Wednesday, August 31, 2011

India’s World Cup win–The bigger picture!!

Mumbai- A city which never sleeps – A city which is all about noise -Noise of car honking, drift of vehicles and common man but this all came to absolute standstill on that historic night of 2nd April, 2011 when India locked horns with Sri Lanka in the finals of 2011 world cup at Wankhede stadium, Mumbai. After a gruelling battle of close to 7 hours, the entire nation broke into a frenzy–India were crowned the World champions.
The dark skies of Mumbai exploded into a kaleidoscope of colourful fireworks–It was a night of drum beats and celebrations. The light of a billion ecstatic souls probably lit up India like sunlight on April 2, 2011. We had regained the world cup after an arduous wait of close to 28 years. History was made in the “City Of Dreams”.
The crowds had gone berserk. They desperately wanted to show the world what this victory meant to them. For the Indian media, it was an affirmation–an affirmation of India’s rising dominance in the field of sports and especially cricket. In our country there is no denial to the fact that the game of cricket is more an apologue than sport and is often a stage where people exhibit their patriotism and aspirations.
It is indeed hard for a common man to remain indifferent from the ever so increasing metaphors that the gentleman’s game has thrown up. But after this historic victory, a bigger question looms over India. Will this win adorn the nation’s image as a developing nation on the whole? Will the administrators of this country draw any inspiration from this win and try to take India to the pinnacles of success in every field?
It goes without saying that this victory has pumped a breath of fresh air in the lives of a billion people who were otherwise drowning in the deep waters of corruption, scams and heinous acts of terrorism. But the people need to realise that if cricket is a larger story of India as a nation, then it only speaks ambiguously. The question is :
Will this massive win be able to eradicate the other challenges that the nation confronts?
To be up and running as a developed nation, we need to have holistic growth and success in all arenas and not just cricket.
The WC win won’t quench the thirst of a hungry girl on the road side–For thousands of poor people residing in those endless streak of slums, this won’t give rise to a ray of new hope. This won’t pacify the hearts of a billion people residing in a nation which has every now and then been wounded by the abhorrent acts of terrorism and above all, this win won’t make India a super-power.
Then why are we going gaga over this win? What is its significance? Well, for a cricket watching audience which today hardly excludes a handful of Indians, this victory is just not the victory of team India-Its a victory of a nation–A nation which has succeeded in establishing its stranglehold in a field where it was long battling to survive. This win and euphoria thereafter, certainly has indicated something more, which our national leaders must not miss out on.
The celebrations and pride that the common man has experienced after the glorious WC campaign is a harbinger of the fact that, we as the common man of India want to see our nation dominate every field. We love seeing India’s progress at a lightening pace, we feel proud to be associated with a nation which brings us glory. The win has in true sense kick started a renaissance. This has sent across the message in a more assertive manner if not anything else. And yes, undoubtedly we have developed as a nation by leaps and bounds in the last decade. Yes, more millionaires in Mumbai than ever before, but the harder work — breaking caste discrimination, upgrading infrastructure, better health care for all — remains to be done. The roots of corruption need to be uprooted forever. It is hard but not impossible from any stretch of imagination. If Dhoni can reach super stardom after coming from Ranchi—India’s hinterland, if Sreesanth who hails from the economic backwaters of Kerala can startle the cricketing fraternity by portraying the image of “angry young man”, then why can’t a nation of billions fight it’s way to glory–Why can’t we wage a battle against all odds and win it emphatically just like team India?
If the presumptuous youth can guide India to the top of the world in cricket, it can also shoulder the responsibilities of bettering the image of India as a nation in the world map. If , we as cricket crazy nation interpret cricket’s WC victory metaphorically, then we need to be open to all interpretations. Those who rule the nation need to understand that a young country can’t wait for long to see its ambition fulfilled–So wake up and start working for a better future–a better India. At present, the bright days of glory have deserted team India but the dark nights of defeat have certainly thrown light on obscure flaws in the system. The quicker we identify and solve it, the better it will be for Indian cricket’s future. The same applies for India in all fields and not just cricket. The quicker we spot the loopholes and work on it, the better it will be for the future of our country.
Avi for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Avi on Twitter @KnightsDen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is Fast Bowling a Dying Art?

