kings XI Punjab. Both teams don't look that strong as well and it would surprise me if either team made it to the knock-outs

* The team that has surprised me this year in a good way is Delhi Daredevils. They are strong on paper, and have translated the strength into performance as well. But while their batting is very strong, with the formidable trio of Sehwag, Mahela and KP forming the core, it is their bowling that looks a little weak. There is a lot of dependence on Morne Morkel and if he strikes regularly, as he has been doing so far, they will do well with the ball, otherwise they could go for a few runs

* KKR is another team that has not achieved the results promised by a strong team. The worry for them is that Yusuf, their star player, has done almost nothing so far. He needs to perform better as he is their game-changer and can turn close games into easy victories

So far, the response by the Indian public has been encouraging. Games at Chennai, Bangalore and the fantastic new stadium at Pune have looked sold out, which is good. Let's hope the public are able to sustain their enthusiasm over the course of this long tournament

I was very happy to see 5 comments for my previous post. It just goes to show that though a lot of u don't seem to care much for the IPL, it is difficult to keep completely away from it :-). Let's keep the comments coming. I will post another update next weekend, please stay tuned.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Preview of IPL and my reasons to watch

Hello friends,
The IPL is almost upon us and while some of us are going ‘uh-oh, another loooooong meaningless series of T20s’, I am not that negative about it. I am not looking forward to it and crossing days off my calendar in anticipation, but I do have some reasons to look forward and watch the IPL which I will share with you all now.
First and foremost, I have always said, is the fact that IPL is tension-free cricket watching. I welcome a tournament where I don’t have to bite my nails in extreme tension, or get overly frustrated when my team loses. I treat the IPL like watching a good masala movie with all the ingredients where I watch with interest, get entertained and forget about it soon after. Also, like I said in my previous post, I am going to follow the performances of certain players while also keeping an eye out for potential talent that will help India in the future. A good fast-bowling allrounder, a nimble wicketkeeper that can bat,  some bowlers who can bowl at 140+, bowlers who can bowl yorkers, spinners who can bowl in pressure situations are some of the skill sets that I will be looking out for. Besides these, as always, there is the interest in watching certain players perform like Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Sharma, Iqbal Abdulla, Irfan and Yusuf Pathan, Manish Pandey, Munaf Patel and some others that I cannot recall at this time. I also watch some overseas players with interest like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Albie Morkel, AB de Villiers, Sunil Narine and a few others.
Looking at the teams, I think the strong teams this year are CSK, MI, RCB and KKR. The others are ok, but these look the strongest and most balanced just like last year. One person I will miss a lot is Yuvraj Singh. I hope he gets back to normal very soon and can come back and perform for India just like he did before his illness. Let me now write about a few random thoughts regarding some of the teams and players.
I read the article that Sachin has handed over the captaincy of MI to Harbhajan. Unlike some media people and fans are thinking, I don’t read too much into the decision in terms of Sachin wanting to lighten his load so that he can ease his way out of cricket or stuff like that. I think it is purely a decision based on the fact that MI have done well with Harbhajan as captain and now that the pressure of the 100th hundred is gone, probably Sachin wants to reduce further stress on himself by not captaining MI. Maybe he is also looking to play fewer games this year so if he is just a player, it would be easier to sit him out of a few games.
One man was responsible for making the 2011 IPL very popular with the crowds – Chris Gayle. I am looking forward to seeing him bat this year as well. When he is at the crease, it is like watching a very good thriller movie, you never know what to expect next. I thoroughly enjoy his hitting and make an effort to not miss any of his innings.
This IPL is a good chance for some of India’s ‘fringe’ cricketers to stake claims for themselves considering there are some slots available in the team. Players like Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Sharma should grab their chances and look to impress with their performances. Consistency is what I look for. I would be happier if a batsman made 40s in 10 of the 16 league games, as opposed of 3 or 4 60s and 70s along with 1 hundred in 16 games. In the bowlers, I will be looking for variety and control more than results. So I would prefer a bowler who bowls good slower balls and yorkers and has control over his line and length, rather than someone who goes for 8+ runs an over but takes 15-20 wickets in total. The core Indian team is pretty much settled at this time, we need some specific skills, especially in the bowling department and that is what I will be looking for from this year’s IPL.
There are some cricketers who are not quite in the national reckoning, but are quite talented and this could be a break-through year for them. I will keep an eye out for such cricketers as well. Some names that come to mind are Shami Ahmed, Suryakumar Yadav, Ali Murtaza, KP Appanna, Harshal Patel, Vijay Zol.
So as you can see, there are some solid reasons for following and watching this year’s IPL. Lets hope for some good entertainment in the next few weeks and that we can spot some good talent that will serve Indian cricket well in the future. I will post on this blog from time to time during the IPL, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review of Asia Cup and a look ahead

