Friday, 1 June 2012

Kevin Pietersen's Retirement Master Stroke

Kevin Pietersen has surprised everybody with his sudden decision to retire from international limited overs cricket. 31 year old Pietersen made this announcement 4 months prior to the World T20 in Sri Lanka where England have to defend their title. Kevin Pietersen is one of the mainstays in limited overs cricket for England and the decision is being criticized by most. But the decision looks like a masterstroke where Pietersen has clearly indicated his priorities and probably the priorities of other cricketers too in the future.

Kevin Pietersen played 127 ODI's for England scoring 4184 runs at an average of 41.84 with 9 hundreds and a best of 130 against Pakistan. In T20's he played 36 T20's scoring 1176 runs at an average of 37.93. Pietersen had a decent record in limited overs for England but then why did he take this call when he is just 31 years of age?

At present cricket is going through a phase where cricket purists are billing test cricket as the ultimate form of cricket which cannot be compared with T20 or One day cricket while the masses are loving T20 particularly the IPL. In the middle of all this Pietersen, member of the no. 1 test team in the world has decided to continue playing test cricket but stop playing one day and T20 cricket but at the same time he has not decided to retire from the IPL so in a way he has decided to continue to play the format loved by the people and also earn the big money that IPL provides.

Kevin Pietersen has made both the cricket purists as well as his bank accounts swell with pride. Cricket enthusiasts will boast about how Pietersen ditched ODI and T20 for the ultimate form of cricket, i.e. Test cricket while Pietersen will be busy making money from the annual affair IPL and will also gain respect as a middle order batsman of the no. 1 test side in the world.

So there is no doubt that the retirement call from Kevin Pietersen is no less than a masterstroke. And maybe upcoming players would also go this way. Test cricket will always be the most respected one while T20 will retain its mass appeal. In the middle of all this its the the ODI's that are bound to suffer.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Exciting Young Players Gifted by IPL 2012

The IPL 2012 concluded this Sunday as Kolkata Knight Riders for the first time lifted the title by defeating 2 times and defending champions Chennai Super Kings by 5 wickets at the Chepauk. This year's IPL saw many close matches, last ball finishes and exciting contests between bat and ball. Also several unknown names came up and performed brilliantly to become household names across the world. Lets have a look at some of the upcoming superstars that were gifted by DLF IPL 2012.

1. Ajinkya Rahane- This technically correct young batsman of Rajasthan Royals scored tons of runs in the Ranji Trophy the previous season but it was the lucrative IPL 2012 that forced everyone to notice this wonderful player. Rahane in the initial stages of the tournament held the Orange Cap. In 16 matches this season, Rahane scored 560 runs at an average of 40 with 1 hundred and 3 50's at a strike rate of around 130. Among the hard hitting batsmen in the IPL, Rahane showed how you can score runs in T20 even by nudging the ball here and there and playing technically correct shots. Rahane had impressed even when India played the one day series against England. Now he has caught the eye of selectors again and hopefully he will find a place in India's next assignment.

2. Sunil Narine- He is the mystery which could n't be solved even by the great man Sachin Tendulkar. Narine was the most impressive bowler in IPL 2012 and was one of the main reasons why Kolkata Knight Riders lifted the title. Narine was a completely unknown player 2 months back but the way he foxed every batsman in every game was what that impressed everyone. In 15 matches this season Narine took 24 wickets at an average of 13.5 with a wonderful economy rate of 5.47 with a best of 5-19. In almost every game Narine picked up 1 or 2 wickets and conceded only around 20 runs. These figures are brilliant even in one day cricket let alone T20. West Indies would be very pleased to see this young man and he would hopefully join the Windies team and make their bowling attack a strong force to reckon with. Windies badly need a good spinner and Narine might just be the man they needed.

3. Mandeep Singh- The Kings XI player was the winner of the upcoming young player award of DLF IPL 2012. The young man played 16 matches scoring 432 runs at an average of 27 with 2 fifties and a best of 75. For the kings XI he provided stability in the middle order and kept Punjab in the hunt for a play offs berth till their last game. The Punjab team lacked big superstars but players like Mandeep Singh ensured that their team are no pushovers. Mandeep has the right kind of temperament needed for competitive cricket and has a sound technique too. We can certainly hope to see this man getting laurels in the India colours.

Despite all the controversies one must never forget that IPL is a cricket tournament and is a platform for young players all over the world to rub shoulders with the best in the business and showcase their talent. The best thing about the IPL is that every year it gives us new superstars like the above players who more often than not end up having successful stints with their national sides.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Delhi Daredevils' Bizzare Strategies

Delhi Daredevils have failed to make the finals of the DLF IPL 2012 as they lost the 2nd qualifier against the Chennai Super Kings. Delhi Daredevils who were the table toppers this year looked like they were short of big match temperament as they made many strategic mistakes in both the playoffs particularly in the 2nd qualifier. And you can't afford to make such mistakes in the knockout stages.

Mistake no.1- The first big strategic mistake they made was in the first play off against the Kolkata Knight Riders. Chasing 163 runs for a win, they sent in Ross Taylor at no. 7 when only about 3 overs were left and Delhi needed 43 runs in those 3 overs. Now I completely failed to understand why they sent in such a good player like Taylor so late. Yes Taylor has not been in the best of forms but still a good player could have made a difference only if he had a decent number of balls to get in and score. Even more surprising was sending Negi and Rao ahead of Taylor and Pathan. And as a result Delhi could not chase the target.

Mistake no.2- Now in the 2nd qualifier a strong team like Delhi were expected to rectify the mistakes they made in the 1st qualifier. But instead they committed some more bloopers. Before the beginning of the match, they themselves reduced their chances of winning by deciding to leave out DLF IPL 2012's highest wicket taker Morne Morkel. Now how can you do that? Your best bowler, in fact the best bowler of the competition has been left to warm the bench. And the result was that Delhi allowed Chennai to score 222 runs. Irfan Pathan was reportedly injured so to replace him they needed an all rounder and the available all rounder was West Indian Andre Russell. And then for that they had to leave out a foreign player and so Morkel was left out. But is n't it wise to play your best bowler rather than a player who has played just 3 matches and has not done anything extraordinary in the competition so far. On the flat Chennai track, Morkel would have posed a greater challenge to the Chennai batting line up than any other bowler be it Aaron, Umesh yadav or Russell.

Mistake no. 3- Can you imagine Sehwag at no. 3? Certainly I can't. For a player who has batted at the no. 1 position for a decade and has opened the innings in all his IPL outings. I failed to deduce why Sehwag sent himself at no. 3. Yes Jayawardene is a good player and opens well too but was n't Sehwag in red hot form in this tournament a week back? Sehwag is that kind of player who could have set the tone for a mammoth chase by hitting a boundary off the very first ball. But for some reason he thought that he would be better off batting at no. 3. That to me showed that Delhi were not very confident going into this qualifier. They were doing too many things and changes and in the end that proved detrimental to their hopes of making the final.

Delhi have squandered a golden opportunity to win the DLF IPL 2012. They were one of the best teams this year and to not make the finals even after getting 2 chances is a shame to say the least. And Delhi Daredevils have only themselves to blame. 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Gayle- Spoiling the RCB

Royal Challengers Bangalore, possibly one of the strongest teams on paper with the biggest superstars have crashed out of the tournament even before the play offs. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Luck Wheel continues to run as he managed to make the playoffs at the last moment. Royal Challengers Bangalore were on 17 points from 15 games and needed to win the last one to reach the play offs. Their last game was against the bottom placed team Deccan Chargers and RCB were obviously expected to stream roll their opposition. But what eventually happened was a shocker. RCB despite restricting the other team for 132 runs only managed 123 runs.

In this match incidentally Chris Gayle failed with the bat and the rest of the batsmen could n't chase down the small target. And Gayle failed to fire after a long time. And certainly it now seems that RCB were overtly dependent on Gayle. Gayle was the one who won them their second last game against the table toppers Delhi Daredevils and now again when he failed the rest of the team failed with him and were not able to take the team to the last 4. Yes Dale Steyn was exceptional, yes it was a tough pitch but a strong team like RCB should have pulled it off.

Chris Gayle in this tournament scored a whopping 733 runs which is a new record in IPL history. But even these many runs did not help the team to make the IPL 2012 Play offs. Last year too Gayle was the top run getter. He got runs almost in every match and helped RCB reach the finals. But in the final against CSK he failed with the bat and the team lost the final.