As the dust settles on England’s 4-0 whitewashing of India this summer, a couple of things spring mind. Firstly, for all the hyperbole before the series started, India’s batsmen have really failed to perform here in England. Perhaps that was down to a lack of preparation time before the series started; India managed to fit in only one warm up match before the first test at Lords? Or perhaps it’s due to the fact the Indian players haven’t had a rest this year, with the World Cup, IPL and a tour of the West Indies all crammed in to a busy four month period. Either way, they haven’t been able to come to terms with batting in England this summer, and as a result have only passed 300 once all series.
Secondly, and perhaps more worrying is the lack of good fast bowlers in this Indian squad. It’s fair to say that India have had some bad luck with injuries this summer. For me, the loss of Zaheer Khan in that opening test at Lords was a huge blow to them, but the remaining seamers in the squad have just not been good enough. Praveen Kumar did well enough before injury also curtailed his participation, but the reality is Sreesanth, Sharma and Singh were just not threatening enough on a regular basis.
It must be a worry for India that there are not more fast bowlers coming through their ranks, challenging the test squad. Rahul Dravid spoke recently about a talented new generation of batsmen emerging to challenge the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman, Sehwag and himself, yet he didn’t mention any new bowlers breaking into the side.
Some might argue that Indian crickets prioritisation of limited overs cricket ahead of the longest form of the game is stifling test cricket. India co-hosted the One Day World Cup earlier this year and a feature of that tournament was how many teams played with two or even three slow bowlers, opening their bowling with spin to take the pace off the ball. Maybe this was down to slow sub-continent wickets, or perhaps it’s a wider shift in the way limited overs cricket will be played in future?
The fact that the tournament was dominated by teams like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, all employing these tactics perhaps shows that fast bowling is a dying form in limited overs cricket and as a result the production line of fast bowlers is drying up in these countries?
Of course this brings us back to the fundamental problem with test cricket; it’s not as lucrative as the shorter forms of the game, and it’s not as popular, in some countries at least. In England, test cricket is still seen as the pinnacle of the sport, in fact the shorter forms of the game are often treated as feeder programmes for the test side, such Alastair Cook leading England’s One Day team for example, before he is inevitably promoted to test captain. However other nations do not prioritise in this way.
Rahul Dravid made the point in a recent interview that India’s problem this summer hasn’t been their decision to prioritise limited overs cricket over test matches, rather it was a case of a ridiculously overloaded schedule. India currently play overseas series during their own domestic season, something that would never happen in England or Australia. As a result, Indian players have heavy workloads, because they will play in the IPL and then fulfil their touring obligations with the national side. You could say “forfeit the IPL”, as England players do their domestic competitions such as the Friends Life T20, but the IPL is so big now, and such emphasis is put on it by the Indian authorities, it is almost impossible to see that ever happening.
However, it is something the Indian authorities are going to have to find a work-around for otherwise the shorter forms of the game will continue to dominate schedules, and as a result the players coming through the ranks will be nurtured with this in mind. If test cricket is no longer a priority, gone will be the need for genuinely fast bowlers, and batsmen with classic technique like Dravid and Alastair Cook will become extinct too, in favour of swing-from-the-hips batsmen and bowlers that can bowl accurate yorkers on a regular basis without the requirement for any variation.
As discussed previously on this blog, there is room for both limited overs and test match cricket to be played alongside one another, but the administrators of the game need to manage teams schedules properly. Otherwise test match cricket will struggle to compete with the more lucrative formats of the game and art of fast bowling may well become a thing of the past.
Tom Huelin for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomhue1

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hot Spot–It’s not so hot!!

