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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Crease Occupation at Sydney

The Boxing Day Test is an important event in the Australian sporting calendar. In the 2010-11 Ashes series, the touring English team gave the home side much to think about by the end of the Boxing Day test of 2010.

Fast forward a year to Boxing Day 2011, a young and new look Australian side have already come a long way. You would agree that good test teams always rally around a strong bowling battery. Australia have certainly dug deep and done well in their rebuilding process in bowling department in the last one year.

The vacuum has been largely filled, barring the absence of a world class spinner. But then a Shane Warne does not "happen" routinely. Hearteningly, they have created a strong pipeline of young seam bowling talent. Certainly a lot of credit must also go to the preparation, planning and disciplined execution of the bowling plans on the pitch. Yes, the batting does look fragile at present. But you can expect that during this series a more settled Australian batting combination, and order, will emerge.

India on the other hand is struggling. More than the team management and large community of supporters may care to admit. With the fitness issues of Zaheer Khan resolved for the present, Ishant having added a few yards and Yadav showing strong ability, the seam unit looks fine. After a long time, in alien conditions, India managed to pick 20 wickets in a test match. Notably though against a relatively weak Australian batting line up.

The real worry is the Indian batting. The stalwarts are present, but akin to the recent summer in England, India failed to get past 300 in both innings of the Melbourne test. Well executed bowling plans of the opposition worked again, very much as they did all summer in England. Relentless, disciplined and aggressive seam bowling from both ends saw the Indian batting line up crumble twice in two days at the MCG.

Sehwag plays the way he does, always keeping the bowlers interested. Gambhir remains susceptible in the 4th off-stump corridor, Laxman unable to curb his compulsive pulling of the short rising delivery. Dravid and Tendulkar have been regularly drawn into front foot drives, with well pitched up off-stump lines, and enough movement to cause trouble. Make no mistake, that takes some doing! But it's being done, time and again.

One hopes that there will be a few big scores in this series from one or more of the Indian batting legends, but let's just say, it's not looking easy. Australia, like England, have clearly done their homework for each batsman, and then executed the plans perfectly on the pitch. The Indian batting will have to dig deep, to seize the initiative in Sydney. The strategy quite simply has to be crease occupation. Not for Dravid alone, but for the top seven Indian batsman, if the trend has to change.

Look forward to a good contest in Sydney. And by the way, are you missing the DRS as much as me?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

It’s Shutters for Yuvraj Singh in Test Cricket

Batting is cruel business, most definitely in the longer format of the game. Test match cricket is a true examination of batting skills, technique and temperament. With field restrictions and run rate pressures absent, the nuances of the pitch, its wear, the weather, match situation and session objectives, all present a whole new challenge. No wonder then that test cricket champions have always been good bowling attacks coupled with solid batting line ups.

Yuvraj Singh earned his first test call up in October 2003 at age 22, at his home ground of Mohali. His test record since, despite a few memorable performances has been chequered, one might say rather average. In 37 test appearances, stepping out to bat 57 times, including yesterday’s knock at Kolkata against the West Indies, he averages 34.80, with an away average closer to 29. Notably he has scored 80% of his test runs in matches played in the sub continent.

The shorter format is a different story though. Who can forget Yuvraj’s brutal willow in the first ICC Twenty20 World Cup of 2007, where he sent Stuart Broad into orbit six times in six deliveries? Awesome, clean, long hitting, at will and controlled. His contribution to the World Cup winning Indian team of 2011 has been the peak of his career so far. He scalped 15 wickets with his slow left arm, in addition to playing crucial knocks with the bat, amassing 362 runs, picking up four Man-of-the-Match awards, and the Player of the Tournament.

It’s like two different guys we are talking about, isn’t it? With the game now having settled to three formats, it is getting specialized. While in each country there are few exceptions i.e. players who can play and adjust to the needs of each format, equally there are others who have chosen to exclude themselves or are excluded from formats that don’t work for them.

In test match cricket, Yuvraj has not been the game changer or the reliable middle order batsman that he has been in the limited overs format. He enjoys the confidence of skipper Dhoni and the selectors, to be presented opportunities to resurrect his test credentials, first in the English summer following the World Cup, and then again in the current home series against the West Indies. However, it has not worked as desired and hoped. His apparent inability to deal with seaming conditions or even pace in placid conditions, are both suspect, more now than ever before.

So while the world is wondering when the 37-38 year old stalwarts of Indian batting will be replaced by young talent, it does seem prudent to replace the nearly 30 year old Yuvraj with a 23-25 year old.

This may all be moot. From the very apparent body language of Yuvraj on the field at the Eden Gardens today, after his dismal, almost embarrassing outing with the bat, in the Indian first innings, the message from the team management seems to be clear. The hero of the world cup will not be playing the next test at Mumbai or the Boxing Day test in Melbourne come December. It is now very unlikely that he will make the test squad for the Australian away series. Sensible for the team AND for Yuvraj Singh, I’d say.

We will most certainly see Virat Kohli in the side for the last test match against the West Indies at Mumbai. This will be his big opportunity to get ahead of two other strong contenders for the vacancy. I believe that Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma should present a good problem to the selectors when deciding the test squad for the Australian tour, in the next few weeks. Rohit averages over 63 in First Class cricket, has had several appearances for India in limited overs matches. Raina has played 15 tests, but has been in a similar mould as Yuvraj, more reliable and fluent in limited overs, but not best suited for testing conditions against genuine seam and pace.

My clear choice is Rohit Sharma, yes, ahead of Virat Kohli. Kohli has amazing big match temperament and a good cricketing brain. However he was visibly rattled by the genuine pace of Fidel Edwards in the West Indies earlier this year. That weakness will certainly be captured on tape, and will expose him at the test level again. Rohit, on the other hand, has the gift of extra time. The few additional nanoseconds of reaction time should give him the ability to stand head and shoulders above other contenders in really tough conditions. His opportunity in test cricket is yet to come, so difficult to say if he will pass the test of temperament, although his first class record of the longer format is most encouraging.

The Kolkata test is looking set for a fourth day finish, so let’s catch up after that!


