Saturday, April 30, 2005

Waqar Younis speaks

Waqar Younis would like to see Shoaib Akhtar sit out the West Indies tour, play county cricket, shed weight and gain 100% fitness before he makes a comeback for Pakistan. The Pakistani selectors agree. I agree too, though for different reasons - I believe Pakistan are better-off without Shoaib.

On a completely unrelated issue, Waqar also feels that it is time for India to move on without Sourav Ganguly and that Dravid should get a full-time job as captain. Interesting, only for the fact that it came within days of Wasim Akram expressing a completely opposite sentiment. The differences and tensions between these 2 great Ws of Pakistan cricket are as well-known as their lethal partnership with the ball. It seems they don't want to take a step back in the world of cricket-expert-speak either. Again, this time, I agree with Waqar.

Friday, April 29, 2005

How The Ashes Can Be Won - 2

One of England's weakest points in the Ashes is likely to be the crucial #3 spot. While Australia have Ricky Ponting there, one of the best in business, England have had in the recent past Robert Key - no comparison despite what Lords 2004 may have to say. Mark Butcher had made this spot his own since the last Ashes and had done quite well particularly against Australia, but his status is somwehat unclear after a series of injuries. Even if fully fit, I'm not convinced it is the best choice. The best player in the team more often than not has to bat at that spot - see Ponting, Dravid - and see how the teams of Lara and Kallis suffer - they don't bat at 3 - I would love to see Michael Vaughan coming in at 3 - he is such a gorgeously talented player - and I think batting at 3 would help him to regain the form of 2002. That would put Thorpe in at 4 and Flintoff at 5 and I would go for Bell at 6 - he seems an impressive bloke - just scored a 200 today against Middlesex and someone you would like to invest in. Even if Butcher is fit to play, I would play Vaughan at 3, Butcher at 4 maybe. As for the likes of Pietersen, I would suggest waiting a little bit longer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

How The Ashes Can Be Won - 1

It is still 85 days away, the number equal to the target England was set to win the first Test in the UK according to the BBC. But I shall start off with a series of ideas which I believe could be of some little help in winning the Ashes. For I would love to see England win the Ashes, wishful thinking though it may be.

The single most important factor that England will have to contend with is not the brilliance of Shane Warne or the accuracy of Glenn McGrath. Nor is it the punishing batting of Ricky Ponting. It is that legend of the game - Adam Gilchrist. Unless England can find a way to control Gilchrist it will be of little importance how much they score or how cheaply they bowl out Australia's top order.

The Target
I suggest the following plan to control Gilchrist. One, he is "somewhat" vulnerable to left-arm spin. Although he can destroy the best on any day, he is likely to fall at times. The Ashley Giles of 2 years ago should have been kept in a safe place away from Gilchrist's bat. But the Ashley Giles of today might just work. Bring Giles on early before Gilchrist settles. Let him go for a few, chances are he might get out.

Two, English bowlers may lack the skills of McGrath and Co., but in Flintoff and (maybe) Harmisson, they have someone who can keep it short at his ribs on a consistent basis. While Giles attacks at one end, one of these should push him on the backfoot at the other. Flintoff would be my best bet. I remember the way he bottled up Sachin Tendulkar by bowling body-line at him. He is the man for the job.

The Attack
Three, and most unlikely, try to find a decent left-arm seamer. He has this tendency to be cramped up and drag balls onto his stumps while facing left-armers going over the wicket. Now, there was this bloke Ryan Sidebottom who came on the scene a few years ago - but he is not what you want. If you can find some talented young left-armer doing a decent job on the county circuit, put him in in my opinion. As it is the 4th seamer's slot is somewhat open after Hoggy, Harmy and Freddie take the first 3. If you can't forget it. Don't get someone just for the heck of it. But if you can nothing like it.

Get Gilchrist and half the battle is won.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Return Of The King

Brian Lara has reclaimed the top spot in the latest ICC ratings. A welcome comeback - although there has never really been any doubt who is the best batter in the World for sheer quality of strokeplay ever since he made his debut. I think Lara should now concentrate on individual performances and score a few more triple hundreds before he retires. There is no point in giving the West Indies team a chance for a victory; the bowlers are so pathetic and the supporting batsmen so pedestrian (with the exception of Chanderpaul to some degree) that the best idea would be to keep scoring 300s and hope that the team can pull out draws !!!

Here is a nice stroy about the conundrum that Brian Lara's genius poses.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Thinking Right

How the tables have turned. A year ago India was the team on the up - a performing unit with an experienced and respected leader. Pakistan was in shambles, winning just the odd-game here and there through sheer chance and a leader who could do very little except bat.

Eerily, these 2 men are still the leaders in person, but their personas have changed beyind recognition. Ganguly has been reduced to a wreck clinging on to his spot in the team on the basis of past records while Inzamam has first through example and then through hitherto unknown leadership skills made this a really tough fighting unit. No doubt in very small steps, but surely, there is some professionalism and consistency developing in the Pakistan setup. Bob Woolmer, the very knowledgable coach has been given a reasonable atmosphere in which to function - and hence he can afford to keep out useless "stars" like Shoaib Akhtar - although there are the Aamir Sohails of this World who love to make a fool of themselves by commenting on that - while India is once again gripped in a frenzy of hero-worship with "rational" fans who "have the interest of the team in the mind" rushing in to save non-performers like Tendulkar and Ganguly.