Marathon effort ended on a sour note!!
It was the last ball of the 13th over of India’s second innings. Rahul Dravid was up against England spinner Graeme Swann. Dravid all day long had negotiated the turn and bounce from Graeme Swann quite brilliantly but finally faultered in the ultimate delivery of  his fourth over. The ball spun back from outside off stump, and passed very, very close to the bat before going onto pad and looping to Cook who palmed it with one hand and collected the catch. The catch was claimed in unison by the English players but on field umpire didn’t look too interested in that and hence it was ruled not out. The England skipper Andrew Strauss thought otherwise and asked for a referral. The dismissal was then referred to the third umpire Steve  Davies under the DRS referral system –Lo and Behold, Dravid was adjudged caught at short-leg of Swann and with it the third umpire set the ball rolling for another debate on the much anticipated Hot Spot and DRS system.
The debate then shifted to the social platform ”TWITTER” where cricket fans and experts had an opinion of their own. There are 3 ways to look at the issue:
  1. The English media men and fans thought that there was a slight deflection from a certain angle and Steve Davies was right in ruling Dravid out. Fair enough.
  2. The Indian contingent of fans and experts opined that there was no conclusive evidence for Steve Davies to rule Dravid out and hence he should have stayed with the on field call. Fair enough.
  3. And amongst the neutral, many thought that the right decision was ultimately reached but in a wrong way. That is Fair Enough.
So, all in all one would say that either way it was a marginal call. But as someone who has been following the game for a decade now, it is perhaps my duty to bring forth my stand on this issue. So here is what I think about the dismissal:
Well my first reaction to that in real time was ”It is out”! But on observing the replays in slow motion, one got the feeling that the ball had just missed the edge of the bat. The commentators on air said the body language of Dravid immediately after the appeal was not that inspiring and was suggesting that he had nicked it. I did not  feel anything like that. He just went back so that he could withdraw himself from the frame ,thats it. If ever this meant that a batsman has edged a ball, then we would have come across many bizarre dismissals in the past. Anyways, when a decision has been referred to the third umpire, what a batsman’s body language suggests or what the bowler thinks does not really matter– The decision lies in the hands of third umpire and he is the guy who has to come out with a judgement. Now, the referral was made under DRS and so it was pretty clear that the TV umpire had 2 parameters to work with–First see whether it was a legal delivery or not which it was and secondly use the much anticipated ” Hot Spot” and decide if there was a nick. That is where all the problem lies– Dravid in the post match interview says he thought he nicked it, England think he nicked it but the most important technology on which DRS is based i.e ”Hot-Spot” said that there was no edge there. Must say that it was a brave decision by Davies. What he did there was he went right against the technology and sent across a message that ” See the hot spot is not right, there was a nick and i saw it”. So even if the technology says its not out, i say thats out. I really didn’t understand why he did that. His responsibility as the third umpire, once a particular decision has been made by the on-field umpires and has been challenged, is to survey all the evidence that is provided to him within the confines of the DRS. I repeat this again, this was a decision made by the on field umpire and challenged by the English team. As a match official, you need to go by whats at your disposal and if you are going to adjudge a dismissal based on your own parameters, then why have DRS in the first instance?
The ball actually deviated from its path quite a bit as it passed the willow and Davies thinks that there was a slight nick–so slight that even Hot Spot couldn’t pick it up. The ball  must have actually deviated because of the turn that the wicket was offering. It pitched and turned viciously but not for once from those slow-mo replays, snickos and the audio feed from the stump microphone, i felt that there was an inside nick and to be honest if Davies thinks that the ball actually deviated because there was a thin nick, then let me tell you that i have never really seen a ball deviate so much because of a faint edge.
In a nutshell, when an on field umpire’s decision is challenged via DRS, the third umpire needs to confirm whether the right judgement has been made using all the technology that is there at his disposal and if he wishes to overturn it then there has to be enough overwhelming evidence for that. The DRS was meant to eliminate howlers, and not rule on marginal calls. Where marginal calls are involved, the ground umpire’s decision should be taken as the final one.
I spot No Hot Spot!!!
How this decision affects the state of the match remains to be seen. With BCCI approving the usage of DRS in the home games, there will indeed be plenty to talk about the Hot Spot and it’s credibility on the Indian wickets where the ball turns and bounces. It will indeed be a litmus test for UDRS.
Avi for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Avi on Twitter @KnightsDen

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rahul Dravid–The quintessential team man!!