Hello friends,

India had a decent outing at the Asia Cup even though they did not make it to the finals. I am not too disappointed with that since these days, with the number of matches they play, I tend to look at each match separately instead of looking at the tournaments or series as a whole. And if u look at it that way, they beat SL and Pakistan, and lost to Bangladesh. They have not and probably will not lose to Bangladesh often, so I am ok with this one-off loss. What this showed us and, hopefully the team management as well, is that India have a weak bowling attack at the moment even on Asian pitches and we need to make some changes if we want to win matches consistently. Two things I can think of are - we need a quick bowler who can hit speeds of 140+ on a regular basis while maintaining a decent line and length, and a good left-arm spinner to complement Ashwin. Yadav and Varuna Aaron answer to the first requirement, but we need to find atleast one more so that we can rotate the 3 in case of injuries and workload. Ojha answers to the second one but again, we probably need one more. Another position I would love to have in the ODI team is that of a pace bowling all-rounder - someone like Shane Watson or Albie Morkel or even Ravi Bopara. This will give some flexibility to get through 5-6 overs in the middle of the innings and also give us some good runs with the bat

Coming back to the Asia Cup, one of the most satisfying performances in recent times came in the game against Pakistan. Virat Kohli played the innings of his life and we chased down 330 with so much composure, it was scary. I hope Virat continues the form he is in, at the moment he just cannot do anything wrong. One of my friends made a very interesting observation about that Kohli innings. The last 2 people who made 183 for India ended up becoming captains within a short while. Ganguly made 183 against SL in the 1999 World Cup and became captain in 2000. Dhoni made 183 against SL in 2005 and was made captain in 2007. I like trends, so if we go by trends, Kohli should become captain soon. It certainly helps that he is the vice-captain at the moment. In that Pakistan game, it was also satisfying to see Virat and Rohit share the partnership that decided the match for us. Also Sachin batted with visibly more freedom after getting to the 100 centuries landmark in the previous game. And that is the other big plus for India from the Asia Cup - Sachin getting the monkey off his back and getting the coveted record. Now it would be very nice to see Sachin choose only one format to play in, preferably test matches.

So as you guys can see, though we did not make the finals, we had a lot to gain from the Asia Cup. Now on to the tamasha that is the IPL. I know some of u are not too fond of it, but personally I like the IPL bcos it is tension-free cricket watching and I treat it like a masala Bollywood movie - watch, enjoy and forget each game as soon as it is over. I also like to watch a few players in action, so I track their progress and enjoy watching them play. I also treat the IPL as an exercise in talent spotting. A few good cricketers have been spotted at the IPL and gone on to play for India, the biggest of them being Virat Kohli. I will write another piece in a few days about the IPL and the players I will look out for.

Lets hear it from u guys. There are a few days to go for the IPL to start and we can share our thoughts in the mean time. Like I wrote above, I will post again in a few days about the IPL and share some thoughts on it, so stay tuned.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

A look ahead to the Asia Cup and beyond

Hello friends,

It has been a while since my previous post on this blog and a few important things have happened since then in Indian cricket. India deservedly did not make it to the finals of the tri-series in Australia. Even though they gave themselves a chance with an incredible batting performance in chasing down 320 in less than 40 overs, SL and Australia were the better teams in the series by a distance and deserved to be in the finals. At least, that performance would have restored some confidence in the batting unit and that is always good because their next assignment starts very soon.

