Friday, December 31, 2010

RECENT HISTORY DISAGREES WITH GOUGH

Darren Gough's statement that England can beat India any day of the week has naturally ruffled a few feathers... as I assume it was meant to! It's strange though to hear this comment... simply because England has not beaten India in a Test series (home or away) since 1996.

I was just checking the tour schedule of India's 1996 tour to England... when two youngsters by the name of Sourav Chandidas Ganguly and Rahul Sharad Dravid made their Test debuts. And that tour schedule made a very interesting reading...

Besides playing 3 Tests (against England) and 5 ODIs (3 against England and 2 against the Netherlands), India played 8 three-day matches and 4 one-day matches in preparation for their campaign at different points during that tour. That makes it a total of 12 practice matches.

TWELVE PRACTICE MATCHES??

Sounds like some different era to me! Gosh, I can't believe that a couple of guys from that time are still around the Indian team right now... and who play the most important away Test series, one that could justify and consolidate their top ranking, without a single practice game...

But that is not the point. Coming back to Darren Gough's claim... he feels that England is the best Test team right now. Given that they have just retained the Ashes in Australia... a feat not achieved for 24 years... it is quite all right to think so.

But England's away record is still no better than India's! India has an away series win against England and two away Test wins against South Africa and Australia each to talk of during the 2000s. However, here is England's record against India over the last decade:

In India (2001-02) - Lost 1-0 in a 3-Test series
In England (2002) - Drew 1-1 in a 4-Test series
In India (2005-06) - Drew 1-1 in a 3-Test series
In England (2007) - Lost 1-0 in a 3-Test series
In India (2008-09) - Lost 1-0 in a 2-Test series

So in the last 15 matches between these two teams, the record stands thus: India Win - 5, England Win - 2, Draw - 8.

Most cricket experts were of the opinion that despite India being the top-ranked team on the table, only a series win in South Africa can justify that rank. Given that England is not even ranked at the top, they would need to do a lot more than just beat Australia in Australia to justify Darren Gough's claim.

The three teams in the mix for the top spot are India, South Africa and England. Given that England and South Africa played each other last year, India and South Africa are playing each other now (having already played once during the year gone by) and England - India are scheduled to play during the next year, we can have a clearer claimant to the top spot by August 2011.

Till then, Mr. Darren Gough may have his views... but he'll have a tough job convincing non-Englishmen regarding the sanctity of his views!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

ODI TEAM OF THE YEAR 2010

Here's my pick for the ODI team for the year 2010...


01. Hasim Amla (1058 runs in 15 matches @ Avg 75.57 and SR 104.23, 100s-5, 50s-4) - SA
02. Tillakaratne Dilshan (921 runs in 20 matches @ Avg 51.16 and SR 988.82, 100s-3, 50s-4) - SL
03. Virat Kohli (995 runs in 25 matches @ Avg 47.38 and SR 85.11, 100s-3, 50s-7) - Ind
04. AB De Villiers (964 runs in 16 matches @ Avg 80.33 and SR 102.11, 100s-5, 50s-4) - SA
05. Kumar Sangakkara (726 runs in 17 matches @ Avg 48.40 and SR 84.41, 100s-0, 50s-7, Cat-27, St-4) (c)(wk) - SL
06. Michael Hussey (825 runs in 24 matches @ Avg 45.83 and SR 91.56, 100s-0, 50s-6) - Aus
07. Shakib Al Hasan (27 matches, 787 runs @ Avg 32.79, SR 80.14, 100s-1, 50s-5, 46 wkts @ Avg 26.00, ER 4.80) - Ban
08. Graeme Swann (28 wkts in 14 matches @ Avg 18.67 and ER 4.25) - Eng
09. Stuart Broad (30 wkts in 16 matches @ Avg 24.86 and ER 5.21) - Eng
10. Ryan Harris (40 wkts in 16 matches @ Avg 15.17 and ER 4.63) - Aus
11. Doug Bollinger (28 wkts in 19 matches @ Avg 23.39 and ER 4.36) - Aus

TEST TEAM OF THE YEAR 2010

I have donned the selector's hat... and here's my pick for the Test Team of the Year 2010:

OPENERS:

Alastair Cook (1287 runs in 14 matches @ Avg 58.50 and SR 54.76, 100s-5, 50s-4)
Virendra Sehwag (1422 runs in 14 matches @ Avg 61.82 and SR 90.80, 100s-5, 50s-8)

The young and promising Alastair Cook and the belligerent Virendra Sehwag should make a great opening pair for the Test Team of the year. Tamim Iqbal and Graeme Smith did make their cases strong, but they couldn't beat the sheer consistency of this pair.

MIDDLE ORDER:

Hashim Amla (1249 runs in 11 matches @ Avg 78.06 and SR 53.05, 100s-5, 50s-4)
Sachin Tendulkar (1562 runs in 14 matches @ Avg 78.10 and SR 55.90, 100s-7, 50s-5)
Johnathan Trott (1325 runs in 14 matches @ Avg 66.25 and SR 49.44, 100s-4, 50s-4)
Jacques Kallis (1198 runs in 11 matches @ Avg 79.86 and SR 54.01, 100s-6, 50s-2)

These four members picked themselves... but the difficult question was whom to accommodate at their usual No. 3 and No. 4 positions, and whom to push down to No. 5 and No. 6.

Eventually, Amla beat Trott to No. 3 because Amla's runs have come against more difficult oppositions. Trott scored 805 runs against Bangladesh and Pakistan whereas Amla scored 386 runs against West Indies and Pakistan. This, and slightly superior strike rate, sealed the No. 3 spot for Amla.

For the No. 4 spot, Tendulkar scored 390 runs against Bangladesh and New Zealand whereas Kallis scored 606 runs against West Indies and Pakistan. So the No. 4 spot went to Tendulkar.

It is sad that AB De Villiers, Kumar Sangakkara and VVS Laxman had to miss out... but there just isn't any more space left in the team.

WICKETKEEPER:

MS Dhoni (749 runs in 13 Tests @ Avg 41.61 and SR 55.48, 100s-1, 50s-4, Cat-41, St-7)

Sangakkara averaged 99.28 for the year but did not keep wickets even once through the year. AB De Villiers scored 996 runs but kept wickets only once. Matthew Prior had 8 more dismissals than Dhoni, but scored 640 runs at an average of 40.00. Brendon McCullum was also considered, but was not the ideal choice. So despite having not-too-impressive batting figures, Dhoni forms a part of the Test Team for the Year 2010 and in an obvious choice, takes the captaincy of the team.

BOWLERS:

Graeme Swann (64 wkts in 14 matches @ Avg 25.96, ER 2.88 and SR 54.0)
Dale Steyn (60 wkts in 11 matches @ Avg 21.41, ER 3.29 and SR 39.0)
Zaheer Khan (47 wkts in 9 matches @ Avg 21.97, ER 3.31 and SR 39.8)
James Anderson (57 wkts in 12 matches @ Avg 22.96, ER 2.82 and SR 48.7)

The three pacers in prime form, with the best spinner in the world to accompany them, forms a potent bowling unit. The irrepressible Jacques Kallis can lend good support and Virendra Sehwag's off spin can be called for when the chips are down.

Morne Morkel performed brilliantly through the year, but despite his 49 wickets, there is no one amongst the 4 listed above whom one would want to see out to accommodate Morkel. Steven Finn was also good through the year, but not enough to make the team.

FINAL TEAM:

A Cook (Eng), V Sehwag (Ind), H Amla (SA), S Tendulkar (Ind), J Trott (Eng), J Kallis (SA), MS Dhoni (Ind) (c)(wk), G Swann (Eng), D Steyn (SA), Z Khan (Ind), J Anderson (Eng).

YEAR 2010: TEST CRICKET IN REVIEW

With Shahid Afridi's googly to clean up Kyle Mills and Pakistan a 103-run win in the 3rd Twenty20 International, the international cricket action for the year 2010 has come to an end.

Like all other years before it, 2010 has also seen lots of highs, a number of lows, exhilarating action, tense finishes, crazy battles, moments of madness and everything possible. However, two things happened in 2010 that have never happened before... a 200* in ODIs by Sachin Tendulkar and a 201* in the Centurion Test for Jacques Kallis... both very special moments.

