Sunday, July 31, 2005

Look ! I Found Something !

Runs, Glorious runs !! What a relief finding them for the battered England captain !! He was supposed to skip this match for Yorkshire I think but with a changr of heart he played and opened and has scored 116* in 129 balls in a total of 216/6 ... could this be a sign of things to come ??

If It Broke Fix It !!

Not sure if that follows from its more popular negated version but I think that's what the English selectors should have done when they sat down to pick the squad for the second Ashes Test. Instead, theyv'e "displayed confidence" in the squad of players that has "been doing SO well" for the last year or so.

I think this is going to backfire. For there are obvious weaknesses in this English batting lineup. To avoid defeat against Australia, the batting needs to fire big time and that means that a LOT of things need to go right all at the same time. A LOT. Firstly, Strauss needs to regain his touch as does Vaughan. Bell needs to mature so fast it is almost cruel to expect. Pietersen needs to repeat his Lord's heroics and Freddie somehow has to find a way to play Warne. Now these things may happen and if they do all will click beautifully making me look like a fool BUT I am trying to emphasize that this is a high-risk approach England are taking. They have just the Plan A and no Plan B whatsoever. They simply have no buffer.

No buffer that Graham Thorpe used to provide. My insistence on Thorpe has been well-documented. See here and here. But now that he is no longer there I would have at least gone for Paul Collingwood to lend stability to the lineup. He is in fine form having scored 3 hundreds last week - 2 in a match. He looked the part in his sole test and he has also had a very good Natwest series.

Throughout the 90's the England team suffered from the pick-and-drop approach. Now they are erring on the other side of the spectrum. They are resisting change to what I think is only a moderately good batting lineup and refusing to be flexible. That is not the approach that is going to be of any help in halting the Aussies.

India - West Indies Match Thread

8:03 am: Much better news this morning ... India have bowled out the West Indies B for 178 and look set for a resounding victory ... or are they ?? Sehwag gone second ball - this is getting worrying.
Thread open for comments and discussions.

8:06: Raina looking very nervous. Survived a shout first ball and dropped a second. But both batsmen now tickle boundaries to leg to get going.

8:27: Both looking fairly comfortable and scoring at a brisk rate thanks in large part to the inconsistency of the bowlers. A couple of boundaries full of flair from the youngster Raina who finally seems to have got over his nerves.

8:40: Kaif and particularly Raina are now on fire smashing boundaries. Lawson horribly wayward.

8:46: West Indies have completed 11 overs and they have bowled an astonishing 11 wides so far. That's 1 wide per over and 2 overs extra. None of the bowlers want to be left behind as each has got his name on the wide sheet. However the main culprit remains Lawson with 6 wides - this is getting almost boringly simple. I wouldn't mind a wicket now just to spice things up a bit ...

8:48: Oh My God !!! Just when I said it. A good delivery accounts for Kaif !! 68/2 and game not over yet people. The Wall walks in ... I was expecting Yuvraj ... mental note: expect the unexpected

9:02: O O !! Raina goes. An innings full of attractive but risky strokes. Not sure about him just yet. 82/3

9:17: 3 boundaries in a row for the Indian captain !! 3 very positive strokes and each different - regaining the momentum for India here

17.5 Best to Dravid, FOUR, fuller this time, and Dravid duly drives through the cover region for his third successive boundary, room and width and full in length, and Dravid duly obliges

17.4 Best to Dravid, FOUR, short and wide again!! and Dravid goes after it, interntionally plays it in the air to the thirdman region, one bounce and it crashes into the advertising boards there

17.3 Best to Dravid, FOUR, shot!!! Best bowls it a bit quicker, offers Dravid a bit of room, and Dravid pounces on itm, cuts it hard and the ball runs away to the point fence like a tracer bullet

9:54: Going on pretty smoothly ... this is the sort of thing I expected ... of course with Dravid there you can be pretty assured; good to see Yuvraj back in the runs 141/3 and only 38 needed

10:07: Excitement !! Just when I thought this was such a tame affair. India should still romp home easily though.

