Friday, 29 July 2011

Fit Sreesanth >> Unfit Zaheer

Sreesanth coming back in for Zaheer Khan rocks English middle order on a green top at Trent Bridge. At tea time England are 124-8 with Broad and Swann at the crease. As India won the toss and chose to bowl first in perfect conditions for seam bowling, all eyes were on the temperamental Sreesanth as everyone questioned whether he would be able to replace India's prime bowler Zaheer. There was never a doubt on Sreesanth's ability as a bowler. His seam position is one of the best in the world and when in rhythm he can knock over the best of batsmen with ease. But what sidelines him is his attitude and temperament on the field which sometimes becomes too difficult to handle.

India started off well with Praveen removing Cook early on and then Sreesanth took Trott's wicket with a beauty to reduce England to 23-2. Cut to Lords where India had a similar start and Zaheer had England at 62-2 but then he had to walk off due to an injury and did n't bowl in the rest of the match. Result-In seaming conditions India could not do much and let England score 474 runs. The 2 seamers left, Ishant and PK toiled hard but could not trouble the English. Whereas today 3 fully fit seamers bowled in tandem and did not give anything to the opposition. This shows that had India got 3 fit seamers in the first test, the story might have been different. Zaheer is a good bowler and in-fact better than Sreesanth on any day but in the same way a fit bowler is always better than an unfit one. India took a chance with Zaheer in the first test knowing that he is not 100% fit. What happened was that neither he could bowl in the match nor was he fit for the next game. Had they not played him in the first game, he might have been fit in this game. The difference could clearly be seen today as the 3 seamers took turns to trouble the English batsmen. 2 would have been unable to do so and Dhoni like in the first test would have been forced to either bowl Harbhajan or himself giving a chance to England to recover. But nothing of that sort happened as a fit Sreesanth ripped apart the English batting line-up.

India are the no. 1 team in the world and they have got to show it. There is no point playing an injured player just because of his reputation. A fitter replacement would always be the better option. Mukund and Sreesanth have not disappointed till now and another replacement i.e. Yuvraj has been made in place of an unfit Gambhir. India has lost its 3 prime players but they need not worry much as India has got excellent bench strength who have the potential to fill the boots of the  big guns.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

What happened India?

India as always lost the first test on their England tour by 196 runs. The no. 1 ranked team was expected to beat England and justify their status but ceased to let go of old ways. India's batting was poor on a pitch that was if not 500+ but definitely a 400+ pitch. India's bowling looked good in parts and bowlers performed only for an hour or so and after that let England off the hook. Meanwhile India were nursing several fitness issues, players looked scratchy and out of touch and the team looks in tatters. Is this the way a champion team should prepare to face another champion team?

At first comes Zaheer's fitness. The premier bowler of India has a knack of developing niggles here and there whenever he plays. He is an aging man and needed to put country priorities first and should have skipped the IPL. I don't know why players half fit play for the IPL. Play for the IPL but only if you are fully fit. After that if he was unfit, why did he play in the first place? He did n't even bowl in the 2nd innings against Somerset in the practice match. Was n't that enough to suggest he was not match fit? How could the Indians chance him for a full test match knowing that they might lose him for the whole series. What difference did he make by bowling just 13-14 overs in the match and leaving India one bowler short on a true batting track so much so that our wicket-keeper captain had to bowl. This was the state of the champion team that looked to beat a side like England.

Then there were other fitness issues for which India could not be blamed. Gambhir struck on his hand by a powerful sweep from prior was immediately rushed to hospital. He did bat in the 2nd innings but we knew- a hand in pain could never put his hand up and bail the team out. Then the master batsman Sachin Tendulkar got down with viral fever. He also did bat in the 2nd innings but then again how could the unhealthy man repair India's health. The batting overall suffered and the famed batting line up could not even cross 300 on a good pitch. Batsmen who performed well were those who played in the carribean like Dravid, Laxman and Raina while new arrivals Tendulkar and Gambhir struggled. The batsmen could not perform together. In the first innings only Dravid and Mukund performed while in the next it was only Laxman and Raina. In either of the innings if all 4 had performed India would n't have lost the match. The teamwork was missing probably due to lack of Test match practice for the new arrivals.