The icing on the cake and the just reward has been the extension of Inzamam's captaincy. I am really happy for him today. He is such a wonderful and likeable human being not to mention an astoundingly talented and great batsman. When Pakistan came to India, I knew that the result of this series would decide the fate of Inzamam as captain. And I was sad because I knew I could not have it both ways - of course I wanted India to win. As it turns out India turned in a performance so unworthy, there was hardly any room to feel bad. Luckily, we managed to draw the Test series before we jumped into our pathetic streak and it turned out to be a great result for Inzy. Here's wishing him a good run as skipper.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

All's Not Well

This article on Indian Express does not paint a very rosy picture of what is happening in Indian cricket. It paints something which is necessary for everyone to understand though. We cannot go on any longer pretending that all is well with the team. Especially at the top. We cannot keep pretending that Ganguly is the undisputed leader respected and honored by all. He has been great, yes - but times have changed. There is a difference of opinion which was clear in Dravid's attitude before the Delhi ODI; it has been evident for some time now that John Wright was not completely happy with Ganguly's functioning over the last year. Of course the blame is not on Sourav alone and must be shared by the management that includes Wright and Dravid.

But the important thing is we should not run away from reality - accept that there is a problem and try to find solutions to it. Such articles in the media are a welcome change from the mundane politically correct stuff everyone writes or just focussing on obvious issues like how great a batsman Sehwag is.

The Joys Of Cricket

There is no greater joy than a good game of cricket, and the game has several different types of joys associated with it. There is the joy in appreciating the sheer skills of the performers of course. There is also the joy of witnessing an intense mental battle of courage and patience between batsman and bowler, which needs to be won before the physical skills can put away the winning blow.

Then there is the joy of watching a game in the company of your closest friends. To share the highs and the lows, the ecstasies and despairs over snacks and drinks. But there is one more joy - the joy of "being" at the place where the match is played.

December mornings and you are transferred mentally to the great stadia of Australia - bathing in sunshine, lovely bouncy pitches, wonderful concrete jungles. May afternoons and you are at the home of cricket - a damp, dull day, the ball moving about, the ultimate test of a batsman's technique - you can almost feel the chill and dampness in the atmosphere. As you can feel the lovely sunshine, if it is late August at the Oval.

And of course it is an altogether different experience watching a match in the West Indies. You almost feel like putting on your swimsuit and bask in the sunshine on the beaches. The non-stop music (the Trinni Posse et al), the beautiful people (esp. the Carib beer cheer leaders) - you find yourself virtually vacationing in a Caribbean island.

Since moving to this country (which God-damn-it, can't appreciate cricket) I miss out on most of these joys. I still get to see the occasional match with friends and follow cricket all over the World closely via Cricinfo, but somehow that feeling of being one with the game, of being "there" is missing. Hence, it is great to read some lovely articles like this and this which take you there.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Lack Of Support

For people who talk about Tendulkar's great innings being wasted thanks to lack of support, here is what the term "lack of support" really means.

12 runs were scored before Lara walked in to bat; 10 after he left !!

Can you believe it ??
Another masterpiece is going to go in vain. I mean this is just sick !! A glorious 196 - LOST. A magnificent 176 - LOST. This for a man whose 202 against South Africa a year ago had also resulted in a loss as had a 221 against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in 2001. And that too when he scored a 100 in the second innings as well !!

At least most of the "great" efforts by Tendulkar resulted in draws not in defeats like this. Talk about heroic tragedies !!!

Good Job

Bangladesh have stuck to Dave Whatmore until the next World Cup. I think it is a good move. They acted quick and lured him in with an attractive package just when he was looking interested in the India job.

And for him, it is a better option I believe. Bangladesh is a team on the up and he can help them get there. They have a group of youngsters who are keen and he can really take them to the next level - they have already risen 1 level under his rule.

India on the meanwhile are a stagnant even deteriorating team at least in ODIs. Everyone is smug about their places in the side and no one looks really enthused to perform. Dave Whatmore would have been a waste here - especially with so many seniors in the side determined to have things their own way.

What these guys need is someone like Steve Waugh who won't care about reputations and treat all players solely by performance - CURRENT PERFORMANCE - not some huge records scored in the past on the strength of which people cling to their places in the side.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Last Man Standing - Tu Hi To Hai Rah(ul) Jo Sujhaaye

I am absolutely shattered after the debacle in the ODI circus. I believe that from now on when India and Pakistan play ODI cricket it should be called "The Ashes" because what happened the other day at the Kotla is nothing if not the death of Indian Cricket. It should be given a state funeral and the Ashes buried under the Kotla in the hope that generations of young Indian cricketers will someday be inspired to regain them after putting in a performance befitting a cricketer - unlike the meek spineless and cowardly surrender of this team.

Most of these cricketers should be ashamed of calling themselves that. A cricketer embodies virtues of courage, determination and a burning desire to fight it out till the very end. I think the entire team is to be blamed to some degree or the other of abandoning those. Starting with the 2 most useless people at the top - Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar. They should carry a major portion of the blame. I am sick and tired even thinking about the lack of utility of these guys so I'll just not discuss it anymore.

Kaif and Yuvaraj - now here is something more interesting. These two are supposed to lead the batting in the years to come - unfortunately this series was not so great for them, apart from a superb back-to-the wall 78 from Kaif in Kanpur. These two should shoulder part of the blame though much less than the 2 liabilities mentioned above - mainly because they always have their task made really difficult by the failure of the top order. Who would you blame more ?? People who play foolishly at the top to make 50/4 or those who have to react to that situation and crumble under pressure. Yes, it is important that the middle order be able to handle pressure situations but that is no excuse for the top order to make single digit scores in 8 of 10 tries to get the score to 50/4 in the first place. Give them some kind of platform set up and they will fire - see what happened in the Natwest final ?? For those who are so eager to castigate Yuvaraj Singh, let me ask - when in this series did he really have a chance to do something ?? Only in the last 2 games and (maybe Jamshedpur) on all those occasions the top-order had collapsed putting extreme pressure on him. Put him in a situation like Natwest he will get the win for you - does anyone remember what a great innings that 62 against South Africa in the semifinals of the ICC Trophy 2002 was ?? No ?? - Yuvaraj and Kaif need to improve but they need to be provided with encouragement, not harsh criticism.

