Saturday, 31 December 2011

Heroes and Zeroes of Cricket in 2011

Year 2011 has come to an end and with it ends an year of grueling cricket schedules. A year which saw India lift the ODI world cup after 28 years, an year in which Australia's dominance in test cricket completely ended and an year in which England surprisingly marched up to the top. All in all it was an year that probably showed us a glimpse about the future of cricket in the decade to come. The year saw many highs and as many lows in cricket. Lets look at the heroes and zeroes of they year 2011.

Hero No. 1- The hero no. 1 this year was undoubtedly Ian Bell. He was the player whose talent was always undoubted but he was someone who always failed to perform on the big occasions. But in 2011, he was phenomenal. His exceptional batting this year was one of the reasons why England marched to the top so quickly. Ian bell played 8 tests this year and scored 950 runs at a phenomenal average of 118.75 with 5 hundreds. What more can you say. Numbers speak themselves. He is now being counted as one of world's top batsmen.

Zero No. 1- Ricky Ponting emerged as the no. 1 disappointment this year. The man whom everybody believed was catching up fast with Tendulkar until 2010 was suddenly being asked to retire by the cricketing world. Bad form hit him very badly indeed. Ponting played 7 tests in 2011 scoring 415 runs at an average of 31.92 with no hundred but 4 fifties. His high score during this period was 78 against New Zealand. And these 4 fifties have come in his last 3 tests with 2 coming in the recent test against India. Otherwise it was a very dismal year for Ponting.

Hero No. 2- 38 year old veteran Rahul Dravid is the hero no. 2 this year. Dravid was going through the same phase Ponting is going through recently. But boy what a comeback he made in 2011. Dravid played 12 tests this year scoring 1145 runs at an average of 57.25 with 5 hundreds. He was the lone ranger in India's humiliating loss in England while he was the man who took India to victory in the Jamaica test this year. Dravid defied age and proved a point to everybody who said his time was over. Lets see what the next year has in store for him.

Zero No. 2- Gautam Gambhir emerged as one of the biggest flops of 2011. Many would argue that he was the one who took India to WC victory in the final or that he scored match saving innings in South Africa. But apart from that he was a failure. This year Gambhir played 8 tests scoring 470 runs at an average of 31.33 with no hundred. Barring performances in the beginning of the year, Gambhir looks very far from the batsman he was in 2008-09.

Hero no.-3- Another hero from England. This time it is England's bowler or shall I say all-rounder, Stuart Broad. Stuart Broad played 7 tests in 2011 taking 33 wickets at an average of 22.3 with one 5 wicket haul. Even on batting front he impressed scoring 239 runs at an average of 39.83 with a best of 74. This average is better than those of the Zeroes mentioned above. He was probably the man behind India's 4-0 loss.

Zero no. 3- Sri Lanka's skipper was another flop of 2011. Dilshan played 10 tests this year scoring 589 runs at an average of 32.72 with just 1 hundred. His captaincy stint too was disappointing as Sri Lanka won only 1 test under him. That was the recent historic first time victory in South Africa in the boxing day test. Otherwise it was a bad year for the 2011 world cup finalists in tests.

Hero no. 4-  Shahid Afridi emerged as the top all-rounder this year and someone who almost single handedly brought Pakistan cricket on track. This year Afridi played 27 ODI's taking 45 wickets at an average of 20.82 with 4 five wicket hauls. In this period he scored 462 runs at an average of 22 with 75 being the best score. Afridi truly was Pakistan cricket's hero of 2011.

Zero no. 4-  Surprisingly the good bowler Morne Morkel too emerged as a zero in 2011. He bowls fast, has lethal bouncers but somehow is not able to pick wickets. Morkel played 5 tests this year taking just 16 wickets at an average of 32.43 with no 5 wicket haul to show. South Africa continued their inconsistent form this year and it looked like only Steyn was the one who took wickets in plenty. Morkel was just reduce to a supporter or rather a spectator.

2012 looks to be an interesting year starting with the India-Australia second test. Lets see what cricket has in store for us next year. Neverthless, happy new year folks.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Why India loses the first test?