The year started by Sehwag calling Bangladesh an ordinary Test side. Over the year, Tamim Iqbal led Bangladesh's spirited reply to prove Sehwag wrong. Eventually, I am sure he must have convinced a lot of Englishmen that Bangladesh is not an ordinary side.

The year saw the retirement of the legendary Muttiah Muralitharan with 800 wickets in the game of Test cricket. He bowed out on a near-perfect script. It would have been a completely perfect script had it been an innings win for the Lankans... and that wicket of Ojha would have been the final act of the Test match. That was not to be and the Sri Lankan openers had to come out to bat again. But Murali must have still been obviously delighted.

On that same island later in the year, Chris Gayle joined Sir Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Virendra Sehwag as a batsman to have scored to 300+ scores in Test cricket. But it was sad that the tour of West Indies to Sri Lanka turned out to be such a farce... with weather dictating the results of all the three Tests.

India did enough to hold on to their No. 1 position in Test cricket with 8 wins, 3 losses and 3 draws during the year and no series losses. Sachin Tendulkar topped the Test run-scoring charts for the year and entered his 22nd year in international cricket.

England performed exceptionally well and have shown that they are ready to challenge for the No. 1 spot in the coming year. They have retained their priceless urn in Australia for the first time in 24 years. They have a brilliant bowling unit with excellent reserves to stand up and be counted when required.

South Africa also had a good year... 5 wins, 2 losses and 4 draws. The fact that both their losses this year came against India... at home and away in two completely different sets of conditions... has put a dampener in their claim to being the best side in Test cricket.

Bangladesh, though they don't have the results to show for it, did take a few good strides in the right direction in their journey towards becoming a competitive Test unit. Shakib Al Hasan continued to show that he is truly a phenomenal character and Tamim Iqbal matched him well.

Australia, on the other hand, slipped badly on the Test ladder. They started the year decently with 5 wins in first 5 Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand. However, since then, things have changed dramatically for them. It was followed by 3 consecutive losses before they failed to regain the Ashes at home. For the first time in history, Australia have lost 2 home matches by an innings margin in the same Test series. They were also bowled out twice this year for sub-100 scores.

New Zealand and West Indies has expectedly bad performances during the year... though I must say that New Zealand did perform very well to draw the first 2 Tests in India (aided by the highway pitches). Nevertheless, Chris Martin's prodigious in-swingers to rattle India's top order on such a highway pitch was one of the highlights of the year for me.

And now, Pakistan. What can be said? They had four different Test captains this year. This in itself should be a crisis. But when you say that this was definitely not the biggest crisis that Pakistan cricket faced over the year, then it becomes unthinkable. No international cricket at home was already affecting them adversely before the spot-fixing scandal completely shook the world. Just when the world was beginning to take notice and be impressed by the raw talent of the teen-aged Mohammed Aamer and the cool demeanour of Salman Butt as a captain, there came the new allegations. To top it all, Pakistan's cricket suffered even away from the field... with Ijaz Butt as the head of PCB.

It has been a fulfilling year for Test cricket lovers and followers because there were plenty of reasons to smile. Lets hope that 2011 does give us more of the same.

CHALLENGING THE HISTORY

It felt nice to see India bounce back from their SuperSport nightmare at Centurion to win at Kingsmeade, Durban against South Africa. The loss at Centurion had deflated a lot of hopes... and most of those are back high again.

A lot of us already feel that this win, though special, is not an oddity. No away wins are oddities now. India's performances at the Test level over the past few seasons have given us all a reason to expect something more out of the team.

While I do hope that India should win the next Test at Cape Town and seal the series, I also do know that it will be a huge task for them. India have not won two consecutive Tests in an away tour since 1986 against England (Test tours of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been excluded here). In India's entire Test history, such occasions of 2 successive Test wins on away tour against the top-8 Test nations have occurred only thrice.

So it would be apt to say that the Indian team is up against it. But then, they have been up against it many times in the recent past... and still come out trumps. They have been up against it every time they have lost a toss in the recent past and still win the Test. They were up against it when Zaheer was ruled out at P Sara Oval and yet managed a win to level the series. They were up against it when almost a 100 runs were needed at Mohali against Australia with just 2 wickets in hand and yet managed to squeeze out a 1-wicket win. They were up against it when Dale Steyn demolished the batting lineup at Nagpur and still managed to come back with an innings win at Kolkata.

If any Indian team has given its fans reason to believe that they can challenge history and change it, this one is it. They have conquered peaks that no Indian team of the past has... and they have set their sights on new peaks that the Indian teams of the past didn't even know existed!

Before winding up, I have to mention a word for Zaheer Khan. I know that VVS Laxman won the Man of the Match, and deservedly so... but Zaheer's performance was more special to me than all the other performances put together by the Indians. He came back into a bowling unit that had managed to take just 4 wickets in the previous Test. The lowest score amongst the South Africans who batted at Centurion had been 62 by skipper Graeme Smith. And as if by magic, Zaheer's entry almost changed the entire character of India's bowling unit.

Suddenly, Smith decided to make Peterson take the first strike when it was their turn to bat. The innings started on this negative note... and never had anything positive about it through to its end. Zaheer eventually got a go at Smith... and had him. After that, he took 5 more wickets in the match... and helped his mates pick up the rest by creating pressure on the batsmen. If his first spell of the second innings is excluded, Zaheer's economy rate was 2.56. His second spell in the second innings had the figures: 3-2-1-0. That pressure created at the end of Day 3 was sustained by Sreesanth and Harbhajan at the end of Day 4... and India was rewarded.

Though I may not approve of his continuous chatting with thee batsmen, but to his credit, he never looked like he had overstepped the mark... and he got the results almost every time. There was a stark contrast in that Zaheer of World Cup 2003 finals, whose first over yielded 15 runs including a first-ball no-ball and yet he had the audacity to stare at the batsmen... and this Zaheer, who stared, chatted and got under the skins of the batsmen and also delivered the goods for the team. Truly, Zaheer Khan has come a long long way and has been one of the most instrumental figures in India's continual journey to and through the No. 1 spot in Test cricket.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A BRUTE!

A snorter from Sreesanth dismissed the key man for South Africa... Jacques Kallis!

WHAT EXACTLY IS THAT?

Did Andy Flower choreograph this?

THE DECIDING DAY AT DURBAN

The Durban Test is all set for a thrilling finish... South Africa can win the series with 192 more runs... India can level it with 7 more wickets.

Durban has seen rain overnight... and though the sun is out again, I hope the early morning start will see a bit of help for the Indian pacers, particularly Zaheer Khan. If Sreesanth keeps his head about him, he may also prove to be crucial to the task.

For South Africa, the overnight batsmen are the key. Before they commenced the chase, I had figured out that four batsmen in their top-5 are the biggest threats in my opinion - Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers. Two of them are out and two of them are in. If the Indian pacers can use some help that they might gain from the conditions and dismiss these two early, the game might well be in the bag.

Yes, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher are good batsmen... and the South African lower order can hang around (Morkel and Harris) or even spank the ball a bit (Steyn). But the situation in this Test is so tight that it will be hard to hold the nerves.

Most people are saying that Harbhajan will be the key man considering the bounce he might be able to generate on the pitch. But I would still peg Zaheer as the key man for India. Bhajji might prove useful if the match gets too tight as he is a lot more experienced than the South African lower order batsmen (except Boucher).

There may not be a lot of clouds in the Kingsmead sky, but there should be a bit of moisture due to the rains last night. I hope India can use this to their advantage and manage a victory here. It is too tight to call at the moment. The match should begin in less than 10 minutes now... and I am off now to watch it.

THE PACKAGE OF RICKY PONTING

An innings and 157 runs... that's a crushing margin! And it sounds worse when it is the margin of victory for a visiting team in an Ashes Test match!

England have retained the Ashes and will look to win this series against Australia when they travel to Sydney for the New Year Test. With this loss, we know for sure that there might be massive changes to the Australian set up post Sydney Test... maybe even before it. Ricky Ponting is almost certainly playing his last Test series as an Australian captain.

When Ponting took over the full time Australian captaincy from Steve Waugh after the Sydney Test of 2004 against India, he must have hoped that he too would one day get the sort of farewell that was given to his former captain. Ponting may still take a lap of honour on someone's shoulders after his final Test... but when he does bid adieu, it will be as a member of an Australian side that are no longer the world beaters and champions that Steve Waugh had led till his final Test.

I have always looked at Ponting with two different views... one is the batsman and the other is the captain.