Now to Dhoni - touted as the find of the season - played one booming knock - became an overnight hero - but what after that ?? His strike rate in the remaining matches is pretty ordinary - why send him at #3 if he is going to play like a batsman anyway ?? Wouldn't it be better if that time was utilized by a genuine batsman to settle ?? Say Laxman or Yuvaraj - someone of genuine class ?? Dhoni is a good find but lets not get carried away - he needs to be reminded that he needs to score at at least over a run a ball if he has to bat at the top - of course with the above mentioned liabilities collapsing all around him - he can be pardoned for tyring to preserve his wicket just a little.

Sehwag - let me make it very clear - as much as I am a supporter of this guy, I will not hesitate to criticize his poor performances. In fact, luckily he himself has admitted that he played really poorly in the last 4 games - but at least he has a couple of match-winning knocks to redeem himself. What do the liabilities have ? Sehwag needs to be blamed, no doubt. But only slightly.

Coming to the bowlers - overall, I would blame the bowlers less than the batsmen, because this was not their game at all. Zaheer Khan was reasonably accurate, Nehra ok in patches, Balaji not so good. Harbhajan, like Zaheer very accurate, but no wickets to show. Harbhajan had the excuse that Ganguly never gave him a field to pick up wickets. Zaheer not so much. As it stands, we all saw how a little bit of reverse swing can work wonders in the middle-overs with Agarkar in the last game - hope we realised what we are missing out by dismissing so lightly a bowler with over 200 wickets. Agarkar should be an integral part of the side. I feel sorry for Pathan - I have no doubt he has superb talent - can't understand what went wrong this time; I think it was a good decision to pull him out of the team than have his confidence shattered - I'm sure he's carrying some niggle - hope he is fully fit for the start of the next season.

Finally, what does that leave us with ?? Isn't all the blame shared so far or is there any left to hand over to Rahul Sharad Dravid ?? Shouldn't he be blamed for not playing a marathon innings in Delhi ?? Shouldn't he be blamed for not successfully carrying out an impossible effort in Jamshedpur ?? Or for not scoring more than 250 in Kanpur ?? Shouldn't he be blamed for not covering up for the mistakes of everyone else ?? For the defeat of the Women's Team in the finals of the World Cup ?? For the Tsunami On Boxing Day ??

The above questions may sound stupid - but I have here friends who were willing to blame Dravid for his captain's knock of 86 in Kanpur. They wanted him to accelerate earlier !! With everyone back in the hut and the innings sure to collapse once he departed. I thought it was one of the best innings of the series coming at the time it did and under such extreme pressure. Go ahead and lambast him for it; I refuse to attribute anything more than 0.01% of blame to Rahul.

He was the one who showed that no matter what happens there is always reason to try again. He was the one one who adjusted his game so well to the differing situations. When the need was for quick runs in Ahmedabad, he scored 19 off 12 balls. When it was required to play a long innings in Kochi and then fire he did that. When there was a need for a gem of an innings in Kanpur he did that. And on a difficult Delhi pitch at least he tried something different, stepping out one ball and playing a horizontal bat four to the other. Admittedly, he got run-out under pressure, but at least he was willing to adapt to the situation. Sachin Tendulkar - are you listening ??? He did not stubbornly refuse to change his game and lose his leg-stump to a bowler of the quality of Rao Iftikar Anjum on a pitch that was slow and low.

They talk about selecting the team first and then choosing the captain from among the 11 players. The other school talks about selecting the captain first and then selecting the team around him. Luckily, we have right now one guy who alone can claim a spot in the team without any questions about his performance. And luckily he is the guy who is the right man to lead. And he has expressed an interest in doing the job. "It is something I like to do independently of whether I am successful at it", he said the other day. He is The Last Man Standing. The one who will guide a new generation of cricketers to recover "The Ashes." I hope the selectors see the light.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


At some time in the future, I will be able to look back and appreciate the unbelievable, inimitable innings of Shahid Afridi - today however it fills me with depression. It was brutal, ruthless and cruel. There was absolutely nothing Rahul Dravid as captain or anyone could have done except hope that he mishit one. Usually such Afridi innings last a much shorter while. Then he either gets out around 40 or he settles down to a more reasonable run-a-ball rate and then gets out after a while. This was different. It was the type of innings that he could play only once in a 100 attempts or so. Unfortunately it happened at Kanpur on April 15th 2005. It made a competitive total seem pathetically hopeless.

Dravid's innings was a true captain's knock - an occurrence after a long time for India. Kaif also played superbly, also Mongia coming down the order was a bit of a gem. But an ODI that was quite uncharacteristically turning out to be an equal contest between bat and ball was cruelly hijacked by the brilliance of one man. I don't mean to be churlish here - but I can't help thinking that the innings was a fluke - as talented a striker Afridi is, to manage something like that there has to be some element of luck somewhere - by that I don't mean getting a chance or anything - because he did not give any, not until he was caught of a no-ball in the 80s anyway - but for something like that everything has to go right every ball and there has got to be some element of chance in it - which is why Afridi himself has only twice ever played such an innings.

Of course I don't believe that it is *impossible* to stop Afridi. I believe Balaji bowled a terrible over - the 3rd one - which really set Afridi up and propelled him to this achievement. 2 sixes off the first 2 balls of a rusty Kumble meant that the match was all but iver unless he got out imediately. He didn't. Whenever encountered with such a challenge, we should think about what the Aussies would have done. McGrath would have made sure every ball to Afridi was just short off length, the majority hitting him in the ribs - clearly we have no bowler who can come close to McGrath but at least we could try. Zaheer did fairly well, I must say - although he was lucky he could start off bowling to Butt. Balaji started badly, under normal circumstances 1 bad over is accpetable at the start - but unfortunately circumstances yesterday were not *normal*

I don't think Dravid did too much wrong trying out all different bowlers. Also you can't really fault him for batting first - after all though the wicket seams, it was expected to and did get slow and low. We should have played out the first spell by Rana. More than Afridi, I believe Rana is the difference between the 2 teams. No Indian bowler has been able to move the ball like him - and it would be an absolute shock if he now does not retain his place in the team above that good-for-nothing Shoaib Akhtar. The only mistake probably was sending Dhoni in at 3. As I had said in an earlier post it makes no sense to put Dhoni and Sehwag up there together - certainly not on a wicket that is doing something.