Finally the Indian bowling. It looked like a pendulum swinging from good days to bad over 5 days. Injury man Zaheer started off well with 2 quick wickets but then he was out and no other could trouble the English. Praveen made a comeback by picking up 3 quick wickets in the middle but then he went silent and England posted 478 without much fuss after that. In the 2nd innings it was Ishant's turn as he ripped apart the English top order with England reeling at 62-5 but then he swung back to the bad as England were let off again and gave India a stiff 458 run target. Bhajji took just one wicket and was off-colour on a pitch that did n't offer anything to the spinners. Again if they had performed together for at least a part, the story might have been different. India's age old tryst with the tailenders continues as India could n't get Swann's  wicket after reducing England to 390-7 and then in the 2nd innings looked all set to fold the English innings with score at 106-7 but then again could not pick Broad's wicket and let England off yet again.

The fielding was bad with spilled catches, ungrabbed half chances and extremely poor ground fielding. I don't know what happened to the no. 1 team in the world but certainly the champions have a number of problems to solve before they get ready to challenge the rampaging English at Trent Bridge.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Praveen Kumar needs no pace!

Praveen Kumar continues his swinging run as he picks important wickets of Trott, Bell and Morgan to swing India back into the match in the afternoon session of the 2nd day of the first test between India and England at Lords. Lack of pace could not deny success to this man as he continues his good form with his street smart bowling. Many tend to overlook Praveen for test matches as they feel he has no pace so he cannot trouble the batsman in this format where batsman are in no hurry. But he proves them wrong again. So what makes him lethal despite being so slow?

The wickets mentioned above make you feel that the prime thing for a bowler is line and length. In cricket a batsman cannot score freely on a ball pitched at the perfect place. He might defend or he would get an edge or very rarely he would play an exceptional shot. But what the ball does is constantly give a chance to pick up a wicket. That is what praveen does and Anil Kumble did successfully for nearly 2 decades. Add to that movement off the pitch and off the air and you have a strike bowler who will bring you wickets no matter who the batsman is and what the conditions are. The way he dismissed the young sensation Eoin Morgan was the perfect way a batsman must be welcomed. He started with a ball that shaped up an hit his pad. This kind of ball put him in doubt. The next one was straight and held its line. Even though he left it the doubt remained as to what will happen next. And then another well pitched ball which moved just off the seam was enough for the young man to poke and give a catch to Dhoni. This shows that even without brute pace, a bowler can trouble the greatest batsmen with line, length and seam movement.

Praveen Kumar focuses on bowling in the corridor of uncertainity and the movement he gets is enough to trouble the batsmen. This clearly shows that pace is not everything. A Shaun Tait bowling at 160 kmh goes for runs for the wrong length but a Praveen Kumar at 120 picks wickets at the right length. Yes, pace gives the added advantage but nothing comes primary to line and length. The modern day bowlers need to know that they should look for pace only if they can control it and bowl the correct line. Praveen Kumar is the inspiration to every young bowler who bowls well but lacks pace. Praveen Kumar is an extremely talented bowler and he will pick wickets no matter what pace he is bowling at.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Yuvraj Singh's Golden Chance

Yuvraj Singh has the golden opportunity beckoning on the door for him as he has been selected in the test team for India against England. After having won the cricket world cup and silencing all critics who had signalled an end to his career, Yuvraj has the chance to do the same in the purest form of cricket, something which he has not done and something he is desperate to.