Another significant news was the appointment of Virat Kohli as vice-captain for the Asia Cup and, I suspect, for the near future. I have heard opinions that this is not fair to Gambhir who has really not done much wrong. But this is a long-term decision and if looked at in that regard, I think it is a good decision and a thoughtful one. Virat has looked like captaincy material since his early days and after his performances in Australia, this is the right time to reward him and also let him know that he is being earmarked for greater things. It remains to be seen how Gambhir will take this - as a personal slight or as a decision made in the long-term interests of the team. That will, to a large extent, determine how Gambhir performs in the next few series. I hope Srikkanth or someone in the board has taken the time and pains to talk to Gambhir and explain things to him.

Virat is good captaincy material, no doubt given his understanding of the game and situations. But where I have concerns is, in his ability at people management. One of the important facets of captaincy is getting the respect of all your teammates and extracting the best out of everyone. Virat has the respect of his mates right now due to his performances, but he needs to work on his attitude and behavior. He tends to get ruffled too easily and that does affect his behavior and performance to an extent. It is not wrong to be passionate and showing passion. In fact, I would rather have someone who shows passion on the field and gets visibly upset and shows uninhibited joy at defeats and victories respectively, than someone like Dhoni who appears so calm he gives the impression of not caring too much. But Virat needs to realize that as vice-captain and possible future captain, he will be even more in the spotlight and everything he says or does will be analyzed very deeply and that he has a certain responsibility to the Indian team and public and the world and his actions and words need to reflect that.

One other big news this week was the retirement of Rahul Dravid. I would say that Rahul has done the right thing at the right time. Given that he did so well in England, he has only had one bad series and he would have chosen to give himself one more series at home to judge for himself what he wants to do and to announce his retirement in style in the middle of a series. But this way, he has gained the respect of a lot of people, definitely mine in retiring when the thought first popped in his head and not choosing personal glory over the team and his own conscience. Sunil Gavaskar had made a classic statement about retirement that has stayed with me forever - "Retire when people ask 'why now' instead of 'why not'". In Indian cricket, I can only think of 2-3 people who retired in that fashion - Gavaskar himself, Anil Kumble and to an extent, Ganguly. In Ganguly's case, he could have (should have?) retired a year or so before he did when he was out of form and looking uninterested. But he chose to play himself back to form and then quit when people started to want him to stay a little longer. Dravid's case is a little similar to Ganguly's. He could have quit now and gained the respect as he did, or he could have played himself into form in the next home series and then quit. Having said all this, it is easy to judge from outside. Only a cricketer knows what it takes to stop doing what he has done all his life till then and go in a direction that is completely unknown, away from the spotlight and adulation of crores of people and financial rewards. Rahul will be missed for sure, but I still think he has done the right thing and this is the right time for him to go.

India play SL (once again, phew) in the Asia Cup in 3 days time. India should look to give everyone a chance in this tournament and give a decent run to people like Manoj Tiwary, Rahul Sharma and Rohit Sharma. I will watch the India-Pakistan game with interest, not for the rivalry factor, but for the fact that Pakistan are playing good cricket these days and it will be an intriguing battle between their spinners and our batsmen.

Lets hear it from you guys. This post was different from my usual posts. I wrote about events in Indian cricket rather than games. It would be nice to hear what you guys have to say about the events. There is a lot of cricket to be played in the near future, so we can always talk about the games. But lets talk about the events for now. After all, that is what I started this blog for - to talk about cricket in general, whether it is to talk about matches or people or events. I hope I can see lots of comments for this post as I know there are quite a few of you reading this regularly and have opinions to share when we chat in person or on the phone.

