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.