I think we need to think out of the box here. I know it is a bit weird but I would take a huge risk and go for Agarkar in the next game. Clearly, Balaji's confidence is shattered. And for once rather than go by my brain, I would prefer to go with my instinct and my heart - hence, Agarkar over Nehra

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Rennaisance ??

The darkest cloud has a silver lining. I can see heartening signs for Indian cricket. No ! Don't go all mad shouting after me - although I agree that Ganguly's ban was a blessing (not in disguise) and his devotees are out there suing me for sacrilege - here I am referring to a different phenomenon. Slowly but surely, we are seeing signs of Tendulkar returning to his old form. And I'm not saying that just because of his 100 which was superb - when was the last time he hit the leg-spinners for sixes like that ?? - but even in the earlier matches while he was dismissed early, he got out trying to play aggressive shots. This is certainly the best thing for Sachin fans and Indian cricket. That he is rediscovering his aggressive attitude. That is something which should not change with age - which was one of the stupid excuses some people were making - the reflexes can change with age - yes, but the attitude should not. Thank God he seems to have realized it.

Finally ...

It is confirmed that Sourav Ganguly will not be playing in Kanpur and the team can go about its business of taking a lead in the series keeping away all the distractions. All the best to Rahul Dravid. Although he is doing a temporary job, and has done it before with reasonable success, he is now more than ever before closer to a permanent go at the top job. However, we can never say in Indian cricket.

Of course, if we lose there will be people who will be ready to say "We told you so - he is not captaincy material" and if we win , they will refuse him any credit whatsoever. It is a tough job, but he is a tough bloke and I have full confidence in him.

For The Team's Sake ...

I am assuming and hoping that regardless of the status of the appeal Ganguly will give the Kanpur game a skip and leave the team to sort themselves in peace. Given that, I would like to discuss a few issues here about the team strategy. Some of these are sure to attract wrath and ridicule but I believe in the idea and shall put it forth anyways.

First, I would like to address the problem of the slog overs. Yuvraj is the only person in the team near enough to be able to play a Symonds for India. On the other hand, putting both Sehwag and Dhnoi at the top does not make sense for me. Dhoni was supposed to be a pinch-hitter but he is playing far too much like a batsman. So I suggest we let him open with Tendulkar. Put Dravid at 3, Kaif at 4 and Sehwag at the crucial #5 spot - that's the spot where Symonds bats, that's where South Africa have got Gibbs now - clearly, it is an important spot. Note again, this is despite Sehwag's great form as opener - I do not intend this as a demotion to Sehwag at all - in fact it is assigning him a tougher role which I believe he is capable of.

Mongia can come in at #7. More than a batter, his slow-left arm can be useful. The bowling is more or less OK - I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference who we pick in a game that is meant to humiliate bowlers anyway.


While Sourav Ganguly goes about filing an appeal against his ban, there is total chaos as to who is going to lead the side against Pakistan in the 5th ODI. I wish Sourav hade the sense to step aside and make this decision clear before going about filing his appeal. Now the whole team including the stand-in captain will be in a state of suspended animation till the last moment. This can surely not be good news for a team already under pressure in the series. Sourav playing the 5th ODI now courtesy a filed appeal isn't going to be a good thing either. Sourav Ganguly has not been good for the team this series and in this situation, in this manner he can only be worse.

There is a group of blind Sourav fans in India who care more about Ganguly and his place in the side than the welfare of Indian cricket - now Ganguly himself by this unprofessional behaviour, has let the welfare of the team out of the window - concentrating solely on what will help him to maintain his place in the side - at the cost of the team's fortunes.

Come on Sourav - you have been unable to score runs or lead the side well these last few months, at least you should have shown the courtesy and sincerity to handle this ban and appeal situation gracefully.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Go Sarwan Go

Ramnaresh Sarwan that very talented batsman from the West Indies is the only entity that stands between South Africa and a victory in the second Test at Trinidad. The only entity that can prevent another masterpiece from Brian Lara going to waste. While the whole world, Michael Atherton being the prominent among them, went gaga over how the West Indies could do so well without Lara and Sarwan after they had scored 540+ in the first Test, here it has been just these 2 that are standing tall for the West Indies.

While Lara's 196 was one of the greatest lone hands in recent years and I can go on talking about him, I would like to conentrate on Sarwan here. I am a huge fan of this young bloke. Most West Indians are gifted stroke players (with some honorable exceptions like Jimmy Adams) and this young team is no different - you have Gayle, Dwayne Smith, Bravo, Powell all very attractive stroke makers. What makes Sarwan different is his spirit. This is what leads me to believe that he has a big future as West Indies Captain, The One Who Will Bring Back Glory to the Windies and more so than Brian Lara, the key to West Indies' revival. I could see that spirit in his eyes in the ODI series in India where it was near impossible to get him out - the way he maintained his nerve to get West Indies home with a last ball boundary in Jamshedpur, the way he scored a selfless 99* in Ahmedabad and a fiery 80 in the decider and a couple of other useful innings. I wish him all the luck for tomorrow and in the future.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Rudolph A Liability At #3 ??