My next post will be during the Asia Cup, maybe after the first couple of India matches. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review of India's performance in ODI series so far

Hello friends,

India started the ODI series quite well, and looked to be putting the disappointment of the test series behind them with some solid, if not spectacular, performances. But the last 2 games have shown that they have regressed badly and now seem to be just waiting for this series to end and to catch the flight home. The zip in the body language, even on the field, is missing. The batting seems to be stuck in a rut on the Aussie pitches and the bowling looks good till about the 38th over or so, then they give it all away in the last 10-12 overs.

It is frustrating as a fan to watch our own team give it up mentally when there are still some matches to be played and a tournament that can be won, simply because no team is looking invincible. The body language and attitude of this team looks similar to the one that lost everything in England about 6 months ago and they dont seem to have learnt from their experiences there.

The main problems are in the batting and the death bowling. It is shocking to see Sehwag make the same mistakes in match after match and get out in similar fashion. It is obvious that opposition teams have now formed plans to get Sehwag and stick to that plan and sure enough, he obliges every time. He needs to do some serious thinking if he wants to continue playing for India for the next 2-3 years. I read a good article by Akash Chopra on Cricinfo where he write about Sehwag and what he needs to do to make the progression to being an all-time great from the very good batsman that he is today. Sachin is now merely going through the motions in batting and fielding and that landmark century seems so far away now that seemed very close at the start of this tour. Like I said before, it will be interesting to see how Sachin plays or what he decides once he does get to the much-awaited landmark.

In bowling, we are badly in need of some good death bowlers who can keep the runs down and the pressure up during overs 40 to 50. Yadav may be a prospective candidate, given how he continues to surprise and hurry batsmen with his pace, but there is some work to be done there and I hope someone can take over the task of preparing him specifically for this. Also, PK needs to come back to this team since he is one cricketer who I have seen that always gives his best on the field and has good attitude and body language. Even during the England series, he was one of the positives for India. Also, it is time to give Manoj Tiwary a chance, even more so now that Rohit has been benched. In yesterday's match against SL, Sehwag came in for Rohit and so we ended up with all 3 seniors playing together. I agree with Dhoni when he said that the seniors cost about 20 runs in the field. In my opinion, they cost more than that because they contibute to releasing the pressure on the opposition when the game is tight and bring down the confidence of the fielding side to an extent with their slowness and resigned attitude.

For a long time, I have advocated the theory that for the shorter formats, we need a team of 11 individuals who will give everything on the field and simply cannot accept losing as an option. The key to building a team that will be consistently successful and feared by opposition in all parts of the world, is to go in with such players. Skill is second to this in my opinion.

There are still 3 matches to go in this series for India and it is still very possible that India makes it to the finals, but on current form, I dont think it will happen unless there is a drastic change in attitude. The one long-term good to come out of this series, is that the core of the Indian batting and bowling for the future, has gained good exposure to Australian conditions and pitches that should help them when they go there for the 2015 World Cup. But 3 years is a long time and a lot of things can happen in that time.

My next post will probably be after the league stage is completed for the ODIs. Stay tuned.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Review of T20s and first ODI

Hello friends,

It was a relief to see India notch up their first win of the Aussie tour in the second T20. And what made it even more satisfying was that the win was setup by the fielding. If the BCCI or the selectors needed any more proof that youth is the way forward, even in tests, this T20 provided that in ample measure. The fielding was truly athletic and it was great to see very good fielders with accurate throws posted in the inner ring by Dhoni. Players like Jadeja, Rohit, Raina put a lot of pressure on the Aussie batsmen and as the game went on, you could see the hesitation that crept in to their minds regarding the running between wickets. That is the ultimate goal that this team should achieve - doubt in the minds of opposition batsmen when it comes to taking sharp singles and running twos. Once we achieve that consistently, we will automatically save runs in every game and make things easier for the batting line up. Teams like NZ, Australia and South Africa do this in every game and that is why they can never be taken lightly as opposition.

