Archive for November, 2005

Rome was not built in a day

November 28, 2005

During the high of dominating Sri Lanka, Dravid, time and again, reminded everybody that harder times lay ahead and that the real test would come when the team was not doing well.  Both for the team and the fans.

After the 4th game,  a good friend of mine sent me an email detailing his disappointment with the Indian batting performance.  His biggest complaint was inconsistency.  He was voicing the same sentiment that the Kolkatans did during the game when cheering the South Africans instead of the Indians.  The fans have failed the test that Dravid was talking about.

These are early days for the Chappell/Dravid regime.  There is no doubt in my mind that we’re moving in the right direction.  This series has been missing a level playing field, and that has skewed the results a bit.  Indians, no doubt, haven’t performed as well as they could have, but some stumbling along the road is only expected.  This is the time to stand behind the team, not boo it at home and cheer the opponents instead.  Anybody will tell you, the support from the fans is more needed when the team is not doing well.  Granted, the audience at Kolkata was biased, and these Bengali aristocrats are known for not hiding their disappointment, but the treatment meted out to the team, Tendulkar and Dravid no less, was inexcusable.  I am certain it will be rectified at Mumbai.

Do not go gentle into that good night

November 25, 2005

Brian Charles Lara.  What a terrific cricketer.  We’ve seen many an awe-inspiring knocks from him over the years, and today’s was no different.  Far from flawless, but a brilliant innings nonetheless.  After being on the receiving end of several dodgy decisions in this series (3 in 4 innings), he launched a counter-attack of gargantuan proportions at Adelaide.  In his last Test in Australia, he raced to a double-hundred on the first day while his team-mates collapsed all around him, as they have done throughout this series.  There was a sense of poetry of this lone batsman making the last stand.  He passed 11,000 runs on the way as well and is now within striking distance of Border’s record.  At 36, he’s at the fag end of his career, yet he evokes a lot of hope when he walks out to bat.  Tomorrow beckons more.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Selectors have their say

November 23, 2005

The Indian selection panel has decided to go with a whole bunch of all-rounders to give our Test team a definitive edge over the competition. Who are these all-rounders? Well, along with Dhoni, Pathan and Agarkar, we now also have Sourav Ganguly (bowl avg: ~52; strike rate: ~94; 25 wickets). I figure, at that rate, Tendulkar (avg: ~48; strike rate: 86; 37 wickets), Veeru, Yuvraj, Kumble, Harbhajan and even Dravid (bowl avg: 39) can be considered all-rounders. So we have a total of 10 all-rounders on the team. What a team! With a bagful of all-rounders, we can now crush a full-strength Australian team.

To be fair, the selectors had a lot of pressure to deal with, and they probably picked Ganguly knowing fully well that Chappell and Dravid won’t be caving in to any external influences, if there are any at all. I’m just glad they didn’t wilt under any pressure when picking the captain. Ganguly will now have to suffer the ignominy of being the 12th man and carrying drinks for the team! Actually, his fielding not being up to snuff, he probably won’t be picked at all.

All’s well with the Indian cricket team.

My Test XI

November 23, 2005

1. Gautam Gambhir
2. Virender Sehwag
3. *Rahul Dravid
4. Sachin Tendulkar
5. VVS Laxman
6. +Mahendra Singh Dhoni
7. Irfan Pathan
8. Ajit Agarkar
9. Anil Kumble
10. Harbhajan Singh
11. RP Singh
Batting back-up (and 12th man): Mohammad Kaif
Bowling back-up: Ashish Nehra
Keeping back-up: Dinesh Karthik

I expect having just five specialist batsmen to be the most contentious issue among the readers.  But Dhoni and Pathan are working out to be good all-rounders, and there might be some wag in a tail of Agarkar (another potential all-rounder), Kumble and Bhajji.  Plus, the bowling attack looks to be genuinely good and I think we can use the extra ammunition.  Some might complain of promoting RP Singh too soon (based on just a few ODIs), but the kid has a lot of promise.  Remember, that’s how Pathan was brought to the team two summers ago.  And in the 12th man, we have an able fielder (after all, more often than not, that’s the only area where the 12th man can make a difference).

You have a better suggestion?

Gameplan Rethink

November 16, 2005

The Indians imploded sooner, and in a worse manner, than anybody would have expected. There’s no need to panic just yet, though (contrary to what the heading for this post suggests). However, it’s clear that the Indians are going to have to maximize their resources to pull a rabbit out of the hat here. Here are a few thoughts.