31.4 Lawson to Yuvraj Singh, OUT: good length delivery on the middle and
off stump line, Yuvraj plays all over it and gets cleaned up!
second wicket for Lawson - India four down

India 143/4, Partnership of 61
Yuvraj Singh b Lawson 28 (58b 3x4 0x6)
R Dravid 35* (49b 4x4) JJC Lawson 6.4-0-38-2 (6w)

was a nothing shot in the end, just stood his ground and tried to
hit through the line, he missed the bowler hit !
Dhoni is the next man in
31.5 Lawson to Dhoni, one run, Dropped! not again! flicked away in the
air, straight to Smith at backward point who puts down an easy
chance - this is cricket at its worst

Another 50 to Dravid - lot of aggressive shots towards the end. It is quite pointless to go on raving about the amazing consistency of the man ... he is quite undoubtedly Mr. India ... just 4 needed now

10:26: OOOOH ! What a finish
35.6 Lawson to Dhoni, SIX, what a finish! short and drifting down the leg side, Dhoni swings hard and gets it on the middle, ball sails over the fine leg fence - India win by 6 wickets!

Good strong win for India. The bowlers came to the fore again first up. Then with the bat Raina showed some promise and Kaif and Yuvraj found some runs. Sehwag's form remains a worry though. Man Of The Match ??

10:37: Yes !! It is Rahul Dravid. Leaving now ... probably will write more on the game later. We have a couple of days off ... Wednesday we will play Sri Lanka again and Sourav Ganguly will be back ... will add a whole new exciting dimension to the game

The Chappell Era Begins

The first patent indication of the beginning of the Chappell era - the promotion of Mohammad Kaif to open the innings. This cannot be the brainchild of Rahul Dravid - it has to be that shrewd campaigner. Not sure about the merits of the move but am very much happy at the willingness to experiment !!!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The First Difference

I have always maintained that the time was ripe for the transition of the mantle of captaincy from Ganguly to Dravid right through the last season. And today one of the immediate consequences (on the positive side) was there to see. Harbhajan Singh, that very able off-spinner was once more an attacking bowler in ODIs flighting the ball at times and willing to buy his wickets - he took 2 crucial scalps be it at a relatively higher price of 44 runs in 10 overs. Under Ganguly he had "deteriorated" into a defensive bowler who used to only hold down the runs in the middle overs.

Then of course, it will be interesting to see how Dravid uses him when India are fielding first cause that's where the problem has been on most occasions but I'm hopeful that he will allow Harbhajan the freedom to demonstrate his art.

Big Questions Small Questions

... As I wake up this morning to check the scorecard and see that India have been quite comprehensively routed by Sri Lanka ... lest I am too hasty ... the Indian batting has been quite comprehensively routed by the Sri Lankan bowlers. Not entirely shocking but a bit under par for even a most pragmatic cricket follower like me.

And hence the questions flow. Mostly all to be asked of Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid.
2. Why Yuvraj at 3 ?(Corollary of 1)
3. Why Kaif at 4 ?(Corollary of 1 & 2)
4. Why Raina ?(Corollary of 1)

Is this some kind of trick ?? I better hope it is. Otherwise it is pretty daft. To not play someone of the calibre of Laxman in the opening game ... I mean if you are looking to blood the youngsters surely the best time would be against the inexperienced Windies or once our qualification for the finals has been guaranteed ?!?!

For all his great reputation and acumen, I am williing to give Chappell the benefit of the doubt. But I hope he has a real good trick up his sleeve otherwise ... sorry to say ... the Chappell era would be just a continuation of last season's pathetic abysmal lows.

Update 1: Zaheer Khan has just clean bowled Mahela Jayawardene to leave Sri Lanka tottering at 60/3. Heck, he's given that annoying pest Russell Arnold a loose ball to hit a boundary first up !! (This is one thing that the new management has desperately gotta work on ... the inconsistency in bowling)

Update 2: Another wicket would be great - just about now. After a torrid 20 balls Dilshan has finally broken the shackles with a boundary - shouldn't have let him do that - but well ... wicket ! wicket ! get a wicket !
Just read on the Times website that Laxman had been ruled out with back spasms in the morning . Bit of a blow that ... and for me ... being too hasty to criticize ... but hell it was not mentioned anywhere on Cricinfo bulletin ... how was I supposed to know ?? Anyway this now puts the above questions into irrelevance and India are up with a fight on their hands

Update 3: Brilliant !! Harbhajan Singh has struck twice in 2 overs to dismiss Dilshan and Arnold but on the flip side he gave a boundary the next ball on both occasions - to that sleeping giant Jayasuriya ... batting at Number 6 due to a shoulder injury !! Really at 117/5 this is now a 50-50 game ... get Jayasuriya here and we are almost done !