Friday, 11 November 2011

Freedom Lies Beyond The Final Everest

Sachin Tendulkar has been the “boy” wonder of Cricket since he first donned the Indian cap in 1989 as a 16 year old. Yes, all that has been said and written about him by team mates, opponents, fans and journalists is well deserved and testimony to his supreme talent.

His mental and physical strength get lesser attention especially in the face of all the records that have crumbled in his path over the last decade or so. Keeping a steady head on his shoulders through a long career, never involved in controversy or scandals, this man has been a brilliant ambassador of the sport. His energy and enthusiasm still clearly visible on the field, obviously someone who was born to do this one thing – play cricket and score loads of runs!  
With the territory comes the amazing adulation of his fans, who seek to take personal joy in each of his achievements. He has had his critics and they have been silenced time and again with the very responsive willow he wields. Sometimes these critics have had to change perceptions, thanks to sophisticated statistical analysis of cricket records. It is now almost a rudimentary marketing tactic for a book written about cricket to include in its sales promotion some criticism of Sachin Tendulkar. It does certainly get attention for the book, although not sure if it sells more prints as a consequence.  

Long may he continue! He is still looking in command on the pitch. After a few months rest, he is looking fitter, with reflexes in tune to deal with the 90mph speedsters. However, I submit to you that the Little Master is probably now staring at his final Everest of batting records.
For any ardent follower of the game, this may not be new, yet to summarize some key batting records that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar of India holds, include:

  • Most International matches featured (Test 182, 300 innings; ODI 453, 442 innings). Underestimated, but an amazing record in itself, of longevity and form. Never once dropped for lack of form in the last 22 years. 
  • Most career runs in Test Matches 15,048 and ODI 18,111, giving a total over 33,000 international runs. This is miles ahead of the next best.
  • Most international centuries with 51 in tests and 48 in ODI, now standing at a total of 99 international centuries. The next best is Ricky Ponting at 69 centuries.
  • Sachin also holds the record for the highest runs in an ODI innings at 200 n.o.
  • Ironically, he also has the highest number of scores in the 90s in internationals. A total of 27, from 18 in ODI and 9 in Tests. Just take a moment to wonder, what if?

But then even for this giant of batting there are a few important records which are now a bridge too far. These belong to other big names and legends of the game. They will remain so, when Sachin does hang up his gloves. Records that come to mind are Brain Lara’s highest knock of 400 n.o., Don Bradman’s career test average of 99.94, as also his 12 career double centuries. There are several other records in this hugely statistical sport of ours, but these are the real big mountains.  
In the recently concluded test match at Delhi, Sachin clearly became conscious of the opportunity and pressed on the pedal. Instead of playing on merit, as he was doing so comfortably, he began to take risks and manufacture shots, clearly in an effort to reach his 100th century before the winning target was breached. In this effort, he even missed a leg bye, to ensure strike for the rest of the Bishoo over, and perished in trying to force the pace.
Unfortunate but true, the Master is feeling the pressure, eager to reach this last Everest. Is he seeking independence from the pressure of this final frontier?  The expectations of his fans have always been his shadow, so it is something from within that woke up the devil on the shoulder at Delhi.   
In the near future Sachin Tendulkar, his family, his team mates and all his fans will celebrate this amazing feat of 100 international centuries. What I am really looking forward to are the matches and series that will follow! The feeling of independence, and the final innings of the Sachin career will begin then, and don’t be surprised if it is more exciting than the last 22 years.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Fresh Indian Attack for First Test Match on Home Soil in 2011

The last time the West Indies toured India for a test series was nine years ago. Yes, it was that long back, hence my stated position - Not Enough Cricket! Played at the Eden Gardens in Oct 2002, the last game of the three test series was drawn, a series India had won 2-0 before arriving in Kolkata.  

The dependable Chanderpaul is the only link to the West Indian side of that era, although for India, still carrying on the hard work are Dravid, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Laxman.  The match winners for India with the ball in this last series were the spin duo of Harbhajan and Kumble.  And here is where we have big change. The Indian bowling line up will sport a new look. A look, a real hard look, certainly forced by the debacle of the English summer.
The first test match of the present 2011 series kicks-off tomorrow at the Kotla in Delhi. This is also the very first test match on India soil this calendar. You can bet the stadiums will be rather empty. The starts maybe late and finishes early, with the track low and slow, with maybe some promise of bounce in the early stages.

Most significantly, you will see a new look bowling attack turning out for India. No Zaheer, no Sreesanth, no Praveen and no Harbhajan.  Suddenly the Indian selectors have new purpose and conviction!

Three from this lot of specialist bowlers,  Ashwin, Ojha, Yadav, Aaron or Rahul Sharma, will be teaming with the new leader of the Indian bowling attack, Ishant, who turned 23 a couple months ago, and is a veteran of 38 test matches. Dhoni will most likely pick Ashwin, Ojha and Yadav, having promised at least two test debutants at the game. Besides going in with two specialist spinners will be the sane choice in the conditions and considering the opposition.

That’s not the half of it. More gratifying is the fact that the selectors are clearly making use of this series to work out the best bowling combination for the Australian tour ahead.  Yadav will be working hard to make use of his opportunity, with a younger and quicker Aaron breathing down his neck. Harbhajan, Mishra and Jadeja will also be on the selectors’ radar, so the spin department remains contested.  This is the bowling unit for the test side, not to mention the other options from the limited overs format, like Vinay, Aarvind and Mithun.  With the Ranji season having kicked off, central contracts signed with 34 players by the BCCI, it is gratifying to note the Indian selectors are taking nothing for granted anymore and nor are the players.
Thank you England!    

The Indian selectors have assured 100% fitness, the fielding coach has been working the lads real hard, so it should be a good test for India, albeit in home conditions. Can the Indian bowlers take 20 West Indies wickets to win test matches when there is no run rate pressure?

Yes, I hear you. Is the current West Indies opposition a real challenge? Will this really prepare India for the upcoming away series against Australia?  But then as Dhoni pointed out earlier today, England is in the past, Australia is in the future, India needs to address their present challenge against the West Indies.  