In the first ODI, India lost but I am not putting too much importance to that since it was a truncated game. However, the strategy of going in with 3 spinners on an MCG pitch, especially when they knew that rain was forecast, was a little absurd. I am not too convinced with Dhoni's explanation that having Irfan play would mean that we had no variety in the pace department with all of them bowling in the upper 120s. The variety in my opinion is with the fact that Irfan is a left-arm bowler and would have posed different questions to the batsmen. We could see clearly that when the rain stopped and India had almost exhausted their pace options, they struggled to contain the batsmen with their 3 spinners. One more pacer would have been handy at that stage. This is what worries me with Dhoni's captaincy these days. He seems too rigid in his thinking and appears reluctant to have and use plan B and plan C. I hope they dont go in with 3 spinners in Perth :)

Since we have some part-timers who are all spinners (Sehwag, Raina, Rohit), we should look to play with 3 pacers in most of the games. And at this time, the best person to be swapped with a pace bowler appears to be Ashwin. I agree with the friend who commented on my previous post. Ashwin seems in need of a break and needs to go back to the drawing board a bit to re-think his strategy and resort to a slightly defensive line and length if he is being hit too easily and frequently.

I also hope that Sachin gets his 100 in this series and then is given the option to choose one format over the other. Looking ahead in the ODI series, the team management should look to give Gambhir and Kohli a rest at some stage. It is a long series (I think 10 matches for each side before finals), so it would not be fair to expect them to play all matches. We have a large squad and should look to give everyone a fair run in this series. Players like Manoj Tiwary and Irfan Pathan definitely deserve to be tried out for a few games at least. Lets hope the team management uses all the available options sensibly and rotates the players properly.

One more update for all of you is that I now have a Twitter account that I created exclusively for cricket. I want to post tweets during India games and hope to interact with you guys instantly during matches. My twitter account is drinks_break. Please 'follow' me and I will try to post comments as I watch the games. Lets hope for a good performance from our young Indian team in the ODIs. I will continue to post on this blog during the ODIs, but not after every game. Maybe a post after every 3 India games or so. Lets make our conversation more interactive with Twitter. It will almost feel like we are watching the game sitting together in one room and I am excited about that.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review of fourth India-Australia test match and the test series

Hello friends,

India were whitewashed in the test series 4-0 as they put up another pathetic performance with the bat on a benign track in Adelaide. Like most of the Indian fans, I was also hoping that somehow the team would summon up some fighting spirit and try to salvage some pride in the final test match. But as soon as they started batting, it became evident that they had lost the battle in the mind and were not going to show any resistance. Only Virat Kohli played like he had a point to prove and it was great to see him get our first century of the tour. He has been the only positive to come out of the batting in this series and finally, he is beginning to show promise with his talent and attitude in test matches. Now, when I see him walk out to bat, the mind is quite relaxed like it is when he bats in ODIs and T20s and though he still has some things to iron out in his technique, his desire and determination cannot be faulted and that is all we ask for from all our batsmen. Saha also played well in the first innings and showed that he is not out of place in test cricket. This is actually a very good thing for Indian cricket and I will come to that a little later.

Let me write about a few other players that I saw in this series. For me, the jury is still out regarding Ashwin the test player. When he was selected for the test series, the general opinion was that he will enjoy the bounce of the Australian pitches and will be quite effective with his control and variations. But a return of 9 wickets in 3 test matches, 2 of which were in Sydney and Adelaide where traditionally spinners have done well, is not too good. Plus his bowling average is quite high which means he went for a lot of runs while taking those wickets. Whether his modest returns were because he is not that good at test level or whether he was hampered by lack of runs and the defensive fields his captains set for him, is something we wont know till both those issues are sorted out. That is why I say that it is too early to judge him yet. He is another player who will benefit from the fact that India are playing their next few series at home and by the time the next tour comes around, hopefully he would have gained some valuable experience and confidence that he will put into practice in the next foreign tour. I would still persist with him for the immediate future and in my opinion, Harbhajan does not deserve a comeback just yet.