I can't help but wonder. #3 being such an important spot, Rudolph has hardly justified hanging on to it. With the Pontings and the Dravids and the Sangakarras gracing this honour for their respective teams, Rudolph certainly seems out of league. He averages 39 after 26 tests - not bad but not special either. In today's world way too inadequate for a 1-down in my opinion. Take out the 222* that he made against Bangladesh on debut, and he averages less than 34 !!! He did score 154* and 93* in New Zealand last year and a 100 (albeit a painfully slow one) in difficult conditions in Sri Lanka; but he is painfully slow for my liking - especially when a giant of the modern game Jacques Kallis is waiting to bat in the dressing-room. I think Rudolph is definitely a reasonably good player but for now he should be probably #5 maybe 4 but definitely not 3.

Ganguly Terrible; ICC Worse

Sourav Ganguly has once again performed pathetically as far as maintaing the over-rate is concerned - shed all excuses dammit - it's no one's fault but his own that he is going through such a bad patch with the bat- that can't be used as an excuse to legitimise this.

But the ICC have proved themselves worse than the Indian captain in their efforts to handle this situation. In December 2004, when Ganguly was similary tardy that (man) Clive Lloyd suspended him for one Test match - one Test match mind you - no less despite several breaks for drinks and runners and what not. Today there was very little of that and yet the Maharaja escpaes with a fine. For God's sake where have the virtues of rationality and consistency vanished ?? Clearly, either Lloyd was too harsh then or Broad is being too lenient now. It is another matter that Lloyd's decision was (much to his anger and frustration) overruled; but main point is there is inconsistency and lack of transparency. Why does the ICC not make it clear if any of its referees has made a mistake ?? Why is it protecting them as if they were messengers of God and could do no wrong ??

Martin On A Roll

Chris Martin - heard of him ?? - that reasonably talented but often under-achieving new ball bowler for New Zealand - well he is somewhat on what could be reasonably described as a roll. On a typical Wellington wicket that is usually made to suit New Zealand's swing bowlers (remember how the gentle giant Tuffey was turned into a Fearsome Destroyer by such wickets in early 2003?) he has taken 6 of the first 7 Sri Lankan wickets to fall - in fact he could have been dreaming about equalling the legendary Anil Kumble's unbreakable record of 10 until his mate James Franklin spoiled his party by picking up Chaminda Vaas. Sri Lanka however have launched a counter-attack through Samaraweera and Chandana and are now at 153/7 - no mean achievement on a vicious minefield.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Game 3 Review

Sorry folks - in giving a sound thrashing to Team India (alias Team BCCI alias Team Ganguly - take your pick), I forgot to go over the actual details of the match. Now parts of this post may be sarcastic and some may not. It will always be clear from the context.

To start off, we had lost the match with the toss itself. However, the seamers had given us a fair start with Nehra nailing Afridi courtesy a wonderful catch by Dravid and the run-rate kept in check by the 15-over mark. Very predictably, Ganguly opted to put his grey matter in the dressing room again - he assumed that since India had managed to restrict Pakistan to 5 an over off the first 15 overs, they would not be able to score quicker than that in the rest of the innings. Accordingly, he set an ultra-defensive field giving the batsmen cheap ones and twos and threes (oh Yes - with Nehra and Zaheer patrolling the boundaries, could you expect anything else ??), he made a steed like Harbhajan perform the mule's work.

Salman Butt, the talented opener that he is, relished this opportunity of course - and Shoaib Malik almost threatened to single-handedly destroy us (take your minds back to Sri Lanka in July 2004) but luckily was caught in the deep when just about to break lose. Well as it turns out - didn't make any difference. Pathan bowled an abominable 2-ball spell in which he gave away 14 runs and was thankfully kicked off the field in what turned out to be a blessing that could not even maintain its disguise. Turns out, even that would not make a difference in the end, we could not have chased 250 on that wicket yesterday.

Full credit to Rana Naved - I hope a certain vain individual procrastinating in Rawalpindi will take note of the whole-hearted performances of this extremely honest and hard-working cricketer and a super-spell by Sami - taking the "important" wicket of Tendulkar and the "lesser important" one of Dravid.

Again, I think both Tendulkar and Ganguly can hardly be blamed. Both played quite magnificent innigs - in 1 innings Tendulkar not only doubled his run-tally for the series, he also doubled his tally of boundaries - a fabulous achievement by a true legend of the game. Same goes for the skipper who after a superb show of captaincy in which he restricted Pakistan to 319 on a pitch that cried out for 500, followed it up by a crushing boundary through the covers and actually achived the distinction "of not being clean-bowled three times in a row". Unfortunately, the middle order just did not have the firepower to capitalist on this great start provided by the 2 greats of modern Indian batting.

Did You Seriously Expect Anything Else ??

A sound thrashing suffered by India in the third ODI at Jamshedpur. This is the way I envisaged this series would progress. The first 2 games were extremely fortutitous aberrations if you ask me. Either that or you should limit limited overs games in India to 5 minutes rather than 8 hours - the 5 minutes that it takes to go out and toss.

I would like to believe that that is not the case. Although the evidence overwhelmingly supports the win-the-toss-win-the match theory. For now I will avoid this disheartening view and take the more optimistic one. I will optimistically say that India played well in the first 2 games. Although I know that had it not been for Sehwag and Dravid it would have been 3-0 to Pakistan by now. I will state that this pitch in Jamshedpur was not as bad as the 2 earlier ones, because it treated bowlers as second-class citizens and not third-class ones.

Coming back to the performance, India have once again vividly demonstrated why they are #8 in the World. This is the team that has won "one" I repeat ONE match batting second in the entire 2004-05 season and that one match came against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. Note that normally I would have happily discounted matches against Bangladesh to strengthen my arguement that we have won 0 matches batting second. Unfortunately I cannot afford that luxury - because we DID in fact quite emphatically fail to chase against the same team on Tsunami Day. A team ranked #8 does not have legitimate rights to "discard" records against a team ranked #10 and hence from now on, we should not disregard performances against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and Kenya at all.

