Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Gen-Next

A win for the ages! Fortress Gabba breached after 32 years! A second-string Indian team defeats the Aussies in their own den! These are some of the statements that were the headlines following India’s amazing and truly heroic win in the Brisbane test, which brought to the forefront once again the immense talent of the next generation of our cricketers – the gen-next!

The fact that this win was achieved in the backdrop of absence of regular test captain and arguably the best batman in the world Virat Kohli, a long list of injured players, and having gone through the abyss of being bowled out for the lowest ever test score by any Indian team in the first test, makes it even more special. In all trueness, the series was won primarily due to the performances of the debutants like Shubhman Gill, Washington Sundar, Mohammad Siraj, Shardul Thakur, seasoned players like Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravi Ashwin, and not to forget, the man of the hour, Rishabh Pant, who played some scintillating innings, which helped save the match in Sydney and a win in Brisbane.

I feel that the advent of social media has made the fan following a bit of an extreme phenomenon, with extreme appreciation in case of a superb win like this and utter damnation when the team is down in the depths like it was with 36 all-out. Not to mention that there have been cases like that in the past, with Sachin being booed in Wankhede in 2006 against England and Dravid and the team being booed in Kolkata in 2005 in the backdrop of Ganguly-Chappell saga. But I feel that the fame, or condemnation, is bit too instant these days, just like the lifestyle. In one moment, you are made like a God, and in very next match, you face the wrath of trolls. For sure, not a scenario the players would like either, one can be sure.

That is why, I feel, that these players, the young crop, need to show the similar drive, and fire, for at least next couple of years, to cement their place in the team, with all the talent bursting through the domestic circuit. Not long ago, Pant had to face the ignominy of facing the chants of ‘Dhoni, Dhoni’ whenever he dropped a catch or missed a stumping (he has the additional pressure of getting the DRS calls right, which Dhoni almost never got wrong). We need to remember that Dhoni played quite consistent brand of cricket in his formative years – let it be as a hard-hitting basher – as well as in the subsequent years, as a finisher and captain cool. Pant has big boots to fill in. That it is not impossible. Virat Kohli has created his own legacy, on verge of breaking Sachin’s records. The key is consistency, which is the hardest to achieve, at the global level. You need to play like a champion, at most times. This win has made all of us know what these players are capable of, and they need to be supported and cheered on, even on their off days. It is really fortunate for Indian cricket to have the young players coming in the team and performing instantly, something which as a 90’s cricket fan, I have been used to seeing in Aussie team only. 

As for Pant, his wicketkeeping is a work in progress. Whenever Wriddhiman Saha gets a chance, he shows the difference in level of keeping and the improvement that Pant still must make. For it will not be a surprise to see the  same fans cheering him on today to turn on him if he happens to make a costly miss in a high-stakes match. Those ‘Dhoni’ chants will come back again because that is how the fans are these days. Those misses can cost a match, as Tim Paine learned the hard way, who now stands to lose not only his captaincy but also his place in the team. Moreover, one can never be sure of their place being guaranteed in the team, even after career best performance - ask Karun Nair. For that matter, I would hope that Hanuma Vihari will not be overlooked once he makes a return after recovering from his second-grade muscle tear injury.

However, now is the time to enjoy the toils of the hard work and celebrate this once in a lifetime win. The players deserve all the credit, and we all hope that this is the starting of a long, consistent, and successful career for all these players, to make the country proud.

India beats Australia on last day of Gabba Test, winning Border-Gavaskar  Trophy with remarkable run chase - ABC News

Nishant Raizaday for DieHard Cricket Fans

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Pantabulous Kung Fu Panda

There are many architects behind the epoch making Indian series win in the just concluded Border Gavaskar Trophy. Rahane, the cool as Antarctica Captain who scored the only century for India in the series to lift the team from the debris of Adelaide36. Jadeja who bowled, batted and fielded with passion till he got injured. Ashwin and Vihari who saved the Sydney test with epic fight back in spite of being severely injured. Bumrah who carried the burden of bowling till another injury benched him.