Update 4: OK ... I said it would now be Jayasuriya between India and victory ... but there is an unexpected twist here ... in the form of Lokuhettige (pardon me if I got the spelling wrong) who seems to be a mightily aggressive character. He has taken a liking to the spinners ... hitting 3 4s and a 6 ... to score 20 off 17 balls and is fairly taking the game away from India ... wicket please !! Will Dravid get back the quick men ?? Although I tend to think one of the spinners might get him out if they keep tempting him ... the only problem is only 67 runs to play with. Also Dravid has to get in half of the remaining overs from his fifth bowler ... now I dont blame him really ... he had to go for the attack right away at the start ... interesting to see how he handles it from now on.

Update 5:

34.2 Pathan to Dilhara, OUT: width outside the off stump and Dilhara goes after it, ball clips the inside edge and crashes into the stumps, bowling change works for India, Sri Lanka six down Sri Lanka 140/6, Partnership of 28 LHD Dilhara b Pathan 21 (20b 3x4 1x6) ST Jayasuriya 12* (15b 2x4) IK Pathan 7.2-2-30-2 (1w) was not a wicket taking delivery and was was outside the off stump, Dilhara dragged it back on to his stumps, sad end to a promising innings - this match is not over yet!

Dravid's move works !! Yippee !! So happy for him. Game on ... though he went against my instincts of sticking with the spinners ! Jayasuriya still there though and that tough cookie Chandana walks in ... but get one of these out ... and we are really into the tail

Update 6: Just as I thought it was all over Zaheer strikes !! Wow this is getting exciting 34 runs with 3 wicktes left

Update 7: That wily fox Jayasuriya is taking Sri Lanka home. Aah ... so close yet so far ... it still needs a couple of good balls though now one must consider Sri Lanka reasonable favourites to romp home

Update 8: All over. Jayasuriya takes them home aided by an impetuous innings by Maharoof. Credit to the Indian fielders and bowlers for putting up a fight but in the end just lacked the firepower to blast out the lower order resistance. Not that that is a particularly new problem for this Indian team. But Greg needs to note it quickly and try to find ways to cover this deficiency. Full marks to Dravid first for a captain's innings and then for a well-led fight on the field. After all, we are ranked #7 in the World compared to Sri Lanka's #2. However I don't see too many ways we can improve as of now with this particular set of players. I dont know how many of you feel that this match resembled a good deal to the match against Pakistan in the ICC Knockout last September. India, batting first were rocked by the Pakistani pacemen, shored by Dravid and then kept in the fight throughout by the honest efforts of the bowlers only to lose it at the end. The score that day was 200 today it was 205. Different conditions of course but similar pattern of play and scoring.

Anyway off now ... will post more analyses later ... and hope the team puts up a strong performance against the West Indies B side tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Digital McGrath

Mike Selvey writes in The Guardian:

"In this technological age it should be possible for a computer programmer to sit at a screen and digitally devise the ultimate bowler for the ultimate end at the ultimate Test ground.
The specifications might be thus: tall, with long arms to obtain bounce and exacerbate variations in such; a straight run to counter the gravitational pull of the slope from left to right; delivery from close to the stumps so that movement off the slope does not angle down the leg side and a straight ball offers a challenge; pace but not so much that a batsman cannot spot a modicum of movement and be drawn into following it; Job's patience; Nelson's strategical acumen; the ruthlessness of Vlad the Impaler. Press "enter". Bugger, it's Glenn McGrath."