Stretching your memory a bit longer, the only time India have chased successfully (against "non-minnow" oppostion) since the World Cup 2003 (2 years folks !! 2 YEARS !!!) was against Pakistan at Lahore in April last year - the heroes, Mohammad Kaif and a certain "good but not great" ODI player whom I will not mention here to avoid repetition. Yeah before that we did chase 208 and 134 against Zimbabwe successfully in the VB Series - not little acheivements by any stretch of imagination. Btw had it ever occured to you that even in that glorious World Cup Campaign the only chase of any note was the one against Pakistan in Centurion ??? I mean yeah NZ also - but 166 is hardly something to be cocky about - then again maybe not.

So there you have it folks - an extremely poor ODI side by any standards. Absolutely abysmal when chasing any target whatsoever. And of course none of it has got anything to do with the fact that players like Laxman and Kumble are sitting out while Ganguly and Tendulkar are making merry incrementing their run-tallies in massive chunks of single digit figures.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Another Uninspiring Win

Another day. Another hot day. Another time Ganguly and Inzamam walk out to toss. Another time, Ganguly gets lucky. Another time the whole of India rejoice while Pakistan mourn. Another game in which the fate of the match is largely influenced by the toss. Another uninspiring win for India.

Bob Woolmer is not far off the mark when he says that "ODIs are lotteries anyway". The problem is that when Australia or Zimbabwe are playing anyone, the match result is a dead certainty and when 2 reasonably well-matched teams like India and Pakistan battle it out, it becomes a lottery largely dependent on the toss. At least on the terrible wickets in India which treat bowlers as if they were third-class citizens. This is the kind of game that makes Mahender Singh Dhoni a hero overnight while reducing a legend like Kumble to a laughing stock. How can this game be great ??

Of course, I do not begrudge Dhoni his success at all. He richly deserved that 100. His strokes were quite superb although his defence and pushes are unattractive and chancy to say the least and I still hold severe reservations about whether he will be able to make the cut to the highest level (otherwise called Test Match Cricket). However, for now, he seems to have made the place in the ODI side his for a fair time to come. What a great relief for Rahul Dravid !!

The media has gone gaga over the new boy - after all, his dashing demeanor and long hair will certainly complement his on-field performance and win him lucrative deals before one has time to say "Mahender Singh Dhoni". Can you imagine Nayan Mongia getting this sort of adulation after his century against Australia in the Delhi Test of 1996 ?? Soon, we will see Dhoni joining either the "Yeh Pyaas Hai Badi" bandwagon or the "Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola" one. The race must be on as I write. While Dhoni's sixes were brutal (what a superb mauling Afridi suffered), his best shot perhaps came off his first ball. Even when the 2 Jats were batting together(I am guessing Dhoni is a Jat), the difference in quality of Sehwag and Dhoni was quite patent. While Dhoni was sent out as a pinch-hitter, Sehwag was perhaps playing a reasonably subdued game yet consistently scoring at more than 1.5 times; at times 2 times as fast as the young wicket-keeper. Sehwag's pull shot off Rana today was a revelation, his six over extra cover off Sami a pure delight. But the shot of the day for me was the straight drive hit by Rahul Dravid off Abdul Razzaq. I don't care how many youngsters come and start emulating Sehwag and hit all over the park, cricket will not retain any charm if there is no Dravid-like mathematically correct figure around.

Dileep Premachandran, a writer I greatly respect writes this in his verdict on Cricinfo:

India, inspired by the ebullience of Virender Sehwag and the impudent and often imperious shotmaking of Mahendra Singh Dhoni

With his russet locks styled `80s-glam-rock style, Dhoni cuts a distinctive figure, and his cavalier batsmanship could make him a hero second only to Sehwag in years to come

There were other heroes too. Dravid was almost inscrutable on his way to a finely crafted 52, but it was an effort perfectly in sync with Dhoni's coruscating blows from the other end.

The fair man he is, he has at least found time to call Dravid a hero. I'm sure hundreds of other journalists all over would have totally missed his innings having taken it for granted. After all, who cares about the fact that until Dhoni started to tire Dravid scored consistently quicker than the dasher ??? And that on a wicket where his skipper looked as comfortable as a fish outside water, he came in and started stroking the ball as easily as plucking flowers in his own garden ?? If a similar innings had come from Sachin Tendulkar the nation would have gone gaga about a "terrific comeback" and headlines such as "the Little Maestro fires" would have done the rounds immediately.

I did not really watch the second innings (why should I ?? It's ODI cricket after all - a Masala movie - we know what the climax is going to be) but I gather we did fairly well to get through comfortably. The one new plot in this particular Masala movie was the Bee Attack. It was hilarious to see how Billy the Silly, Razzaq and Dravid fell to the ground instantly. It was a first for me on a cricket field.

Another entertaining movie comes to an end folks. Enjoy it. Leave it. But don't take it too seriously. After all no number of such happy-ending movies are going to make up for the defeat at Bangalore.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

For Best Results ...

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Tendulkar Chee Arati

This is a wonderfil composition a friend of mine forwarded to me. 5 years ago, I would have actually sung it before every match. Today it seems outdated, most of the things I no longer agree with. I still appreciate and applaud the composition.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Gorgeous Maidens

As I write this South Africa have played out 6 consecutive maiden overs in their bid to save this Test match at Georgetown. Overall South Africa have now scored 117 runs in 82 overs 40 of which have been maidens.