As a batsman, Ricky Ponting is par excellence. He is one of the best in the era he played in... and at the time of his peak, he was probably the best in the world at that time. He's played at that crucial No. 3 position... and done complete justice to it. Yes, there are criticisms and weaknesses. The weakness at the start of his innings when he is fidgety and tends to feel for the ball outside his off stump by planting his front foot forward, the weakness against quality spin bowling, the recently discovered weakness against the short-pitches bowling... but then, they all have their weaknesses.

The criticisms have also been there... that he cannot adapt his game to suit the declining standards of the rest of his team, that he is very rigid and does not want to change his game, that he was a great batsman only when he had other great cricketers in the team with him...

As a captain, Ricky Ponting, in my opinion, has been overrated a lot of times. The outstanding statistics that he possesses as the captain of Australia would have been possessed by any other captain had he gotten the two resources called Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath for the majority of his captaincy career... not to forget the great compliments called Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.

He has not been inspirational enough to turn an ordinary side into a strong and forceful unit. Yes, the team under him has always fought tooth and nail... but fighting is just a part of the story... delivering the results is what matters more. Ponting is on the verge of becoming just the second Australian skipper to lose three Ashes series, first to lose one at home in almost two and a half decades... he does not have a series win as a captain in England and he does not have a single Test win as a captain in India. One may say that he almost managed one at Mohali earlier this year, but even if he had, 1 Test win in India as a captain of the Australian side in 7 attempts would not have been too flattering either.

I, for one, have criticised him at every available opportunity... and I guess, I will always have some criticisms about him. But right now, I am not going to dwell further on those.

It is sad to see Ponting in the state he is in currently. The team under him is not good enough to challenge a strong side... even at home. His batting is going nowhere under the pressures of leading a mediocre side. For a man who is so used to winning (he has played 99 Tests in which his side has won... that's one world record that will be hard to break!), it is a sorry figure that he cuts out in the field these days.

Yes, that sadness disappears and contempt returns when I see Ponting arguing with the umpire over a decision that is not going to be overturned no matter what he says. The old feeling of frustration returns when I read his 'apology' over the incident where he still maintains that he was right in thinking the batsman was out. That feeling of pity erodes when I still see that cockiness in him on the field as if he is still the leader of a champion side that can win from any situation.

But it is short lived... because now even I am coming to the realisation that Ricky Ponting, like all the other players, comes as a package. The great batting, the outstanding fielding, that cocky attitude, that appetite for a fight, those hollow words when he talks about the 'spirit of cricket'... all that and more.

He is coming to the end of his career, and whenever I may think back about him, I will have confused feelings. He has never been amongst my favourite cricketers... but I still don't want to see him go out of the game when he is down. He has been a champion player, and champions shouldn't go out this way!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

PERHAPS HIS LAST WALK BACK AS CAPTAIN

... certainly the last one as captain at the MCG!

Friday, December 17, 2010

THE BIGGEST POSITIVE FOR INDIA

India has ended Day 1 on the First Test against South Africa at Centurion on 136 for 9. The damage that has already been inflicted on them cannot be undone now... but believe it or not, India can take some positives from the two short sessions bowled today.

There was the batting of Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh... with MS Dhoni still holding ground. But with a batting lineup such as the one India boasts of, these performances are bound to be there even in a low score. So these are not the positives that I was thinking of.

There is one major positive... South Africa's lack of attacking backup bowlers. Steyn and Morkel bowled wonderfully and complemented each other well. Whereas Morkel worked his batsmen out by using the old one-two of a bouncer followed by a fuller length ball, Steyn was content on concentrating on his fuller length and generate swing at high speeds of over 90 mph during the post tea session. Steyn used very little of the bouncers... there was one very good one that hit Gambhir on the shoulder.

These two brilliant new ball operators have taken 7 of the 9 Indian wickets to fall thus far... 3 for Steyn and 4 for Morkel. However, apart from these two, no one in the South African attack has looked threatening enough. The bowling figures of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Jacques Kallis and Paul Harris combined read 16 overs, 3 maidens, 1 wicket for 76 runs... i.e. 4.75 runs per over.

Though Kallis went at a decent 3.33 runs per over and also got 1 wicket of Raina, he was never threatening. He generated a decent pace, dug in a few short, but was well handled by most Indian batsmen. Tsotsobe was the reason today that India managed to cross the 100-run mark. All the 3 sixes of the Indian innings were hit of his bowling. And frankly, I was surprised that Graeme Smith persisted with him to give him 9 overs. Though Harris did not get a lot of chance, I am sure none of the Indian batsmen will be losing their sleep at the prospect of facing his bowling.

So even though the present situation of 136 - 9 is quite grave, India should know that there is still a lot left in the game. The weather may help India again as there are showers and thunderstorms expected on the 4th and 5th days. But apart from that, India will also know that if the initial burst of Steyn and Morkel can be seen through, the rest will not pose much of a threat and South Africa can then be attacked. Once there are a few runs on the board and the batsmen are settled in, even Steyn and Morkel will not be that very threatening in their further spells.

Even if Tsotsobe is replaced during the next Test by Ryan McLaren or Wayne Parnell, there is no reason to believe that they will be able to maintain the pressure exerted by their strike bowlers.

In such a scenario, it will be interesting to see how the Indian pacers perform. They are nowhere as good as Steyn and Morkel (especially in the absence of Zaheer Khan), but in helpful conditions, they can be a handful. If the Indian bowlers put up a large performance tomorrow, there may yet be a result in the match even if it rains over the last 2 days. Otherwise, we may go to Kingsmeade, Durban at 0 - 0.

PARALLEL REVIEWS OF DAY 1 AT PERTH AND CENTURION

Two pretty quick pitches, two captains winning the toss and inserting the opposition in to face the music, and two batting units failing. Eventually, the Australian lower order did enough to drag them up to a decent 268, but it would be an achievement if India even manages to touch 150.

Anderson, Tremlett, Steyn and Morkel were all brilliant. Finn, Swann and Kallis were decent. Tsotsobe was pathetic. Despite the large difference in scores, in my opinion, Australia should be just as disappointed as India. Because most of the Australians gave away their wickets, whereas the major Indian wickets were earned by some fine bowling.

Sehwag fell needlessly, and I have already expressed my disappointment with him over here. Ponting, Clarke, Gambhir and Raina fell due to their own tentativeness. Hughes, Hussey, Harris, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman fell to good deliveries. But whereas a lot of assistance was expected and available to the quicker men at Centurion due to the overhead as well as pitch conditions, it wasn't quite the same case at Perth.

It was a pretty quick pitch at Perth (despite the fact that a few strokes went well in front of the wicket). Prior was regularly collecting balls with fingers pointed upwards. In fact, coming to think of it, there were just four balls that I can remember from the entire first innings (and I did watch the majority of it) where Prior collected the ball below his knees.

But despite its pace and the control that Anderson and Tremlett operated with, it wasn't quite as difficult to bat at Perth as it was at Centurion. This, though, is no excuse for the Indian batting collapse as 136 - 9 is not acceptable in any conditions for a batting lineup as good as any.

Both Australia and India should have done way better than they have done today. As a result of their lack of application, both these teams now face an upward task against English and South African teams on fire... buoyed by their own performances.

The chances of fightback look slim to me... for differing reasons. In case of the Perth Test, Australia just don't look strong enough to me to fight back and come storming back into the Test. They may win a session or two... but eventually, England will prove that they are a much better side. And in case of the Centurion Test, though India is a strong team, they are in a much bigger hole right now... and with a bowling attack without its leader, India might just find it beyond them to force their way back.

But then, I will hope, for the sake of the game of cricket that we see a bit of fight before these matches end.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

THIS TIME IT WAS RECKLESS

I am, for a change, disappointed with Virender Sehwag. Usually, I always leap up to defend Viru even when he throws away his wicket. But today, I am going to be the prosecutor, not the defendant.

The shot that Sehwag was trying to play when he got out might well have connected and the ball would have screamed towards the deep cover boundary. But it would still have been a reckless shot.

That delivery was the first time Sehwag's bat made contact with the ball during this tour of South Africa in a match situation. And given the kind of shot he was attempting, it's no wonder it landed in the hands of that bearded fielder at third man.

A few Indian players reached South Africa early to get acclimatised with the conditions. Gary Kirsten did thousands of throw downs in the nets and at his academy to get his batsmen ready. But none of that can get you into match rhythm, especially in difficult and alien conditions as India encountered. So in such a situation, for Sehwag to go for that wild swing of his bat without having felt the ball even once during the match, it was reckless and irresponsible.