Jammy will bleed BLUE--One last time!!
Critics say when this man bats, it is  ”POETRY IN MOTION”. A man who first stepped into international cricket when unorthodoxy was at its peak with pinch-hitters scoring runs defying the standard shots of cricket–A man who epitomises test cricket and is truly head and shoulders above everyone when it comes to technique and style–Yes, i am talking about the GREAT WALL OF INDIA–RAHUL DRAVID. The skills are as solid as they were 15 years ago, the style seems to have got better and better with each passing year but one thing never seems to change and that is his grit and concentration–Those have been rock solid as ever. Rahul Dravid has been one of the main pillars of the Indian batting line up with his blend of right technique and stylish shots. Here is a tribute to one of the greatest servants of INDIAN cricket as he gears up to play his last ODI series; one last time in his blue jersey.
22nd June, 1996, INDIA was up against ENGLAND at Mecca of Cricket –The Lord’s. A young lad named Sourav Chandidas Ganguly was making a mark in international cricket with his well crafted century. Another batsman at the other end who was also making his debut was effortlessly churning runs with his exquisite strokes. Unfortunately , this slim, handsome lad missed out on a hundred and was dismissed for 95. But his classy innings and the grit to survive in the middle earned him a standing ovation from the crowd at Lord’s. This was perhaps one of the classiest innings they had witnessed in a long time–The man was Rahul Dravid.
For a player whose affluent essay came out of perfection, temperament and technique, Rahul dravid has been INDIA’s go-to man in pressure situations and till date he has served the team’s cause with whole hearted devotion. He has been undoubtedly the best that INDIA has ever produced–in terms of technique, skills, grit and above all dependability. There is always a relief that INDIA can’t  lose if Dravid is there in the middle. Dravid has earned this love and respect from his fans all over the world. People believe him because he has proved that he is worthy of it–Shouldering the hopes of billion fans is indeed a tedious task but for Dravid, its an honour.
In a cricket crazy nation like India, where cricketers are demi-gods, and everyday a new controversy pops up, Dravid’s sheer down to earth nature and humble attitude has helped him stay away from controversies in-spite of so much media scrutiny. Rahul Dravid started off as a shaky batsman with an apt technique, then came a phase wherein he became the sheet anchor and others played around him scoring runs freely and now with the advent of t20, Dravid seems to have moulded himself into a new avatar–a player who now keeps pace with the innings, who not only smacks the bowlers out of the park(pretty unlike the real dravid) but also possesses an attitude that would make him reach the skies. Dravid’s greatness however is not limited to the number of runshe scores on the field. It is a potpourri of character, hard work and a genuinely good heart. Talent and character join hands to make consummate greatness-Dravid is a glittering example of that. A deeper scrutiny of his character shows his commitment towards Indian cricket–A selfless soul who always has been a team-man and whose personal records have been overshadowed by team heroics. As legendary batsman Sunny Gavaskar righly said:
He is the iron man of Indian cricket whose strength of character shines through in every move he makes on the field.
When Dravid retires, the country will lose the greatest no 3 batsman it ever had, fans will be robbed of the privilege of watching this artist at work, media will mourn that he never got his due but most importantly, his departure will take away with itself a bit of gentle-manliness that the game tries to still portray as its inseparable element. He is a legend no matter what critics say–He has been the man responsible for taking INDIA to the numero uno status in test cricket and he will forver be the ICEMAN of team INDIA. But leave aside those talks of retirement for now, as the man seems to be enjoying the game and looks ready to decimate the opponents once again.
Till then, lets enjoy seeing those toes which rise sweetly in sync with the pace of the approaching ball,standing tall and majestic and in control before disdainfully whacking the ball through the backward point. Lets enjoy how he bats and bats and bats and saves the team from a moment of crisis.Lets get awed by his mastery over something we will always run away from–STRUGGLE. Long live the legend of Rahul Dravid.