Coming to the matter of what needs to be considered regarding our test squad, here are my suggestions -

1) Dravid and Laxman need to be dropped right away. I read in an article that no one has the right to tell them to retire, and I agree with that, but definitely the selectors have the right to drop them based on their performance in this series and the fact that they seem to be making the same mistakes again and again with the bat. Also their lack of energy in the field is not helping them. Lets drop them and if they still retain the fire to fight for their spot, then they can go back to the nets and domestic level and score runs to put forth their credentials for selection

2) Sachin needs to be requested to select one form of international cricket after this tri-series is over. With Sachin, the situation is a bit different. With his stature and the nature of fanatic following in our country regarding cricket, it would not be a wise thing to drop him from any side. But just like he chose to not play T20 Internationals, he should be requested to choose between test cricket and ODIs and be selected only for that format. We need to start thinking and planning for cricket teams without Sachin and this is the right step in my opinion to accomplish that

3) We need to seriously re-think the utility of Dhoni in test matches. I have written about this before as well. He does not look equipped to handle quality test bowling and the main reason he was persisted with was because we did not have a viable option in keeping as well as captaincy. Now that I have seen Saha bat and keep in Adelaide, I think he can be a good alternative to have with the gloves and bat, and as for captaincy, maybe we can go to Sehwag or Gambhir for the near future. Of course, Saha will not be as sexy as Dhoni, but I have always said we should not look for like-for-like replacements in the aura and charisma department when we replace players. The main things to look for are talent and commitment and in those fields, Saha can match Dhoni, so he should be persisted with

4) If we achieve step 1 and 2 above, we need to think about dropping Sehwag into the middle order. Sehwag has himself said that he would like to bat there, so in my opinion, it is a good option since Sehwag clearly does not inspire much confidence against the moving ball and these days, opposition teams have worked him out to an extent and are able to nullify his impact to a large extent, especially in away conditions. So having Sehwag in the middle order will be good for the Indian line-up as he can face an older ball and be used to move the scoreboard along in the same way as he has been doing

5) Now that the great opening partnership of Sehwag and Gambhir has been split, we should also think about moving Gambhir down to number 3 and going with a completely new opening pair. Of course, the other option is to keep Gautam at the top and simply find a nice partner for him. Guys like Ajinkya Rahane and Abhinav Mukund should be given more chances and persisted with like Virat Kohli was, for around 10 matches before deciding whether to drop them or not

Anyway, it is time now to move on to the shorter formats that the Indian team clearly enjoys playing more, especially away from home. I hope they can do better in Australia in the T20s and ODIs than they did in England. I like the look of the squads for both the formats as I see lots of youngsters, in the 23-25 age group. This means that the fielding will be good and the desire to perform will be very evident. So from a fan perspective, we are looking good already. Lets hope these things translate to results as well

Lets hear it from you guys now. I am sure u all will be as upset and disappointed as I am, not so much in the defeats themselves, but in the manner we just seemed to give up on the field, especially with the bat. Do u agree with my suggestions and do u have any other suggestions to add to these or change some of mine? Do u believe, as I do, that we will do better in the T20s and ODIs ?

My next post will be after the two T20 matches, so stay tuned.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of third India-Australia test match

Hello friends,

So the third test match has also been lost and that too, within 3 days and now the series is over. When the first test was lost and India got bowled out cheaply in the first innings at Sydney, I was foreseeing a whitewash once again like the England tour. But since this time the bowling was doing good, I was hoping that our talented batting would turn things around. But after the 400 they made in the second innings at SCG, the batsmen are back to their old poor displays.

The similarities are quite disturbing between the England debacle and the performance in Australia, particularly the batting. They have not looked like they want to fight and seem to give up too easily. One of the main traits of the team that went to number 1 in tests, was the ability and intention to fight from any situation that was so visible to the viewers. This team looks jaded and simply does not seem to care once they see that things are not going their way. And definitely, the main culprits for this are the seniors - Dravid, Sachin (to a lesser extent), VVS and Sehwag.