Most observers would agree that Sehwag, of late, has become a more dangerous proposition than he originally was because he has now become a little more selective in his shot-making and more aware of the match conditions and the team's dependence on the starts provided by him.

But there was nothing selective or responsible about that shot today... and I am utterly disappointed with him. I know Strauss went for a third ball duck at the Gabba and yet England are not too far away from retaining the Ashes now. But expecting something similar here will be stretching imagination beyond reasonable boundaries.

I just hope now that our weakened pace attack of Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and the debutant Jaidev Unadkat show a bit of fight tomorrow and manage to strike a few telling blows early. Lets see if the contest becomes more of a contest tomorrow...

YOU BEAUTY!

Collingwood leaps to catch an edge from Ponting during the Third Ashes Test at WACA, Perth

THE CENTURION TEST

The anticipation is almost palpable now. For both the Tests that start tomorrow... particularly South Africa v India at SuperSport Park, Centurion. I just hope that the Gods don't decide to pour water all over the show.

Since I have already done a preview (sort of) of the Perth Test, this one will focus on the Centurion one. The match starts on 16th December 2010. This day - the 16th of December - holds special memories for Indian Test cricket fans. Exactly 7 years ago, on 16th December 2003, India defeated a world-beating Steve Waugh-led Australia at Adelaide and announced to the world that lousy visitors we are no more!

It marked the start of a new era. Some may argue that this era began with the victory in England in 2002 itself... when we showed that we are capable of winning Tests in alien conditions as well. But the Adelaide win was way beyond just a win... it was a celebrated milestone, and India has not looked back since then.

Though there are question marks now over the spot of the chief architect of that win (viz. Rahul Dravid), there can be no denying that he would want to erase those question marks with a strong match and series winning performance in South Africa... along with his contemporaries Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. The desire is almost a desperation now... and when such stalwarts are desperate, you know that something's bound to give!

On the other hand, South Africa is also aware of the importance of this series... and they know that a series win against India is the biggest step (almost a leap) that they can take in their desire of regaining the mantle of No. 1 Test team in the world. If the ICC Rankings are disconsidered for a moment, then there are a lot of people in the world who hold the belief that the South Africans are the real No. 1 team in the Test world. But India has an opportunity to shake this belief... to destroy this notion and firmly establish themselves as the best cricket team in whites.

The weather has been very wet in this build up to the First Test. There are chances that a lot of play will be lost on most of the days. So whereas I was initially hoping that India should bat first (simply because Gambhir - Sehwag v Steyn - Morkel is THE BATTLE of the series), now I hope otherwise. Batting first under cloudy skies with wetness in the pitch will be extremely difficult against the South African pace attack... just as it will be difficult for Smith, Peterson, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers and Prince against the Indian pace attack minus Zaheer Khan.

Zaheer's loss may have a telling effect, but the best that India could have hoped for in Zaheer's absence was for helpful conditions to assist the likes of Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and Unadkat / Yadav (I believe that it will be the former who makes the cut tomorrow). If India does bowl first under overcast skies, that should compensate well enough for Zaheer's absence.

Talking about Zaheer, its only apt that we drop a line of two about Zaheer's potential replacement for the match as well. I would like to see Jaidev Unadkat make his debut tomorrow... and given how this 19-year old had performed six months back in his first-class debut at Leicester with a 13-for, I will definitely be hoping for another impressive performance on his Test debut. He (or Umesh Yadav) will be the 267th Test player for India... but I guess Unadkat will be the first teammate of Sachin Tendulkar who would have been born after the master made his debut over 21 years ago (he has played AGAINST youngsters who were born after his debut... I can recall Mohammed Aamer during the ODI match against Pakistan during the Champions Trophy last year).

Sorry for digressing... but now that I have brought up the topic of Sachin Tendulkar, there has to be a mention of the eagerly-awaited 50th Test ton also. Another feather in that cap, which must weigh a ton now!

On that note, I end this preview... and lets hope that we witness a cracking start to the blockbuster contest tomorrow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A LOOK AHEAD TO PERTH

And finally, it has happened! The selectors of the Australian National Cricket Team have finally realised that Marcus North needs to be dropped... and they have done just that!

Marcus North has had so many chances by now that I was almost starting to think of him as 'The Boy Who Lived'. But finally, he's been dropped from Australia's 12-man squad for the Third Ashes Test at WACA, Perth from the 16th of December 2010. Here's the 12-man squad:

Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Ricky Ponting (c), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin (wk), Steven Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Michael Beer, Ben Hilfenhaus.

It is interesting to see just how important that one statement from Shane Warne has been for the selection of Michael Beer into the Australian Test squad. But frankly, I don't see how Beer is going to get into a final XI... it cannot happen.

For Beer to play in the final XI, Australia have to play either with 2 spinners, which is quite unthinkable from an Aussie side at Perth, OR play with 6 batsmen - 5 bowlers combination... which will not be that great an idea.

So assuming that Beer does become the 12th man, Australia will be going into the Perth Test against England with a 4-man pace attack, with a leg-spinner Steven Smith and a medium pacer Shane Watson to back them up.

This team definitely gives more options to Ricky Ponting as he tries to work out a way to get 20 English wickets. But what will be interesting to see is whether the 4 Aussie pacemen can generate enough quality to ensure that Ponting has a relatively easier time as a captain at Perth than he has had so far this Ashes?

Perth, as a venue, is known for its pace and bounce. Though the fieriness of the pitch has reduced over the years, it is still amongst the faster surfaces you will find around the world. However, this does not mean any advantage for Australia. Whereas once visiting teams were scared of what treatment will be meted out to them at Perth, the tables are now turning slowly but surely. The last 3 Tests played at Perth -



2009/10 Season - Australia v West Indies - Australia on by 35 runs
2008/09 Season - Australia v South Africa - South Africa won by 6 wickets
2007/08 Season - Australia v India - India won by 72 runs

West Indies almost managed to beat Australia chasing a stiff 359... and despite their loss, it must not be forgotten that with a batting lineup missing Shivnarine Chanderpaul, they managed to score 323. In 2008/09, South Africa chased down a historic 414, and in 2007/08, India bowled Australia out for 340 defending 413.

Not only this, even when England lost by 206 runs in 2006/07, they did manage 350 in the 4th innings and South Africa scored 287 for 5 in the 4th innings in 2005/06. What I am trying to suggest is that batting on Perth is not difficult... and scores of 300+ are a norm even in the 4th innings. Matches in Perth are lost only when a batting unit suffers a collapse, which is more often than not engineered by a quick bowler.

In such a scenario, I believe that Chris Tremlett will be the best replacement for the injured Stuart Broad. He may not be as good a batter as Broad, but with the batting unit functioning so well for England at the moment, they don't really need to worry about that.

It will also be interesting to see if the English pacers will attack the Aussie skipper with short stuff at Perth. It was on this ground last year when a young Kemar Roach stuck Ponting with a nasty lifter that forced him to retire hurt for the first time in his long Test career. It may also be recalled that later in the second innings, Roach had his man out caught at short leg fending to another nasty lifter. Ponting's troubles to short-pitched bowling have been well-documented ever since. Perth 2010 might just add another chapter to this story.


Perth usually guarantees a result in the match. And given how strong England are looking at the moment and how low the Australians are feeling, I suspect that England will be fancying their chances of retaining the Ashes at WACA itself... it would be fitting to do it at the ground where the Australians had regained the Ashes 4 years ago.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

WARNE'S MAKING ME THINK OF SCHUMACHER

It seems that everyone's talking about it even though they know it is not going to happen... Shane Warne's return to Test cricket! Or should I put it this way... I'd be very surprised if it did happen.



The last extremely high-profile sports personality to make a return to his sport a few years after announcing his retirement was Michael Schumacher. And though I was a big Schumi fan in his prime, it pained me to see what became of him this season where he made his highly-anticipated comeback.

One might argue that Schumacher's Mercedes GP car was not the best on the circuit... but neither was Nico Rosberg's. Yet his German compatriot managed almost double the number of points that Schumi did. What more, he was out-qualified by Nico 15-4... and for a man who has a world record 68 poles to his name, it was quite a disappointment!