It would be naive to underestimate the West Indies. This team is building in experience and in confidence rapidly. They have put player absences and debates behind them. Undoubtedly they have some high class talent, in Darren Bravo, Devendra Bishoo, Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul. In the recent series against Bangladesh on similar tracks, Kirk Edwards showed his value with the bat.  Marlon Samuels is losing time, and has to return to the good times. Of course, let’s not forget the West Indies “Wall”, Shivnarine Chanderpaul. His open chested two eyed stance and Guyana style of marking guard is iconic, as are so many of his dogged innings over the years.  The West Indies have a good bowling unit, who undoubtedly will be working out plans on how to dislodge the Indian batting stalwarts on their favourite flat tracks. Not easy, but certainly this West Indies bowling unit is no push over.

Enjoy the match. Darren Bravo could still win you over, if he hasn't already!

Monday, 24 October 2011

England Must Play Their Best Side

Come now! Grow up and smell the leather. Neither India nor England are dominant as the sledging Aussies once were, so a lot more to emulate yet. Everyone likes a bit of banter, certainly lots of intensity, but not consistent chatter, screaming abuse and being chastised by the umpires time and again. The ICC might charge the two boards a school head-teacher's fee!

Back to the game then, shall we?

The Indians with a fresh look side have played good cricket, dominating in all three departments so far. They have had a few good finds in Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, athletic speedsters. Long may their fitness last.

Another good omen for India is that they have found a new dependable middle order, at least in home conditions. Although the opening spot does beckon one Mr. Sehwag. This Indian side re-charged with the return of the experienced campaigners, will give the selectors some good headaches.

One does need to spare a thought for the workload of skipper Dhoni. Should he hand over reigns in the limited over format to a younger deputy?

The English have struggled to compete in this series, barring a few good individual performances and one close finish at Mohali. It does appear that the think tank is going into each game without much of a plan. It is a bunch of very skilled cricketers this lot. However, with all the experience, video footage, etc. not much evidence of application, adapting to the conditions or even picking the best side for the conditions!

The lowlight for me was the dropping of Swann, the best spinner in the game, on a spinning slow track at Mumbai! So was it just a gamble or "lost cause, let's experiment", or worse still, a mind-block to playing three spinners irrespective of conditions, despite one being a proven all rounder?

Admittedly it has also been a shock to see Ian Bell, the most gifted English stroke-player, sit out the series so far. With big runs against India recently, his presence in the middle was certainly deserved and possible, especially with two middle order batsmen failing in the first three games. Again, can't really find an explanation.

With a 5-0 result in the series now looking imminent, Eden Gardens could be another one way street. The track there slows down dramatically as the game progresses. The temperature and humidity will not be much help either to the England lads. Hopefully they will field their best eleven to try and avoid the indignity of a white wash.

Are there Indian fans wishing there were four test matches against England to follow the T20 encounter at the Eden Gardens?

How the tables have reversed in a few short weeks? Maybe the rhetoric about England world domination will have to take a short break, despite their recent climb to rank one of the ICC Test and T20 chart. Dominant teams dominate in all conditions, so the task ahead is cut out clearly, for Andy Flower and his band of English captains.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Toughest English Exam at Mumbai

Here we go again. Mumbai temperature above 30 degrees, high humidity and a promised slow track by the curator. The fourth game today will be toughest exam for England on this current tour of one dayers.

The last game at Mohali was the best chance for England to come back into the contest. The pitch had a tinge of green and the weather dry and pleasant, at least in the evening. England did well to set the target of 300. But then the rub of green seems to going against them too. England surrendered the series in the field, despite a good batting performance.

This young Indian side, with seven new faces, compared to the world cup winning side of earlier this year, is playing the conditions rather well. Building partnerships, using the pace well, rotating the strike and working hard on the field. It is all coming together. Being used to the tracks and with strong home support, suddenly they are making the English summer look a bit distant.

The chatter on the pitch is spicing proceedings, more so when the Indian skipper comments on infighting in the English camp. Mind games, sledging, no DRS, it does feel more traditional, honestly. The series makes the recent white-wash in England very stark by contrast.

Worth looking forward to Ian Bell back in the playing eleven, and hopefully leggie Scott Brothwick making his debut for England. From the Indian side, it would be good to see two likely debutants, leggie Rahul Sharma and speedster Varun Aaron.

This series maybe decided, but there is still much pride at stake for both England and India. It will be hard fought, but a real tough one for England, this one.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Slow Low Turners

Later this week England arrive in India to play 5 ODIs and a solitary T20 in
the second half of Oct 2011, starting at Hyderabad on the 14th of Oct. Short and sweet, this return tour will miss Test matches. Not a series really, but a real test for both sides.

We all recall the drubbing India received at the hands of the English this summer, not so long ago. The domination was complete, in all internationals and in all formats.

England proved that they have well and truly arrived. Displacing the number one test side, and thrashing the world champs of the ODI format, convincingly, game after game.

But then cricket is one sport that has much to do with conditions. And the conditions, the pitches and the weather, did work to England's advantage during the home series. While the weather was not the primary cause for India's debacle, it was certainly a big factor. Wish the late September weather was around during the series, but let's just blame that on global warming, shall we?

For England to prove it's mettle and justify their top billing, the subcontinent conditions will be a true test. The pitches will be slow and low, with more turn than any pitch played on, during the summer.

Full credit to the England team management, who preferred the curators prepare a slow turner at the Oval for the 23 Sept T20 tie against the West Indies. It was certainly an effort to prepare for the subcontinent conditions. The result was unfavorable, which is not bad news. It highlighted the challenge of the subcontinent visit ahead. And it's one thing we know about Andy Flower, he will ensure complete preparation.

It is heartening that despite their detractors, selectors on both sides have worked on exploring new options, futuristic and specialist. New names on both sides will be exciting talents to watch. Look out for Jonathan Bairstow, Scott Borthwick, Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker, Chris Woakes, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Varon Aaron, Umesh Yadav, S Aravind, Rahul Sharma and Manoj Tiwary. That is one long list!

Go on young men, make use of the opportunity and give us a great contest!!