India has lost the first test of a series again overseas. Australia beat India by 122 runs on the 4th day of the boxing day test at MCG. The final result was opposite to what everyone had thought considering the "weak" Australian side and a "stronger" Indian side. India's age old problems like batting collapses, bad bowling to tail enders etc. are continuously haunting them. Over the last 5 years, India have lost 12 tests abroad which include 6 losses in the first test of the series.  And India's habit of losing the first test of a series abroad ceases to go. But why does India lose the first test so often?

Reluctance to adapt- Lack of practice or being new to conditions is clearly not a reason as most of the Indian players had arrived down under almost 2 weeks before the start of the first test at MCG on boxing day. If you can't adapt in 12 days then you won't in a year. The real reason is their reluctance to adapt. Indian players do not seem to be ready to change their technique according to the conditions. They probably think that the way they bat/ball in subcontinent would get them success down under too. Gambhir in particular was trying to cut the ball as if he is on the slow and low kotla wicket. Dhoni wants to just flash the ball hard irrespective of the lateral movement. The bowlers bowled well but only in patches. They were pitching it too short even though they should know that on pitches in Australia even just short of good length would be as high as a short ball is usually in sub-continent. If the Indians don't adjust to conditions quickly, they would face trouble in the forthcoming tests too.

Casual approach- India were the number one test team until July 2011. In that golden period India won tests abroad and came back many a times from first match defeats to win or draw the series. Lack of practice was the reason cited for India's first match loss and as soon as they won in the next test, it was forgotten. All this continued until that disastrous England tour. Even after the first defeat at Lords, Dhoni and even the media and fans were confident of a victory coming soon in the 2nd or 3rd test. But that never happened. After the defeat against Aussies at MCG, Dhoni smiled and very casually said in the presentation that we always have a bad start to the series. The gentleman still thinks that they can come back. Well they might but how can these first match defeats be taken for granted. Mr. Dhoni needs to be reminded that not always do you come back like you did in South Africa. Sometimes England tour like things also happen. India should stop taking these first match defeats casually as soon as possible. Otherwise more England like tours are there to follow.

Too much sub-continent cricket- Another reason for India's poor start to series abroad is the amount of cricket they keep playing in the sub-continent. Be it the IPL, Champions League, too many home matches and plenty of senseless tours to Sri Lanka. India keeps winning in the sub-continent and take their sub-continental habits abroad too where they then suffer. Some home series which India played this year were completely useless. India playing England in 5 ODI's just after completing a gruelling(humiliating too) 3 month tour to England. Then they hosted West Indies for a test and one day series after playing them in West Indies 4 months back. India, this way might be able to avenge their losses by comprehensively beating the other teams at home but how would this help when they play the same team abroad? Also India plays most amount of one day cricket and that too in India. So this is another reason why India fail in the first test of a series abroad.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli? Who should get the nod?

India is ready to face thunder down under starting with the first test on boxing day in Melbourne on 26 December. This tour of Australia is India's possibly best chance to beat Australia in Australia. Indian squad for the first test is almost set. The team is most likely to be Sehwag, Gambhir. Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni, Zaheer. Ishant, Yadav and Ashwin. The only position uncertain is the no. 6 slot that would be either filled by Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli. Both are impressive youngsters who are very good players and both equally deserve to be in the squad. But who should be the one playing his first test in Australia?

Career so far- Well Rohit Sharma is yet to play an international test game for India whereas kohli has featured in 4 test matches, all against West indies. He has scored 191 runs at an average of 27.28 with 2 fifties and a best of 63. Not very impressive given the amount of expectations. On first class front, Rohit has played 46 matches and has scored 3748 runs at an average of 63 with 12 hundreds and a best of 309. Kohli on the other hand has played 34 matches and has scored 2322 runs at an average of 52.77 with 7 hundreds and a best of 197. So even though Kohli has some nice experience of playing test cricket for India but its Sharma who looks to be much more impressive, experienced and a better performer in first class cricket. Add to that the fact that he has been in international cricket for more time than Kohli.

ODI career- Even though we are talking about a test spot but still these 2 youngsters have much more experience in one day cricket than tests. So it would be better to compare them on that front. Rohit has played 72 matches scoring 1810 runs at an average of about 34 with 2 hundreds and 11 fifties. Kohli on the other hand has played 74 ODI's scoring 2860 runs at an average of 46.88 with 8 hundreds and 18 fifties. Kohli is the one who has made rapid progress and has impressed everyone with his technique and temperament. He has played big innings and has been a part of India's high pressure WC campaign of 2011. Sharma has been a little inconsistent and has been in and out of the team frequently. But he has shown vast improvement lately. But as far as the ODI career is concerned, Kohli is the one who seems ahead in the race.

