Monday, November 26, 2012

Positives for India

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It’s not all bad for India. It may seem that way. Dig a little bit deeper. There are positives all around.

In 3 innings, Sachin Tendulkar has been clean bowled only once. Surely the man’s reflexes are still at his peak.

The lower order has shown spine. Once they stop showing that the mauling India will receive in the next 2 tests will make the Mumbai loss seem like an honorable effort.

The IPL is still the biggest league around the world

No one is yet calling for VVS Laxman to come out of retirement. This is a clear indication that India has its eyes firmly on building a team for the future.

Virendra Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir (Average 53) are still the best opening pair India has ever had

The world is still jealous of the IPL

Sachin Tendulkar is still not the worst batsman in the line up. Statistically he is but we are giving consideration to his ‘colossal record’

The best spinner in the series is a Sardar

Harbhajan Singh’s stature and non-performance has slowly risen to levels that has Mahendra Singh Dhoni itching to call him the ‘Sachin of Spinners’

The IPL is still the biggest league around the world

The one thing that irks Indian fans is no longer true. We are no longer bullies at home. Now we can lose abroad with our heads held high.

The IPL is still the biggest league around the world

The best fast bowler in the series is an Indian. So what if he now injured.

Nobody’s houses were burnt after the loss. This is a sure sign that Indian fans are maturing. Either that or they don’t care.

Dhoni got to retire to his hotel room early

The IPL is still the biggest league around the world

India has accidentally found a nice transition plan. We can now transition to a young team who can match the seniors; loss-for-loss

The IPL is still the biggest league around the world

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mumbai may end in dull draw

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Michael Clarke, David Warner and Mike Hussey lit up my TV screen like nothing else in recent times. The counterattack that Clarke and Warner launched post lunch was breathtaking. Clarke has scaled a batting peak few others will come close to. Granted it was achieved in home conditions, against the worlds best attack minus two. Plus, if SA are settling for Imran Tahir, then Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla may want to consider emigrating to SA.

I was wrong about Clarke. In the aftermath of the Sydney fiasco versus India in 2008, I had boldly opined that Clarke would meet the same fate as Kim Hughes. That the coming changes in the Australian team would lead him to despair. But Clarke is made of tougher stuff. Hats off to him on his batting. And for being an inspirational leader in his own right.

We now await India's next encounter with England. Given that Mumbai has recently lost its warlord, the curator will likely make a wicket for a draw. The logic being that a flat wicket would ensure that India don't lose and that a Sachin century would make him a hero. He would then dedicate his work to the recently departed satrap. India have no confidence in their attack though they eked out a win in Ahmedabad. Plus, a win in Mumbai without a significant contribution from Sachin would not satisfy the diehards. All in all expect a flat track with a run fest in the making.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

India's attempted shortcut to redemption hits a roadblock

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England have already proved, inside 4 days, that they are less bad in India than India were in England in 2011. For one, India never reached 300 in any of their 8 innings, I think.

When India arrived in England, they were not only the best ranked Test side, they also had been unbeaten in a Test Series in England for 15 years. 

They knew how to not lose and sneak in a few Test wins to win an entire series in England. Its not like to expect them to compete was to expect the BCCI to be statesmanlike.

The last time England won in India, Alastair Cook was not even born. England achieved their #1 ranking without conquering the sub continent. Early this year they were humiliated by Pakistan and their weakness against spin laid bare by Saeed Ajmal.

Yet, they came to India wanting to win. They gave themselves everything they thought they needed to win. They even patched up with disruptive forces in the dressing room. They gave themselves 3 practice games ahead of the Tests.

Contrast this to the summer of 2011 when India landed in England...

Indian players hid injuries, and exhausted themselves playing the IPL. India's losses in England and then in Australia were not because of inherent weaknesses to conquer these conditions. Those were conquered to the point where India knew how to compete in these places. India's losses in England and Australia were because something basic had changed in her thinking and priorities. 