In limited overs cricket, Yuvraj has nothing much left to prove as he has the most prized possession of the man of the tournament in the world cup his team won. He has been India's main player in the ODI's for over 6-7 years. Being a veteran in ODI's , he has played 274 ODI's and has scored 8051 runs at an average of 37.62 with a good strike rate of 87.58 having 13 hundreds and 49 50's to his name. But the story has been very different in test cricket. He has played only 34 tests since his debut in 2003 and has scored 1639 runs at an average of 35.63 with 3 hundreds and 9 fifty's. In so many years he has never been able to establish himself in test cricket.

Yuvraj Singh  has got chances in Tests throughout his career especially during the period of 2007-08. I remember a valiant Yuvraj together with Tendulkar helping India chase 387 against England in november 2008 on a 5th day Chepauk pitch. After that eh hit a rough patch where Yuvraj did n't perform at all and thus was axed from the team. Players like Raina and Pujara took his place and thus Yuvraj was sidelined and not considered for Test cricket. He continued collecting laurels in ODI cricket without any success in test cricket. The problem I feel was never technique as a technical fault would have been exposed in even ODI's, it was all about approach to the different format. Test cricket required the kind of focus and application which Yuvraj did n't give. You can edge a ball in ODI for a four but in tests you will have a slip fielder out there to grab the ball. In ODI's you can drive in the air and still be safe but in test cricket you will have close-in fielders catching the ball. Yuvraj lacked the patience demanded by Test cricket and thus perished. But having suffered so much in the past 1 year and then coming back to win the world cup for the team, I think he has transformed and is not the old brash angry Yuvraj rather he has matured and has become more focused than ever. This is the time I feel he can actually make a comeback to Test cricket. He has hit the purple patch, is in a good frame of mind and has the confidence required to stage the comeback. Luckily for him Pujara is injured and Raina has n't impressed much apart from 1 or 2 innings and he stands a chance to be in the playing eleven in England. This is probably his last chance to establish himself in Test cricket. If he fails this time, he would fall off in the race to become a test cricketer. A cricketer is not respected if he is not a test cricketer so Yuvraj needs to do justice to his talent and become the kind of a player he is in ODI cricket for India. Who knows Yuvraj might just turn out to be the difference in this battle of the top 2 teams for the crown of the no.1 Test team in the world.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Abhinav Mukund- a hit or flop?

Abhinav Mukund's last chance of international practice is over as he heads to England. With Sehwag likely to miss the first 2 tests, Abhinav Mukund will open the Indian innings along-with Gautam Gambhir in this all important test series. The India-WI test series has come to an end and everyone has had a glimpse of his abilities. But was he really a hit in this series or a flop? Would he be able to tackle the in-form English bowlers on the green pitches and in overcast conditions in England?

According to numbers his performance in the test series is pretty much average. In the 3 matches he has scored 147 runs at an average of 24.5 at a strike rate of 41.29. His highest score was 62 which was the lone half century he made while he missed one by a whisker as he scored 48 runs in one of the innings. The numbers tell a confusing story as the pitches were tough to bat on and not many players scored too many runs in the series. But it will not be wrong to say that his performance was rather sultry. He showed problems against the rising ball, he was not fluent and he tends to poke at balls which could be suicidal in England. While in the absence of Sehwag he has no competition for his place in the team as Murali Vijay was worse than him but there are concerns whether he would be able to give India the head start against England. Nobody really seems content with Mukund in the opening slot but India has no other choice. Mukund did show some promise in 1 or 2 innings but he needs to learn to play the long innings quickly. A hundred on the WI tour could have given him immense confidence but he missed the opportunity and now India straightaway demands long innings from a new man on India's most important tour.

Technically Mukund looks sound but has some flaws which he needs to correct as early as possible. He needs to practice against the short balls as he would definitely encounter a lot of them from the likes of Tremlett, Anderson and Broad. He has to begin playing with soft hands and has to refrain himself from poking on balls outside the off-stump. He has the potential and can go on to score many runs in the 2 tests he might get to play. He would not be under pressure for his place as he knows he would be playing in only 2 tests but what he needs to do is to make himself the top choice for the opening slot in India's test team. Coming back to the question whether he was a hit or a flop in the recently concluded series, I would say he was rather a man of potential who let go his chances who is neither completely a flop nor a hit. The confusion persists and it remains to be seen what he does in England.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Dhoni's 7 claims to fame

Celebrating the birthday of India's most prolific captain till date, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, I here list 7(his jersey no.)  things that made Dhoni the successful captain he is and things that made him so popular amongst the masses.