At least, I am now beginning to read about phasing out the seniors and forcing them to retire. Like I said in one of my previous posts, if the outcome of this series is that the seniors are done away with and their places taken by our next generation, I would still be happy with the result. For that purpose, I wont mind if India lose in Adelaide as well. But it would be nice to see some fight before the loss, like putting up 350 or 400 runs on the board like they did in SCG in the second innings.

I am not going to review the Perth test match in detail as we all saw what happened and know why it happened. Vinay Kumar was obviously a bad choice like I had mentioned in my previous post. But I admire the other bowlers for sticking to their task and effectively bowling Australia out for 155, after they had put on 214 without loss. This shows that if the batsmen had put their heads down and made around 250 in the first innings, we could have made a match out of this test match. Once again, most of the batsmen got out to similar mistakes that they have been making in all the test matches.

Adelaide has always been a batsmen-friendly surface and also should take spin on the 4th and 5th days, if we last that long :) So Ashwin will come back, unless they want to try Ojha instead of him. Also, it looks like Rohit will play ahead of VVS, which is a good move, if it happens. I am happy that Virat Kohli has somewhat justified the faith shown in him. But he needs to do it again in Adelaide and continue to do it regularly if the management and viewers need to feel relaxed when he is at the crease. One other good thing that has happened, even if not planned, is that Dhoni will not play in Adelaide because of the ban. So it will be nice to see how Sehwag captains the side and whether the approach is markedly different from Dhoni's and if it is, then it will give the selectors an option other than Dhoni for the tests which India desperately need at this time.

I will post after the Adelaide test, but it would be nice to hear the comments from you guys. Lets hope for a good performance in Adelaide from the batsmen, particularly Gambhir, Kohli and Rohit.

Before I end, I want to mention one amazing thing that occurred at the start of the Perth test. My 8-year-old son has been following Indian cricket since the World Cup win and is fairly up-to-date with what is going on. I had been telling him about the Perth wicket and how it helps the bowlers initially and that it is quick, bouncy etc. When I told him India lost the toss and are batting first, he simply said, 'We are dead'. I was shocked and was laughing at the same time because I thought it was the perfect statement considering how poor our batting has been in this series. And sure enough, we were bowled out for 161 before tea on day 1 and never recovered.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Review of second India-Australia test match

Hello friends,

India have lost the second test match as well against the Aussies and already, I am getting visions of another 4-0 whitewash. Once again, the batting failed in the first innings and India lost the game when they were bowled out for 191 on the first day after electing to bat. Unfortunately, the bowlers failed to squeeze after they had their hands on Australia's throat at 37 for 3. But that is not the fault of the bowling alone, Dhoni too deserves a lot of the blame. I will come to that later. First, let us look at the positives to come out of this game.

Since India as a team were outplayed thoroughly, we have to look at individual performances to pick out positives. First, the return to form of Gambhir was pleasing, particularly because he came to form not by luck, but by thinking about his game and playing differently. I had read that Duncan Fletcher had asked Gautam to be more positive while batting and Gambhir showed that he is a good listener and learns quickly by doing exactly that in the second innings. When he pushes at the ball tentatively, he looks very bad, but when he plays positively and looks to score, he looks very good and reminds us why he is the best opening partner for Sehwag in the country. In the second innings, his feet moved well and he looked to play close to his body while using the bat to hit the ball, not poke at it. In fact, till Sehwag was around, Gambhir comfortably outscored him and batted like Sehwag in the initial overs. If Gautam can take confidence from this innings and continue to bat like he did, India will be benefitted a lot.

