Friday, December 31, 2010


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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


Did Andy Flower choreograph this?


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.


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


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

Friday, December 17, 2010


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.


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


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...


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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!