Having said all that, I do believe that the limited overs formats, a curtailed ODI and particularly the T20 format does not truly reflect the real game. What with the D/L method limiting a T20 game to 9 overs. Seriously? That's more like "Tukkaa" 20 cricket. To explain, "Tukkaa" means "Fluke"!

It will definitely be a different kind of contest, with conditions changing a 180 degrees. Heat and humidity, bald slow low turners - that's a tad different from Trent Bridge, me thinks.

Expect a better contest than the recently concluded series in England, but don't you go and write off England, not this hungry bunch of fighters.

Happy viewing.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

India's Bowling and Injury Woes

It is finally over! The complete domination of India in the English summer of 2011.

Many younger Indian cricket fans are new to this kind of experience. A mammoth wake up call, not only for the players, selectors and the board but also for millions of cricket crazy fans. It can get real tough and painful.

The completely one sided test series in which England displaced India from the top spot was followed by another 3-0 whitewash in the ODI series. It was punctuated by a T20 game, also won by England. India, who are the current world champions did not win a single international outing through the entire series. Who would have thought?

England showed great skill with bat and ball in the conditions. But most hearteningly when they called upon their bench, in tests or in the ODIs, the new comers grabbed the opportunities and delivered. That is the best omen for England in all forms, and the future of the side.

India has their plate full. Key decisions lie ahead on blending experience with youth, and most critically player fitness and injury management. The series saw eleven Indian players exit the series, mid-way through games in some cases, due to injury. That in itself maybe a record!

All eyes are now on the five match ODI return series starting in four weeks at Hyderabad. Will England be as dominant or will the traffic change course? Will India have key players return? Will fortunes reverse in hot humid conditions on harder grounds and turning tracks? I only wish there were a few test matches in this return series, but there aren't.

This England team definitely deserves their glory and all the accolades. They hold strong promise for the near future.

Well played!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Will England dominate again?

With less than an hour to go now, India take on Leicestershire in a T20 game at Grace Road. Leicestershire are champions of the Friends Life T20 tournament, the English equivalent of the IPL, if you will, which concluded only last week. One hopes that Leicestershire have had time enough to clear their heads after what deservedly must have been a big celebration.

India have brought in reinforcements to replace half a dozen big names - Zaheer, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Ishant and the latest addition to the list, Gambhir. The last two practice games against Kent and Sussex have been won by the touring side, with notable performances notched up by Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Parthiv Patel and R P Singh. Well, does this indicate that India are better prepared for the limited overs games ahead? The side certainly looks fitter, and is probably hungrier too. The other advantage being that the morale of the new arrivals may be better preserved than team-mates who were at the receiving end of the test series humiliation.

The game today against the English T20 champs will certainly be a good test. Conditions are now wetter and colder than in the past few weeks. The official end to the English summer cricket season is a week away, but six internationals are yet to be played between India and England.

Notably, the games against Kent and Sussex did not feature any of the quicks who will figure in the England T20 and ODI sides. In addition to the test quartet of speed and spin, the tall and quick Dernbach and Finn are itching to get a crack. Dernbach bowls a well diguised slower ball dropping nearly 15mph, and Finn when bowling right areas, is a handful in any format. So does the Indian batting line up get a breather?

Expect the speed and steep bounce to continue the torrid examination of the new look Indian line up. You will see Patel, Kohli and Raina being bounced and tucked up. The only young batsman who may have the time to adjust could be Rohit Sharma. But his predominant onside play may well be tested by the swinging ball in the heavy conditions. The only relief the Indian batting can expect will be the use of the white Kookaburra ball, instead of the Duke cherry used in the test series. Hopefully the swing will be less menacing and reverse swing not as pronounced given the softer ground conditions.
It will be a better contest than the test matches, but rest assured England continue to hold the upper hand, India's world champion status notwithstanding.

There is little to say about or to expect from the Indian bowling attack. One can hope for a few performances, given occassional scoreboard pressure, but  it remains very mediocre in the context and the form of the England batting line up.

Cook could consolidate his position as the England ODI skipper, after a good first outing in the role against the Sri Lankans, and move one step closer to test captaincy.  

The other highlight of the series could be role that Rahul Dravid plays in this his last ODI series. The Wall looked miles ahead of his team-mates in dealing with the English attack in the test match leg of this tour. He will just have to continue to play anchor again through the ODIs now.

Here's hoping for a contest! A real one this time, please!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

India must force the English attack

Will the Oval test head the same way? Is a whitewash inevitable?

Fans on both sides are waiting for a real contest, at least one in this otherwise one-sided series so far. The Indian batting line up has much to prove. They have to find a way to take on the challenge of the relentless English pace attack. The Oval will present conditions suitable to achieve this goal, certainly more conducive than the previous three venues.

Much has been said in recent days about the causes and fixes, short term and long term challenges, facing the Indian test team. Some have even expressed the risk to the popularity of test match cricket itself. There are five solutions listed somewhere, and ten elsewhere.

In my humble opinion, way too much analysis and criticism of everything is going around. Here are the facts - England on relative strengths and form are deserving test champions. It is the margins of victory which have astounded all.

If the margins must be explained, it distills to only two issues. One of these issues was kind of expected. The weakness of the Indian bowling was scripted, not much surprise there really. This was further accentuated in the very first session of the series, when Zaheer walked away with a hamstring injury.

The second issue has been the real surprise and root cause of the big margins of defeat. The most mature batting line up in test cricket has not yet found a way to deal with the England pace battery in this series. There have been glimpses of solidity and aggression, but not enough consistency to post competitive scores.

The tall English seamers have bowled with good pace, very disciplined lines and consistent nagging lengths. They have used the occasional bouncer to a plan and achieved the result, more often than not. They have worked in combinations, giving no respite from either end.

The only one way forward for India is to try to get the English bowlers off their groove, upset their rhythm. India just have to force experimentation, change of lines and lengths, wavering of plans. And the Indian batting order have the ability and the experience to do so. They have to create the bad balls. Attritional cricket can not work in these conditions, not against this attack, not when they control each session and defintely not when they are under no threat. Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni have to attack, ideally play around Dravid, and stretch Strauss' bowlers into errors. 