Another plus point was the return to form of Laxman and Sachin continuing to play very well. Laxman showed his real touch in the second innings and it took a fantastic delivery from Hilfenhaus to dismiss him. Hopefully, he too can take this form into Perth and Adelaide. Sachin started well as usual and looked good for a hundred once again before throwing it away. Having said that, he was a little unlucky that the ball deflected from Haddin straight into Hussey's hands. But he should have been more careful, especially given his history of getting out to part timers. I am now convinced that the 100th hundred is playing on his mind. After all, he is only human and it is natural that his game undergoes a little change as he approaches the landmark. I wish he gets the hundred in Perth because I am sure we will see a very different Sachin once he gets to the record and that will be very good for India for the near future.

One more positive was that our tail-enders got some runs for a change and showed some fight, though that could have been because they had nothing to lose. But that is precisely the point. India should now play like we have nothing to lose and be very positive in the field while batting and in the body language while bowling and fielding. Ashwin brings a calmness to his batting and when he is out there, as a fan, I am not anxious that he will get out at any moment and I am sure the dressing room is relaxed as well knowing that he will get some runs most of the time. At this time, he gives me more confidence than Kohli and Dhoni and the other tail-enders, as far as his batting is concerned.

Now lets look at the negatives. In this match, the bowlers did not bowl too well and not only took only 4 wickets over 150+ overs, but did not control the runs as well. In my opinion, a lot of the blame for that should go to Dhoni with his field placements. I know that he only had 191 to play with, but it was frustrating to see that as soon as Australia got to about 130-140 runs, he spread the field and did not attack enough. It shows a lack of confidence in his bowlers and it is obvious that he thinks batting is still India's strength and bowling is our weakness. This is unfortunate because this group of bowlers is pretty good and if given the right fields, can create trouble for the opposition as they showed in Melbourne by taking 20 wickets. Where is the Dhoni who stifled the scoring in Nagpur in 2008 by setting an 8-1 field and asking Zaheer and Ishant to bowl 2 feet outside the off stump ? Australian batsmen, like their Indian counterparts, like to score quickly and one way to get them out is to create pressure by bowling a lot of dot balls and maiden overs. But with the fields that Dhoni set, they not only did not get out, but also scored quickly because SCG is a big ground and there are lots of gaps even with the field spread out.

Dravid was another worrisome aspect of this test match, the way he got out bowled in the second innings and has been getting out to the incoming delivery very often these days. The wall has been breached regularly these days and that is not good news for Indian fans. Dravid needs to fix this technical issue urgently otherwise he may have to go as soon as the Australia tour is over.

Lets look ahead to Perth now. It seems very likely that Australia will go in with a 4 man pace attack for Perth. James Pattinson is injured and is out for the rest of this series. So Harris will definitely come in. Also since Nathan Lyon has been ineffective in the past 2 test matches, they will seriously consider playing Mitchell Starc as well since he is a left-armer so will provide variety. But with Pattinson gone, India should take that as a positive and look to attack Starc and maybe Harris as well since he is coming back from injury. As far as India's attack is concerned, I heard the commentators talking about the possibility of replacing Ashwin with Ojha. I have nothing against Ojha, in fact I think he will do quite well in terms of controlling the runs and bottling up one end. But the problem this will create will be in the batting. With Kohli struggling and Dhoni not exactly inspiring confidence in tests, despite his 57 not out in the first innings at the SCG, if Ashwin sits out, effectively our tail will start after Laxman at number 5. That is a scary thought and for that reason alone, I would not play Ojha. But one change should definitely happen at Perth and that is, Rohit Sharma replacing Kohli. In my opinion, Kohli has been given enough chances to prove that he belongs and at this time, does not inspire any confidence, so he has to go. Rohit plays well of the back foot and pulls the short ball well. So he is a good option to have at Perth where the Indian batsmen are certain to be tested with the short ball.

Lets hear it from you guys now. There is one week to go before Perth and I am sure you all have opinions regarding what happened at MCG and SCG and what needs to happen at Perth and Adelaide for India to try and level the series.

My next post will be after the Perth test match, unless I see some comments from you guys that prompts some discussion.