1. The Hairstyle- Well , well this is probably what helped him get noticed by one and all. More than his batting or keeping skills, people were rather interested in the long flowing locks of Dhoni. Even the Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf could not resist talking about it and the hairstyle became an instant hit(more in rural India) but it was something which uniquely came to be identified with Dhoni. Who knew that the small town man with the unkempt hair would one day lead the National side to unprecedented glory.

2. 148 against Pakistan- This was the first time Dhoni,s batting came to the fore. Dhoni walked in at no. 3 to everyone's surprise and what followed was a brutal massacre of Pakistani bowlers. Dhoni smashed 148 off just 123 balls studded with towering sixes with his unique unconventional batting style which made him the Indian Afridi at that time. He played another swashbuckling innings against Sri Lanka when he smashed 183 runs with 10 sixes that established him as the big hitter of the India team.

3. The Finisher- In the period 2005-06 Dhoni had started to amaze everyone with his batting skills and the 2 hundreds mentioned above pretty much cemented his place in the India team. I still remember along with Yuvraj he helped India win many tough games by being there in the end and scoring quickly but responsibly to chase scores like 280-290 even when the asking rate was 8-9. According to me, this type of gameplay was what impressed everyone and contributed in making him the skipper.

4. T20 world cup- The turning point.India sent a team for T20 world cup with youngsters and debutants , a team devoid of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly and the skipper, surprisingly was not Yuvraj but a relatively new Dhoni. Nobody expected India to do well with such a team but again to everyone's surprise Dhoni brought home the T20 world cup and showed brilliant leadership skills. Who can forget handing the last over to Joginder Sharma instead of Bhajji and going on to get the cup. As Dravid was already showing interest in stepping down as captain after the 2007 world cup debacle, Dhoni was made the captain of the ODI team as well.

5 ODI series win in Australia- After the controversy ridden test series against Australia, the selectors introduced fresh controversy when they again selected a very young team under Dhoni dropping Dravid and Ganguly but retaining Tendulkar. Again nobody expected the inexpereienced team to beat Australia in their backyard but then Dhoni again led India to history, their first ever ODI series win down under and this established belief in his captaincy and put to rest the claims of Dhoni blessed with only good luck and that the T20 WC was a fluke. This was the beggining of a new era in Indian cricket.

6. Test Champions- After Kumble led the Indian test team successfully and infused bravery in the team, Dhoni was given the reins of the test team also and boy he responded brilliantly yet again. Beating Australia convincingly at home, drawing series with South Africa in South Africa, winning in New Zealand, winning in Sri Lanka and finally getting India to the no. 1 rank in test cricket for the first time. Even the veteran Tendulkar called him the greatest captain he has ever played under and thus Dhoni had become one of the greatest captains in all time history. Added to that he has still not lost a bilateral test series.

7. 2011 world cup- This was finally the biggest achievement which made him the darling of every Indian fan and with no doubt rose him above all. After 28 years India brought home the world cup. Sachin's dream has been fulfilled, India are world champs, the team is the strongest and like a big happy family, Dhoni is studded everywhere from banners, hoardings, newspapers to TV commercials of almost every brand. Truly Dhoni has done the unthinkable and has surpassed even the master blaster in terms of popularity. Every child not only dreams of becoming Tendulkar but many now want to become Dhoni. He has given the thousands of budding small town cricketers the belief of becoming what he is today. This is probably his biggest achievement.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Half centurion VVS Laxman