And finally something I have maintained through this series. India can not go in with four bowlers, not with their quality, and as the series has proven, with the consequent workload. Munaf, RP and Ojha should get the Oval game alongside Ishant and Mishra. At this level, PK holds limited threat. But hey, he could be in for Mishra, as an all-rounder !

To the final test of this series, here we go! Happy viewing!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

England Deserving Champions of Test Cricket

There it is! England have reached the pinnacle of test cricket. A goal they have built toward slowly and surely over the past six years.

Historically test match cricket domination has been built on bowling strengths. While India have had their months in the sunshine, this England side certainly looks set to hold the crown for a few years. With a bowling attack second to none, England will be hard to displace at the top.

The Dhoni era of infallibility has ended with a rude thud. The time to consider a range of questions is upon India. The manager and captain get much credit and stick in cricket. Is this then the perfect time for the leadership to commence the rebuilding process?

In India's case there will be a spate of theories clogging cricketsphere. Too much cricket, too much money, too much adulation, too little drive, too old. The IPL schedule and BCCI's issues with the DRS will also find their way into explaining India's miserable humiliation.

Be that as it may, this is the opportunity to recognize the England team, the leadership and some very fine individual performers. The balance of this team and the quality of it's all-rounders is easily the best.

Congratulations England! You deserve the crown.

Looking forward to the Oval.

Best Accumulator of this Era

England started their journey of world domination in test match cricket in the summer of 2005 at Edgbaston. In a historic Ashes test against the Aussies, England began to believe. Four year on, with poetic symmetry, England will now reach their goal at this same venue.

A couple of things have changed since. The Edgbaston venue has had a recent £32m facelift and now competes with the best cricketing venues in the world. The team that England will displace is not Australia, but India, who the current ICC leaders in test cricket since Dec 2009.

So if you are a casual visitor to the planet, don't get down on yourself. Cricket is a complex game and yes, the team England are pulverizing are the current owners of the test crown, however one sided the contest may appear. India in this series have proven that sport is unforgiving to the complacent and under-prepared. Past performances count for nothing. Each session in test match cricket is a new battle, no matter what the record books say.    

My heart goes out to Alastair Nathan Cook, undoubtedly the next England skipper, for having missed his triple century yesterday. His patience and concentration were amazing, yet again. Easily the best accumulator of this era. Not flamboyant or expansive in his stroke making, but a lesson in focus and desire. Since his appearance on the test scene five years ago, against the same opposition, Cook has played anchor in many England victories.  

Incidentally, my heart also goes out to Virender Sehwag, a man of two test triple centuries, who walked into this game with a massive burden of expectations, and played two deliveries in all. Spare a thought.

India will surrender arms tomorrow. The England bowling battery will be all over them like a rash. The Indian batting may get past 300 in the second innings, and notch up a first this series, could be the only sidelight.

The last over of day three suggested that even Kevin Pietersen was able to extract spin and bounce from the pitch. He actually looked good enough to be picked as an off-spinner in the Indian team. That was the extreme paucity India suffered in the bowling department through this match, not unlike the previous two.

Big day tomorrow, for England fans and for all test cricket buffs, to usher in the new champs.

Keep watching!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

"Empire Strikes Back" at Edgbaston!!!

Four years and one day ago, on 10 Aug 2007, India piled on 664 first innings runs against England at the Oval. Yes, it's true. I saw the entire five days from the stands.

It is now payback time.

Anil Kumble registered his maiden test century in his 118th appearance in that outing. There were six other half centuries in the Indian innings. India were one up in the series and wanted to close the door on any possibility of an English comeback. Skipper Dravid did not declare and preferred to bat till the end.

India won the three test series 1-0, after barely achieving a draw at the Oval. Seven of the present Indian team played that match.

Strauss was there, and I suspect he remembers. Will he declare at the end of day three? Will he declare with a lead of 300? Or will he bat on?

More than half the current England side is new by comparison, younger and at the peak of their powers. The exact opposite is true of the Indian side.

In sport there is no shame in losing to a better opponent. But the relentless thrashing of the Indian test team that is on going at present is certainly disgraceful. The number one test team, represented by the richest and most adulated stars of the game, fresh from the euphoria of the "championship that matters" have been outplayed on each of 12 days of the series so far. Sorry, 11 days, Trent Bridge test was done and dusted in four days, wasn't it?

Just for the sake of some viewing pleasure, I hope India can put up a bit of a fight.

Goodnight from me, and goodnight from them!

Bresnan, you beauty!

The English seam attack is relentless. They delivered a faultless performance on day one of the Edgbaston test. Strauss throws the ball to any of his three seamers, and they bowl disciplined lines and a nagging lengths, never letting up the pressure on either end. And as we know bowlers are like Alsatians, they hunt in pairs.

For me the stand out performer was Bresnan. Unassuming big lad, who seems to amble in, tick the speedometer at 85mph, and always bowls to a plan. He induced the hook from Laxman with a surprise bouncer, yet again, to be caught at fine leg. But the real beauty was the outswinger, bowled from wide of the crease, moving away just enough to beat the technically perfect defensive blade of the man in form, Rahul Dravid. It doesn't get better than that. Inducing a mistake throw a false stoke or a poor leave is one thing, but to produce that beauty was something else. It was unplayable, if there ever was an unplayable delivery.

The Indian batting crumbled into submission, Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Raina, until Dhoni with support from Praveen, took the attack to the bowlers. The belligerent Dhoni got his side past 200, and for once in this current series demonstrated that the only way to deal with a world class bowling battery is to take the attack to the opposition.

By the end of the day, England were back in control of the game completely, exposing yet again that India can not take the field with four bowlers, not with their quality. Today, on day two, India will be made to toil and be lucky if they can pick five England wickets.

It was good to see Strauss back amongst them, and Cook working hard to find form. As the pitch gets slower, Bopara, KP, Bell and Morgan will be a handful. India may not regain control of this game hereon, but it will be shame if they don't put up a fight.

Hope we get a full day of play. Happy viewing!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

India play the joker!