I really don't expect Shane Warne to make a comeback... and even if he does, I don't expect his script to be exactly like Michael Schumacher's. I mean, come on, there is no way he can be worse than his compatriots like Xavier Doherty or Nathan Hauritz, let alone Marcus North! But it cannot be a cakewalk either...

Shane Warne was a great leg-spinner and one the very best ever... and I'd like to see it held that way. It would be sad to see him make a comeback and not live up to the expectations of the Australian fans, who seem to think that he can alone take the 20 English wickets in every Ashes Test!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

TIME ZONES

Of all the Australian cricket venues, Perth is my favourite... because if I am interested in following a good day of Test match cricket at Perth, I don't have to get up at an abnormally early hour of 05.00 a.m.

The 3rd Ashes Test will begin at Perth from 16th December 2010 from 08.00 a.m. Indian Standard Time. Assuming that the additional half hour available at the end of the day to cover up for slow over rates will be used up, the match will go on up to 03.30 p.m. However, at 02.00 p.m. IST on the same day, another Test match will begin... which promises better quality of cricket, a better contest and a mouth-watering prospect of watching the No. 1 team play against the No. 2 team for the second time this year (after February).

But in any case, I wouldn't want to miss a lot of action at Perth either. So it's going to be quite a task switching in between two channels to watch the action both at WACA, Perth and SuperSport Park, Centurion between South Africa and India simultaneously without wanting to miss out on any key moments of either match.

This problem will be solved when action moves back to the eastern part of Australia with the Boxing Day Test at MCG... but then again, it raises the problem of getting up at 05.00 a.m.!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WILL I BE THE CAPTAIN?

I assume they are wondering whether they have a chance of being the captain of Pakistan by the time the World Cup comes along...

Azhar Ali, Wahab Riaz and Misbah ul Haq

A NEW IDEA FOR UDRS

There has been a bit of debate going on in the blogosphere about the way UDRS is being implemented. Kartikeya makes a few very valid points here about the flawed execution of this Decision Improvement mechanism.

So, thinking about UDRS, I came up with an idea... it is not the perfect solution, but just an idea that can be looked at. Kartikeya has summarised UDRS as: "Umpires can make mistakes, and since this is so, we will allow players to make at most two mistakes in an effort to correct the umpires' mistakes."

The Michael Hussey plumb-LBW-that-was-given-not-out also pointed out the fact that howlers have not been eradicated as of yet. I had mentioned once a few months back that howlers from a match where UDRS is implemented leaves a lot more bitter taste in the mouth than howlers from match where the umpiring is left to human beings. The on-field umpires can walk up to the players at the end of the day and apologise... but Hot Spot and Snicko cannot do so.

Some bloggers suggest that it should be left to the umpires as to when to use the help of technology in decision-making and that players should not be allowed to challenge the umpires and in effect, undermine their authority. But then just 2 unsuccessful reviews in one innings is a bit of a farce. In tennis, each player is allowed 3 unsuccessful challenges in a set that barely lasts over an hour at max. If they enter a tie-breaker, they receive an additional challenge each. If the tie-breaker reaches 6-6 or 12-12 or such further scores, they again receive an additional challenge each. Where there is no tie-breaker (in the deciding sets), the challenges are reset to 3 apiece every time the set score reads 6 games each or 12 games each or such further scores. So to allow only 2 unsuccessful reviews in an innings that usually lasts for more than a day (about 10 hours usually on flat pitches) is a pity.

So I thought of a way to counter this problem. Here's my line of thought... allow unlimited reviews. But there is obviously a catch. Every time a fielding team makes an unsuccessful review, 5 penalty runs shall be awarded as extras to the batting side.

This may become unfair sometimes when the calls are very close and the final decision is the original umpire's decision... for example, when the ball is just clipping the stumps or has just pitched in line of the leg stump. In such cases, where the reviews can be justified as genuine, the penalty can be waived... but where the technology shows that it was a clear not out decision, the call for review should be considered a time-wasting strategy that shall be punished with 5 penalty runs to the opposition.

But what about when a batting team gets a review wrong? I first thought of deducting 5 runs as penalty. But we cannot have a situation where a team is minus 5 for 1. That wouldn't do! So I thought of this... when a batting team gets it wrong, do nothing. I will explain why.

When a batting team makes an unsuccessful review, it means that they have just lost a wicket. Why punish them further in such a scenario? There can at max be only 10 unsuccessful reviews by a batting team in every innings... and it is a very unlikely situation where there will actually be 10. Not all the wickets to fall are going to be LBWs or close caught-behinds. There will be some other obvious dismissals. So even if we say that a batting team makes 5 unsuccessful reviews in an innings, I really wouldn't mind the interruptions if the flip side is that the howlers in every game are being reduced to zero.

In this idea, it is still left upto the players to decide when to use UDRS, so the method of questioning the umpire's decision continues, but it at least ensures that a Michael Hussey-like situation is avoided. There may be some loopholes in my idea (there are bound to be as I am half asleep as I think of it and type it)... but I am sure you guys can come up with your own ideas to fill the cracks of replace my idea completely.



P.S.: One of the reason why I continued with the methodology of players calling for the Review (and not umpires using it on their own initiative) is that we all saw what happened in the 2005 ICC Super Series in Australia when the umpires used technology for decision-making. In my opinion, it was a flawed system... and that's why I prefer this system where the players can decide when to use the technology.

GLAD FOR GAUTAM GAMBHIR

It was good to see Gautam Gambhir back in the runs with a big century... the icing on the cake was that he did this as a captain!

After a record-breaking season and a half for Gambhir, he has struggled this year for his runs. He has also not been helped by regular occurrence of injuries and some shoddy umpiring (remember Billy Bowden's howler!?). But in the Tests against New Zealand, he showed that he is slowly getting his form back... and now in the 2nd ODI, he hit a wonderful 138* to send out a string message to those who were thinking of handing his spot over to Murali Vijay.

I am delighted for Gambhir. I have mentioned earlier that it took me time to warm up to Gautam Gambhir, but over his purple patch (particularly that marathon match-saving century at Napier) I saw that he's a changed man from the one I had seen make his debut in 2004. He had improved beyond recognition.

When he was going through that purple patch, I knew that a bad patch would come. Runs will dry up. It happens to everyone, just as it may soon happen to Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag (though I always hope not!). But having had a changed opinion of Gambhir now, I was confidently hoping that he'll find his way out of th mire.

His 138* today was not the perfect innings. There were a couple of streaky inside edges that went either side of the stumps... and there was a bit of impatience at the start. But once all those start-of-an-innings-jitters were out of the way, his innings was as good as they get in One Day International cricket. No doubt his counterpart Daniel Vettori describe it as "one of the best one-day innings I have ever seen"!

There was the 5th ball of the 33rd over bowled by Kyle Mills, when Gambhir shimmied down the track looking to create room but got cramped up as Mills followed him. Yet he had so much time even after coming a couple of paces down to a pacer that he comfortably guided the ball to the right of point, wide of the third man, to pick up an easy 2 and move from 91 to 93. It almost looked as if Gambhir paused and decided that this was the place he wanted to play the ball to, and then played it. It looked so comfortable that I immediately felt that yes, this man has returned to form.

It was a great knock by the Indian captain and as I end this blog, I must also mention a special word for the young Virat Kohli. He's been quite a bit like Gambhir for me... took a bit of time to warm up to him... but he's impressed with his maturity at the crease. Though there is still a lot that he needs to prove, there is no doubt that he's taking all the right steps.

GAMBHIR TICKS THE UNCHECKED BOX

The first South Africa - India Test match starts in just a couple of weeks from today at the SuperSport Park, Centurion... and in the lead up to that Test match, it is great to see Gautam Gambhir get a century against New Zealand today. He was the only unticked box remaining in our top and middle order.

Virender Sehwag - He is in roaring form... second highest run scorer in this calender year (2010)... and could be the key for India's series win in the Rainbow Nation. Back to the land where he embarked on his journey in Test cricket, there are high expectations of him this time round. With the pace that the South African attack can generate, his fiery slashes may carry all the way over the third man boundary!

Gautam Gambhir - It was good to see him get some runs against the Kiwis. He did get lucky with a couple of streaky inside edges... but the crucial thing is that he capitalised on the luck. And once he got closer to three figures, he looked as comfortable as he's looked this entire year. Surely the signs are good for the Indian opening partnership...