Maximize the powerplays
Yes, that’s obvious, you say? What’s also obvious is that Kaif (and Dravid for that matter) is not the right personnel to do that. All’s fine with experimenting and such, but there’s gotta be some modicum of reasoning and sanity here. If the Indians wanted to surprise the South Africans, almost anybody (even Agarkar) would have been a better choice than Kaif. Both Kaif and Dravid also tend to be overly defensive when the chips are down, and at times fail to capitalize even on the bad balls. Pathan is showing the right attitude at the moment, and he’s already more successful than the two combined.

Hedge the supersubs
This will be very important in the D/N games because of the due factor. Basically, the Indians should name an extra batsman in the line-up and have a bowling supersub. I am surprised Dravid didn’t do that here as well. Looks like he’s midjudged the importance of the toss, expecting the pitch to assist batting throughout.

Know whom to attack
India need to be careful in their choice of powerplays. They shouldn’t be afraid to take the powerplays in the 20s or even the 30s. I think everybody throughout the world has been overly cautious with this. Also important is to identify the typically slower players in the opposition (Kallis comes to mind immediately) and use a powerplay when they come to the crease. The weaker bowlers (Botha, the new spinner) also need to be attacked. I am not saying that India’s not doing either of these: we haven’t reached that part of the game yet and the Indians very well might employ these strategies.

Know where to attack
When asked how they were going to counter Kemp, Dravid said that they were not targetting any individuals but were concentrating on the entire team and the process. This statement confused and unsettled me. How can you concentrate on the entire team without looking at any of the individuals? They’re not looking to find best ways to attack batsmen? Surely, knowing what a batsman’s zone of discomfort (or even comfort) is can only be helpful in determining where to bowl to him.

Win or lose, there’s always room for improvement and lessons to be learnt. The Indians need to stay on top of those. They shouldn’t go on the defensive because of this game, but remain positive. The rising Indian team has gotten the test we all wanted. The gauntlet is down, and the series is far from over. No matter what the results, the fans need to back this team.

Clash of the Titan-Wannabes

November 14, 2005

Die Proteas*
The South Africans’ loss-less streak of 19 games is known to most cricket followers by now. The prospect of seeing two fast-rising teams go head-to-head is mouth-watering. Given that the Proteas are missing some first-choice players and are playing in foreign conditions, my money would be on India to win this series.
*Commentary will be available in Afrikaans somewhere, I presume. Confused? Look up “die” in Afrikaans.

Guilty until proven innocent
The innocent have nothing to fear. We’ve all head this before. If Gibbs and Boje are truly innocent, why then are they afraid to tour India? Their guilt is clear to my eye. Peter Roebuck (another one of my favorite cricket writers) dissects the issue in this fine article. UCB, by siding with these frauds, is debasing itself.

Promising, not proven
The rising, young Indian stars are promising, but not yet proven. There’s a lot of inexperience at the international level among Raina, Gambhir, Dhoni, RP Singh, Sreesanth, Kartik and Yadav. Playing in home conditions, however, will be helpful. They’re used to these conditions. The real test will come when they head overseas.

Dew diligence
Nothing like dew to dampen the prospects (except rain). It is a widely-held opinion that the evening dew aids batting and hampers fielding. That’s a shame given that 4 of the 5 games are day-night affairs. Can anybody shed some light on this issue? Is dew a problem at all grounds in India? Is it just during this season or throughout the year? I am just wondering what could be done to mitigate its effect (other than not holding D/N games).

After-thoughts
Looking at the tour itinerary (Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai), it seems the Poms had a point when they were complaining of being assigned remote venues.

A couple of years back, pitches at a lot of the Indian grounds were relaid, with the assistance of some New Zealanders, in the hope of making them faster. From what we’ve seen in the previous series against Sri Lanka, that hasn’t materialized (assuming a few of the venues used in that series were the ones that received the newer pitches). Most of them were slow with low or uneven bounce. Does anybody have an (official) status update on this? Are we still waiting for the pitches to get faster?

State of the Union

November 12, 2005

The Indian team has been rejuvenated and is on the cusp of a golden era. It seems to be stepping out from under a gloomy cloud into bright sunshine. Chappell and Dravid, in the midst of euphoric reactions from fans (such as my last post), insist on guarding against complacency and over-confidence, and for good reason. Sterner tests lie ahead. For the team as well as the fair-weather fans. While the Indians have bowled very well in helpful conditions, the Sri Lankans have also been of guilty of throwing their wickets away from time to time. The Indian batting has been hardly tested in half the games. South Africa won’t fold as easily. India not only needs to do very well against the South Africans, but also in other countries to prove that this meteoric rise is not a flash in the pan.