And yet India's plan to redemption was to do nothing. Cook up delusional excuses. Confront none of the tough questions about the Seniors the IPL, etc. Their short cut plan was to prepare turning tracks, pick a few spinners, show up for the Test matches, expect England to roll over and then go on stage and say..."See nothings changed.."

After the first 2 1/2 days, I watched the score every morning worried that India's shortcut plan to redemption was working.

Then Alastair Cook stood up. Then Nick Comption. Then Matt Prior. And I know Tim Bresnan and Stuart Board will too, tomorrow

I am hoping again.

Hoping that England will pull this off. Hold on for a draw or score just enough runs that forces them to force a win.

I don't think its unpatriotic to hope your country loses or is embarrassed in a win. India's focus on the IPL that hampers their Test outcomes, as happened in 2011...that is unpatriotic.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Familiar Script, But India needs the Confidence....

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Two days of the first test match are behind us. A very familiar script is unfolding. England have their best weapons in the middle at the end of this day. If they are to make a match of this test, KP and Cook are their only hopes. Cook, made a debut hundred in India and is right up there among the best to have played the game of test cricket. His record of reeling off hundreds at a pace faster than Tendulkar is out there for everyone to see. KP is well, just KP. He is Tendulkar, Sehwag and Laxman rolled into one when the mood is right. The ask is steep and two batsmen can't win England test matches in India.

Graeme Swann has done what Shane Warne couldn't do before. Commanded the respect of Indian batsmen and at times even foxed them and bossed them. Watching him bowl, with virtually no variation, but good, disciplined off-spin makes one feel if doosras and carroms are over-rated balls. Most pundits have pronounced that Shane Warne's success was attributable chiefly to his accuracy and then to his ability to intimidate. Swann may be the off-spinning version of a Shane Warne style bowler. It's always fun watching Indian batsmen play good spinners.

If anyone truly mastered Swann, it was Cheteshwar Pujara. This guy has vindicated everyone's trust in his ability. His composure is remarkable. He wasn't batting too slowly. He was simply batting according to the ball being bowled. So at times he seemed to be circumspect and at other times he seemed aggressive. But nothing was pre-determined about his batting. It was like watching Geet Sethi notch up his huge billards scores. Keep going by playing according to the merit of every ball being bowled. Nothing more or less. Being on 98 overnight was a direct product of this discipline. It was almost like he truly internalized Tendulkar's mantra that 100 is just a number. Pujara is practising what Tendulkar wishes he could. We all know that even the great Tendulkar plays differently while approaching landmarks.

The question that comes to mind is this. Are the selectors looking in the wrong places for replacements? Pujara doesn't set the T20 world alight. He doesn't play ODIs for India. He is a thoroughbred test batsman. Maybe he'll break into the ODI team, maybe he won't. But his test place is assured. We worried about whether he can replace Dravid and he has. Pundits will say, "Well, we have to see how he performs overseas." But we all know that  Pujara has bought himself one or two overseas series before doubts are cast about his ability to step up overseas. Personally, considering his temperament, I'm sure he'll do well overseas too. He'll defintely prosper in the Adelaides, Sydneys and Ovals. And if one or two centuries per overseas series are the benchmark to keep your place in the team, then he'll easily make it.

Virat Kohli seems to be hitting a slight patch of bad form. He could do no wrong in the last 12 months and it appears that he is now finding run making that much more difficult. But I give him a lot of credit for struggling through his 67 balls and not giving away his wicket. He should have been taken by Trott, but he shrugged that off and kept going. Attitude wise, there was no shortcomings, but I do believe that his form is beginning a worrisome downward trend. Happens to every batsman, but they work it off. Time for Virat to spend time with coach Fletcher and figure out a way out of this. Grit it out - as they say.

Yuvraj too played a determined innings and his hunger was evident in his approach. This is fantastic for Indian cricket that Yuvraj is respecting test match cricket for what it is and is working to crack the code. This is great news for the survival of test cricket too. I hope he makes a couple of good hundreds in the next few tests coming up and cements his place in the side for the next 8 or so years. For India, a formidable Yuvraj coming in at number 6 can only demoralize the opposition bowlers. He can take the right to the opposition as the situation demands and looks like is willing to buckle down and graft if the situation requires. Fantastic.