Rahul Dravid - Though I am not completely confident about his form and indeed his place in the side, but it cannot be denied that he did get 2 centuries in Tests against New Zealand. That is bound to give him some confidence before the South African tour. But if I were MS Dhoni, I would still tell Cheteshwar Pujara to be on standby mode... just in case!

Sachin Tendulkar - Though the New Zealand series was not that productive, it cannot be denied that he is looking in ominous form. He will be facing South Africa in any form of cricket for the first time after the history-making 200* (147) at Gwalior. This time he'll have a chance to make another history... No. 50 is waiting... will it be SuperSport Park, Centurion, where he had smashed the Pakistanis into submission at a World Cup just under 8 years ago?

VVS Laxman - The South Africa tour will be a difficult one. There will be times when that brilliant bowling attack will put the Indian batting unit under immense pressure. And that will be the time when we'll again look towards Lax to bail us out... for he's a crunch-situation specialist. It will be interesting to see the fields that Graeme Smith sets for VVS.

The anticipation is building up for the clash of No. 1 against the No. 2. I know that a lot of neutrals will follow the Ashes more religiously that this one... but I think that this series will be a lot more interesting and the mini-battles a lot more absorbing. Obviously, this feeling may have come (or may have been strengthened) by the 22-wickets-over-5-days draw at The Gabba and the prospect of another such match at Adelaide next.

So I can't wait for December 16th to arrive... it's time to see the best in action!

Monday, November 29, 2010

THE BRISBANE TEST - FROM THE NEUTRAL EYE

How quickly fortune can change! Three days into the first Ashes Test, Australia was right on top... leading England by more than 200 runs, having gotten 10 first-innings English wickets without even letting the second new ball become due, centuries for batsmen who had had question marks over their places in the squad and there seemed to exist a tremendous amount of optimism in the media all over the island nation.

Two days later, the tables have as upside down as upside down can be! Whereas less than 77 overs were needed to take the first 10 English wickets, Australia couldn't prise out more than 1 over almost double the number of overs in the second innings. The captain led from the front, then the vice-captain overtook him and went further ahead... and meanwhile, the South African born No. 3 continued his dream run against the Aussies.

Since England won the final 2 days of the drawn Gabba Test, there is naturally a lot of optimism now in the English media and there are talks about momentum and psychological advantage... But putting all this aside, what else can be deduced from this match?

England batted for a total of 228.5 overs and scored 777 runs for the loss of 11 wickets at 3.40 runs per over. Australia, on the other hand, batted for a total of 184.4 overs and scored 588 runs for the loss of 11 wickets at 3.18 runs per over. Given that 302 of England's runs were scored by Alastair Cook (that's 38.88%) and 136 of Australia's runs were scored by Brad Haddin (that's 23.13%), it is surprising to see England scoring a good 0.22 runs per over more than Australia over the duration of the match.

So the numbers too, prima facie, showcase England as the better side over the Test match. But the catch is, they were just slightly better. 'Slightly better' will not be good enough to win the urn, maybe just good enough to retain it.

Australia's problems are being talked of loudly and clearly all over the cricketing world at the moment. But England should realise that they have problems of their own. Australia, even at their worst, can put up a huge fight. England's worst fear right now would be a scenario where Ben Hilfenhaus finds his rhythm (which he is soon bound to), Mitchell Johnson producing one of his once-in-10-Tests brilliant efforts, Doug Bollinger returning to the squad with decent match practice (sorry Peter Siddle, but you are not going to be getting hat-tricks everyday... everyday's not your birthday), Marcus North finding grip and turn with his off breaks and the English batting having its once-in-10-Tests batting collapse... all in the same Test.

But then, England will also be cheered up by the fact that the above scenario is unlikely to occur in the 2nd Test... since it is at Adelaide. So what I am left wondering about now is that if Brisbane has produced only 22 wickets over 5 days (10 of which fell under a cloudy Day 1), what is going to happen at Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne? The flip side is that these venues might just provide the impetus needed to spur a certain Graeme Swann back into the thick of things.

Frankly, the first Test was a let down from what I expected. I hope Adelaide delivers a better show...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

GOOD TO BE BACK...

I am free at last... and it's good to be back at the blogosphere a few hours before the start of what promises to be a very close tussle for the Ashes. I have been looking forward to the Test cricket on offer this December for quite a few months now...

Two BIG tours in the southern hemisphere (England in Australia and India in South Africa) sounds a heartily enthralling prospect... especially for someone like me who had to sacrifice almost all cricket played in November for examinations. Now that they are over, it's just going to be cricket, cricket and more cricket till the results are out in January.

I did catch bits and pieces of the Indo-NZ series (a bit of Harbhajan's batting, Martin's devastating spell, a part of Dravid's 191 and finally saw an able spinner bowling in India after a long time in the form of Daniel Vettori). Then there were also a few overs that I caught up with during Chris Gayle's triple... and I thought he was once bored of Test cricket!

But all that's done and over now. In just a little over 3 hours, Ponting and Strauss will be watched by millions as they walk out for the toss... and will thereby mark the start of 2010-11 Ashes. Can't wait!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A SMALL BREAK FROM BLOGOSPHERE

Regular visitors to this blog may have noticed that the number of posts on this blog has come down quite a bit over the last 2 months (September and October) as compared to the earlier ones. The reason is that I have a very important examination coming up just after Diwali (which is on 5th) and it will stretch for a fortnight.

So, this is my last blog for the next 3 weeks... I will not be watching the rest of the Pakistan - South Africa ODIs (I have to say though that after Razzaq's knock today, this feels like a greater loss than I had earlier imagined), the Australia - Sri Lanka ODIs and the India - New Zealand Tests (though I'll keep track of the scores and results of all these fixtures).

I intend to return to the blogosphere by 24th or 25th November... in time for the start of the Ashes (this has been my silver lining on a rather dark cloud). There is no way that I will be missing the first ball to be bowled at Gabba on 25th November.

I know I'll have a lot of catching up to do when I return... especially with 3 Tests scheduled in India, and Sachin Tendulkar in such a roaring form. Just hoping that this form continues...

So then, till the Ashes... ciao!

Monday, October 25, 2010

ALL TIME WORLD XI

The Cricinfo jurors have completed their exercise of selecting the All-Time World XI squad. And it looks a good one too (as it was bound to)! Here's a look at it:


Now, 7 of my XI that I had chosen here have been selected in the First XI by the Cricinfo jury. 2 find a place in the Second XI... and 1 finds himself in the Third XI, which was not officially selected but was mentioned here.

The 1 player in my XI to miss out completely was Ken Barrington, which is a shame really. A man with a batting average of 58.67 with 20 tons during the 1950s and 60s missing out... well, one cannot help it when spoiled for riches!

I was surprised to see Wasim Akram in the First XI... not that I think he was not good enough! I was expecting Wasim Akram in the Second XI definitely though.

I was disappointed to see Virender Sehwag absent from the First XI as well as the Second XI. Ian Chappell mentions in his interview that his choice had been Sehwag for opening... and he has a very sound logic too. You select teams to win matches... and with Sehwag taking on bowlers right at the top with consistency unmatched in modern day cricket, you had a guy who can win matches on his own.

I have always believed that bowlers win you Test matches. The same can be said about very few batsmen. Virender Sehwag, in my opinion, is one of them.

Otherwise, the team looks awesome. In respect of the Readers' XI, it is obvious that the team has been voted for by readers who have not bothered to consider cricket played before 1970s. Only Sir Don Bradman from that team played exclusively before the 1970s, and Sir Garry Sobers played before and through the 1970s.

One last word... the biggest surprise, disappointment and shock was to see that Jacques Kallis is missing from the First XI, the Second XI as well as the Third XI. An all rounder of his capability... one I regard as equal to Garry Sobers amongst the best batting all rounders of all time... if he's missing from such a list, it's more than just a shame... it's a tragedy! If such an exercise of picking the All-Time XI were to be repeated in a few years' time (after Kallis' retirement), I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him even replacing Sobers in the First XI, because a guy as good as him with the bat and the ball, you just cannot ignore!

Friday, October 22, 2010

MURALI'S TOP 10

Muttiah Muralitharan has recently revealed a list of the ten batsmen whom he found most difficult to bowl to. It's surprising to see 2 Englishmen figure in such a list! And yes, this confirms (once again) that Navjot Singh Sidhu was one of the finest players of spin bowling there has ever been... even Shane Warne acknowledges the craft of Sidhu against the slower men!