Hats off Dravid !!!
Avi for DieHard Cricket Fans

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

England vs India – Series Review

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
No words necessary. © Getty Images
I can be pretty pessimistic, but I don’t think anybody on earth saw this coming. What transpired over the last month was a performance so pitiful and even the West Indies and Bangladesh would go home crying in shame. Make no mistake, it was nothing short of an atrocious performance with no excuses. One would even feel sorry for the Indians, if not for their overly smug and brash attitude (jealous are we?).
The Numbers Don’t Lie:
  • India were bowled out every single innings, that’s 80 wickets lost. They made it to 300 once, their average score being 256.
  • England only had to bat six times, and were only bowled out twice, and one of those was a total of 554. Their average score? A whopping 468 and that too with four declarations.
  • Only Rahul Dravid managed more than 300 runs for India. He was nearly 200 runs shy of the next best in Tendulkar, and his whopping series average 76.83 made him a man among toddlers.
  • Only Praveen Kumar operated at a bowling average under 30, England had three.
  • Of the ten centuries scored, three belonged to India, all Dravid.
  • The last time India was white-washed was 11 years ago in Australia.
And don’t forget those were the days when India would bat like rag dolls anywhere outside the batting paradises of the sub-continent. This Indian team came to the English shores boasting a #1 world ranking. They go home as #3.
Doing a report card on the players would be an utterly pointless exercise, as every Englishman deserves at least 8 and every Indian who is not named Rahul Dravid deserves at most 2.
So what the heck happened? 
Is it even possible to pinpoint how a team can suddenly be so abysmal? A team only putting up a show in one match only for Tim Bresnan to blow them away? Perhaps surprisingly, the answers were always there, there cracks were merely invisible under the shiny gloss of big talk, the world cup victory and the so called world number one ranking.
The truth is:
  1. India were always unfit. For many years no key players were constantly breaking down with injury. Previously slim players are suddenly lazy, paunchy and tired. Handling this for fifty overs was possible and made it look like there was no issue. When it becomes 450 overs, it becomes painfully clear.
  2. India never could field. The number of dropped catches, misfields and lumbering chases for the ball has been nothing new. Only Suresh Raina had any sort of energy and ability.
  3. India have 1.5 bowlers. And one of those was Zaheer Khan, who’s injury sealed the fate of the ‘attack’. Praveen Kumar is the 0.5, who deserves special mention for his tireless and lionhearted efforts out there. Bhajji was always dead wood. Ishant and Sreesanth only bowl one or two good spells a series. Mishra and RP Singh never had the experience or the tools to do anything meaningful. With a McGrath or Steyn, we will always be behind.
  4. India don’t win much. Perhaps the harshest reality of all. “But, but we are number one!” you say? Look at the recent results, in the past five years, India have drawn a whopping 19 matches, nearly equalling their win record of 22 matches. These draws came about with their gun batting line-up flaying the bowling on dead pitches, and an inability to take 20 wickets.
  5. The batting machine had to fail finally. How often did Laxman or Dravid (or even Bhajji!) bail them out of embarrassing situations with the bat. With any number one team, there will always come a time where the bowling and fielding will be tested, and India were never up to standard there. A team built on batting alone can only go so far.
Time to cut down on the Pakodas son. © Getty Images
The Bottom Line
If you look at the facts, India only really made it to the top as a place-holder for the declining Australians. A heavy weight of drawn series and matches is definitely an improvement from the 90′s, and they are rightfully third on the ladder. But its time to stop being delusional and pretending this team was good enough to hold down the top ranking for very long.
It is a harsh wake up call, but a necessary one. You cannot take test matches for granted, a champion team is built on eleven players forming a batting, bowling and fielding unit with the mental fortitude to outlast the opponent over five days.
England, in other words.
Contributed by : Varun Prasad
Original Post : The Cricket Musings