If I have no words about Sehwag's hundred, its because whatever I say, he can prove me wrong in the next few matches. He could end up throwing his wicket away or he could slam a triple. The guy is nuts. The team can afford him and also feed off him. His failures don't necessarily result in losses, but his successes invariably lead to victory. A nice place for the Indian team to be.

And finally the elephant in the room, Tendulkar. What's he doing in this team of kids? It feels like Amitabh playing a college kid in a bollywood movie. Of course the man can act well, even act like a college kid. But why? I'm sure he'll reel off a couple of hundreds in this series. He's still got it. But I ain't watching test matches to see him score hundreds anymore. Been there, done that. Now I'm watching Pujara, Kohli and even the new Yuvraj and perhaps Rahane or Rohit Sharma. That's right, I  haven't given up on that guy yet. :-)

Friday, November 9, 2012

England In India: Questions ahead of a potentially ugly series

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What trophy is the series played for?
The first India-England series I was aware of was in 1979. I remember vividly following the Oval Test on All India Radio, where India fell 9 runs short of chasing a mammoth fourth innings target. The match was drawn. Later, I remember Botham came to India and single handedly won a one-off Test. Ever since I have followed series’ with England keenly, without knowing that a certain Anthony De Mello’s name was associated with the series.

But now I am curious, what sort of relationship exists between the BCCI and ECB. Each board plays its own series for a different trophy? They can’t even agree on what to name the series, why were we expecting them to agree on the technology that aids LBW decisions.

Can’t these 2 boards agree over dead people at least? I mean surely Anthony De Mello and the Sr. Nawab of Pataudi can’t sort this out.

Personally, I liked the Pataudi Trohy. Border-Gavaskar, Murali-Warne, etc seem too lame. Pataudi played both for England and India evenly. Someone from the De Mello family can be invited to present the trophy. Win-Win… Isn’t it?

How much more farcical will practice matches become?
If the next time England visits India and the BCCI schedules a practice game against, say Essex 4th XI in Chelmsford and completely avoid giving the English team any orientation to Indian conditions, I will not be surprised. Further I will be aghast if anyone raises eyebrows because what England have been given on this tour is not far from the farce I am painting.

How many times will Sachin get bowled?
Forget the technologies behind the DRS, India is yet to embrace research from the beginning of time that as man (and woman) ages, his (or her) reflexes slow down. Sachin Tendulkar is great. See I said it. But he is now truly a comic hero. I mean he triggers comedic support from his die hard fans. I would love to see Sachin getting bowled a few times, preferably early in the series. Then read all the articles on how ‘Sachin will silence his critics’. Frankly it’s the balls that he does not get bowled that bother me. A number 4 batsman struggling at a rate of 2-3 runs per over when the out of form openers (average 53) have been scoring at 5-6 an over, is painful to watch.

What does India’s dossier on English players look like?
My guess is that India’s dossier on English players would contain personal statistics of each of the Indian players against each of the England’s. So 15 by 15… Do the math. And that will be used in press conferences to defend a poor passage of play.

How many overs before Zaheer Khan breaks down?
I say by the 3rd Test he will be out, so I say sometime after 50 overs.

Is Alastair Cook the next Sachin Tendulkar?
Yes. Get him out and India will win.

When will English players stop talking their ECB mandated line on ‘Kevin Pietersen’?
No. It’s mandatory for all to English players to say how nice it is to have Pietersen back in the ‘fold’ and how England is a better side with him in it.

Does the series matter?
No, whether India wins or loses…IPL will be the winner

If India loses what will be their excuse?
Pitches were not made to match our incompetence to fast bowling in our home conditions. Gambhir will say…we will show you in the IPL

If England loses what will be their excuse?
I think England believe they can win this series. If the going gets tough for them things might get ugly between the teams. I am sensing a very ugly series… Ugly in a good way. Like the March 2001 series against Australia. Or may be that’s what I want. Test cricket needs what I want