So, here's the list (with their average and no. of dismissals against Murali in Test cricket):

1. Brian Lara (West Indies)
2. Mohammad Azharuddin (India)
3. Sachin Tendulkar (India)
4. Navjot Singh Sidhu (India)
5. Saleem Malik (Pakistan)
6. Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pakistan)
7. Andy Flower (Zimbabwe)
8. Graham Thorpe (England)
9. John Crawley (England)
10. Hansie Cronje (South Africa)

I was surprised to see Hansie Cronje in the list, and not his more illustrious teammate against spin bowling... Jacques Kallis! I have a feeling that had Murali's career been a little longer, he might have then even considered putting Hashim Amla somewhere on that list!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

THE BANGALORE TEST

Another brilliant Test match, wasn't it? Four results possible at the start of Day 5 and three results possible about an hour and a half into Day 5... all this after a match where three results were possible right till the very last ball was bowled... not at all bad for Test cricket!

I have not blogged over this Test match, but I have followed this Test closely. And so I will try and make up for my lack of blogging with this post.

DAY 1:

Another loss of toss... it is so frustrating to see Dhoni lose all his tosses that this time I did not even bother tuning in for the toss. I thought that maybe if I don't watch the toss live, the coin might favour India. But as it turned out, it did not and our bowlers had to start off their work on Day 1 itself.

Australia dominated Day 1, despite their skipper Ponting falling to a dolly from Raina late in the day. It was a very good knock by Ponting, though he should have gone on to make more. But North was batting at the end of day's play, and because of his feast-or-famine syndrome, the signs were ominous for India.

I think Dhoni erred in giving Raina more overs after the Ponting dismissal. A set batsman can lose concentration against a part-timer... a new batsman is unlikely to. A new batsman concentrates harder while getting set in early... so the part-timer made things easier for North and Paine. Had Dhoni employed his main men then, who knows, it could have been a bigger famine for North and more pain for Paine!

DAY 2:

Australia again took the first session comprehensively before the Indian juggernaut started post lunch. North did well to reach his 5th Test hundred, to the delight of many (read Poms) and chagrin of many others (read Aussies). Pujara effected a brilliant run out, and I was happy. I had read a lot and seen a bit of his prodigious skill with the bat, but I had never known that he was also a very handy fielder. It was a pleasant surprise for me.

When India came out to bat, I was almost expecting Sehwag to get out soon after Hilfenhaus hit his helmet. I didn't know it would happen immediately. How sore! It would have been good to see Sehwag get to atleast 1 big century in the 'series'. Sadly, it was not to be.

But, on the brighter side, Sachin had progressed to smooth 40s with Vijay and India was looking comfortable at the end of day's play.

DAY 3:

I wore the T-shirt that is Sachin's good luck charm... and how it worked! Sachin batted through the day, ended unbeaten on 191, guided Vijay to his maiden ton in Test cricket and ensured that India ended the day in a position of awesome strength.

The sore points were Johnson's shooter that trapped Pujara (I really wanted him to do well with Sachin for company) and then Raina throwing away his wicket at the end of the day.

That wicket of Raina should have taught something to Ponting... that the moment he tried to be a little more attacking by bringing the field in, the batsman perished. He should have used this knowledge more effectively in the 2nd innings against India's newer batsmen. He used this tactic against Sachin Tendulkar when Hauritz was bowling, and saw the master batsman hitting 2 consecutive sixes late in the match. But had he used it against Vijay or Pujara, the results might have been very different.

DAY 4:

I have seen some wonderful under-rated innings in cricket. Ponting's 72 on Day 4 of this Test was amongst the finest of these. But before his innings, it was disappointing to see India's tail fold up so cheaply. I know many bloggers (SB in particular) were rooting for a triple from SRT, but I wasn't that overly optimistic about such an eventuality... but yes, it was delightful to see SRT with another double in the bag.

His dismissal and Dhoni's incapability to bat with the tail (he's no VVS, let alone Steve Waugh) meant that India had just a 17-run cushion. But in a way, the fact that India was bowled out before lunch meant that India could go for a definite positive result in the match. Had India batted along till Tea or more and then declared, that would have shut the game on Australia and then they would have been content to bat very watchfully and play out a draw.

Our capitulation gave the Aussies a sniff and they went after us, which gave us the chance to win. It reminded me of how Ganguly had declared at Kolkata 2001 with just enough to entice the Australians to go for a 17th consecutive Test win. That in the end was what earned us the match, in my opinion.

Since Dhoni was unlikely to declare, its good that we were dismissed. Coming back to Ponting's knock, it was classy. There was high pressure, the pitch was difficult, he had had a poor history in India... and he rose up to the occasion. I may dislike Ponting a lot, but I have to admit that I grudgingly admired this wonderful knock by the Aussie skipper. If anything, that knock ensured that Australia ended the day with a chance of a win.

DAY 5:

The day started with a chance of another Mohali-like finish. It didn't end that way... but it was another good and satisfying day of cricket. Zaheer and Sreesanth bowled well first up, and just when frustration was starting to build up, Zaheer produced a majestic ball that took off Mitchell Johnson's off stump. I was happy that the attack started with the two seamers, because I really didn't want to see the spinners in action again. Our spinners cannot do to the tails what Anil Kumble was capable of... so it's good that they were not needed.

Sehwag failed when we batted, and though I did not want it, I was kind of expecting it. During the commercial break at the fall of Sehwag's wicket, I had gone to take a leak and when I returned, my dad told me that Pujara has come in to bat. I was sure that he was mistaken, but as it turned out, he was not. Immediately, I told him that this is one very smart move.

It could have backfired... and backfired big time. Pujara could have failed, and then coming down the order, Dravid also might have continued his poor run of form and poor record at Bangalore. The batting below him is not our strength (especially on last day pitches) and we could have lost the match with that move. But it was a good move nevertheless.

I have already mentioned how Ganguly had declared in Kolkata 2001 at a stage where Aussies could still go for a win. This move was similar... a Ganguly-type-of risk. Aussies saw two young men in a high pressure situation and decided to attack them. The young men knew what would come and had already decided to counterattack. It worked out perfectly in the end. By the time lunch came around, the match was almost in the bag and Pujara, in particular, had shown that he belongs.

The Master came along and helped himself to another unbeaten half-century, and was there at the other end and Pujara soaked in the adulation on his maiden half-ton... Sachin must have though of Faisalabad 1989! It was heart-breaking to see the expression on Pujara's face when he was dismissed by Hauritz. But don't worry Che, as the Bangalore crowd stood up in the acknowledgement of your efforts, there were million others in India who stood up in front of their TV screens doing the same. All these fans slept peacefully at night knowing that the future of Indian batting, that for over a decade was carried by the likes of RSD, SRT and VVS, still looked positive in the form of CHE.

It was nice to see Sachin blast a couple more out of the ground against Nathan Hauritz (almost felt pity for him then)... few must have realised that Sachin Tendulkar has hit more sixes in this Bangalore Test than he hit over the entire duration of IPL 2010 where he was the top run-getter. This got the crowd (which was fantastic over the 5 days) into a frenzy. The KSCA deserve a pat on their backs for this, I believe.

But the best move by Dhoni was reserved for right at the end. Guess who was the first person to get his hands on the Border Gavaskar Trophy after Dhoni had collected it from SMG... yes, it was CHE! Dhoni gave Che the trophy at the end of the presentation and that got the lad beaming... it was great to watch!

Technically, Che played a very small role in India retaining that piece of silverware... just 2 catches at Mohali. The result at Bangalore would not have mattered as that trophy would have stayed in India. But technicalities don't matter here... we were watching Che make a mark... finally!

P.S.: I wore the T-shirt that is Sachin's good luck charm again on Day 5. So, all in all, it meant that on the days when I wore that T-shirt, Sachin scored exactly 200 runs without being dismissed (and yes, hit Hauritz four times over the ropes).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

PONTING'S PULL

43.6
Harbhajan Singh to Ponting, FOUR, 82.0 kph, Almost holed out at deep backward square-leg Zaheer Khan simply didn't pick it. He was too late in moving. Harbhajan isn't amused. Zaheer has been pretty poor in the field right from the start. This was a slightly short one, Ponting went back to pull but top-edged it. Zaheer should have started to move at this point but he froze. He then moved but by then he couldn't reach it.
The last thing Ponting would have wanted is to start getting out in the process of pulling the spinners... as if the pacers are not enough!