Recent Form- This is the most important part in choosing a player. All the runs and averages may go unnoticed if current form is not good. In the last 5 months Kohli has played 15 ODI's scoring 707 runs at an average of 58.91 with 3 hundreds. Sharma in this period played in only 6 matches but has scored 305 runs at an average of 76.25. Even though Sharma's 100 column is empty during this period but its the amount of match winning innings he has played that stand out. Add to that the fact all these performances are very recent. He was the one who stood alone against the West indies whenever India was in trouble last month. In current form both are equally matched but its Rohit Sharma whose recent staggering performances might just take him ahead.

Experience down under-  Rohit Sharma has handy experience of playing in Australia. He has played 10 ODI's in Australia during 2007/08 with a brilliant innings of about 70 which he hit during the first final in partnership with Tendulkar to take India to victory in a high voltage final. Kohli is yet to play an international game in Australia. But we should not forget that in the recent tour match against Australia Kohli scored a 100 while Rohit managed 47 runs. In the first practice game at Manuka Oval Rohit scored a fifty while Kohli was a failure. So maybe the fact Rohit Sharma has had experience of playing under may tilt the scales in his favour.

Neverthless both are highly talented young batsmen and both have the potential to tackle this Australian attack. Lets see who gets the nod in the first test.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Ricky Ponting- Retirement Days Near?

As Australia continued its bad run with a "Drawn" series against New Zealand. Australia lost the 2nd test by a mere 7 runs. Chasing 241, Australia ended up with 233 losing all their wickets with Warner stranded on 123. In the 2 recent series played by Australia, they have collpased to abnormally small scores 2 times. This is so unlike Australia. Against a weaker New Zealand attack at home, they managed just 136 in the 2nd test even lower than New Zealand's 150 in the 1st innings. Although this has been a complete Australian batting failure but Ponting's failures have drawn greater highlight. He was the man who used to always deny victory to the other teams and suddenly now he is the one who struggles almost everytime. And this has been happening for the past 2 years. So are retirement days near for Ponting? Or is there still cricket left in him?

Performance in last 2 years- The former and the most successful Australian skipper's performance in the last 2 years has been disappointing to say the least. He has been in very bad form over the last couple of years. Ponting has played 20 tests in the last 2 years and has scored just 1200 runs at an average of 33.33 with 7 half centuries and just 1 hundred! His overall career average is 52.29 which clearly shows the difference. And the lone hundred was a double which came against Pakistan in late 2009. That means not even 1 hundred since 22 months. In this period he was captain for 14 matches in which he averaged 36.28 with the double hundred and in the 6 matches he was stripped of captaincy his average further dipped to 26.63. Even relief from captaincy has not been able to change Ponting's fate. Australia in this period has won only 11 of its 20 matches having lost 7. And in the last 1 year they won just 4 having lost 4. So Australia is going down day by day and it seems that Cairne was not very wrong in his saying. Maybe Ponting is, a burden for the Australian team.

What's wrong?-  Punter's decline in the last 2 years has coincided with an Australian decline on a whole. As soon as Gilchrist, Hayden, Mcgrath, Warne and Langer retired, Australia's downfall had started. But the real blow was Australia's loss in the 2009 ashes in England. After that the wound was further aggravated by losing 2-0 to India and then the final nail in the coffin was drilled by England's ashes win in Australia in 2010. At that time Ponting was stripped of captaincy, he was not in form and Australian team was heavily criticized by the media. For almost 2 years form 2007-09 Ponting had held the team together by performing and winning matches in the absence of the big players mentioned above. But Australia's new generation was not as impressive as the stalwarts. As a result Ponting's lone battle started losing steam. He did not have ample support at the opening level, new bowlers were not taking wickets and the inexperienced middle order collapsed almost everytime. Even players like Clarke and Hussey were not in very good form. As a result even Ponting's performance declined too. Afterall a skipper is as good as his team. So that might be the reason why Ponting failed to deliver in the last couple of years.