England vs India: Player ratings for the series (Part 1)

So, it’s over. The series, the #1 ranking, and the bubble of unquestionable success that enveloped India after the World Cup win.
It’s just one bad series, India may just continue to win from this point, but this still happened. Their best performances with the bat all series came in the final two innings, but were still nowhere near enough what was needed to even save the game.
There will be some sort of official review by the BCCI, and maybe it will reveal that they are coneheads, maybe it won’t.
Srikanth looked quite effeminate before the beard.
Speaking of reviews (because I like good transitions, unlike Indian cricket), here’s my bit. No haggling on these marks (out of 10).
India
10 – Praveen Kumar (15 wickets @29.53): Performed exactly how we expected him to perform – whole-heartedly. Light on pace, he made up for it with magnanimous swing and superb control in conditions that suited him perfectly. He bowled 158 overs, second to Ishant only because he missed the final Test after bowling himself into the ground. He also scored 110 entertaining runswith a strike rate of 105, including an unforgettable 40 off 18 balls.
"Lemme at 'em!" - Praveen Kumar
9.0 – Rahul Dravid (461 runs @76.83): The Wall was as Wall-ish as he had ever been, carrying his re-discovered form over from the West Indian tour. He was India’s rescue team in every game, and would have scored even more if not for a couple of dubious decisions, and if someone had stuck around with him. I can’t believe people wanted him to retire just a few months ago – he still has the most interesting defense in the world. I cut a whole mark for terrible catching.
"No. I won't go back in. I want to bat some more."
6.5 – Ishant Sharma (11 wickets @58.18): This guy, who turns 23 in 10 days, was forced to co-lead a three-man attack twice in two Tests, and sort of in the other Tests too, when Mishra was as effective as a solar-powered torch. There were some menacing spells in the 173 overs he bowled, but these were often separated by some listless periods of spraying it around. He’s getting better though, and missing the ODIs is the best thing for him right now.
5.5 – Sachin Tendulkar (273 runs @34.12): Just a couple of fifties in 8 innings, and a very below-par series for the man, despite not looking as uncomfortable as some of his teammates. Could have saved the last Test and got himself that century of centuries, but neither was meant to be, despite it looking that way when luck was going his way. I’m now doubting that he’ll ever score that hundred, stuck on 99 for eternity with that one Bradmanesque flaw. Man, that was poetic.
5.0 – Yuvraj Singh (70 runs @35): Middling marks for him, because he played just the one Test, which portrayed both his weaknesses and strengths. He was pretty lucky to get that one fifty, too.
5.0 – Zaheer Khan (2 wickets @9): Had the ball on a string in that first session at Lord’s. His subsequent injury ensured that all hell broke loose as far as India’s bowling was concerned. Needs body parts like Iron Man, and must walk around in a Hazmat suit until it’s safe for India to play without him.
4.0 – MS Dhoni (220 runs @31.41): His first series defeat as captain, and he has really been defeated. Things didn’t go his way one bit, his keeping, while good enough in the subcontinent, was shown up, and so was his batting technique. He’s got to attack when he bats, even if it leads to a dismissal, because it’s quite simply the only way he can bat. It’s not the same question of responsible batting that crops up with Sehwag - MS clearly must bat this way, at least in Tests. Also, what’s with the ‘no third man’ field?
3.5 – Sreesanth (8 wickets @61.62): Started so well with those three wickets before he started getting whipped. His lovely outswinger was present, but it failed to trouble batsmen who were in the form of their lives. Bowled 111 overs in three matches, and looked flat for around 90 of those. Time to give other bowlers a go, because this guy’s going nowhere.
Now it's OK to cry.
3.5 – VVS Laxman (182 runs @22.75): Very very disappointing, to say the least. He was successfully targeted with the short ball, but was also unlucky to be at the receiving end of some unplayable deliveries. Like Bell, he is a natural #3 who got to bat at that position due to injuries to others. Unlike Bell, he didn’t make the most of it. I’m pretty sure that he made the least of it, if that phrase ever catches on. How much longer is he going to play Tests – no one ever talks about this.
3.5 – Gautam Gambhir (102 runs @17): He gets all these marks just for thecojones to bat injuredconcussed or in a coma or whatever bad luck befell him at that point. Played loose shots after getting starts when he was fit. ScrewKKR, man – you need to be fit for Australia.
2.5 – Suresh Raina (105 runs @13.12): If you take away the 78 he scored atLord’s, he made only 27 runs in the other 7 innings. Problems with the short ball, problems with spin… he was useful in one department though. He took 4 wickets, more than either Harby or Mishra. Maybe let him cook until well done in county cricket or something, with PujaraKohli and Rohit lurking.
2.0 – Abhinav Mukund (64 runs @16): Considering that the West Indianbowlers had him hopping around, his out-of-depth batting and failure in England comes as a surprise only to optimistic blind people. He can either tighten his game or remain a domestic bully.
"What? Mukund failed? What's a Mukund?"
2.0 – RP Singh (wicketless): Fitting, because this is RP 2.0, if upgradeactually meant severe downgrade. He won’t be happy about being plucked from Miami or wherever he was. We weren’t happy either. None of that great movement from four years ago, no pace – just a little control that didn’t mean much because he got tonked anyway.
1.5 – Amit Mishra (3 wickets @106.67): Marks just for that superb innings that drew everyone into watching the game, only to get out leaving us to witness a horrific collapse. Thanks a lot. I wouldn’t pick him in Tests ever again, not with Ojha around.
1.0 – Virender Sehwag (41 runs @10.25): Played when he was still unfit and bagged a historic king pair. It’s just one bad series for him, there’s no need to panic, but will he ever be fit enough again?
0.0 – Harbhajan Singh (2 wickets at 143.5): New low for him. No words for how utterly useless he was. In retrospect, “no words for how utterly useless he was” were actually words for how utterly useless he was. Right, I’m done.
Coming up, part 2, featuring England.
Contributed by DHCF Rishabh Bablani
Rishabh’s personal blog

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Panic button in the times of Knee Jerks !