Friday, October 8, 2010

ALL TIME WORLD XI - FINAL TEAM WITH A CAPTAIN

Over four posts on this blog, I have analysed and selected my team for the Cricinfo’s All-Time World XI Test team. Here is a look at the entire team: 

1. Sir Jack Hobbs (England)
2. Virender Sehwag (India)
3. Sir Donald Bradman (Australia)
4. Sachin Tendulkar (India)
5. Ken Barrington (England)
6. Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
7. Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
8. Imran Khan (Pakistan)
9. Shane Warne (Australia)
10. Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
11. Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)

Looks a formidable side, doesn’t it? However, when I was discussing this side with a friend, he told me that it is indeed a very strong side, but it really does not have a feel of being the ALL-TIME XI. And so I took another searching look at it.

And I thought that he had a point. The names in the side are big champions in their own right, but does this resemble what an ALL-TIME XI should be like? He told me that I should consider removing either Jacques Kallis or Muttiah Muralitharan, and consider putting in a fast bowler like Dennis Lilllee or Michael Holding or Fred Trueman or Allan Donald or even Curtly Ambrose or Waqar Younis or Wasim Akram.

He was of the opinion that of all the great, fiery and devastating fast bowlers that have ruled our game, it is quite meek that my ALL-TIME WORLD XI’s new ball attack be headed by just Malcolm Marshall and Imran Khan, with Jacques Kallis as the first change pacer. In my post about the bowlers, Elegantstroke had a similar comment about the new ball attack.

And so I made two changes. I replaced Jacques Kallis with Sir Garfield Sobers and then replaced Muttiah Muralitharan with Fred Trueman. Two contemporary greats replaced by two past greats. The rationale behind this is simple: Sir Garry Sobers is another batting all rounder like Jacques Kallis, but he is a spinning all rounder rather than a medium pace one. Having made this change, I could then omit Murali from the team (rather painfully… you see, 800 wickets is quite a loss) and bring in lightening speed and fire in the form of Fred Trueman. With a strike rate of a wicket in a little of every 8 overs, I have ensured that on an average day, my new ball attack will bring me 2 wickets by the end of their first spell.

So here’s the look at my new bowling unit: Malcolm Marshall, Fred Trueman, Imran Khan, Shane Warne and Sir Garfield Sobers. Does this sound better than the previous one… I think so!

So my final team for the Cricinfo ALL-TIME WORLD XI in is:

1. Sir Jack Hobbs (England)
2. Virender Sehwag (India)
3. Sir Donald Bradman (Australia)
4. Sachin Tendulkar (India)
5. Ken Barrington (England)
6. Sir Garfield Sobers (West Indies)
7. Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
8. Imran Khan (Pakistan)
9. Shane Warne (Australia)
10. Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)
11. Fred Trueman (Australia)

And now comes the question of captaincy… there are only three reasonable contenders for this job – Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Garry Sobers and Imran Khan. Here are their records as captains:

  • Sir Donald Bradman: M 24 W 15 D 6 L 3, and his batting average improved to 101.51 from a career average of 99.94
  • Sir Garfield Sobers: M 39 W 9 D 20 L 10, and his batting as well as bowing averages were almost identical to his career averages
  • Imran Khan: M 48 W 14 D 26 L 8, and his batting average improved to 52.34 from 37.69 and his bowling average improved to 20.26 from 22.81 
So it was a fight between Imran Khan and Sir Don Bradman. Though Imran’s feats are prima facie relatively more impressive, I would still go for Sir Don Bradman. I know Imran Khan had to lead a Pakistani side, which is always more difficult than Sir Don’s Australia… but the captaincy of ALL-TIME WORLD XI is not only a recognition of their abilities, but also an honour. And no one deserves this honour more than Sir Donald Bradman.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

ALL TIME WORLD XI - BOWLERS

Just the last three places remain in my All-Time World XI... and I might add, the MOST important ones. The men who will largely be responsible for getting the 20 wickets that win a Test match. The BOWLERS.

As for the other spots, here are the Test statistics of the nominees:




I have classified all the bowlers in the list as either: 1. Slow Left Arm, 2. Leg Spinners, 3. Off Spinners, and 4. Pace (irrespective of whether they were express pace or medium pace, swing bowlers or seam bowlers etc).

I have already chosen Imran Khan and Jacques Kallis as my all rounders... and thus, I want 2 spinners and 1 pacer amongst the lot above. And amongst the spinner, I want at least 1 leg spinner. I wouldn't mind picking 2 leg-spinners, but I have a strict objection to playing 2 off-spinners.

So, here goes... The two spinners of this team are... Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. It may sound an easy choice... but it was not. Both these bowlers have had certain criticisms. Both do not have a great record against India. But then I thought, amongst spinners, who does? That should not take anything away from their greatness.

Then there was the matter of Murali's record against the Aussies... the dominant team of the era he played in. There are also doubters who will use his statistics against the minnows like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to show how much impact they had on his overall figures. But then, this selection is not pure statistics. Murali, in his prime, had this stamina to bowl on and on for hours at a stretch. And more often than not, he threatened. He turned the ball on every wicket. And he had great control over his turn. Such a bowler certainly deserves his place in the team!

Amongst the faster bowlers, it was not too difficult despite the presence of some of the greatest bowlers there. I chose Malcolm Marshall... he was fast, pacy, fiery and regarded by many as one of the All-Time Best. One statistic that I pay a lot of attention to for Test bowlers is their Strike Rate... and with Marshall's 46.7, and also his brilliant average of 20.94, my decision is firmly made.

So here is my complete bowling unit: Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Jacques Kallis.

I will do one last post on this XI, where I will decide the captain and talk about the entire team as a unit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ALL TIME WORLD XI - ALL ROUNDERS

There are not too many nominees for the All - Rounders spot... and this is such an important role that lesser the better.

A Reminder: I had removed Kallis from the analysis of Middle Order Batsmen and had decided to include him in the All Rounders analysis. That is why you will see his name below (highlighted yellow). Here are the statistics:



Now, I want two All-Rounders in my team. One bowling all-rounder and one batting all-rounder. That would be my ideal combination.

For the role of the batting all rounder, the contest was between Sir Garry Sobers and Jacques Kallis. A tight one... and I choose Jacques Kallis. Both are mighty men, capable of performing the unthinkable deeds. Kallis may never get to a double century in his career, but you won't need too many double centuries from him in a middle order of Bradman, Tendulkar and Barrington (the ones I have chosen).

What tilted the scales in favour of Kallis was a pure statistical detail... it was his bowling strike rate of 67.2 against 91.9. When my batting all rounder can take a wicket once every 11 overs or so, it is commendable. I can;t ask for a lot more. And thus despite the greatness of Sir Garry Sobers, I have to exclude him from my squad.

For the spot of the bowling all rounder, the men on my shortlist were Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Sir Ian Botham and Sir Richard Hadlee. All these men have enviable numbers above and are legends in their own ways. But for this particular spot, I had long decided that the man I select would be based on fitness. I'll explain why...

The spot of the Bowling All Rounder is, in my opinion, the most important one in a Test team. He is one of the chief men responsible to get you the 20 wickets that can win you a Test match... and if the batsmen fool around, he is also expected to score a few down the order. A team is very dependent of such men, if they are available. And as a result, their absence due to injuries places their team into a big area of discomfort as they have to usually fill in with a regular bowler, thereby giving up a batsman. That is why, I place a high price on the fitness of the men in my shortlist.

So, Imran Khan had a career of 21 years. Kapil Dev once held a record of most number of consecutive Test appearances for India. Richard Hadlee also had just one major shoulder injury to speak of during his career. And Ian Botham also had a decently fit career. But what counts against Ian Botham was his indiscipline, as his career not only surged improbable heights, but also bottomless depths.

So as my shortlist cuts down to 3, my decision (again a very tough one) goes to Imran Khan, who only narrowly beat Kapil Dev. In the end, a career of 21 years overcame the record of most consecutive Test appearances. Phew!

So here's a recap of the team I have selected thus far:

Openers: Sir Jack Hobbs, Virender Sehwag
Middle Order: Sir Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Ken Barrington
Batting All Rounder: Jacques Kallis
Wicketkeeper: Adam Gilchrist
Bowling All Rounder: Imran Khan

Now what remains is the choice of bowlers, which will come in a day or two.

SAVE OUR TIGER!