Don't get put off, I mean it in the best possible manner. With a weak hand, India had to pull out the joker. The joker being Sehwag, the all powerful card that is hoped to prevent their steep fall from grace and delay the loss of the test crown. Much has been written and cyberspace is full of expectations from him like never before. If he pulls off a stunning knock in the first innings, he truly deserves the invisible cape his fans swear he wears.

The series I'm afraid does look like going in one direction only. Every injury news on the Indian side has elicited snide comments about the IPL, which is a bit unfair, in my view. That these injuries have upset the team balance and weakened the already weak Indian bowling attack is the story of the series so far. Unless Sehwag can turn his arm over and get a few, which I am guessing he is not yet ready for, I fear the challenge of 20 England wickets will remain unconquered.

In both, the Lords and the Trent Bridge tests, England averted risky situations with the bat, to come back and dominate the games. The second innings burst at Lords by Ishant was negated by a superb display of counter attack with the bat by Prior. This was the match defining knock which then allowed England to win the game easily on day five. At Trent Bridge, when the England first innings looked like wrapping up for very few, Broad and Swann counter attacked brutally, to take control of the game thereafter. These two critical sessions were won by England, exposing the inability of the Indian bowling to go for the kill. It was also notable that during both these sessions runs came at a fair clip, and the bowling could not stem the flow, never mind pick the wickets.

The lucky break that Bopara is likely to get tomorrow, in place of the injured Trott, opens his contest with Morgan once again. On a relatively slow Edgbaston deck, that's not good news for India. Also worth noting that Edgbaston is a happy hunting ground for KP, who must be suffering withdrawal symptoms since his double century at Lords. Cook and Strauss have been out of the runs, and Bell batted like a dream at Trent Bridge. In gist, the task for India bowling is cut out. And when they have sorted this lot, they have Prior, Broad, Bresnan and Swann to worry about.

The real issue with team selection that the Indian think tank face is not Raina or Kohli. In my view, both are suspect against quick seam and bounce. The issue is can they afford not to play five bowlers? It is a risk, but for a team with no genuine all rounders, balance is always going to be tough. With a relatively slower brown track, as is expected, India maybe well advised to go with both spinners, Mishra and Ojha, alongside three seamers. I'd pick the left arm seamer, RP, to combine with Ishant and Sreesanth. Yes, I know Praveen has picked a few wickets and bowled long spells, but I can not see him as a real threat against the England batting line up, especially when wickets are needed to push home an advantage. Harsh, but true.

The riots in London and other cities have been a big worry since the weekend, but let's hope everything will calm down tonight, and cricket will captivate all our attention tomorrow morning.

Keep watching and keep reading!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

England ready for the crowning

The Trent Bridge test will be long remembered  as the match in which India, the reigning number one, were made to look like a minnow side by a dominant England.

During this test much has been said about fitness, player absence, the winning template and the spirit of the game. Trent Bridge has  left England with two championship points, to borrow some tennis terminology, to the number one spot. India will scrap hard in the next two test matches of the series, but make no mistake, it will not stop England from winning the series and the crown.   

In April 2011, during the build up to this England India series, I had written on my blog the following passage in my post "Cricket -An Asian Sport"

"India has held the number one Test ranking since Dec 2009. This rise was hard fought over a long period of building. Like every team sport which has top drawer contenders, at some point the top spot will be occupied by another competent side. The era of Test Cricket domination for a decade or more is now probably over. In the long history of the game there have been long periods of domination by England, Australia and the West Indies. The top spot in recent times has always been under threat, much like ATP rankings of tennis pros. This is good for the game, as uncontested leadership makes the sport less exciting. Recall the period of domination in F1 of the Ferrari Schumacher combination, which forced significant changes to the sport, to open up the field. In Test Cricket today there are at least five teams at any point within striking distance of the number one spot, keeping the whole “Cricket Industry” interested. Akin to the changes in F1, the threshold into this variable era of Test Cricket leadership was marked by the famous English victory over the dominant Aussies in the Ashes summer of 2005. 
No team can afford complacency, beyond a healthy level of confidence, aiming to maintain the winning habit and the momentum. India will be very conscious of complacency, either for the upcoming West Indies tour or the English tour this summer. England, they well know have always been very tough competitors, especially in their own typical conditions."

The present England side has built the strongest test match combination in the game today. Following the template of the Windies of the 80's, they have a quartet of four tall seamers at 80-90mph, with atleast two amongst them who are competent allrounders. Allrounders are rare breed these days, aren't they? They also have the best spinner in the world, making the bowling attack a real handful. No respite offered at all to opposition batsmen. It is worth also mentioning an impressive reserve list of pacemen who could make it to any other test side as first choice. That is a formidable bowling battery, a great problem of plenty, and one that no other test side can compare with or come close. Add to that five very competent top order batsmen and the best keeper-batsman in the business, and the combination is complete. This is easily the best English test team in decades. And at a time when other test sides are on the verge of or in the middle of a rebuild. This English side looks set to dominate test cricket for a couple of years, if not more.

India have held the crown for less than two years, thanks mainly to their batting strengths. A line up that put up or chased down scores which the thin bowling resources could deal with. With the present series, one can see the results when the batting has struggled to get past 300 in the four innings played so far, against a very demanding English attack. The bowling has been further impeded by  absence and injury to key bowlers. Remember Australia soon after McGrath and Warne retired?

England will be deserving test match champions, when they finally get there in the days ahead. They definitely look set to hold their domination for a while. The Strauss-Flower plan, and execution, of world domination is  now very close to fruition.

Well played England.

Can't wait for the third test, and hopefully watch a more complete Indian side take on England in Birmingham. Another great match in prospect.

Keep watching!     

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Spirit v Laws of the Game

Trent Bridge continues to provide wholesome cricket entertainment.

Last ball before tea on day three, a basic rookie mistake by Ian Bell, who sauntered out of his crease when the ball was live. Fielders did the right thing, run him out and appealed. Umpires did the right thing and declared Bell run out. Scoresheets recorded it as such and cricketsphere went into frenzy!