England on the verge of thrashing India 4-0 in the Test series. There are reactions galore. One of my friends said, “What happened all of a sudden that the batsmen, bowlers and fielders; all have failed except for one”.
Geoffrey Boycott  declared, “India look like a pale shadow of an ordinary team”. There are a lot of reactions, over-reactions and knee-jerk reaction with doomsayers abundant.
In spite of a lot of criticism, Dhoni declared, “No need to press the panic button”. Sreesanth said, “This is not the toughest series we have played”. Not much has been heard from the likes of Laxman, Sachin, Sehwag and of course Gambhir.
Facebook, Twitter and all social networking sites are overflowing with snide remarks, tweets and offensive comments about the greed of our players. It hurts to see a team lose like this. I don’t remember Team India playing such spineless Cricket since the 2003 New Zealand series.
For one who predicted a 2-1 or 1-2 or 2-2 result for the series, I too am taken aback. So I decided to sit back and doing a postmortem of the series. Keeping the knee-jerk out, here is what I feel about the series.
What went right for England
England were playing full strength with very few carrying injuries. Playing at home, they had abundant supply of replacements. They had walloped Australia in Australia and were very very eager for the No. 1 spot. They played ruthless, efficient and Champion brand of Cricket, no doubts. They deserve to be No. 1 now and no contesting that either. But if we look closer, so many things went in favor of England. Almost all things.
Home conditions, swinging pitches with bounce and carry.
All top order batters in form and even one who was out of form came out on top as the series progressed.
Their bowlers were definitely in supreme control and never allowed Indian batsmen to relax.
Every Umpiring and UDRS decisions went in favor of England. They got the Bell run-out reversed and sent Dravid packing when there was no clear evidence.
Overall they were fantastic on field and absolutely ruthless in every aspect including gamesmanship.
What went wrong for India
Sehwag and Gambhir in full form and fitness have terrorized best of the bowling attacks over the past 4 years. Both of them were coming back from long lay off and lack of match fitness showed.
Laxman and Tendulkar have done fabulously well for 4 years since 2007, the last time India toured England. Every time there was a crisis, one of these two had stepped in to lift the team. It was just the law of averages perhaps. Both failed in tandem.
During the series, India never completed test without someone breaking down.
Losing 2 out of 11 players on a tour can be tough. Then how about entire half of the team ? Gambhir, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Sachin and then Praveen Kumar were hampered by injuries at one time or the other. Three of them were completely sidelined.
Umpires were reasonably kind to India but UDRS was not.
I have no complaint about the Cricket India played. The best of the teams can lose. But the way they capitulated to the pressure mounted by England to call back Bell was deplorable. For me, that was the defining moment in the series. If India had stood the ground, it would not have escalated into World war-3. But it definitely would have sent a message across. It was all downhill from there. The tough have thumped the soft-bellied meek.
This piece should not be dismissed as rantings of a disgruntled Indian fan. Just remember how England bumbled through World Cup 2011 and then kept complaining about everything including the size of the shrimps served for dinner.
Before we castigate this team for this series, let us not forget they had ‘Won’ the World Cup less than four months ago and had not lost a Test series since 2008. This just was one really sad series where nothing went right for India and everything worked perfectly for England. That will not happen all the times. India will bounce back and we have enough talent to sustain us in the Top-3 if not the top spot.
So, cheer up guys and gals and relax. Tomorrow is another day and Poms will fall sooner than later !
Govind Raj Shenoy for DieHard Cricket Fans

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dead Man Walking – the Indian cricket version

It hurts.
The last time I felt like this was when India were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the first round itself.
This time, the pain is worse. Watching your team lose its number 1 ranking is never a pleasant thing, but the manner in which they lost it is the most galling. Its hard to come on Twitter or read any news related to the on-going series because of this. A lot of people have been waiting for India’s reign to end, and now that it has happened, they are in what can only be known as ‘orgasmic’ delight.
The much vaunted batting line up has failed to fire. The bowlers have been inconsistent. The fielding has been in shambles. The players look disinterested in the field. Every other day, a player gets injured. All in all, it has been one of the most depressing and soul sapping tours for an Indian cricket fan, let alone an Indian player.
There is still some light at the end of the tunnel. When England got whitewashed in the 2006 Ashes in Australia, the ECB reviewed what went wrong and took some steps, which has ultimately resulted in their team being crowned as Number 1, 5 years down the line. Even Australia have taken some dramatic steps based on the Argus review of their disastrous Ashes performance recently. While it would be too much to expect the same from the Indian board, I hope that they keep aside their obsession with money for just a while, and take some important and necessary steps towards correcting the inherent flaws present in the system, which is preventing the Indian team from being better than they can actually be. There is no shortage of well meaning former players and other experts with intelligent suggestions; hopefully, the BCCI will take heed.
For what its worth, here are some ideas:
  • Appoint someone like Anil Kumble or any other respected former player to review what went wrong with the same team that fought better when they toured Australia and South Africa; and implement the suggestions.
  • Something which has been repeated ad nauseum – we need more practice games when we tour abroad. We just can’t afford to start slow everytime we play an away series.
  • There is no dearth of talented players in the country, and many of them seem to do well, when they play A tours or other Emerging Players tournaments; but when they make the leap to the international arena, they are being found short. Its not only about the cricketing skills; players need to be mentally ready when they make their debuts. This is where senior players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Zaheer have just vital roles to play. Their best days might be over but now it is necessary for them to train the younger generation in matters which even the IPL can’t prepare them for.
  • Players are not machines. Unless the Board realizes that, they will just have to do with the all too frequent injury breakdowns. Review the packed schedule and ensure sufficient recharging time for the players, so that the best team is always available to play when marquee series are round the corner.
  • Cricket can be a cruel game. One day you are feted as world champions, the next you are being pilloried by all and sundry for one lousy series. This team is lucky to have a level headed skipper and battle hardened coach who has seen his share of disastrous tours; but some of the players could be psychologically scarred, what with all the spate of cricketers confessing of depression during their playing days and this is where a sports psychologist is handy. Employ one on a full-time basis, so that players learn to handle depressing days like this better.
These are just some ideas, and there are more experienced people with wiser ideas out there. Hopefully, something good can come out of this right royal mess.
Meanwhile, kudos to the English team. They have played like champions and deserve top billing. All credit goes to Flower, Strauss and his band of merry men, who have the attributes necessary to stay at the top longer than India did. While they will look to win a series in India to establish indisputable credentials for the top ranking, they would do well to take note of an opposition who might be following the proceedings keenly: South Africa. With a new coach and a bunch of world class players itching to prove that they are the best, South Africa remain as their biggest threat to the top ranking. At least THAT would be a contest to savor!
Benny for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Benny on Twitter @tracerbullet007

