Wednesday, February 29, 2012


What a chase we had today! India, needing a bonus point win, chased down Sri Lanka's score of 320 in just 36.4 overs, to win by 7 wickets with 80 balls to spare. This win has kept India alive in this tri-series for at least 3 more days, and increased the interest in the last round robin match between Australia and Sri Lanka.

India knew right from the beginning that the target, whatever it may be, had to be chased down in 40 overs or less. So when the first half ended and the target of 321 became clear, the hopes of an average Indian fan were not too high. But the Indian batting unit, which has not enjoyed a fruitful tour of Australia, clicked well and - riding on a magnificent ton by Virat Kohli - chased down the target in a more than convincing style!

The chase was a brilliantly constructed one. Since the required rate for a 40-over win was above 8 runs per over, it was clear that a fast start would be of utmost importance. Sehwag and Tendulkar provided that with some audacious batting. When the mandatory powerplay ended, India had scored 97 runs for the loss of the two openers.

When Tendulkar got out lbw to Malinga in the 10th over, there were a lot of tweets on my timeline suggesting that Dhoni should come out to bat. Their logic must have been that he takes his time to settle in, and if there is time to be used up, it better be between 10 - 15 overs rather than later in the innings. That is fine, but I was happier to see Kohli come in to bat at No. 4, and happier still that he stayed till the end to guide the chase in a manner contrasting of how Dhoni would have done it.

My last post on this blog (about 2.5 weeks ago) was about Dhoni's planning of chases. This one is about how Virat Kohli planned this one, and comparing it with what Dhoni would have done (the latter part would obviously be presumption based on the pattern of his innings in the successful run chase against Australia and the tied match against Sri Lanka).

On of my biggest problem with Dhoni when he comes out to bat with overs in hand in a run chase is that he plays far too many dot balls at the start of his innings. Settling in is fine, but the same can be done more effectively by rotating the strike rather than dead batting the ball. Kohli too played 8 dot balls between 10 and 15 overs, but at the end of 15 overs, he was still batting on 16* (18b). Compare this with Dhoni's knock in the successful run chase against Australia, and you will find that Dhoni stood at 8* (24b) at one stage in that chase. Even if you grant Dhoni the benefit of a much easier chase on hand against Australia, I don't think you'd still justify 8 runs in 24 balls!

At the end of 15 overs, India stood at 118 for 2, and though only 21 had been scored in the last 5 overs, there was enough momentum to make Mahela Jayawardene delay taking the Bowling Powerplay, as he has himself admitted. Had Kohli made the kind of start that Dhoni made at Adelaide, India might have had about 10 runs fewer at that stage, and Sri Lanka might have taken the Bowling Powerplay, causing the batsmen to take a risk or two more than ideal. This is presumption, but by no means far-fetched!

In my last post, I had written: "if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere."

At Hobart, two of India's best chasers (Gambhir and Kohli) planned it in such a way that going up to the 40th over would not be necessary. One may argue that the early finish was more a result of the leaking Malinga - an assault that even Kohli would admit that he had not planned for - but I think it is still quite clear that Kohli had planned to finish the game off at least one over before the 40th. Their partnership saw calculated risks (mostly taken by Kohli) for boundaries every now and again, which allowed them to be unflustered if Sri Lanka managed to sneek in a good tight over. This is the reason why Rangana Herath's spell of 4 overs for just 20 runs did not have as big an effect on the result as it should have had.

When the second lot of powerplay overs commenced, Kohli executed the second half of his plan, which was to attack straightaway and keep the required run rate below 9 runs per over at all times, rather than chasing 13 off the final over! He was obviously helped by some poor bowling from Sri Lanka, especially some of the leg-stump lines... but one must consider that when a batsman is pulling off some calculated risks, the bowlers are under increased pressure and have greater tendency to falter.

India may still not reach the finals of the series, but it was a great match for the team... and something they dearly needed towards the end of a very difficult tour of Australia!

Monday, February 13, 2012


India beat Australia earlier today by 4 wickets with 2 balls to spare at Adelaide in the 4th ODI of the CB Triangular Series. While Gautam Gambhir was India's top contributor with a measured 92, it was Dhoni's knock of 44* (58) that was the talking point of the day.

India won the match due to a massive 112 meter six by Dhoni followed by a no-ball by Clint McKay due to a above-waist height full toss. Once it was over, a lot of people called it all well and good... but was it just as well and good when the chase was on? My Twitter timeline at the time of the chase said that most of the viewers were having trouble understanding why Dhoni was leaving it so late. And I was with them... indeed, why so late?

The biggest question raised after Dhoni hit that monstrous six was that if one can hit such shots, why not try it earlier to ease a bit of pressure, rather than risking it all at the end. And these kind of queries were not just raised in the minds of casual viewers, but also the men in the dressing room. The Man of the Match Gautam Gambhir had this to say: "We should have finished this game in the 48th over. We shouldn't have taken this game to the 50th over, that's my personal observation."

What is the best way to plan and pace a chase? When do you attack and when do you rely on quick running? Obviously, the answers differ in different conditions, but I think certain things remain common everywhere. In my opinion, if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere.