The twenty minutes of tea, and hours after that, the debates were raging - what should prevail, the laws or the spirit of the game? None of the experts expected India to withdraw the appeal. Yes, that's what India did.

Apparently Dhoni conferred with his team during the tea break, heeding the request of his opposite number Strauss. To the shock of all the fans and the media, Dhoni effectively recalled Bell. Run out for 137, the recalled Bell obliged finally at his individual score of 159.

What if there were no break and the incident happened at the end of another over? There would not have been time to reconsider. The next batsman might have come in and the game would have moved on.

Many views flooded cricketsphere in minutes. Some felt India should never have appealed, others felt India should not have withdrawn the appeal. Spirit versus laws of the game. Dhoni villain or hero. To me the incident showed that India bashing or putting Dhoni on a pedestal are both extreme views.

Cricket has always had its richest controversies in the grey area between the spirit of the game and the laws of game.

Remember Bodyline?

In the course of the match this incident may have little impact. At time of writing this, England looking very strong, having just gone ahead of India by 300 runs, with 4 wickets in hand, and Prior in full flow.

DRS Irony at Trent Bridge

The momentum kept shifting between England and India on day two of the Trent Bridge test. Another fantastic day of test match cricket.

India got ahead on the back of two good partnerships, anchored by the Wall Rahul Dravid, yet again. Some excellent stroke play by the sublime Laxman and aggressive Yuvraj got India into the drivers seat. Or did it? Stuart Broad had different ideas. He picked 5 Indian wickets for 0 runs, including a hat-trick, to rudely wrap up the Indian innings from a strong position of 267-4 to 288 all out. India missed the opportunity to gain a bigger first innings advantage, now restricted to 67 runs. This may be plenty, provided India bowl a disciplined length on day three. The heavy roller in the morning and the sunny conditions will certainly make batting just that bit easier. Pressure in session one will certainly be on Ishant and Sreesanth to produce the goods for India, and on Strauss and Bell to play out the session without losing a wicket.

The DRS debate hit centre-stage twice on this fascinating test match day. If you are a fan of irony, get a piece of this.

It started with an unmistakable conflict in the results produced by HotSpot and Snicko. Worth noting that HotSpot claims 90-95% accuracy and is mandated for use in the DRS. Yet when Laxman apparently nicked one to Prior off Anderson, HotSpot confirmed he hadn't. Snicko soon confirmed he had. Note thay Snicko is not used in the DRS and is only for the viewing pleasure of TV audiences. Laxman survived and England lost a review. Partial technology use, decision wrong.

India refuses use of HawkEye, arguing the projected path technology is not yet mature. England on the other hand have argued strongly in favour of using this technology and a full DRS. Compromise in the current series, a partial DRS. LBW decisions which mainly use HawkEye projected path technology are not up for DRS reviews.

Later in the day, the wheel turned. Harbhajan nicked one onto his pads from Broad, and was given out LBW, but could not review it. Partial DRS use, decision wrong.

In all the power play and quibbling, the ICC is missing out on some simple home truths. Let's revisit the possibilities.

Should decisions be challenged by players at all or should umpires take all the technology support they need, if they need it, and give their verdict? No challenge, no reviews, just technology supported decisions if and when the onfield and third umpire are in doubt. What's wrong with that?

Is there a case for ICC mandating use of all technology for all decisions in all series?

So we may lose 5 overs in a 90 over test match day. Not the end of the earth, is it? Besides why all the fuss about 90 over days, they could be very thrilling, and fair, even if they were 85 overs.

In case you've not considered this, the commercial breaks on TV caused by "decision breaks" could add millions in advertising revenue. There you go, problem solved. Is the ICC listening?

Catch you soon. Enjoy day three at Trent Bridge.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Sporting pitch makes for brilliant test cricket

It is early in the test match at Trent Bridge but gratitude of all followers of test cricket is in order to the curator and his team. A match which swings by the session, with battles in each passage of play, where skills of batsmen and bowlers are continuously examined, really makes for engaging viewing. It elevates test match cricket to it's pedestal, which connoisseurs of the game relish most.

The bowlers had a significant impact most of the day on the first day of the match. With Dhoni winning a crucial toss again, he certainly did the right thing by putting the opposition in. Certainly Strauss would have done the same, given the overcast conditions and the grass on the surface.

Sreesanth, an ideal test match bowler, albeit still lacking the required temperament, bowled most of his spells in the right areas, asking tough questions of the English top order. Praveen and Ishant chipped in with good efforts and actually better figures. But for me Sreesanth was the bowler of the day. Bhajji looked pretty ordinary, and one hopes will have a bigger role in England's second outing.

The honours of the day belonged to Stuart Broad, who is suddenly at the peak of his prowess. His brilliant counter attack alongside Swann made exciting viewing. From what looked like a 120-130 all out situation, Broad's aggressive effort helped England to a very respectable 221. At Trent Bridge that is pretty much game on. At present Broad is what Flintoff was in the Ashes 2005 series, and that is saying something. At Lords he was devastating with the ball, and tomorrow could a big day for him again.

India have their task cut out. Despite a poor start, they held firm, thanks to ton loads of experience and skill of the two masters of their craft - Dravid and Laxman. But the 15 overs they played out will need to be repeated for the whole second day to get India into the drivers seat in this match and back into the series.

Day two at Trent Bridge could be a definitive day in the outcome of this series. With fitness issues sorted for Zaheer, Gautam and hopefully Sehwag, the third test will be a real tough contest. Both teams will work hard to win as many sessions on day two in this test. England could go ahead 2-0 if they wrap up the Indian innings cheaply. A 50 run lead will be gold dust. Conversely India will seek to play the whole day, and seek the same 50 run edge. What a big day ahead, it will be a battle to witness.

It will come down discipline in bowling, accepting tough chances and the rub of the green. For the famous Indian middle order, it will require bringing all their skill and ability to the party. For once it is pleasing that no one really cares if Sachin gets his hundredth century or not. That is how it should be.