Then of course that which is digital, automated, computerised has to be under human control - some human should be and will be able to conquer it - all that it needs is -

"England, though, can draw on that in their plans to counter him. They will not encounter him in such conditions again but they do need to formulate a strategy. This could take several forms.
The first is to test his patience as much as he does that of the batsmen. His off-stump line will not be so perilous to ignore because no other Test ground in England has such a slope. If he continues just to plug away - he is, by his own admission, a defensive bowler in that he induces error through the long-term application of pressure - then it becomes a waiting game. Who will crack first?"

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pietersen Acknowledged But What About The Rest ?

I must emphasize that despite my continuous insistence on the selection of Graham Thorpe in the English squad for the Ashes, I never seriously dismissed Pietersen's talent and rightful claim to a place in the side. True, were it a clear-cut binary decision I would have opted for Thorpe in place of Pietersen and I still stand by it. But I was more than happy to go with a combination that could somehow fit in both - I emphatically supported Shane Warne's theory of playing without Simon Jones for instance (though Jones has done well, in hindsight) and despite the promise young Ian Bell shows I was not averse to the idea of making him sit out to accomodate both Thorpey and Pietersen either.

Pietersen has delivered. In the most trying circumstances, he scored a very creditable 55 and is currently valiantly holding up the last shreds of resistance. Pietersen has justified his selection but not the exclusion of Graham Thorpe. People might argue that it was Pietersen's knock in the first innings that kept England in the hunt at least until Day 2. No question but I argue that a combination of Pietersen and Thorpe would have given England a realistic chance of taking a lead and then who knows how the momentum might have changed. Ian Bell has clearly done nothing in this game and while it may sound real harsh on the youngster to judge him on a sole performance, unfortunately the first Test of an Ashes really is no place to allow people to find their feet.

It is unfair to single out Bell - Trescothick is always a suspect especially at the start of an Ashes series. Much was expected of Strauss - while he may still come good, it could prove too late against the Aussies. After all Strauss' USP was to score big at the start of the series to set the tone which he did in SOuth Africa and at home last season - he has not been able to deliver that on the big occasion. Vaughan is a man for crisis situations - but again if the flow continues this way the series could well be lost before it is realized. Flintoff looks totally out of sorts too.

When the English top-order is firing, Thorpe can be a bit of a luxury; but in a situation like this he would have been absolutely invaluable. I still think he should have a quiet chat with the selectors about their plans for the second Test - things could still be salvaged - any further delay in taking action and the Ashes can be bid goodbye for another 2 years at least ...

Friday, July 22, 2005

He Will Be Missed

Graham Thorpe might never have been blessed with the heavenly sense of timing of the other great English left-hander before him David Gower (or Sourav Ganguly for that matter). However, he did not let that be a problem while batting, overcoming this deficiency with some superb skills in other aspects: most importantly tremendous patience, a great mind and a big heart, not to mention very good technique. Off the field however his lack of timing has let him down over and over again.

Don't really mean to go into his notorious exploits - skipping tours due to family problems, abandoning the team on the morning of a Test match, making himself available and withdrawing himself within a few hours, spending a whole test with mind completely elsewhere to be subsequently left out in the cold for a year ... no, not even his (in my opinion) pretty stupid public announcement of accepting a full-time coaching job with New South Wales. All thse reek of bad timing but today on the second day of the first test of a potentially thrilling series his announcement of retirement is baffling to say the least.

True, dropping him was a HUGE mistake. And I say this despite Pietersen his replacement top-scoring today ... for Thorpe and Pietersen are not like-for-like replacements at all. In fact I would stick my hat out and say that had Thorpe been playing today he might have well taken England to 220 ... and the Test match could well have been on the other end of the scales. As it stands, the Aussies are overwhelming favourites - they are likely to wrap this Test up, take the confidence to Edgbaston and a 2-0 lead seems an overwhelmingly likely occurence.