Then there were greenhorns. The surreal Shubman Gill , the warrior Washington, the sharp Shardul, the nippy Natarajan and the magnificent Mohammed Siraj, who played spearhead in only the second test of his career. All this was built on an incredibly resilient foundation called Pujara.

But after we discuss everything about a great relay race, the world somehow tends to remember the one who ran the last lap and chested the ribbon. Rishabh Pant doing that was kind of poetic justice for the young wicket-keeper batsman. The ball just kissed the boundary rope as Pant and Saini kept running furiously to get those three winning runs.

The Shock Absorber: Beyond Numbers

Rishabh Pant has played the best knock of his fledgling career and has perhaps exorcised the demons that haunted him between the 2018 tour down under and this tour. Shubman Gill has announced his arrival on the big stage and he will be a Superstar for the coming decade. Mohammed Siraj has once again vindicated the belief in our first class system and the emergence of new India. Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur turned the test head over heels when Australia were in sight of a 130 plus first innings lead. Everyone contributed to this extraordinary win at Gabba. It was truly a team effort.

Every smooth riding vehicle requires an efficient shock absorber. Great monuments stand on great foundations. Cheteshwar Pujara was that shock absorber and that foundation in this series. When we enlist great Indian batsmen of the last 50 years, we will remember Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag. But what does Cheteshwar possess that none of these greats have ? He has anchored two test series wins in Australia while none of the past masters have even one. Kohli played second fiddle to Pujara in 2018 and missed all the fun this time.

Right through his career and especially during this series, people have criticized Pujara for his slow batting and lack of "intent". He even was dropped during the 2014 tour down under. When Rohit Sharma plays rank bad shot and gets out, people defend him claiming, "That's his natural style." Strangely, same people slam Pujara for "Tuktuk" batting. Double standards ! Fortunately for India, Pujara hasn't allowed none of this to affect him and has carried on with a Sagely calm.

Pujara scored just 271 runs in the series with an average of 33.88 per innings. His strike rate was 29.2%. Both are way below par compared to his career statistics. He scored almost twice as many runs during the 2018 tour of Australia. But perhaps, these 271 runs are worth a lot more than the ordinary numbers. Here is the reasoning.

In 8 innings, Pujara occupied the crease for 1368 minutes or 22 Hours and 48 minutes. He faced 928 balls in the process and got out to extraordinarily good balls in 7 out of the 8 knocks. He played just one ordinary shot to get out while facing 928 balls. Cummins was the best Australian bowler in the series and Pujara alone faced 42 overs or more than 25% of his bowling. The importance of Pujara's knocks go far beyond mere numbers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The MCG Story

Undoubtedly, one among the top 5 test wins for India. Going in with 5 bowlers after getting bowled out for 36 at Adelaide. That is what this win is all about. Doing that in absence of your Captain and best batsman makes it even more special.

Let's look at the number of people missing from India's best test 11. Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, 3 absolute match winners missing. Add Rohit Sharma for the experience. Then Umesh breaks down right when he was on song. If India had gone with 4 bowlers, the match would have been lost then and there.

I have believed Mohammed Siraj is India's 4th fast bowling option behind Bumrah, Shami and Ishant since 2017/18. Some of my friends have laughed at this choice of mine. Even while he was called "Chenda" or "Drum" for his IPL woes, I was of the firm conviction that he deserved to play ahead of Umesh in tests, especially in Australia. The lad has done absolutely magnificent job coming after the sad demise of his father, who supported the youth all through the hard toil. Some special success stories do carry a tinge of moistness at the corner of the eyes. Perhaps it was just meant to keep the lad grounded and he would keep scaling greater heights.

Shubman Gill still is raw, flashy but perhaps the best batsman of his generation. He also is very quick in scoring. That adds positivity to batting. Hope he's nurtured well by the team management.

A lot of people hate Rishabh Pant. But his test records are the best for an Indian wicket-keeper after 13 tests. He's the only Indian wicket-keeper with test centuries in Australia and England and only second Asian behind Kumar Sangakkara. His keeping is work in progress. But he has 50 plus catches and stumpings after 13 tests. He's ahead even there. Perhaps, he deserves a lot more support than all the hate he's getting. And he didn't bat badly at the MCG, involving in a crucial 50 plus partnership with Rahane in first innings that pushed India ahead after 4 wickets were lost quickly.

Jadeja is already a legend. His bowling average is lesser than Kapil Dev and Ian Botham and batting average is higher. Does that sound good ? Then remember he's the finest fielder we have in India. Can there be a more valuable player ?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Battle of the Eras : 1990s vs 2010s

It has been almost 143 years since cricket was officially played as an international sport for the first time. It was in 1877, when an English team toured the Australian shores and played 2 test matches, which are now known as the ‘inaugural’ test matches. But it would surprise many to know that the first cricket match between 2 nations was played even before that – in 1844 between the US and Canada, at St. George’s Cricket Club in New York! The game has evolved a lot over the years, but the maximum expansion has been in last 30 years or so, with the advent of live television broadcasting, the massive amount of sponsorship money coming into the game, the coloured clothing in day-night matches, and many other changes. The rules of the game have also evolved, to make it more interesting for the viewers, and the dwindling interest of the not-so-die-hard cricket fans, led the cricket administrators to come up with a shortened version of the game – the T20 format, which reduces the duration of a match from 8 hours to 3 hours. The introduction of Indian Premier League (IPL) took the world by a storm and the game has only seen more money flowing into the game, and more viewers.
Change in Playing Conditions
From 1992 till 2005, only 2 fielders were allowed outside the 30-yard circle till 15 overs in an ODI, and then 5 fielders till the 50th over. This prompted the rise of swashbuckling openers like Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwithrana of Sri Lanka, who took the ritual of making the most use of fielding restrictions at the start of the innings by hitting the lofted shots. This trend was started by Mark Greatbatch of New Zealand and India’s own Krish Srikkanth. Currently, there are only 2 fielders allowed outside 30-yard circle till 10 overs, only 4 fielders allowed between overs 11-40, and 5 fielders allowed in last 10 overs. This had led to the batsmen having an upper hand and score more runs since there is 1 lesser fielder outside the circle for 30 overs. This prompted Shoaib Akhtar to comment that if this rule were in place earlier, a player like Sachin Tendulkar would have amassed thousands of more runs in his career!
Change in the Pitches
The rules are not the only factor of contention – the pitches have been made to be flatter and less hostile, even in test matches, than they were before the turn of this century. The reason being that the crowd wants to see fours and sixes being hit throughout the match, which makes the poor bowlers look even worse. Same has been the case in past few years.
The image below shows a flat pitch, which is effectively a ‘bowler’s graveyard’.
A close up of a baseball field

Description automatically generated
The batsmen make merry on this pitch, giving a hiding to the bowlers. These are most common to find these days, since that is the demand of the crowd, to see the batsmen score heavily and get entertained.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Curious Case of Kieran Powell's Omission

Sri Lanka is known to produce mystery bowlers, West Indies is known to produce mystery Selectors. The tussle between the West Indies Cricket administration/selectors and the players is well documented. It has been frustrating for the players as well as the fans who have missed deserved players from action often due to inexplicable reasons. 

The latest casualty of the selection policies is Kieran Powell. 

Leewards Islands captain Kieran Powell has been left out of the provisional 29-man squad for the West Indies tour of England which might go ahead despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Cricket West Indies and England & Wales Cricket Board are working out plans to somehow carry forward this tour which has been delayed due to the pandemic. 

The provisional squad sees return of Shannon Gabriel, Veerasammy Permaul and Jermaine Blackwood and also includes quite a few new selectees in Preston McSween, Paul Palmer, Shane Mosely and Keon Harding. 

Given Kieran has scored heavily in regional cricket, his absence from a squad of 29 is surprising to say the least.  Powell has been the top scorer in the regional 50 over competition this season and also scored well in the 4 day format. Though he didn't top the charts in the 4 day competition, an as opener he played quite a few very solid innings when the team was under pressure.