And in this innings of MS Dhoni, it is quite apparent where the miscalculation occurred. His innings break up is like this - 8 runs of first 24 balls, 25 of next 31 balls, and 11 runs of the last 3 balls. He came in when 92 were needed of 95 balls, and ended up playing 30 dot balls, i.e. 52% of the total deliveries he faced. To put it in perspective, Gambhir faced 52 dot balls in his 111-ball innings, i.e. 47% of the total deliveries faced by him, despite batting through the middle overs as well!

One might well argue that since Dhoni was not doing much to get the required run rate down, Raina and Jadeja had to go for the big hits, and lose their wickets in the process. Gambhir was right when he said that it's difficult in the middle, and different people plan their chases differently, but surely, when you end up with 7 runs of 19 balls in the Batting Powerplay and play a dot ball in almost every over where you also take a 2, you are not doing a lot of good, are you?

Dhoni is usually a fabulous planner and executor of chases - stiff ones, tricky ones, easy ones and straightforward ones. He, along with Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, have made India a very competent chasing unit in limited overs cricket, and also made the World Cup runners-up captain Kumar Sangakkara remark that a team needs about 350 runs on the board to feel safe against this Indian team. But every now and again, there arises a question mark of Dhoni's strategies in such situations.

Like it arose today, it had also arisen during the first Twenty20 between India and Australia earlier on this tour. One of the earlier occasions that I can remember when a similar question had arisen in my mind was not a chase, but India setting a target for New Zealand on the tour of 2009 in the 2nd Twenty20 International, where he wasted the middle overs with 8* (18) before ending up with 28* (30). In that match too, it might be argued that Dhoni's slow approach forced Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja to play shots that shouldn't have ideally been required in those situations.

The man I have written this post about - MS Dhoni - had brilliantly executed the 161 required runs of 170 balls in the World Cup finals. The run rate required then at Wankhede Stadium was 5.68 runs per over, and here at Adelaide Oval was 5.81 runs per over. If he can do it so well there, why couldn't he do it as well here? Had this been a one-off case, I wouldn't have bothered writing this long a post, presuming it to be a mistake. But it is not a one-off case, and thus this has to be considered a strategy of some sort - and in my opinion, a miscalculated strategy!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


In less than 20 hours from now, Afghanistan will play against their neighbour Pakistan in an ODI at Sharjah. It will be the first time that Afghanistan will be competing against a Test-playing nation in an ODI. Their first Test-playing opponent in a Twenty20 International had been India during the World Twenty20 Championships 2010. Now they play the longer version of the game against a country with whom they share a longer border.

The Afghan team has been very impressive in its short cricketing journey thus far. Those who have watched the movie 'Out of the Ashes' will know about their rise from the World Cricket League Division 5 through to the ODI status. And it did not stop there. They won the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2009-10, by managing 6 outright wins in 7 First Class games, including the finals against Scotland at Dubai. In the current version of the same (i.e. ICC Intercontinental Cup 2011-13), they are standing currently at the 3rd position after 2 matches, behind Ireland and United Arab Emirates.

No one really expects Afghanistan to beat Pakistan in the one-off ODI to be played tomorrow at Sharjah. But what everyone would dearly like to see is a good fight. They are unlikely to match the Pakistan team in skills, but who wouldn't love to see them show some spark on the field!

Their next major assignment after this ODI shall be the World Twenty20 Championship Qualifiers to be held in mid-March, followed by the World Cricket League Championship (2 ODIs) and the ICC Intercontinental Cup (1 four-day First Class match) assignments against the Netherlands at their adopted home grounds in the UAE.

They have been now, for quite some time, a team that I have fascinatingly followed. I wish them all the luck in these fixtures, and hope that their fairytale stretches on for a long time.

Friday, February 3, 2012


India's win over Australia at the MCG in the second Twenty20 International was the first away win in an international match for India since 23rd June 2011, which was the 4th day of the First Test on the tour of West Indies. That is a gap of a whopping 225 days!

 the turn of the millennium, this was just the 4th occasion when India has had to wait for more than 200 days for an away (including neutral matches) win. The earlier three occasions were:

But while these numbers of over 200 days may look very large at first, none of those droughts were half as bad as the recently-ended one! In the 209-day gap of 2000-01, there was no away match played by India. That gap was a result of scheduling, not performances! In the 244-day gap of 2003, India played just 2 neutral ODIs against South Africa at Bangladesh (1 lost and 1 no result) and 1 Test against Australia (draw) at Brisbane. And in the 216-day gap of 2004-05, India played and lost just one ODI against Sri Lanka at Dambulla.

, in this recently-ended drought of 225 days, India played 10 Tests (losing 8, drawing 2), 2 Twenty20 Internationals (lost both), and 5 ODIs (3 lost, 1 tied and 1 no result). That is a run of 17 win-less away internationals!

The most staggering fact is this - after the first ever away win against New Zealand at Dunedin Test of February 1968, India has never had a win-less streak of away international matches as big as this 17-match one! India played 43 away Test matches from June 1932 to January 1968 without a win, which remains India's longest win-less streak in away international matches, but since then, the largest one was the one that ended a few hours ago!

(P.S.: And since we are talking numbers, this is the 400th post on CRIC - SIS.)