Getting back- Before the series against South Africa this November, calls of Ponting's retirement were getting louder and louder. Further Australia's shocking 47 all out further made them even more loud. But since then Ponting has tried very hard to come back and boy he has succeeded too. In the 2nd test against South Africa chasing 310 on the 5th day at Wanderers, Ponting scored a resilient 62 off 138 balls to ensure South Africa did not get away with victory. The innings was scratchy and lacking in fluency but was extremely useful and was a match winning effort. And then again in the 1st test against New Zealand at the Gabba, Ponting scored 78 valuable runs to help Australia post a big total which in turn resulted in an Australian victory. So Ponting is slowly coming back into his groove. And incidentally this come back coincides with players like Clarke and Haddin's good form. So maybe Ponting needs just a,little bit of support from his team and the old days might be near again.

Ponting it seems is starting to find good form once again. Even Rahul Dravid said that Ponting should play and he has a lot of cricket left in him. Afterall who can be better than Dravid to understand his situation. Dravid was going through a similar phase in 2010 but has since come back strongly and emerged as the highest run getter in 2011. So maybe Ponting should take inspiration from him. I feel Ponting should continue playing until he finds his form back again and then should hang his boots. A player like him deserves to leave on a high and he should do so. Australia needs young blood to steer them out of this slump as the old ones are not going to stay forever. Lets hope the champion batsman finds form quickly and entertain us with his brilliant batting once again.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sehwag 200 vs Sachin 200

Virender Sehwag has become the highest scorer in one day cricket with a swashbuckling 219 against the West Indies yesterday in the 4th ODI at Indore. The double ton is only the 2nd in ODI history with the first one scored by Sehwag's idol Sachin Tendulkar 22 months back at Gwalior, just north of Indore. History was made yesterday as Sehwag toyed with the bowling and hit good balls, bad balls whatever balls all around the park. Since there have been only 2 double tons in ODI's so far and that too by 2 team mates, comparisons are obvious. But whose 200 was better? Was it the destructive Sehwag or the sublime Tendulkar?

Opponent- Sehwag scored the double ton against West Indies whose bowling attack comprised of Roach, Sammy, Narine, Rampaul, Russel and Pollard. The fielding unit was ordinary with a few spilled catches and misfields. Sachin Tendulkar scored his double against South Africa whose bowling attack had Steyn, Parnell, Kallis, Van der merwe and Duminy. The fielding unit was top class with tight fielding all the time. The difference is clear. Sehwag's innings came against a rather sultry opponent whereas Tendulkar's was against a tough bowling attack. So in this respect Tendulkar scores over Sehwag.

Strike rate - Scoring a 200 in a 50 over game involves mindboggling strike rates and boundaries. Tendulkar's 200* came in 147 balls with 25 fours and 3 sixes with a strike rate of 136. Sehwag on the other hand scored 219 off 149 balls with 25 fours and 7 sixes with strike rate of 147. Tendulkar reached the milestone in the 50th over while Sehwag was through with his 200 in the 44th over itself. That speaks volumes about Sehwag's ability to hit boundaries and the strike rate was much higher than Tendulkar's. So here its Sehwag who score over Tendulkar.

Innings Quality- Both the pitches at Gwalior and Indore were flat featherbeds for batsmen where records were meant to be broken. Sehwag's innings was like batting highlights. He was hitting every ball without any thought. His bat moved to just about every delivery. He did n't care if he mistimed a shot or he got the boundary off an edge. It was pure hitting. At 170 a very easy catch was dropped by Sammy otherwise the 200 might not have happened. But Tendulkar's innings was sublime. There was class, technique as well as a little bruteness in it. He manouvered the field, picked up gaps everywhere and beat an exceptional fielding unit all around the stadium to score runs. He played all type of shots and there was a special feel to it. It was an almost flawless innings. Sachin remained unbeaten whereas Sehwag played a tiring shot towards the end to hole out at the fence. While Sehwag scored most of his runs at backward point region, Tendulkar was more destructive in front of the wicket at the covers region. Tendulkar's 200 goes one notch higher than Sehwag's here.