The Sri Lankans, who excel in home conditions unlike any other team, were in a similar position not too long ago. And how they have fallen in the blink of an eye. While their abysmal batting display is the obvious cause of the fiasco, I think there’s one more reason. Atapattu’s captaincy has been uninspiring and, to be blunt, simply horrific. While I can’t comment on his leadership skills, it’s very lucid to me that he lacks the mental aptitude (cricketing acumen, if you will) to make wise decisions on the field. In the 6th ODI, with India chasing 197, the only way he could have won was if he bowled them out. Why then did he decide to take the two optional powerplays within the first 25 overs? He’s done this time and again: exercise powerplays at inopportune times. What’s more, he committed a major faux pas and bowled 6 overs instead of 5 for the 3rd powerplay. While that was, in the end, irrelevant in this game, it could cost them a game in tighter circumstances. His field placings have been reactive rather than proactive, he’s been guilty of taking pressure off the Indians when he should have been capitalizing on it, he has shown that he can’t read a pitch if it were a book written in Sinhala (although he probably had some help in coming to that decision), and his ineptness has been exposed in face of the new ODI rules. The Sri Lankan selectors need to take note of this.

The Indians, meanwhile, are motoring along like a Hummer, featuring a plethora of riches and going right over anything in their path. Most players have put their hand up one time or another during this series, and shown that they deserve their spot in the team. Only the places of Kartik, Yadav and Sreesanth seem under question at this point. India is quickly finding its core nucleus of players and has its eyes firmly set on the prize: the 2007 World Cup. The bowling has been impressive, the batting line has a lot of depth, the fielding standard has gone up considerably, the bench strength is promising, and team spirits are high. Expectations from this team continue to rise, and all signs suggest they are not misplaced.

Mind-boggling

November 9, 2005

It’s lunch during Game 6.  Sri Lankans have been dismissed before the 50 overs for the fourth time in this series.  Impeccable keeping from Dhoni (two catches, one stumping, one run out, zero byes), a good display of bowling on what is a decent batting track (just 3 extras, all out for less than 200 within 43 overs), superb fielding (condoning a few misfields, the fielders were on the ball and hitting the stumps all the time), emergence of youth (add RP Singh to the list), and an ebullient and synergetic team performance have left me wondering what superlatives to lavish on this unit.  All I can manage for now is “mind-boggling.”  The upcoming series against S. Africa is all the more appealing.

Who could have predicted such a stark turn-around from the sorry state of things less than a month ago?  Much credit goes to Chappell, and Dravid as well.  The much maligned selection panel is ringing in the right changes, and its significance needs to be acknowledged.  Now, if only the BCCI could mimic this improvement in the administrative world.  I suppose that would require, akin to the coaching position, bringing in Rod Marsh to replace the incompetent Ranbir Singh Mahendra.

The Gentle Giant

November 7, 2005

Inzy remains one of the elite batsmen in contemporary cricket, and one of my favorites.  His stoic demeanor, intimidating presence, unphased temperament and languid grace make him a fascinating sight on a cricket pitch.  Mike Selvey pays his homage to this last of the breed non-conformist in this humorous piece.

The king of taking it easy

Musings

November 4, 2005

Sri Lankan fans must have been hoping for a Red Sox-like comeback from their national cricket team.  It was not to be, and now both South Africa and India have clean-swept their higher-ranked opponents.  South Africa, in fact, has won their last 12 ODIs.  The two teams meet next in a 5-ODI series and it should be exciting.

I wonder what was the thinking behind having Virender Sehwag as Dravid’s deputy?  Sehwag is a wonderful cricketer and not one phased by opponents’ reputations.  However, he doesn’t come across as a thinker or a particularly good strategist.  He can’t be termed disciplined, nor is he a good media person.  Was he appointed vice-captain simply because of the lack of a better option?

In one of my recent posts, I spoke about the English media panning BCCI for picking relatively unknown venues.  Mike Selvey now joins the castigation with some more accusations.  What stands out for me from his piece is that England had agreed to 4 tests and 5 ODIs and the Indian board dropped a test in favour of 2 more ODIs.  Grrr.  This board is doing a disservice to Indian cricket in so many ways (this case just being one of them) that it ought to be torn apart and rebuilt from scratch.

Duncan Fletcher makes an asinine excuse for dropping Thorpe from the Ashes in this article.  If he felt Pietersen was indisposable, Bell should have made way for Thorpe; but he dismisses that option saying he wasn’t comfortable with him playing at number four.  Thorpe had the most stand-out performance the previous season, has contributed so much to English cricket and he was meted out such shoddy treatment from the board and the team management (he complained, not of being dropped, but of no communication from the management to that end).  I know that’s in the past and England managed to win the Ashes despite Bell’s inexperience and incompetency, but I just had to vent my anger at the decision that was made.  Thorpe deserved a better farewell.