VVS Laxman misses another century. In the 2nd test against the West Indies Laxman scored 2 half centuries, 85 and 87 in both innings but could not go past 100. This is not new. Laxman in his career has been in a position to score the hundred several times but then just gets out in the 70's or 80's. Coming to the statistic part, among India's 3 premier batsmen Dravid tops the half century list with 60 while Tendulkar and Laxman follow with 51 each. Laxman has played the least number of tests among the 3 but stil he sits pretty close to both of them in this department. In 100's Laxman has only 16 where Dravid has double the amount while Tendulkar has more than triple the amount of 100's. This clears the picture that Laxman has a poor conversion rate in converting 50's to 100's.

While many including Laxman himself argue that  he has batted at the no. 6 position for most if the tests and has had only tail enders for his support and thus has been unable to score the amount of 100's he should have considering his potential and experience. But then just have a look at Adam Gilchrist's record. He has scored 17 hundreds , 1 more than Laxman in 96 tests , much less than Laxman and at no. 7 in a world champ team whose top order seldom failed. And in this test match he batted at no. 4 but still the old habit ceases to get away. While Laxman has played innumerable match winning innings in his career but has many times failed to top it with 100's. In the recent cases, He guided India to an unbelievable win in Mohali with Ishant Sharma as his partner. He made 96 but again could not make the win even sweeter with an epic 100. He helped India win in Durban with a great gritty innings but again could not convert it to 100. His best innings of 281 in a follow on against Australia was memorable but then yet again this time he missed the big 300 mark.

Even though Laxman is respected by one and all for playing match winning innings almost every time he is asked for and playing selflessly only for the team(recent example was trying to score against WI in the 2nd innings). But ad mist all this respect, He needs to do justice to his records. Though team's victory is much more important than records, but then why get out in the 90's while you have guided your team to victory. You can equally do so with a 100. Whenever people talk about great batsmen, they would first have a look at the stats and a player of caliber  of Laxman deserves the best records. You may say I do not care about records, I only want my team to win and blah blah but inside you do want to get those 100's instead of 80's. Lets hope Laxman in his new no. 5 position sets the record straight in the twilight of his career.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Importance of Sehwag

Will the selectors go in with a semi fit Virender Sehwag in place of a fully fit young indian opener? As the selection committee sits today to select the Indian squad for the 4 test match series in England this July, this will be the one major head-ache for them. While the rest of the squad looks predictable with Tendulkar, Gambhir, Zaheer and Sreesanth expected to comeback, the only uncertainity would be Sehwag's selection. But why should the selectors go in with a 70-80% fir Sehwag?

Well this question would be correctly answered by the English bowlers. Sehwag in his career has dramatically influenced opposition bowler's thinkings and plans. Even though Indian line-up would be studded with classic legends like Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman who might play better than him in the series but a Sehwag is needed at the top to rattle the opposition. Sehwag can give you the psychological advantage in just a session, he can give hopes of winning you a test match on the first day and he can well destroy a bowler for the rest of the series in the first test itself.

 The selectors know even if Sehwag struggles in England due to fitness related issues his inclusion in the team would heavily affect the plans of English bowlers and thus other players like Tendulkar and Dravid would be at ease to silently kill the opoosition. Its the Sehwag effect that has transformed India and India are no world champs without him. After Jayasuriya, he is the one who has reformed the art of batting. He has demolished many world class bowlers minus any technique. The coaches would never let their students bat like Sehwag but still the "nawab of najafgarh" has emerged as the most feared batsman in world cricket today. Sehwag has got this ability from probably the gully cricket in Delhi which has this notion of slambang fast paced cricket where missing a ball is pretty much equivalent to giving away your wicket. This taught Sehwag to hit any kind of ball that comes to him to the boundary. He shamelessly hits even the good balls and the good bowlers. That is what makes him Sehwag and India dont want to miss him on this tour which everyone thinks would be India's test of whether they truly deserve the number one spot or not. This answers the question as to why the selectors might opt for an unfit Virender Sehwag.