I had clearly maintained that England would sooner or later require the services of Graham Thorpe. With the top order in the kind of form it is in, it was inevitable that Thorpe would be sent another SOS - much like he was against South Africa at the Oval - where he responded with a championesque 100 !! Looking at England's batting performance yesterday I for one felt that that call would come as early as Edgbaston Pietersen's heroics notwhithstanding .... in place of Bell perhaps or at the expense of Giles ... but this enigma has to go and announce his retirement the very next day ... WHY ?? ... he could be rightly angry with the selectors but to let his anger jeopardize the chances of himself and his team in this manner ?? Or did he truly not want to play ?? Or was it just another whim - another in a long list ?? I refuse to believe that he was afraid of the challenge ... Does he wish to make the selectors grovel before him requesting his comeback ... surely he should know bettter than that ...his last act like much of his career will remain a mystery. A great batsman he undoubtedly will be remembered as, much more so than his mate Nasser Hussain ... but he just could not get the kind of farewell Hussain did ... in reasonable part thanks to his own injudicious acts.

Thorpe was one of the first great players to make his debut after I started watching cricket. From his very first ODI against Australia I noticed a certain amount of quality in him, an observation vindicated by his debut century. There seems little point noting Thorpe's great innings - they are all over the electronic media today - the Lahore Abstinence act, the twilight crusade in Karachi, the series winning innings in Sri Lanka, the swashbuckling 200 in New Zealand (the fastest at the time), the tail-shepherding masterpieces in the West Indies ... just to name a few ... but what is most poignant is his contribution in his last series (sorry Bangladesh) last "real" series in South Africa ... while he scored next to nothing in the matches that ended in a result the series would have been clearly lost but for his heroic hundred at Durban and life-saving 86 at Centurion. Such is the story of Graham Thorpe - enigmatic but one which delivers acts of brilliance exactly when needed most ... he will surely be missed for the Ashes. OR will he ?? Something tells me he might yet be asked to make a comeback ... ah well ...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Of Declines And All ...

There has been a great uproar in the media (blogosphere and otherwise) about the impending decline of the Australian cricket team and you can see desperate English fans carefully trying to portray a cautious optimism for the Ashes series. A day like today helps to put it all in perspective - today for the first time Australia field first and whoops ... we are back to the good old days where the Aussies cruise through chasing a moderate English total ... I was confused as to why Australia were not fielding first more often ... I think they did win the toss on a couple of occasions - didnt they ??

England are a good team - but I still think the Ashes is just 1 step beyond them this time too ...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

What A Climax !!

After a great final at Wimbledon today, it seems almost dreamy that the Natwest Series should reach such an amazing climax !! It is indeed a great day for sport in London. Amazing fightback by England to match Australia's score. The tie will surely give England much more satisfaction than Australia after they were reduced to 33/5 !! Once again Australia's lack of backup bowling prowess has been exposed - with Gillespie being out of form - and I have always considered Symonds and Hogg as overrated bowlers - who do well only due to the pressure built up by McGrath and Co. early on. Great that Jones and Collingwood exploited this weakness - and full marks to Goughie and Giles for keeping their cool. I think the fact that Australia let England come so close itself was a mistake and something they should kick themselves for. They should have buried them by giving McGrath and Lee more overs perhaps at the start or at least in the middle.

Anyway, it is a pity that the ECB have decided to scrap the Natwest series from next season. It is one of the few ODI tournaments in the World that produces great cricket - well not always, but it has this time and it definitely did in that glorious summer of 2002.

So the Natwest Trophy is shared huh !! I hope that won't be the case with the Ashes though - it would be a pity to see it end at 2-2. Btw anyone knows what the bookies say now about the Ashes and how much have the odds changed since the moment the Aussies put their foot on British shores ??

England Crawling

England are crawling their way back into the match ... chasing a modest total of 196 ... and being devastated at 33/5 ... well Jones and Collingwood trying to string together a painfully slow but crucial partnership ... let's see where this goes.

Surely they must have wished that the substitution rule was in force for this game ....

Update: Destroying the monotony, Geraint Jones has hit a SIX ... albeit slightly streaky ... hmm

10:54 Central Time Partnership of 37 in 17 overs ... nice ... mainly because they survived that long ... now is the time to start scoring a bit

11:23 Central Time Partnership still going and England look like they are in with a shot ... they might regret allowing Andrew Symonds to bowl his 10 overs for 23 though

11:37 Jones making a fight of it !! Go England !! Another 6