Impact and damage- When Sachin reached his 200, the game was over but when Sehwag reached it in the 44th over, the traditional run scoring overs had just started. That shows the way in which Sehwag reached the double hundred. Sachin was limping towards the end while Sehwag was comfortably hitting the ball even after he had scored 200. Thats because Sehwag did n't run much and he does n't need to. He deals in boundaries. Sehwag shamelessly hit even good balls towards the fence. Sehwag was supposed to be Sammy's bunny but Sehwag hit him for a 6 off his first ball. Narine troubled Indians in the last match. Sehwag hit him for a 6 off his first ball. Such is Sehwag's impact. He doesn't turn jittery when he begins to reach a milestone.He infact reaches them with a boundary whereas Sachin does get a little slow as he begins to reach 100 or 200. Sehwag destroys the bowler and leaves him unable to bowl properly. Sachin can never have that kind of an impact ever. If Sachin makes bowlers feel that he is the boss, Sehwag makes them feel that he is the only one playing cricket. Impactwise Sehwag wins over Sachin.

So which one is better? Well a 200 is a 200 and only 2 men have scored it so both have a special place. While Sachin's innings came against a better opposition and was technically more correct. Sehwag's was brutal and much more damaging than Sachin's. Both the innings actually go on to show 2 different yet successful styles of batting. While one takes control and anchors the game, the other simply makes the opposition run for cover. At the end I would say- Sehwag 200 = Sachin 200.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Improved Australia? Or a declining New Zealand?

Australia has comprehensively won the first test match against New Zealand by 9 wickets on the 4th day needing just 19 runs to win in the 2nd innings. Both the teams have a new look with plenty of young and inexperienced players with Australia entirely different from what it was 3-4 years back. Players like Lyon, Starc, Pattinson, Warner were the new faces in the Australia team. New Zealand also boasts a young look. With the talk about the recent Australian decline, Australia has come up with decent performances including a drawn series against South Africa and this test win against New Zealand. But does this test win signifies an Australian improvement or is it just that New Zealand was just not enough?

Past 3 year record- While talking about improvements and declines lets look at both the team's past 3 year test record.  In the last 3 years Australia has played 34 tests out of which it has won 16 and lost 12. They have mainly lost against England and India while having a 50-50 record with South Africa.These 3 are the teams that have improved considerably in this period.Still they have won more matches than they have lost. Then why this fuss about Australia being a team in decline? Maybe thats because comparisons are being made with the Australian record of the 1990's and early 2000's which would obviously show Australia as a "weak" team. New Zealand on the other hand has played 20 tests out which they have won only 3 and lost 9. So it is clear what kind of a state New Zealand is in. India which has been highly rated in this period have played 33 tests winning 15 and losing 7 with a win % of 45 compared to Australia's 47. This suggests that though Australia have declined if compared with the Australia of the last decade but overall they have been average neither too good nor too bad.

Australia vs New Zealand 1st test- If this test match is to go by, Australia played average cricket. They restricted New Zealand to 295 which was a good job done by bowlers but still they were largely found wanting when Vettori took back the attack on them. New Zealand were disappointing, if Vettori was n't there, probably they would have folded for about 150 which they did in the 2nd innings. Australia scored 427 in the first innings aminly due to Ponting, Clarke and Haddin. The new batting faces did not do much. While chasing down 19 runs Australia lost a wicket which was in stark contrast to the professionalism showed by the Australia of previous times. Australian batsmen played rash shots in both the innings. New Zealand was sloppy as usual and were just not upto the mark.Only when they had picked up 7 wickets with Aussies leading by just 50 runs did they look like a challenging them. So maybe New Zealand were just not enough for Aussies. Australia otherwise were not so good. A good team would have made life tough for Australia. Only Australia's bowlers were somewhat good even though they are yet to find a good spinner. Well its pretty early to talk about Lyon but still till the time he does n't anything noticeable we can assume Aus have not found a good spinner.

Final Verdict- I think Australia have not improved much. They are playing average cricket for the past 3 years winning sometimes losing the other times. The uncertainty displayed by them in the past month where in one match they got out for 47 while chasing down 300+ scored in another match, Australia was just so unpredictable. While the black caps are largely a poor team who have players who perform occasionally and independently and never together. Leaving Vettori no player is consistent. So Australia have not improved. They are rebuilding and are still what they were a year back. Also New Zealand have not changed much since last 3 years. They too are what they were a year back. Its just that New Zealand was neither enough for Australia 5 years back nor they are now. Australia's victory is largely Australia's average performing youngsters being better than than the Kiwi youngsters. So lets just not talk about an Australian improvement until they win against England or win in the sub-continent.