I hope that South Africa go on to lose - clearly, they had failed to take this Test match seriously. First they thought that with the West Indies playing a B team, they would run them over. Then they thought that with 543 runs on the board they could easily play out a draw on a flat track. Now after being humiliated into a follow-on, I guess they must be thinking that with the rains around the corner they should be able to escape with a draw. I hope they lose. For some reason, I hate the South African team. Cocky individuals who think too much of themselves. Especially pleased that Jacques Kallis is having such a horror test - after being decimated while bowling, he was out second ball !!! Still batting in the second innings though.

We have already see India's effort to play out for a draw by entertaining maidens come unstuck. Let's see if the Proteas succeed in wooing them.

Please make yourselves heard

A very knowledgable friend of mine yesterday offered me his opinion stating that "Dravid and Sehwag are not our saviours"

Now I do not believe in the concept of majority opinion being right. In fact I believe it is always a thoughtful minority that can do anything constructive, but just out of curiosity I would like all my readers to state their opinion on the above claim.

In one word please - True or False.

Thank You.

Another 100 for Marshall ...

Hamish, that very talented New Zealander has once again scored a superb 100 - and what's more it was full of pretty attractive shots against the spinners. New Zealand placed comfortably against Sri Lanka. Go Hamish !!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Best ODI Batsman

Have a look at this

Of Declines ...

I really did not mean to write this right now - but this comment by Om and the challenge posed by him forced me try to put forth some counter-arguement - on things that to me seem pretty obvious. He is disputing the claim that SRT has declined as an ODI batsman. How many people agree with him ?? Also, he is disputing the claim that Sehwag and Dravid are the 2 saviours of this batting lineup. OK - this is more debatable. But definitely, they were the saviours in the last Test series and are continuing in the ODI series that way. Let us see if India manage to win a single match in this series in which neither Sehwag nor Dravid contributes.

Now coming to thrashing out the arguement one point at a time. For some reason, Om goes on to make a list of series in which SRT played against those he didn't. Why I don't know. Perhaps he wishes to imply that SRT's presence has a morale-boosting effect on the team. This, I agree, was the case in the past, perhaps still is - but let's delve deeper in the arguement.

By all means, the WC 2003 is a fair place to start off. 2 years is an analysis period neither too short nor too long. SRT was fantastic in the World Cup - no 2 ways about that. In the TVS Cup that followed, he didn't play, so let's skip that. In another TVS Cup that followed, he was the Man Of The Series, with 2 match-winning hundreds, an 80+ and a fair effort in the finals. So far so good.

In the VB Series, he averaged 33.71 with 2 fifties. Poor definitely. In the 2 finals he averaged just 17.5. How typical !! Failing in the big games. But worse 193 runs at an average of 64.33 came in the first 3 innings of that series. 43 runs at an average of 10.75 came in the last 4 - shows what happens when the going gets tough, eh ?? This is a syndrome he has shown often recently - score big at the start so that the averages are fine and then flop on the big occasion. He has forgotten the art of "peaking at the correct time".

In Pakistan, he averaged 42.60. "Great !!!" - Om will cheer; but what about the fact that 144 of those runs came in 1 innings in a losing cause ?? What about the fact that he scored 69 at an average of 17.25 in the rest of the games ?? Again the "One big innings - job is done" syndrome. What about the fact that he scored 41 in the last 3 games at an average of 13.67 ?? Again the "Not being able to peak at the right time" syndrome.

Let's turn our attention to the darkest period in India's recent ODI history - the Asia Cup. Tendulkar averaged 56.20 - "Wonderful !!!" - No doubt Om will cheer. What about the fact that if you take out the 82* against Bangladesh, the average drops down to 39.8 ??? What about the fact the strike rate of 72.42 was a full 14 runs lower than his career strike rate ?? Again, Om will vehemently, no doubt argue, that in the finals, he put up a lone fight with 74 in 100 balls and that no one provided the necessary support. Statistically yes. But then does that change the fact that he stood there watching helplessly Sri Lankan part-timers run over the side ?? Where was that Tendulkar who had destroyed the Shoaib Akhtars and Shane Warnes ?? Why was he respectfully being bogged down by the Chandanas and the Dilshans of this World ?? OK. It's not possible to play a blazing innings all the time, and agreed, conditions at the Premadassa can be really difficult to bat on. But where was the intention that could be seen when faced with much tougher conditions in the Joburg final a year ago ?? Let me tell you this, Sachin, had you got out trying to destroy Vaas earlier in the innings like you did to McGrath on that day in Joburg, I would have honoured your effort that much more than the pathetic display of batsmanship (was it batsmanship at all ??) that terrible evening at the Premadassa. And who knows if you had hit a few off the middle of the bat and got a quick-fire 30-40, the middle order might not have capitulated so badly. Poor Kaif had to come and try to undo the damage done by you !! He stood no chance. It is you who has to set the tone of the innings and the rest have to respond. You failed us badly that night - an effort so hideous that it made another pathetic effort a couple of nights earlier against Pakistan seem glorious by comparison.

And then Om goes on to point out the losses when SRT wasn't there in 2 less-than-trivial series in Europe and the Champions Trophy. Well as far as the Holland match is concerned, I'm pretty sure SRT would have made a big difference - we lost by 80 odd runs - we would have lost by 40 odd - with SRT scoring another "glorious fighting innings of 70 in 100 balls" - and I doubt he would have done too much in th Champions Trophy either (except maybe he could have won us the match with his bowling) - well here we enter the realms of hypothesis. Well, whatever the case, seriously 6 matches (5 if you exclude the one against Kenya) is too short a period to say that we failed "due to the abscence of the SRT factor". As for the match against Bangladesh, all and sundry agree that Sachin's presence would have made no difference to the result WHILE DRAVID'S MIGHT HAVE. I watched that match in the company of a few ex-Ranji Trophy players and while experts are not always correct, especially on TV where they have to follow the politically correct line (ie. SRT and Ganguly are Gods and that anything that even hints at a suggestion of not showing them in the most glorious light is a sacrilege that needs to be ruthlessly punished and crushed) I'm pretty sure discussing with friends these pros know what they are talking about. Besides, I would like Om to put forth a list of signatures of persons who believe that SRT would have saved us on Tsunami Day in Dacca.

