Friday, September 17, 2021

India tour of England, 2021

The current India-England series (we still don't know if it is complete or not) is proving to be quite extraordinary in more ways than one. It has been quite a seesaw affair. Apart from the Headingley Test, the other 3 could have been won by either team. 

The last Test at the Oval has brought so many new truths home. India has always been a team of great individuals who played fantastic cricket but couldn't gel with each other as a team to win matches. They were capable of walking into any world eleven on their own accord. Players like Merchant, Mushtaq, Hazare, Mankad, Manjrekar, Gupte, Ghulam Ahmed, Nawab of Pataudi, Farokh Engineer- the list is endless. Mankad's performance at Lord's in 1952 was of such a class that the MCC decided to label it as Mankad's Test. Freddie Trueman when asked about the players he didn't like bowling to mentioned Vijay Hazare. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

RCB's Plans for Future Matches

After watching incredible efforts by RCB to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Mumbai Indians, here is an attempt to guess plans of RCB for the future matches.

First thing first. Let truth be told. RCB deliberately tried to lose the match to jinx Mumbai. The twice defending champions win every time they have lost the first match. Hence RCB tried to deny that luck this time. Alas, superstitious Nita Ambani's team turned out to be smarter.

ABDV is the match winner. He batted at No. 5 against MI to protect against top order collapse. RCB could play ABDV at No. 7 or 8 or even 9 in upcoming matches to overcome risks of a middle order collapse.

RCB will take inspiration from CSK and India legend MSD. They would try to take the match deep and if possible, to the last ball.

Washington Sundar will bowl just one over, even if he claims a hat trick in that over. This is to ensure the boy doesn't get tired. Kohli wants to keep him fresh for World Cup T20 later this year, where he will have a lot of work to do as water boy.

RCB fielders will continue to follow social distancing norms from the ball to prevent spread of COVID19. As of now, RCB fielders cannot even catch a cold.

To Maxi-mize the returns on the maximum investment they've made on Maxwell, RCB could use him as a floater to surprise opponents by changing his batting order in every match. To keep opponents guessing, Maxwell himself will not be told about his number in the batting order till the last moment. 

Strategies keep evolving. Hence there will be more updates after future matches.

Govind Raj Shenoy for DieHard Cricket Fans

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Summer of 36

Border Gavaskar Series, the famous rivalry between India and Australia begun on the onset of winter in India. For Aussies, it was the start of their home summer season, trying to regain the trophy. Adelaide hosted the first ever pink ball test match between the two sides saw a bizarre batting collapse by India. 36 all out – the lowest ever made by India. As a fan was dejected to see such horrible batting display despite being on top of the match all along. It was going to haunt for years to come. Down and out.

With 1-0 down in the series, Kohli leaving the camp and going back home, Shami adding to the injury list, there were too many problems in front of Indian cricket team. Ajinkya Rahane, led the team at Melbourne. The odds of losing the match and losing the series were high. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The force of humiliation in Adelaide got the team moving forward. They showed brilliant character and made a great comeback at MCG. MCG was won and series was evenly poised at 1-1 going to Sydney.

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 ?