Thursday, August 18, 2011

England’s Perfect Equilibrium Takes Them To The Top of Test Cricket

At Edgbaston on Saturday 13th August 2011 England beat India by an innings and 242 runs, a mammoth victory that saw them climb to the top of the ICC test cricket rankings, replacing India at the top after their comprehensive 3-0 series victory.
Quite a feat, and to quantify that further, its scarcely two and a half years since Andy Flower was appointed Director of Cricket and Andrew Strauss became Captain of an England side languishing in sixth in the same ICC rankings.
In the past 2 years Flower and Strauss have transformed England into a well-oiled machine which has demolished Australia, Sri Lanka and now India in successive test series, winning 8 out of the 9 series the two have presided over, drawing only the 2009 tour of South Africa.
So how have Strauss and Flower orchestrated England’s masterplan? Let’s start by looking at the bowlers.
The term “hunting in packs” might be slightly clich├ęd these days but it does accurately describe how England go about their business with the ball. There isn’t necessarily a stand-out bowler that you would throw the cherry to to get a much-needed wicket as you would have in the Andrew Flintoff era perhaps. Instead pressure is built by the whole bowling attack, bowling consistent lines and lengths, asking questions of the batsmen with every ball, testing their patience and technique and not letting them settle or get a free hit at the other end.
Look at how England took Indian wickets Edgbaston. Apart from Dravid in the 1st innings, who got a snorter from Bresnan, the rest of the Indian batsmen gave their wickets away, lacking patience and not being able to cope with the short stuff that was served up. England bowled to plans and India obliged by succumbing to the pressure.
And we’re not talking about inexperienced batsmen here – England’s bowlers have dominated the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman, Gambhir and Dravid in this series, probing away on a consistent line outside off stump and not giving any runs away, waiting for the batsman to try and force the issue and make a mistake, which has invariably happened. If that’s failed, a few short balls has done the job, either way, India haven’t been able to cope with it.
And it doesn’t half help that England are the best fielding side in world cricket too right now. The bowlers know that any edge they induce is almost certain to be pouched. Imagine being an Indian bowler on the second evening at Edgbaston when Eoin Morgan was dropped at slip by the normally-dependable Rahul Dravid? No wonder Indian spirits were so low during that mammoth England innings in Birmingham – India had chances to make inroads, but they dropped a sack-full of chances.
Having a bowling attack like England’s certainly helps, but the batsmen still need to score runs, and right now England’s batting lineup are delivering some big scores. Alastair Cook has broken all sorts of records of late and is taking a lot of the plaudits right now, but all of the top 7 have contributed runs in the last year. Teams know England are capable of scoring colossal totals now and will wonder or even doubt that they’ll be able to compete with that.
I remember the days when England would struggle to pass 300 on a regular basis. Now it is the teams England play, not England themselves that falter with the bat.
Right now England have the perfect equilibrium between their batsmen and their bowlers; the batsmen are scoring big which gives the bowlers plenty to work with and the bowlers are running through batting lineups and giving their batsmen low targets to aim for. It’s a simple game when both components are firing!
Some people have said that England are top of a form of the game that is dying a death and that perhaps their opposition, rightly or wrongly aren’t as concerned about test cricket as they once were and as England still are. It’d be foolish not to acknowledge that fact, but at the same time England can only beat was is in front of them. Australia and India are undoubtedly going through transitional periods, but these things are all cyclical – they will be back. And don’t forget, Australia took great pleasure in tearing through England series after series, so we shouldn’t feel too bad for them!
For now England are top dog and deservedly so. With the first Test Championships taking place in England in 2013, they will be hoping for a long reign at the top of this great game.
Tom Huelin for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomhue1