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.