And note here that I have taken all the performances of SRT in isolation. Not even compared them to anyone else. After all, people have said that he would be the benchmark by which generations of batsmen in the future would be judged. In the last 1 year or so he has clearly failed to live up to his own benchmark.

And if Om wants to argue that SRT is going through a "bad patch", hasn't that "bad patch" been "a bit too long" this time ?? And if he wants to argue that SRT was plagued by injuries during this period, isn't "being plagued by injuries" at this time of one's career a patent indication that a decline is very much on and that the end is drawing nearer ??

Lack Of Inspiration

Somehow, the big win at Kochi yesterday fails to inspire me. I had said in an earlier post that we should lose the series either 5-1 or 6-0 and don't get me wrong - I'm not unpatriotic or anything like that - that's what I thought would happen and more importantly be beneficial for the team in the long run. Otherwise,we will feel that all is well and never try to get to the base of the real problems that are plaguing this team. For eg: The alarming decline of Sourav Ganguly and to a lesser extent that of Sachin Tendulkar as an ODI batsman, the inability of the lower order to smash away in the slog overs and the inconsistency of the seamers - not to mention a captain who seems to have run out of new innovations and strategies.

On a day like yesterday, Dravid and Sehwag (the 2 saviours of this famed batting line-up) may fire, the bowlers will bowl inspired spells and the opposition will make the task easier by throwing wickets - but that need not happen all the time. Anyway, I must say yesterday was a real good effort by Dravid and Sehwag with the bat and all the bowlers Tendulkar in particular.

I think Dhoni is extrenely over-hyped and though he has a reputation as a big hitter, I don't think he looks real good enough - let's see if he proves me wrong - but I think Karthik is beter - also, I loved the way Sehwag took matters in his own hands as far as the presentation ceremony was concerned.

Btw what is this stupid idea of playing a day game in April in Kochi in inhuman conditions ??? The sixing sevening officials of the BCCI clearly have no concern about the players, anyway a lot has been said about it in the media, so I'll leave it at that. I hope the matches against Sri Lanka are played in places like Dharamshala.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Chanderpaul declares ...

Not only has Chanderpaul reached a well-deserved double hundred, he has made a telling statement by declaring immediately. I think the West Indies mean serious business here. Although the Guyana pitch is notoriously batsman-friendly and hence draw-oriented, the West Indies want to make every effort to extract a win here. Maybe the whole contracts controversy was just the tonic these guys needed ... Maybe it's just a decent performance on a flat pitch that wouldn't count for much in the long run - who knows ?? Could go either way - although I root for the West Indies as always. One doubt though - 543 is just not a large enough score - surely, the best chance for the West Indies to win is the follow-on and maybe they should have gone on for just a little while longer to make sure that South Africa would have to face the follow-on.

Not only was the Chanderpaul declaration a bit weird, but as it turns out, it was also pretty stupid. Within 2 balls of the South African innings, the umpires offered the light to the batsmen who gleefully accepted. 16 overs wasted !! Shows his inexperience as skipper, poor fellow !!

For Crying Out Loud ...

Is it really going to make a difference how the teams are grouped for the World Cup ?? Each groups is going to have 2 "elite" teams and 2 teams that are going to "make up the numbers". So no matter how they are grouped the Elite Eight should go through to the Super 8 where all the fun will start. No don't remind me that Zimbabwe made it to the Super 6 for the last 2 times - the 2003 World Cup was a shame - the way Zimbabwe got through to the Super Six at the expense of England AND Pakistan and in 1999 they were just a much better team. There is going to be no fairy-tale run for Kenya again either.

So the only chance of an upset comes from Bangladesh - and haha, they are grouped with India - a team very vulnerable to such upsets - so beware India !!! The way we are playing ODI cricket at the moment it might not be such an upset after all.

As things currently stand the groups are:

A) Australia, South Africa and 2 qualifiers
B) Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and a qualifier
C) New Zealand, England, Kenya and a qualifier
D) Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe and a qualifier

Another milestone beckons ...

Sourav Ganguly requires only 36 runs to become only the third player after Sachin Tendulkar and Inzamam to complete 10000 runs in ODIs. With 6 innings here, 6 rune per innings would do. Surely a challenging task but he might just get there this series.

Another Reminder

After the glorious historic triumph in the ODI series in Pakistan last year (in the last match of which the "useless" Very Very Special Laxman scored a match-winning hundred and was Man Of The Match) India has won only 2 matches against opposition of note. One of these was an out-and-out dead rubber with the series already lost 0-2 and the other was a match in which the opposition had little to stake having already made it to the finals. On the other hand India have lost 9 matches in this period.

Shows you how good a One Day team this is ha !!

Interestingly, in the 2 matches mentioned above Sourav Ganguly's scores were 90 and 79.


After all the hullabaloo of the Bangalore defeat please remember that we are still a much better Test team than Pakistan. The fact that a drawn series feels like defeat is sufficient evidence to prove this. Also, we do not get whitewashed by Australia in 3 consecutive series like the Pakistanis do. In the last 5 series against Australia we have won 2 lost 2 and drawn 1 unlike the Pakis who who have lost all 5. In the last 2 years we are the only team to defeat Australia in a Test match let alone a series - and we have done it twice REPEAT: twice. No other team has come close. Since May 2002, we have lost only 2 series: repeat ONLY 2 - one to a very strong Australia and the other on pathetic wickets in New Zealand.

And to make it all official, we are still #3 on the ICC Test Rankings.

This is all in Test Cricket of course. In ODIs we are one of the worst teams around. So be prepared for the thrashing that is to come.