Chris Gayle without doubt has been the best batsman in IPL. He might well now be called the T20 Legend the way we have legendary batsmen like Tendulkar, Lara, Kallis, Dravid etc in test and one day cricket we can add Gayle's name for T20 cricket. But Gayle's staggering performances have made RCB over dependent on him and expect Gayle to win almost every important game for RCB. It is hard to find a game where RCB won without Gayle or De villiers firing. There would only be very few, very very few.

Gayle has done to RCB what extremely rich parents do to their children. These kind of parents provide their child everything they ask for, even demands that are unreasonable. And then these kids become spoiled brats who are nothing actually without their parents' money and backing. Similarly Gayle's exceptional performances are providing that kind of a comfort to RCB. Whenever RCB need a win even if they are in dire straits, Gayle delivers it for them. But just sometimes at the final hurdle Gayle fails and the "spoiled Brat" RCB too look meek without his performances.

Well to have a player like Gayle is definitely a bonus but RCB have to remember that in the end its the 7 Indians that make a difference more than the 4 foreigners. RCB were banking very heavily on the 4 foreigners and without strong performances from the Indian players, RCB would not be able to get the title.

And by the way messing with Dhoni's luck is not good for a team.

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Importance of the Penultimate Over

Penultimate over i.e. the second last over and in the case of a T20, the 19th over of an innings has nowadays gained more importance than even the last over of an innings. In the shorter format of the game, games more often than not finish in the last over. But its the penultimate over where the game actually changes. The penultimate over has gained much importance in this year's IPL as 3 games turned on their heads in the penultimate over.

The first one was when Royal Challengers Bangalore were playing the Chennai Super Kings. Chasing a target of 207, the Chennai Super Kings required 43 off the last 2 overs. RCB were almost certain to win it as their skipper Daniel Vettori threw the ball to part timer Virat Kohli. Albie Morkel from CSK took full advantage of the part timer's penultimate over as he smashed Kohli for 28 runs and then got the remaining 15 runs in the last over to seal the match. RCB lost that game in the 19th over more than the 20th.

The second instance came when the Mumbai Indians were playing the Kings XI Punjab. Mumbai Indians were chasing a target of 168 and required 32 runs off the last 2 overs with 4 wickets in hand. Punjab were favorites as the bowling team is expected to save 32 runs from 12 balls in a high pressure situation. Piyush Chawla bowled the penultimate over in which Rayudu and Peterson together plundered 27 runs and ultimately won the match for MI.

And finally the third one was probably the most shocking one. Delhi Daredevils were playing Rajasthan Royals in their backyard. Needing 153 to win, RR were cruising at 138-2 with Rahane batting well on 74. With 15 required off 12 balls with just 8 wickets in hand and one of the in-form batsman playing in his 70's, you can bet your life on that team's victory. But it was not to be as South African speedster Morne Morkel came out to bowl the penultimate over and he produced a gem of an over. He gave just 3 runs in his last over picking up one wicket and left Rajasthan to get 12 off the last over which is always tough for the batting team. And ultimately Rajasthan managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as Delhi pulled off a miraculous win out of nowhere.

We have seen how the penultimate over can change the course of the game completely. Captains of teams who are on top till the 18th over often take the 19th over lightly and then end up giving away all the hard work in that one penultimate over. T20 is a very fast paced game and matches can change in just 5-6 balls. Its important for the players not to leave everything for the last over. Try to finish games in the penultimate over as it is the penultimate over where games are mostly won and lost.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

West Indies- On the Right Track

The Australian tour to West Indies has come to an end. And contrary to expectations, Australia did n't win everything that was up on stake. The 5 match ODI series was squared 2-2 which the West Indies had a very serious chance of winning and which they probably could n't win due to some mad running between the wickets by the no. 11 in the tied game. The 2 match T-20 series was also tied 1-1. Australia just managed to take the test series 2-0. Though the scoreline suggests the series might have been one sided but it was not so. The West Indies fought valiantly and did n't give easy victories to Australia. Although Australia is far from the side they used to be 7-8 years back but still they are a tough team and West Indies have clearly given a strong message that they are not mere pushovers.

West Indies have got some really exciting players like Darren Bravo, Rampaul, Sammy and then the senior pro Chanderpaul who recently joined the 10000 club. West Indies throughout the tour pushed Australia and made them work very hard to earn the victory. And especially the one day series where at the end of 4 matches WI were leading 2-1 including a tied match which WI should have won.

West Indies it looks like have atleast shown signs of improvement in the shorter versions of the game. In  the longer version their performance was good in patches but to win a test, they needed to perform well for a longer period of time which they did n't do.

In the past 1 year West Indies played 21 ODI's and managed to win 9 of them including 7 victories against the top teams like Australia, India and Pakistan. In the last 3 years West Indies won just 19 out of the 62 ODI's they played. The win % goes up from 30.64% in the last 3 years to 42.85% in the last 1 year. SO the improvement is definitely there. In the last 1 year WI lost 6 out of the 13 tests they played while in the last 3 years they lost 14 out of the 26 tests they played. Thus the loss % comes down from 53.8% in the last 3 years to 46.15% in the last 1 year. The improvement in tests has not been very great but the fact that it exists is alone satisfying.

The West Indian players are showing that they are capable of beating the best in the world but they have not been clicking as a unit which is their main shortcoming. The pitches in West Indies remain sluggish, low and slow which is one of the reasons why West Indies have been on a downfall since the past decade or so.

But the future looks bright. Some players like Narine, Cooper etc are showing their skills in the IPL and they might as well help the West Indies win more tests in the time to come. West Indies have been at their lowest worst in the past decade and now they can only go up from here.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Switch Hit- Should it be legal or not?

Mumbai Indians secured a thrilling last over victory against Kings XI Punjab yesterday at Mohali. 27 runs were scored off the penultimate Piyush Chawla over where Robin Peterson switch hit Chawla for fours and sixes. The Switch Hit where the batsman turns around to switch sides has been a controversial topic ever since it was played in international cricket.

The Switch hit was probably introduced by Kevin Pietersen around 2006-07 and he has been the one who plays it regularly. But following him many batsmen are now playing the stroke to hit boundaries. So is it legal for a batsman to switch sides and become a different handed batsman?

While there is no clear law in cricket regarding the switch hit so maybe there should not be any fuss regarding this shot. But I have some problems with the switch hit. Let us consider a right handed batsman who is a very good leg side player but not so brilliant as an off side player. The opposition captain tells his bowlers to bowl an off side line to prevent him from hitting boundaries. The batsman finds himself unable to hit boundaries. So he suddenly switches to a left handed batsman, finds the off side pitched ball onto his legs and thus easily puts the ball over the ropes. In such a scenario what can an opposition team do?  Obviously you can't set fields for a switch hit.

Now consider another scenario. A right arm bowler is bowling to a batsman who does n't like left armers and is better off playing right arm bowlers. The right arm bowler suddenly puts the ball in his left hand and dismisses the batsman. But this is not allowed in cricket. A bowler has to mention which arm he will use to bowl to the umpire before the over. But the batsman is not required to tell whether he will bat right handed or left handed. Thus a batsman can switch sides whenever he wants but the bowler cannot do so. Is n't it a tad unfair? A bowler develops a new kind of delivery but he is greeted with suspicion where his action is monitored and he is not allowed to bend his arm more than 15 degrees. But the batsman has the freedom to turn around or hit the ball any way he wants.

The game is already becoming more and more of a batsman's game. And shots like switch hit contribute in making a bowler even more helpless. Cricket becomes a battle between batsmen not teams.

In my opinion switch hit should be legal as long as the batsman does n't change his grip. After that even if the batsman switches his side it will rather look like a reverse sweep. Atleast the batsman's hands would be crossed and he would n't be able to free his arms and hit the ball as hard as he can when he changes his grip too.

Changing the grip should be made illegal or else allow even the bowlers to change their bowling hand whenever they want.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

IPL 2012- Low TRP again! Why?

IPL 2012 is in its middle stages now and the viewership reports suggest that this time around TV viewership has been worse than last year. Last year IPL began just after India's World Cup victory. India had been playing cricket continuously and low viewership was attributed to the cricket overdose. But this time around there was no World Cup, neither did the Indian team gift its fans a flurry of victories. So why even this year the IPL is staring at low TRP's?

The problem of Loyalty- I think one of the main reasons for people's dwindling interests in IPL is due to the lack of loyalty to a particular team. People do not follow their city team as intensely as they do with the Indian cricket team. Unlike the football's English Premier League where team loyalties are rampant, there are nos such loyalties in the IPL. I am a Delhi boy but it does n't matter to me whether Delhi wins or loses. Infact I would rather love to see Dada's Pune or Dravid's Rajasthan taking the title. Even people around me don't bother about their city's performance. I don't fight with my Mumbai friend over our IPL teams even though some of my mates do fight over the performances of the Premier League football teams. Also apart from the first season players are seldom seen in their regional teams. Punjabi boys Harbhajan and Yuvraj play for teams from the South while Delhi lads Kohli and Gambhir too are turning out for different teams. Bengali Hero Ganguly plays for Pune while Bangalorean Dravid plays for Rajasthan. So how can one expect the fans to stick to their regional teams? What I mean is that India has still not found its loyalties for different cities.

Too many days of non-stop cricket- IPL goes on for about 55 days with matches on each day including a double header every alternate day. Is n't that too much? I mean holding even an ardent cricket lover for 55 days is tough let alone capturing non-cricket watcher's market. To be honest the IPL has now become the living room's last option when nothing else watchable is being telecast on the TV. People nowadays only check out the scores or start watching the match in its last stages when the match is heading towards an exciting finish. But apart from that nobody in their busy lives have got the time to catch 2 back to back cricket matches everyday. The stadiums might look full and the atmosphere "electric" but thats due to the fact that cricket matches do not come very often in one's city which compels fans to throng the stadiums to enjoy themselves.

The Brand IPL is definitely going down and something needs to be done to keep it going. Afterall the IPL has had some good effects too. The IPL has put India firmly on the Global cricketing map. Those English and Aussie players who did n't like to come to India are now dying to play in the cash rich league. Youngsters are getting opportunities and exciting young players are coming up every year who can serve the nation. And then an Indian feels proud when he sees his country as the center of attraction for the right reasons.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Rajasthan Royals- Going Like Season 1!

So the slambang cricket is here again! Indian Premier League- cricket's moneyball has started spinning again. T20 matches every night are giving Indian fans respite from a disastrous last season. Its been 4 days since the IPL 2012 began. Each team has played a couple of games. And in these 4 days, its the Rajasthan Royals who look the most impressive and balanced side. The 2 wins revived memories of season 1 when Rajasthan who were written off for not having star players came back to win the title.

This time too Rajasthan are short of star players. But the young Indian players are making a mark. In 2008 they were skippered by the Spin Wizard Shane Warne but this time its the Wall, Rahul Dravid. While its still very early days in the 50 day long affair but so far Rajasthan have looked good. Both the purple cap and the Orange cap are with them. One of the main reasons for their success has been their wise spending.

They did n't spend oodles of money on big players. They spent their money on cheap yet quality players who can contribute. Players like Owais Shah, Brad Hodge and the West Indian Cooper are suited for this format. Obviously having 3 good players is better than having just one big player for the same amount of money. They have some exciting Indian players too like Menaria and Rahane. Their team might not look too good on paper like those of Kolkata Knight Riders or Kings XI Punjab. But they have players for every department. They have a good allrounder, good solid openers and a decent middle order.

Rajasthan is under no pressure pretty similar to the first season. In both their wins, they already have shown their batting and bowling capability. In the first match they racked up a huge total with a good opening partnership and in the next match the middle order came to the party. So all in all Rajasthan looks like the most balanced and complete side and they have a very calm, composed and cricket's greatest student as their leader.

While many teams in the past have gone down after winning the first few matches but there is no reason why Rajasthan Royals can't continue their winning ways throughout the tournament.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Bangladesh- Minnows No Longer!

Pakistan have won the Asia Cup but it was Bangladesh who won everyone's hearts as they lost a terribly close final match against Pakistan. The Match was testimony to what Bangladesh have done throughout the tournament. They fought hard till the end but could n't just cross the line. They refused to die down even when the odds were against them. In the end you would have to say, Bangladesh has enhanced its reputation after this tournament. So has Bangladesh finally shed its "Minnows" tag? From now on, can we consider them a top team who can beat anybody anytime anywhere?

I think yes the time has come finally.

Bangladesh have surprised the top teams many a times but they did that very inconsistently. But in the Asia cup they showed that they can perform consistently too. In all the 4 matches they ran the opposition close and on 2 occasions they managed to cross the line. When they won against India, many said it was an upset. But they followed it up with a comfortable win against Sri Lanka and suddenly no body was calling it an upset. Winning 2 matches back to back against the world champions and the runner up cannot be a fluke. And they almost won against another former world champion on 2 occasions.

Bangladesh have so far played 262 ODI's and have won 72 out of them losing 188 in the process. They have beaten every test playing nation at least once. They have beaten Australia, Pakistan and South Africa once, England twice, India and Sri Lanka thrice, West Indies 4 times and New Zealand 5 times. And these are the top teams in international cricket. In the last 2 years, Bangladesh have played 41 ODI's winning 17 and losing 24 of them. Out of the 17 wins, 9 wins have come against the top 8 teams mentioned above including a 4-0 whitewash of New Zealand.

Bangladesh have found immense self belief. They now feel they can win against any opposition under any circumstances. Whether they are chasing a big target like the 290 against India or they are restricting the run flow against the world's best batsmen. And much of this has to do with the fearless players in their team. Players like Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mashrafe Murtaza, Mushfiqur Rahim can match with the best in the world. Tamim Iqbal gives them flying starts and takes the attack to the opposition, then there is a terrific all rounder in Shakib who bowls and bats equally well and is Bangladesh's best player. Rahim can hit a few towards the end while Murtaza is another genuine bowler who can also bat a bit. Bangladesh have emerged as a brilliant fielding unit and you rarely see misfields or spilled catches. Their spinners Razzak, Mahamudullah and Shakib strangulate the opposition in the middle overs.

Bangladesh after this performance have definitely sent a clear message all around the world that they no longer are pushovers who cannot beat the top teams. They are now a force to reckon with. But Bangladesh would now have to do this consistently. Their reputation is solely in their hands and their next objective should be to beat a top team in a test match.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Sachin Tendulkar- A Hero to Billions

Sachin Tendulkar has finally scored his 100th international hundred. After an year he got to 3 figures against Bangladesh at Mirpur. The great man honestly admitted that it was probably the toughest one for him to get. All the pressure that the fans and the media had put on him did weigh on his mind. And now when he has got the hundred, he is relaxed and feels now he can focus on his game. Well the hundred hundreds do not matter as Tendulkar was and will always be regarded as cricket's greatest batsman. But what makes Tendulkar so special?

In all sports there have been legends who have inspired millions of people. Pele and Maradona in football, Bjorn Borg, MCenroe or Federer in Tennis, Schumacher in F1, Armstrong in cycling and so on but still Tendulkar carries a different aura around him. I feel Tendulkar on a whole epitomizes every Indian's dream life. Everyone wants to be Tendulkar. He has everything that an average Indian would want in his life.

Tendulkar burst on the scene at a time when India was slowly opening up to the world. Indian economy  was opening up and slowly India was becoming prominent on the world map. A legend called Tendulkar forced the cricketing world to notice him, notice Indian cricket at large at around the same time. Tendulkar started creating ripples across the cricketing world. Every Indian rested his hopes on Tendulkar's shoulders. And Tendulkar carried it single handedly for almost a decade. Tendulkar gave joy even when the rest of the Indian batsmen failed. Tendulkar taught them how one man could tame eleven men and rise above all.

Soon Tendulkar had become the youth icon. Fame and money were pouring from all sides. Advertisers lined up with big bucks. Tendulkar drove swanky cars, lived in mansions but had his feet firmly on the ground. And that was what made everyone love Tendulkar. Every man dreams of professional success, fame, money and respect and Tendulkar had it all. But he remained a people's man. He was never seen hurling abuses or showing unnecessary aggression on the field. Even when the opposition players sledged him, he smiled and answered them with the bat. That kind of behavior left an indelible impression on everyone who watched him. Despite all the batting records he remained humble. Add to that the fact that he was serving the nation. It all summed up to make Tendulkar an ideal human for Indians. Tendulkar had fame, money, respect but he was humble, rooted to the ground, was far from superstar tantrums and knew how to handle fame. Many sportsmen get carried away by all the fame and adulation they get but Tendulkar was different. He was beyond all these things. He was a hero for every young Indian child. He became an inspiration for every individual in not only cricket but all spheres of life.

The legend named Tendulkar is now not only a cricketer. He is an idol and an icon for billions of people. Critics might debate whether he indeed is the greatest batsman but one thing is certain, no other cricketer would ever be able to inspire a nation the way Tendulkar did.

Friday, 9 March 2012

5 reasons why we love Rahul Dravid

9th March will always be a sad day for cricket fans all over the world as it is on this day that Rahul Dravid decided to hang his boots and not show his batting prowess in international cricket anymore. Dravid remains India's finest cricketer, gentleman and the best ever servant of Indian cricket. He needs no tribute or justification of his calibre as a batsman. He was, is and will always remain a legend and has his place in the list of top 5 best test batsmen ever in the history of cricket. We love Rahul Dravid for innumerable reasons. Given below are 5 reasons why we love Rahul Dravid and will never ever forget him even after he has retired.

The records and the numbers-  Indians love the big numbers and all the records. And Dravid has plenty of them. Though the numbers alone can't define the great man, but they will certainly continue to give us joy whenever we will remember his playing days. Dravid played 164 tests scoring 13288 runs at an average of 52.31 with 36 hundreds and a best of 270 against Pakistan. Dravid is 2nd in the all time run scorers list in test cricket, behind only Sachin Tendulkar. Dravid has the most catches in test cricket with a tally of 210 catches. Dravid played 94 tests away from home and averages 53.03 in away tests which is higher than his overall average. 21 of his 36 hundreds have come away from home and 3 of his 5 double hundreds have also come away from home. In the 3rd and 4th innings too Dravid has a brilliant average of 41.83 with 6 hundreds to his name. Dravid has been involved in 85 century partnerships which is the most for any batsman. He has the 2nd longest streak of playing consecutive tests. He played 94 tests on the trot. Dravid has faced the highest number of deliveries in test cricket. He was the first batsman to face 30000 balls. Dravid shares the record for the 2nd highest opening stand ever. He shared an opening partnership of 410 with Sehwag against Pakistan. Away from home, this becomes the highest ever opening stand. Dravid was the first batsman to score a hundred against every test playing nation away from home. Dravid has scored the most no. of runs at no. 3 position.

Match winner- Dravid scored runs when the team needed him the most. He has always been a match winner for India.In the 56 tests India won in his career, Dravid scored 5131 runs at a phenomenal average of 65.78 with 15 hundreds. His average goes up even higher when we look at victories away from home. Dravid played in an era where Indian team started winning matches abroad and Dravid was an integral part of these victories. In the 24 away victories in his career, Dravid scored 2293 runs at an average of 69.48 with 7 hundreds. Dravid has scripted many famous victories for India including the one against Australia in Kolkata in 2001 where he along with Laxman took India to victory after being enforced the follow on. Another one was India's most memorable test victory away from home. It was against Australia at Adelaide where India beat Australia even after conceding 556 runs in the 1st innings. Dravid top scored with 233 in the first innings and the 72* in the 2nd innings to see India home. Dravid was a fighter who had the ability to take his team to victory alone. And thats one of the reasons why we are indebted to him.

True servant of Indian Cricket- There has never a been a bigger and better servant of Indian cricket than the great man Dravid. He has selflessly served Indian cricket for 16 years. In 2003 WC, India did not want to field a specialist keeper on the cost of a batsman. Dravid was asked to keep wickets. Dravid, the gentleman he is not only accepted the responsibility gleefully but did not make us feel the need for a specialist keeper. In 2006-07, India did not have a permanent opening partner for Sehwag. The man who all his life had hit tons of runs at no. 3 position was asked to open the innings. Dravid got out of his comfort zone and accepted the responsibility. His opening stint includes a world record opening partnership of 410. In 2005 Ganguly was sacked from captaincy. In this time of turmoil it was Dravid who stepped up to lead the team and took the team out of all the controversies. He captained India to series victories in West Indies and England and a first test victory in South Africa. Dravid throughout his career was regarded as a man who could n't play one day cricket. But Dravid changed his game and was successful in ODI's. In 2008 he was dropped from the ODI team but recalled in 2009 Champions Trophy as India required a top class batsman. Even in 2011 he was again recalled in the one day series against England for similar reasons. Anybody would refuse to play if such kind of a treatment is meted out to him but Dravid was different and showed why he is Dravid. Any other player would have said "Why Me" but then Dravid was not like others.

A Treat to watch- In the last 15 years, if any batsman epitomized perfection then it was The Wall Dravid. He was a treat to watch and no other batsman batted as beautifully as he did. His forward defensive stroke, his cover drive, the cut shot off the back foot, the pull shot whenever it came out of his armory, straight drive down the ground with elbow high up. One can just go on and on. He was the most technically brilliant batsman of his era. Dravid's batting would always be etched in our memories and no other batsman  can give us the kind of joy Dravid used to give while he was batting.

The Gentleman- Whenever someone talks about gentlemen in cricket, Dravid's name comes to the mind immediately. The great man was a true gentleman who made us believe that cricket indeed is a gentleman's game. In an era where spirit of cricket was forgotten many a times, Dravid's on field and off field conduct was always brilliant. Dravid was the epitome of sportsman spirit. Dravid was always seen shaking hands even after an India defeat and was quick to congratulate an opposition player if he reaches a landmark. He was never seen fighting, abusing or losing his temper unnecessarily on the field. His down to Earth nature is admirable and an inspiration to not only cricketers but all human beings. He was very hardworking and a keen student of the game. If young cricketers need to look up to someone on how to carry yourself as a cricketer, Dravid is the one to watch and learn. He is a great ambassador of the game and role model to everyone. That is another reason why he is loved across the globe.

Rahul Dravid would always be missed and as Tendulkar Said- "There was and is only one Rahul Dravid. There can be no other".

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mahela Jayawardene- Handling Opening and Captaincy with ease

Sri Lanka is on a roll in the CB series. Nobody gave them a chance after returning empty handed from South Africa and England. Dilshan was sacked from captaincy and Sri Lanka cricket looked in deep trouble. But in came Mahela Jayawardene, former Sri Lanka skipper took over the reins once more and has taken Sri Lanka to the 3rd and the deciding final by knocking out India earlier and then winning the 2nd final. Sri Lanka has defeated Australia 4 times in this series and got beaten twice by them. Sri Lankan team is looking an entirely different outfit who have immense confidence and self belief that they can chase any target or defend any score. Add to that the top order success which is largely due to the fact that Jayawardene has promoted himself up the order in the absence of a good opener for the Australian conditions.

Brisk long starts- Much of the Sri Lankan success in the tournament can be attributed to the good starts provided by the Lankan openers Dilshan and Jayawardene. Jayawardene in particular has been phenomenal. He along with Dilshan have been giving quickfire starts where in the first 10 overs, run rate has always been in excess of 6. When Sri Lanka were searching for their first win and had bowled out Australia for just 158 runs, Jayawardene ensured that the target is reached with the bonus point and took the attack to the opposition. As a result Sri Lanka won without any hiccups. Even in the chase in yesterday's final Jayawardene along with Dilshan gave a quick start again ensuring that the required run rate is always low and the opposition is under constant pressure. The starts have not only been brisk but long too. So Jayawardene has been pretty successful in his new found role of being an opener rather than a middle order batsman.

Shrewd Captaincy- Jayawardene was always a clever and an attacking captain. In the CB series he brought these qualities to the fore completely with spot on field settings and innovative bowling changes. Jayawardene puts pressure on the batsman by having close in fielders at every stage even if the batsman is well set. The short extra cover fielder, short mid wicket and gully have been a regular feature in his field settings. And with able support from good fielders, many dismissals are affected in the form of run outs or brilliant catches. His bowling changes have also been spot on. Jayawardene has immense trust on Malinga and thus bowls him in short spells. 3 overs at the start, 2-3 in the middle of the innings and 3-4 in the end. Malinga gives him important breakthroughs in these situations. The rest of the bowlers like Kulasekara, Perera etc bowl out their overs in the middle of the innings.

Self Belief- More than anything else it seems Jayawardene has infused self belief in the team. The players are seen shouting and chit chatting on the field egging the players on. Jayawardene showed trust in the young Chandimal to promote him to no. 4 and himself played at no. 5 or opened the batting. Chandimal responded brilliantly by scoring runs and consolidating the middle order. When Sri Lanka needed to win their last league game against Australia, they could manage only 238 runs in their innings. But they had the confidence and the self belief and were successful in defending the total by fighting tooth and nail until the last over. Even in the 1st final when all looked lost with Sri Lanka tottering at 144-8 chasing a mammoth 321, Kulasekara stood up and played a blinder to bring Sri Lanka back into the game. Sri Lanka fought hard to reach 306 runs but fell short in the end. Jayawardene is frequently seen making a huddle and giving some pep talk to the players which has reaped sweet dividends.

Sri Lanka is looking a dangerous team and going by their performance in the series so far, they look favorites in the 3rd final. But whatever happens in the 3rd final, one thing is clear. Giving back the captaincy to Jayawardene seems to be the best thing that has happened to Sri Lanka cricket off late.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Miracle victory with a bonus indeed!

Miracle, Breathtaking, Stupendous, Tremendous, every word in the dictionary falls short to describe this victory. India beat Sri Lanka by 7 wickets with 13 overs to spare as they chased down 321. At the start of the match India required not just a victory but a victory with a bonus point. At half way stage they needed 320 runs in 40 overs to stay alive. Nobody gave them a chance but boy they did it and did it in style. Virat Kohli was the star of the match and won the match for India by scoring 133* off just 83 balls. He was the undisputed star of the match and completely overshadowed 160* by Dilshan.

Getting 321 in just 37 overs is just unbelievable and tells a lot about this team's batting ability. Its been 3 months since all the Indian batsmen fired together. They did today and the results were there for everybody. How could a team which was being battered since 3 months put together such a performance? The victory was possible due to numerous reasons.

Clear direction- With the recent string of losses that India faced, it was clear that this team lacked direction. 4 years back when Gary Kirsten became India's coach, he made a definite plan for this team. There were 2 objectives, Win the 2011 World cup and be the No. 1 test side in the world. Whether there were rifts in the team or not the bunch was focused on the task. By April 2011 they achieved both the tasks. Since then there seems to be a lack of motivation. Yes they should have been motivated to keep the world champion status alive but after the target, everyone relaxed. But today when the team came out to bat, the target was clear again after almost a year. Score 320 inside 40 overs or head back to India. Every batsman came and kept up the tempo and with Virat Kohli anchoring the chase, India achieved the target they had set their eyes upon.

No mind demons- With 320 required off 40 overs, there was only 1 way left to achieve the target. Hit the ball whenever its in your area. The batsman had nothing to lose and that was the reason they played freely. It was heartening to see Tendulkar playing those shots freely without any weight of expectation or that 100th 100. Sehwag looked in his comfort area where he was told to hit every ball. Raina got an ideal situation which he likes and got the runs. Thats what a tension free mind can do. After the 3 month long humiliation, this was maybe the first time where Indian batsmen played with such a free and clear mind.

Collective Effort- This has been India's problem in both the England as well as the Australian tours. In England Dravid scored the runs while the rest failed, in Australia for the first half Tendulkar did well while in the 2nd half Kohli scored the runs. But never did they click together. But today they all clicked. Sehwag and Tendulkar gave India the kind of start that was needed to set the tempo. Quantitywise the contribution may seem small but it had a great effect on the outcome. Gambhir came and played the right kind of innings where he ensured India had enough wickets in hand. Kohli anchored the chase and stayed right till the end to see India home. Raina who was terribly out of form scored boundaries and put pressure off Kohli to make sure that the required run rate never got out of reach. So each batsman contributed something and that resulted in this victory.

A Great Moral Victory- India are alive in this competition as long as Sri Lanka don't beat Australia. Whether India makes the finals or not, one thing is certain that this victory will set them up for the matches in future. This will give Indians great confidence and belief in themselves. It will help to erase some of the bitter memories of this tour. And if India do reach the finals, we can hope to see a completely different Indian unit.

Friday, 17 February 2012

New Zealand- Kings of T20 Cricket

New Zealand have won another T20. They beat South Africa by 6 wickets with 4 balls to spare in the first T20 at Wellington. New Zealand successfully chased 148 runs on the back of a superb unbeaten innings of 78 by Martin Guptill. While New Zealand have been poor in performances in one dayers and test of late but in T20's, they have been brilliant. 3 days ago only they successfully 200 runs in a T20 match against Zimbabwe. New Zealand has been one of the hardest team to beat in the shortest format.

Performance statistics- New Zealand have played 48 T20's so far winning 24 and losing 21 of them. 3 have been tied. The 50% record is pretty decent in this unpredictable format. But their performance in the last 2 years has improved considerably. In the last 2 years, New Zealand has played 17 T20's winning 11 and losing just 5 with 1 ending up as a tie. The win % swells up to almost 65% from 50% here. So that shows they have been pretty consistent in T20's over the last couple of years. And as expected they have been ranked second in the ICC T20 championship rankings. England is the number 1 ranked team with a win % of 67 which is just slightly better than New Zealand's.

A combination of various factors has made New Zealand so successful in T20 cricket.

Sharp Fielding- The shortest format is the one that demands high quality fielding the most. And New Zealand has always been a great fielding side traditionally.The young boys are no different as it is very rare to see a dropped catch or a misfield by a Kiwi fieldsman. They are sharp and always save around 10-15 runs in each match. They are not afraid to throw themselves on the field and this shows why they have done well in this format.

Big hitters- New Zealand has got plenty of big hitters in their team. The likes of Brendon McCullum, Kane  Williamson, Martin Guptill, James Franklin are all batsmen who can hit sixes anytime they want. The short boundaries in New Zealand and in fact in T20's basically helps as they can clear the field easily. Due to so many pinch hitters, they can hope to achieve any target however big it may be. In the last T20 game against Zimbabwe, they chased 200 with 2 balls to spare! In that game every batsman came and hit a few ones over the boundary at will and thus the target was never quite out of reach for them.

Martin Guptill- This man is in scintillating form and has been playing match winning innings consistently. Guptill has played 27 T20's in his career scoring 715 runs at an average of 35.75 with 4 half centuries and a best of 91*. And his average goes upto 56.80 in the 17 matches New Zealand has won with him featuring in the eleven. In the last 2 years he has played 14 matches and scored runs at an average of 47.60. In his last 7 T20 innings he has crossed 50 four times and 40 twice. Clearly Martin Guptill has been one of the prime reasons for New Zealand's T20 success.

New Zealand have the potential to succeed in T20's and they have a great chance at this year's world T20 in Sri Lanka. In the small grounds of Sri Lanka, fireworks can be expected from the Kiwis. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Run Out- The Highest wicket taker in the CB series

What a match it was. A Tie, Under Dhoni, ties have become frequent. India scored 236-9 in reply to Sri Lanka's 236-9. MS Dhoni again showed his match finishing abilities but this time failed to secure a win. India were cruising with Dhoni and Gambhir set but suddenly a run out signaled Gambhir's end and with it India's match winning hopes were dashed until Dhoni saved the day for India yet again. But run outs have been a feature in this tournament. Matches have turned on their heads due to run outs getting crucial players out at crucial stages.

Starting with the first ODI between India and Australia it featured just 1 run out. The India-Sri Lanka encounter at Perth saw 2 run outs and 2 stumpings. The Australia-Sri Lanka 3rd ODI had a stumping and run out each. The 4th India-Australia ODI saw as many as 3 run outs and finally this 5th ODI between India and SL again witnessed a staggering 6 run outs. So that makes it a total of 13 run outs and 3 stumpings. Compare it to Vinay Kumar's 9 wickets who is the leading wicket taker in the tournament.

Fielding standards of all the 3 teams have been top class with India surprisingly matching up with the Australians and the Lankans. India had always been a poor fielding side but the young legs have definitely upped India's fielding standards. In the Australia-Lanka match, Sri Lanka were sitting pretty at 80 odd runs for 1 with Sangakkara looking good. But just then Sangakkara got run out and the Lankan innings fell apart. On a good batting pitch like Adelaide where nothing was happening off the pitch, India affected 5 run outs across the 2 matches. In today's match itself, Sri Lanka were looking set for a big score with Chandimal playing on 81. But just then a brilliant run out by Rohit Sharma ended his innings and thus Sri Lanka could only manage 237 what could have been 270-280 had Chandimal been there.

There have been a fair share of mix ups too contributing to so many run outs but more than the mix ups it was the fielding effort. The ground fielding too deserves a special mention and the 3 teams have been simply brilliant. Countless no. of runs have been saved by the 3 teams in the field and the prime example was the boundary saved on the last ball of the match today between India-Sri Lanka.

Run-outs and stumpings have become a very important part of cricket nowadays. Players nowadays get as much disappointed by dropped catches as by missed run out chances. Instead of bowlers, fielders are getting the important breakthroughs. Quality of fielding has the power to decide the outcome of a match. India have shown improvement in the fielding department but there needs to be more emphasis on fielding than what is shown by the Indian players. Indians practice bowling and batting in the nets for as much as 3 hours but for fielding they reserve  only half an hour or so. More importance must be given to fielding and players should remember to enjoy their fielding.

And most importantly players must remember fielding CAN and DOES change the outcome of a match. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Dhoni- Modern Era's Michael Bevan

Dhoni has once again finished the match and helped India secure a stylish victory. India beat Australia by 6 wickets at Adelaide. Dhoni scored 44 runs off 58 balls in the end to see India through. Dhoni has always been a prolific one day player. But the way he has been finishing matches for India has been phenomenal. He comes in at no. 6 and India is always in a precarious position when he comes in and India is chasing a target. Dhoni then takes charge and takes India to victory.

It has happened so many times. He reminds me of Bevan who used to finish matches for Australia every time Aussies were chasing a target. And now in this modern era it is only Dhoni who comes close to Bevan's finishing qualities. Michael Bevan played 232 ODI's scoring 6912 runs at an average of 53.58 with 6 hundreds. Dhoni on the other hand has so far played 199 ODI's scoring 6574 runs at an average of 50.96 with 7 hundreds to his name. So the averages speak themselves how often these guys remained not out and steered the team right till the end. But what qualities make Dhoni such a wonderful finisher and somebody who can be called the next Bevan?

Ice cool in pressure- This is the first and the foremost quality an ODI player must have to be called a good finisher. Dhoni comes in at no. 5 or 6 and the team is usually in trouble when chasing a target or it is in need of a big score if batting first. Thats where this quality becomes important. Bevan used to handle the most precariest of situations with ease. Same can be said about Dhoni. In the recent match against Australia, Dhoni was playing slowly and was not hitting boundaries. The run rate was mounting but Dhoni kept his cool because he knew his strengths and the right time to slog. The lone six he hit was timed to perfection both off the bat and in the context of the match to take India to victory.

Quick runner between the wickets- Thats another quality every one day player must have. Dhoni like Bevan is a very quick runner between the wickets. He converts 1's to 2's and 2's to 3's very easily which puts pressure on the opposition. And it also keeps the scoreboard ticking at a good rate. Dhoni is such a good runner between the wickets that without hitting boundaries he can keep the run rate at 6 an over. In today's match Dhoni hit just 1 boundary. But still he kept the run rate within reach throughout the game. Bevan was also a great athlete and was never short of stamina however long he had batted. The same applies to Dhoni who just never gets tired.

Intelligent Hitting- Cricket has seen many big hitters but few were as clever hitters as Bevan and Dhoni. Bevan had this ability to hit boundaries just at the right time. If the team needed some slogging he did that but if the team needed stability he could give it at the same moment. Dhoni also is a master of this technique. Dhoni starts slogging only when the run rate starts going beyond reach. Dhoni initially scores runs by rotating the strike. If the required run rate stars approaching 8, Dhoni manages to find a boundary to keep the run rate in check. This way the run rate never quite goes out of reach and eventually the target is reached. Bevan in his career won may matches for Australia batting with the tail enders. What made him successful was boundaries at the right time and the ability to pick gaps at precision.

Dhoni is going the Bevan way and is right now the best finisher in world cricket at the moment. Truly Dhoni is modern era's Michael Bevan.
( Another irrelevant similarity between the two is their not so impressive test careers)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

An Era of 4 Day Tests

Another No. 1 team whitewashed. Its not India but its the so-called "world dominators", "the next Australia", I mean England. England lost to Pakistan 3-0 as they lost the 3rd and final test by 71 runs. England crossed 200 only twice in the series and were dancing to the tunes of spinners Ajmal and Rahman. What has been more shocking is the no. of days each test lasted. No test in the series lasted 5 days. The first lasted 3 days while the other 2 lasted 4 days. And its not only this series. In the India-Australia series all but one test got over before the 5th day with 1 test at Perth finishing in just 2 and a half days.

Why is this happening? While these 4 day tests are bringing results in test matches but they are taking out the essence of a 5 day test in which the teams struggle till the last ball of the last day. After all the test matches are meant to be played over 5 days. What could be the reasons for the shortened tests? Is it due to the dawn of the T20 era where everything happens thick and fast?

Everyone champion at home, minnows overseas- Yes it seems the world is heading towards a home domination. Gone are the days of West Indies of 80's and Australia of 2000's who won all over the world. Its an era where a team which plays more frequently at home for a couple of years is crowned number 1. How can a top ranked team be whitewashed by a team ranked 5th. In England's march to the top during the last 2 years they played 23 tests winning 15 and losing 5. Of these 10 wins have come at home while 5 have been earned abroad with 2 of them against Bangladesh. The 3 wins against Australia were on pitches that are similar to ones back home. They lost just 1 game at home but lost 3 away. In India's case there is nothing left to explain. The point is clear, teams are preparing typical pitches which suit their own style and as a result the matches are one sided and get over in just 4 days. And if one team does that the other team too responds similarly leading to pitches that are either too fast or too slow.

Incapable Players- Home teams have been preparing pitches that suit themselves since years. Then why is this issue coming up only now? Are the players incapable of handling alien conditions? In their prime Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis, Dravid , Lara etc scored runs all over the world regardless of the conditions. But the next generation seems to be home sick. If Indian players can't play moving and bouncing balls, then the English dance to turning balls. This will hurt cricket big time. Matches are increasingly becoming 1 sided. Players are happy whitewashing teams at home and then getting whitewashed abroad.

T20 style- T20, the shorter and the quicker format of cricket. Has it really crept into the longer format as well? Maybe yes. I mean these days batsmen or bowlers rarely struggle. If a batsman starts defending too much, commentators say he is not playing positively or he is in a shell and after some time the batsman gets out. If a bowler is not bowling well, he gets run over by the batsman as the batting team scores runs at rates acceptable in limited overs cricket. I don't understand why a batsman who is defending balls at the front foot is said to be in a shell and not playing positively or not in prime form? Can't a batsman defend 20 good balls in a go? Nobody wants to wait. Everyone wants the tests to finish as early as possible.

I loved the fighting draws and tests whose result could not be predicted even on the 5th day, not the tests where the match's outcome is almost decided on day 1 itself.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

What is the use of IPL then?

India's nightmares continue as they lost yet again. Even the change in color could n't change India's fortunes abroad as India lost the first T20 against Australia by 31 runs. Chasing 172, India managed just 140 with another middle order collapse. India has now become used to such collapses over the past 1 year and the youngsters were no different from the senior pros in the shorter format. This T20 loss also reflects India's dwindling T20 record since that World cup victory in 2007.

From 2008 onwards, the IPL is being played every year aimed at giving youngsters exposure and feel of international T20 cricket. But even then India are doing very badly on the T20 front. In that case whats the use of spending so much money and fatiguing the players? In 3 days time players will be auctioned for yet another IPL, IPL 5 but it seems it will do little to improve India's chances at the World T20 this year in Sri Lanka.

Going down since 2007- India won the first ever T20 world cup in 2007. Fresh from the 2007 ODI world cup debacle, everyone thought India is at least headed towards dominance in the shortest format. But the story has been very sad since then. After 2007, 2 more world cups in 2009 and 2010 were played in which India failed to make it even to the last 4.  So far India has played 32 T20's winning 16 and losing 14. Barring 2006-07, India played 23 matches winning 10 and losing 13. And in the last 12 months India played 4 matches winning 1 and losing 3 with the lone win coming against the West indies. So it is clear that India T20's performance has indeed gone down since the high in 2007.

In 2008, the IPL was launched amongst much fanfare with the BCCI officials claiming that the sole purpose of the lucrative league was to encourage young Indian players and give them a very valuable experience of playing with top international stars. It was expected that the IPL would produce fine young players who would take India to glory, at least in T20, the format in which the IPL is played. But as it turned out, the result was quite the opposite. IPL only managed to earn money and headlines rather than the above listed objectives.

The youngsters seem to be so obsessed with the IPL and the money involved that their sole aim has shifted from being in the national team to being selected by a franchisee. Their T20 habits then leak to ODI's and even in tests. They do not look equipped to deal with foreign conditions as they have become habitual of playing on flat tracks in India. Add to that the physical and mental fatigue the 45 day extravaganza causes to the players which results in injuries and lackluster performances.

Some people say that allowing younger players to play with international players does no harm but what good is it doing when India are losing T20's and ODI's abroad? The younger brigade was expected to turn India's fortunes down under. They boasted of being world champions and free of any mental pressure. But in the end it was the same old story. Runs conceded, a middle order collapse and India lost another match.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Is it the Fletcher Effect??

India whitewashed again. India have now lost 8 consecutive tests overseas with 4 against Australia and 4 against England last year. India in this period slipped from no.1 to no. 4 in the ICC test rankings. Umpteen reasons have already been cited for this loss but there is one more thing different in the Indian team of 2008-10 and the Indian team of 2011-12. In the former period the team was coached by the relatively young(by coaching standards) South African Gary Kirsten and in the latter, it is the Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher. So what are the reasons for India's loss in Australia? Can one of them be the coach, Duncan Fletcher?

While the most obvious argue would be that the team lost because of poor performance by players and that a coach cannot do anything about it. Even I agree with this but still how can someone ignore the fact that under Gary Kirsten, the same team was at the top but as soon as the coach changed, the same team stooped to new lows. And at a time when everybody related to Indian cricket is being blamed, there is no harm in blaming the new coach as well.

Old man with outdated ideas- Kirsten was a young and fit man who infused freshness into the Indian team. He used to run with the players, exercised with the players and gave throw downs to batsmen himself for hours and hours. What this did is that it made the players respect their coach and the coach was always available to the players. Such a coach not only did the job of instructing the players but actually played with them and together handled whatever difficulties players were facing. Fletcher being the old man could never do it. His role was reduced to a mere instructor. Now according to standard human psychology we are bound to work much harder under someone who himself also is working hard and is not just sitting in a corner and shouting. For instance Sachin Tendulkar's batting improved considerably by working with Kirsten for hours playing all kind of different deliveries. But now he has to ask net bolwers or Indian bowlers to bowl a particular line. That is the main difference between the 2 coaches. Fletcher instructs from the side while Kirsten instructs by being in the middle. And we all know what turned out to be successful in the end.

Bad handler of top teams- This one is purely non-cricket but something which is hard to ignore. Fletcher took over as England's coach in 2000. In his tenure England achieved an 8 test winning streak and helped England regain the ashes after 18 years. England rose form the bottom to no. 2 in test rankings. But then England started falling under him. They lost the ashes within 15 months and were whitewashed 5-0 by Australia. They put together a very poor performance in the 2007 world cup and soon Fletcher's term was over. When appointed India's coach, India was ODI world champions and no.1 in tests. But since then India have suffered 2 whitewashes which they did n't in years and lost an ODI series too. Maybe it is luck or something else, but 1 thing is clear, Fletcher it seems brings top teams down.

When Fletcher was appointed as the coach, I did not find it as a very wise decision as India had become used to a 40 year old coach running and practicing with them and would find it a little bit difficult to adjust with the 62 year old man. And as it turned out India have spiraled down very quickly under him.

Maybe it is rubbish to blame the coach for all this but being an Indian fan, I cannot ignore the very fact that with the change in coach, our fortunes also suddenly changed.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

If not Dhoni. then who?

After losing the test series against Australia and losing 7 tests overseas consecutively, India's future looks dark. Everyone is putting blame on the bowlers, seniors but the largest part of the blame has been forced on India's most charismatic and successful skipper, the man with the midas touch until July 2011, MS Dhoni. Dhoni has been banned from playing in the 4th test at Adelaide due to slow over rate. In that case Sehwag will lead the Indian side to restore some pride. But with talks of replacing India's test skipper, who would captain India's test team if Dhoni would indeed be replaced? Who can be the next captain for India in tests?

Sehwag- The first name that comes to the mind is Sehwag. Since Sehwag is slated to lead the side in Adelaide, we will come to know whether he is able for the job or not. Sehwag has always been India's vice captain and has captained only when the skipper is injured or rested. Sehwag has so far captained India in  3 tests against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand. He has won 2 and drawn 1. He averaged 28 in these matches as against his career average of 50.93. 2 out of 3 matches were played abroad indicating why the average is down. Well though his short captaincy record is n't bad at all, I still feel giving the reins to Sehwag would not be a step in the future. He himself is 34 years old and add to that he is not in good form. A captain should be confident at least about his own performance. Dhoni is suffering because he himself is not scoring runs and Sehwag too should therefore be not made the captain.

Gambhir- Gautam Gambhir can be another potential candidate. With age on his side and successful captaincy in limited overs for India, he can be handed over the captaincy. Gambhir has never captained India in tests but has captained India in ODI's. He has led India in 6 ODI's and has won all 6 of them, 5 at home and 1 abroad. He averages 90 in these matches with 2 hundreds. Add to that the IPL experience where he led Kolkata Knight Riders for the first time to play-offs in 4 IPL's so far. But again even Gambhir is suffering from the same lack of form problem. With lack of form comes lack of confidence and thus such a guy cannot be an inspiring leader. Gambhir's technique against fast bowlers is being questioned and even his place in the side is under doubt. So maybe even he is not the right man to be given the captaincy.

Kohli and Yadav- I will discuss their cases together for both are very young players who have just set foot in the test arena. If India go the South Africa way maybe we can see one of these 2 as captains. South Africa after failing to qualify in the 2nd round in the 2003 world cup appointed a very young Graeme Smith as captain who was not even a surety in the playing eleven at that time. South Africa was successful under Smith and rose to the top of rankings twice. So even India can go this way. But given the state of Indian cricket and the pressure an India captain has to handle maybe this won't be a very good decision. If one of these young lads fail at captaincy their career would be destroyed and India would lose 2 very talented cricketers. They need to be nurtured and helped to establish themselves in the test arena.

Zaheer- Zaheer khan might be another prospective candidate. He has never captained India in ODI's or tests. He is 34 year old and might not be a step into the future. But he has brilliant form on his side. 5 years ago India were in a similar state when Dravid left the captaincy and Dhoni was the leader in limited overs cricket. But for tests he was not considered suitable as yet. At that time 37 year old Kumble stood up. He was in good form and had never captained the side before. India played well under him and he was the man who took India very close to the no.1 spot. Dhoni was nurtured under him for 2 years and after that Dhoni finally took over the reins from him and captained India successfully. Similarly we can appoint Zaheer as captain. He is a clever bowler who has a sharp cricketing mind and respect not only among his team but all around the world. And like in the Kumble period, a young Kohli can be nurtured for a couple of years under him and can then be handed over the captaincy. 

So for me if Dhoni is sacked from test captaincy then Zaheer Khan would be the appropriate choice for 2 years.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Why is India losing so badly?

India have stooped to new lows as they managed to wrap up the third test at Perth against Australia within 2 and a half days. India lost by an innings and 37 runs and for the Indian batters getting 369 across 2 innings proved to be a daunting task in which they failed miserably. What the hell has happened to this batting line up? Australians get 369 losing 10 wickets and Indians lose 20 wickets and still are 37 runs short. Is this the same team that was no. 1 till July 2011, that defeated Australia dramatically at the same venue 4 years back? Where is Dhoni's midas touch, his unconventional captaincy? What can be the reasons behind this sudden shocking decline?

Individuals team rather than team India- Yes, when India was no. 1 the dressing room atmosphere was brilliant,players enjoyed each other's success and someone or the other stood up when the situation demanded. Everyone played for the team's victory. But now it is a little different. Its not that now players fight in the dressing room or they don't play for the team or there is truth in those reports of rift in the team. What I mean is since the England tour, many players are out of form and as a result in Australia every player is concerned about his problems. Gambhir wants to resurrect his technique, Dravid is looking for that crack in the wall, Tendulkar wants to get that 100th 100, Dhoni has his own problems. All in all nobody is thinking about the team, like a team precisely. They are not sitting together like they did in that golden period of 2008-10. Players are either busy with their families on this tour or busy concentrating on their personal problems. That team feeling seems to be missing.

Overloaded Dhoni- Mahendra Singh Dhoni. India's test, ODI and T20 skipper, wicket keeper and batsman. And captain, wicketkeeper and batsman in IPL and Champions League. That is a hell lot of workload. Add to that he is not in form. Dhoni has become a super busy man now where he is captaining every side he plays in. He is mentally tired. The team has started losing which has put more pressure on him. The captain has to lead from the front. But when the captain's confidence is itself down, how can you expect him to lift the team? A captain's shelf life nowadays is only about 3-4 years. Dhoni has completed that time in all the formats. Dhoni in any case was never a great test batsman. Its just that when the team was winning no one noticed. But now when the team is losing, focus has shifted to Dhoni's test batting. Dhoni's statement about retiring from tests has reflected some of his feelings towards the longer format. He is a brilliant player and a leader in the shorter format but in the longer format, darkness looms large.

Opener's failure- Everyone is busy questioning the middle order and their failure in scoring runs but meanwhile the opener's failure has been completely ignored. Sehwag and Gambhir, one of the best opening pairs of modern times have failed to put on any runs in the tests overseas this year. Both are terribly out of form and have always exposed the middle order to the new ball. Every successful overseas tour coincided with runs scored by openers. In 2003-04 we managed to draw the series down under because Akash Chopra and Sehwag gave India a steady start everytime. Gambhir and Sehwag did it when we were no. 1. But since then the story has been very different. Sehwag does n't even seem to be trying to do something to stay at the crease. Many will say thats the way he plays.But thats not done. You can't lose your wicket everytime with the excuse of attacking cricket being your natural game. Your job is to score runs and you have to do it whether by defending or by attacking. Gambhir meanwhile looks a pale shadow from what he was 3 years back. The IPL habits have taken hold of him and he continues to poke at balls outside off stump. He will score runs in IPL this way but in test cricket, just forget it.

That test in Dominica- India played a drawn test match against West Indies in Dominica in June 2011. That draw had a pretty big significance on the mindset of the Indian test team, their belief in themselves and Dhoni's tactics. India required 86 runs to win in 15 overs on the final day with 7 wickets remaining. Everyone thought India would press for a 2-0 victory. But Dhoni had other ideas. He settled for a tame draw for he believed that Indian batsmen might get out and lose that game within 15 overs. That was a shocker. That showed that Dhoni did n't believe in India's test batting lineup. That was a serious dent on India's self belief. If you cant dare to win against a West Indian bowling attack with 7 wickets in hand, how can you tackle quality fast bowling in England and Australia? Since then the Indian team has lost each and every test overseas.

While the culprits list is long and unending, these might well be the reasons why India is losing so badly overseas.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Sri Lanka and India- Batting Poorly

Sri Lanka suffered a shocking 258 run defeat at the hands of South Africa at Paarl yesterday. The way the wickets were falling in the Sri Lankan innings, it was hard to believe that the team was Sri Lanka indeed and not Canada. Sri Lanka were all out for just 43 in reply to South Africa's 301. This was Sri Lnaka's lowest ever ODI score and their captain admitted it was his career's worst game. Sri Lanka have not fared well under the captaincy of Dilshan and batting has been a big failure in recent times. While it was said earlier that Sri Lanka have not recovered from retirement of Muralitharan but its actually the batting that has disappointed. India too have been losing matches due to dismal batting performance over the past year. India and Sri Lanka were known as strong batting powerhouses but that seems to be a thing of the past.

Batting performance overseas-  Sri Lanka over the past year played 6 tests overseas winning 1 and losing 3. They crossed 400 in only 2 of them. In 4 tests they got out under 200. India over the last year played 9 tests away losing 6 and winning just 1, that too in West Indies. India crossed 400 in only 1 game during this period which was in Sydney recently. And in as many as 4 tests they failed to cross 200. Lets come to ODI's now. Sri Lanka played 8 ODI's overseas winning 3 and losing 5. They failed to cross 200 in 3 of those matches thereby losing all 3 of them. India in the last year played 16 away ODI's winning 6 of them and losing 8. They failed to cross 200 in 6 matches winning 2 out of them. It is clear that batting for both the countries has struggled away from home.

Kings at home-The story changes dramatically at home. At least for India. Sri Lanka over the past year played just 3 tests at home losing only 1 and winning none. The solitary loss was against Australia. They crossed 400 once while failure to cross 200 happened in all the matches. India in this period played 3 tests at home winning 2 of them and losing none. They crossed 400 twice while did n't fail to cross 200 in any game. Sri lanka played 16 ODI's at home winning 9 and losing 4. They could not cross 200 in 6 games out of which 2 were non-result games and 2 were won by them. India played 18 ODI's at home last year winning 15 and losing just 2. India failed to cross 200 just 1 time and they won that match too. Sri Lanka in ODI's and India in both formats were pretty comfortable playing at home. That shows the difference between home games and overseas for the 2 nations.

Seamophobia- The trick to beat India and Sri Lanka in 2011 has been very simple. Prepare a seaming wicket. A wicket with movement, a wicket with life. Indian and Sri Lankan batsmen would perish very easily. Both India and Sri Lanka have become bad bullies at home but are chicken overseas. Bowling was always blamed whenever both the teams lost matches. But this year surprisingly their batting which was considered as their "strength" has been the bane. Yesterday all the 5 top Sri Lankan batsmen gave their wickets when the bowlers put pressure by pitching the ball short and cramping the batsmen for room. Short ball at off stump has been the nemesis for Indian and Sri Lankan batsmen this year. They are addicted with facing balls knee height on slow pitches back home. Whenever the conditions changed, the batting has let down.

The problem with both India and Sri Lanka has been over dependence on the experienced middle order. In India its Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman while in Sri Lanka its Sangakkara and Jayawardene. If these experienced pros don't score runs then the younger players surrender soon after. Both the teams have to make the transition and get their younger players to perform. Both need to groom younger players well for international cricket 'Overseas". Considerations on dropping or resting a senior player should only begin when an able younger replacement is well equipped to bat well "overseas". Meanwhile its India and Sri Lanka who continue to surprise the cricket world with awful batting performances.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

What Should India do now before the Perth Test?

With India losing the first 2 tests against Australia comprehensively with a collective batting and bowling failure, swords are already out. Heads are being counted and are being asked to slash. Everybody is giving his own opinion as to whom to drop, whom to pick ahead of the 3rd test. Whether India can actually do something to revive itself and comeback strongly into the series. So what Should India do now before the Perth test?

Bring in Rohit Sharma- Yes, that is the need of the hour. Batting has miserably failed in the first 2 tests and shockingly even on the good batting strip of Sydney. Rohit Sharma is a talented youngster who needs to be picked in the team. He is a technically sound player who has exceptional balance and good temperament to suceed. Plus he is in good form. I always preffered Rohit Sharma over Virat Kohli but still Virat is also a good player and there was not much fuss regarding his selection over Rohit. But after Virat's failure to cope with the moving ball, Rohit's selection becomes all the more important. Add to that he is in exceptional form considering performances at home against the West Indies.

Whom to Drop?- The real question is if Rohit is to be brought in then who should be dropped. I don't think Kohli should be dropped. He is a young player who needs backing for a long time to feel secure of his place and play freely. We all know his talent and he will definitely learn to adjust to these conditions. Tendulkar is in good form and Dhoni for obvious reasons cannot be dropped. So that leaves us with only 2 choices. Either Laxman or Dravid. I would prefer Laxman being dropped because Dravid would be better equipped to play at Perth than Laxman. Laxman has a tendency to hang on the back foot when the ball is moving and with it his feet too stop moving. He needs a spinner to get his feet to move and with a 4 pronged pace attack expected to be fielded by the Aussies, its Dravid who would be better off playing the pace bowlers at Perth.

A Bowling Change- Bowling has also flopped barring the decent performance at the MCG. Apart from Zaheer nobody else has looked menacing. Ishant is bowling well but somehow does n't get wickets. Though we don't have much choice in the pace department we certainly have a choice in the spin department. Ashwin has not been able to pick wickets in the series. I feel India needs to do something different and what would be better than fielding the left arm spinner, Pragyan Ojha. Many would argue saying Ashwin bowled on non-spin friendly tracks and that he bats well too. But for India to win matches top 7 need to bat well. A lone 50 from no. 8 cannot take India to victory. As the Perth pitch would again be a pace friendly wicket there is no harm in changing the spin bowler.  And maybe the right handed in form duo of Clarke and Ponting might just struggle against the left armer. Ojha is bowling well and showed good signs in the test series at home against the West Indies.

While drastic changes must only be made after the series gets over, these kind of short term changes do need to be implemented to at least give India a chance of leveling the series. Mickey Arthur, the coach of Australia has said that Rohit should not be played straightaway at Perth. But I feel that Rohit needs backing and even if he fails at Perth he should not be dropped and must be given a long chance. That way he would be more confident and would play freely without fear of losing his place.

I can only hope that India fights back in the Perth test the way they did 4 years back. Fingers Crossed.