Tuesday, November 29, 2011

India v Australia - An Early Preview

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India's World Cup win and easy Test matches against the West Indies, have helped mask their Test match vulnerability against quality opposition on challenging pitches. The popular sentiment has been that England was a one-off debacle, where they were unlucky with injuries.

The real Test will come in Australia.

The Numbers
Over the most recent 24 month period, India and Australia have had remarkably similar numbers. However, India has won the perception game with everyone. The general feeling is that Australia is a weakened side in trouble while largely everything is okay with India. India has walked away relatively scot free in delivering the same numbers with a far more experienced side.

Leaving head-to-head contests aside, both have not lost a series to anyone other than England. It is due to India's dominance over Australia in the head-to-head contests that allows it to enjoy a slight edge in the overall numbers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ojha and Ashwin: The New Arshad Ayub and Narendra Hirwani?

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For all the criticism from everyone; including this blog; over the nature of the Wankhede pitch, the Mumbai Test produced the most thrilling draws of all time. Why Test Cricket cannot be marketed and turned into a profitable venture is a mystery to me.

The emergence of R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha is heartening. However having seen Arshad Ayub and Narendra Hirwani deliver a similar performance (41 wickets in 3 Tests) against a much stronger New Zealand in 1988 and then fritter away their careers; I know we must all pause and see where the new spin pair stand a couple of years from now and how they perform away from India against quality opposition; before we can truly hail their arrivals. After all for spinners getting wickets in India and winning Test matches is not such big of a deal. L Sivaramakrishna, Narendra Hirwani, Rajesh Chauhan, all have done that. May be Ashwin and Ojha are different. Only time will tell.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

BCCI makes it just a number

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Sachin Tendulkar has a habit of downplaying his many achievements. Humility is ingrained in his psyche and this has taken him further than any other celebrity in India. His humility has helped him overcome his numerous dips in form and his failures as captain. He has maintained that he is just another member of the team.

Unfortunately, his refrain of ordinariness has not helped his fans reduce their expectations of him. They frequently expect miracles from him, expect him to score big in every situation and win test matches all by himself for India. That he has only occasionally met these high expectations is not his fault. But it has given a lot of grist to his critics.

We, on this blog, have started believing that Tendulkar himself is trying to live up to these lofty expectations instead of simply playing to true to his words of humility and being "just another team member". His unwillingness to tour West Indies as a preparatory step to England, while being ready to play IPL being our chief argument. The results were clear. Whereas Dravid showed up in England, ready and able to do his job, Tendulkar fell woefully short.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Test Cricket needs Don Draper

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What a Test match that was at Johannesburg! What a series!! While the cricket was not always at its best; the contest was compelling. Can you ever write off Australia? South Africa and its inability to win at home against meaningful opposition means that an already exciting Test match calendar has been turned, even more so, by this Test result.

Australia, go into their series against New Zealand and India with ranking points on their minds. They are most certainly not a balanced side to win consistently but in Cummins, Australia have the right spice to seduce India later in the Australian summer. Then with England facing a string of Test matches in the subcontinent, we suspect their reign at the top will be short lived

India v Australia now will be an even more exciting prospect than before. The winner, by the end of the next year may be eyeing the number 1 slot…again.  All in all for Test Cricket fans, its much to look forward to.

Australia and South Africa have just played a fantastic, competitive and gripping Test Series that was at least 1 Test too short. Yet one can safely deduce that in the short run, this is not going to get the fans back to watching the format and talk of the imminent demise of the format will continue to foster. And then there are the people who jump up and down calling matches like these as “advertisements for Test cricket”. Frankly they should stop doing so because Test Cricket’s promise has never been as flimsy as a tight finish. If Test Cricket’s market strategy were nail biting finishes, then T20 cricket will kill Test cricket every day of the week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opinions On...Sachin

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After more than a quarter century of following Sachin Tendulkar, I am announcing my retirement from all forms of the game. I have arrived at this decision after careful thought but without consulting my friends and family. If I had consulted them, they would have thought I am nuts; which I probably am.

I know my time is up. My mind is not with Sachin's game any longer. I no longer switch on the Television even when I know that Sachin is batting and while I still switch off the television when Sachin gets out; I have to admit it more habit than instinct. There was a time when Sachin's batting helped soothe the pain of India's defeat. Today I crave for India to win without Sachin.

I am ready to move on to a newer India. An India which learns to win without Sachin; even if it loses a few in the process.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Time for the Next Gen

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In the Irani trophy in 1978, Dilip Vengsarkar smashed 151 against a bowling line-up that included Prasanna and Chandrashekar. Yet the selectors persisted in ignoring the obvious and named the spin quartet to tour Pakistan. Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad confirmed what Vengsarkar had already shown. The quartet was plundered in the test series. The Indian selectors missed a trick then and as a result the quartet had to retire under a cloud after a few more tests against a Packer-weakened West Indies. But they knew and the public knew that it was time.

India faces a similar challenge today. The batting stalwarts in the team deserve their places. Sachin, Dravid and Laxman routinely put in solid performances and make India a great test side. The recent clinical second innings batting performance against the West Indies showed what experience and skill is all about.

Yet something doesn't seem quite right with the Indian test team. It lacks a buzz, freshness and excitement that is the hallmark of good sides. Battle hardened as India's batsman are, England still steamrolled them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sachin's first Test that is one too many

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There is a lot India has to do in Test cricket just to stay in the same place; both figuratively and ranking-wise; starting with the home Test series against the West Indies.
The players may say all the right things when it comes to Test Cricket, but the priorities on display by everyone directly involved with the game, tell a different story. Except England, every country is managing Test cricket as if its a demising proposition. However, The most compelling cricket in recent weeks has been in the Test matches between Sri Lanka/Pakistan, Bangladesh/West Indies and to some extent between New Zealand/Zimbabwe. That of course is a matter of opinion. A matter of dwindling opinion, I might add.
So while the administrators are busy dressing up the game with new formats, chasing new money and new audiences, traditional cricket fans are starved for meaningful, contextual cricket. Since the 1983 World cup, there have been 7 more World Cups contested. 3 of them hosted by India. In the same period, West Indies have visited India only 3 times. Its lamentable. But as a fan, I will lap up whatever is on offer.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

India and West Indies Take Baby Steps

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The next month will see the return of test cricket to India. India will have to make a new beginning with old batting stalwarts. With Sehwag, Tendulkar and Laxman fit and back in the side, India's batting looks impregnable at home.

We have held Kohli in high regard despite his bland entry into test cricket in the West Indies. Yuvraj may be a spent force, but his performance in the World Cup has earned him a reward, given his passion to play test cricket. This, definitely, will be his last chance to come good. The conditions are ripe with a home series against West Indies.

India are trying to re-tool their bowling attack (again). This time they are partnering Ishant with Varun Aaron or Umesh Yadav. I do believe Varun has the goods to succeed at the test level. However, it all depends on how he maintains his body and how he develops. His speed is definitely a plus and his performance in the last ODI against England was heart-warming. He seems fiery enough to justify being pitch-forked into the test team.