So go on gladiators, entertain us!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bowlers will rule at Trent Bridge

The first test of a series is always crucial. England have gained the vital lead at Lords in this four test series. The previous visit of the Indians in 2007 also saw the first test at Lords dominated by England, albeit with one key difference. India were dogged in their resistance on day five, were rescued by rain and poor light late that afternoon and managed a draw. No lights at Lords then but a brilliant new water drainage system - it was touch and go! The action then moved onto Trent Bridge, where India won the decisive game of that three test series.

The current series has four test matches, with India having handed the lead to the opposition already. Yet, the series is very much alive, so fasten your seat belts for some really competitive cricket battles ahead. Unlike the Lords test, which did not present a real contest and was kind of one sided, Trent Bridge promises to be different.

It will bring the conditions and new tactics into play, at least from India, and present a high class contest. India have been rudely awoken from their traditional slumber at the start of the series. It gets tough and competitive from here. Any criticism of under-preparedness, valid or not, is now behind them. They are well warmed up, shall we say. Let's keep in mind that the third test should bring back both Zaheer and Sehwag. India have all to play for and level the series before the third test.

Trent Bridge is a seamer friendly grass top pitch, and overcast weather conditions are forecasted. No surprise that England are going in with their winning combination from the first test. India however need to do a lot of preparing and planning in this short three day interlude before action kicks off on Friday.

Top of the list is the decision on the bowling combination to play. It may well be a conservative approach and we may simply see Sreesanth replacing Zaheer, with rest of the side unchanged from Lords. However, there is a strong case for more than being conservative. The bowlers will determine the outcome in this game. To pick 20 England wickets, India will need the resources and options on the field.

My Indian side for Trent Bridge would include Ishant, Munaf, Sreesanth, Amit Mishra and Yuvraj. Hold on, let me explain. I prefer control and a few yards of pace which will trouble the English batsmen more than skilful gentle paced swing of Praveen Kumar. Yes he got a five wicket haul, bowled big spells in the first test, but never really threatened to rip through the side, as Ishant (or Broad) did in the game. Munaf is quicker, controlled, accurate and brings seam movement and reverse swing. Sreesanth can be a big match winner if his breakfast has agreed with him. However, he does need to be used in short bursts for best results, thus needs a support cast. As to the spin department, Yuvraj needs to be in the side as a much needed all-rounder anyway, and with his history with KP, will add a dimension of slow left arm. Slow, with above the eyeline controlled flight is important when finger spinners don't expect a square turning surface. Amit Mishra presents the only wrist spinning option and would certainly threaten the English batsmen. Raina could pitch in with a few overs, as could Tendulkar, to bring the breakthrough or push the over rate, if needed. Yes, I suggest Harbhajan be rested, as he certainly seems to be lacking the confidence to bowl slow and flight the ball. Trent Bridge will not assist his style of flat and hit the wicket kind of spin bowling.

As to the batting unit, Yuvraj certainly brings his characteristic aggression. In the absence of Sehwag, he presents the ability to upset the rhythm of the English bowling unit. His past exploits against England, and particularly bowlers like the resurgent Stuart Broad could be critical in blunting the clinical efficiency of the four man bowling machine of England. With the rather painful injury to Gambhir's elbow, it maybe best not to force a partially fit batsman at the top of the order. Mukund has shown pluck, skill and temperament, and will do better with sorting out his one big technical niggle. English conditions show you up if your bat comes down anything but straight, as Mukund has learnt from both his dismissals at Lords.

In summary my Indian team for Trent Bridge is - Dhoni, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Yuvraj, Raina, Mukund, Sreesanth, Munaf, Ishant and Mishra. While this may not be as far as Indian think tank will go, but would do well to think hard about the conditions and the opposition in addition to match fitness. The only remaining question is the opening pair, and I would go with Dravid, despite his low average as a test opener. He has the technique to deal with the pace and swing first up, which will be necessary to prevent an early loss when India bats.

Your comments and thoughts?

Happy Cricket watching!      

Monday, 25 July 2011

India Vs England Lords Test Day5

The day was brilliant for English cricket, as for the fans of Test Cricket. Bright sunny day in London town, with a festive atmosphere at the home of cricket. England dominated the number one ranked test team, almost with ease and clinical efficiency. Many English players turned in brilliant performances, but critically they worked so well as a team in all departments.

As always, last day match tickets are sold at the gates only. The queues this morning were miles long, with fans streaming in large numbers on a Monday morning, to fill up Lords to capacity. I wonder why the ICC goes on about the future of Test Cricket. If the contest is well matched and the prize worth fighting for, the fans of Test Cricket will come.

This series is about being the number one Test team, an honour worth battling for. And the fans from both sides were there in large numbers.

There were young English lads with Tendulkar t-shirts, families, school kids, and of course the die hards. All seemed to have one wish in common, to see Sachin score a hundred, in addition of course to their side winning or achieving an honourable draw.

India was brought to book by a highly efficient four man English bowling unit. If Anderson doesn't get you, Broad will. If neither, then Tremlett or Swann will.

Hopes of a miracle from India (a la Dec 2008 Chennai - when India chased down 380 or so in 98.3 overs in the 4th innings against England to clinch a famous win) died early, right in the first session of the day. With the loss of Dravid, Gambhir and Laxman, it was always going to be uphill, to play out the day and draw the match.

Despite the odd dropped chance and favourable umpiring call, India could not save the day. The only real rear guard came from Raina, who seemed to mature and ripen in the English sunshine. His team mates and particularly his seniors seemed to lack the fight that Raina demonstrated. So much so that even the English fans were hoping to see him reach the triple figures, as he so deserved it. He was honoured with a loud standing ovation when he finally fell.

In the final analysis, the game was lost for India when their bowling unit crumbled on day one, leaving a gaping hole in the combination. England batting made capital, particularly KP, and England took control of the game and did not relinquish this control till the end. The small exception was the short burst of English wickets in the morning of day four achieved by Ishant.

The big highlight for England, in addition to taking a lead in this four test series, is the resurgence of Stuart Broad. A player who was almost pipped to the post by Tim Bresnan for this game, due to a string of poor performances against Sri Lanka recently.

The next test match at Trent Bridge starts Friday this week. So hold your peace and watch India resurge. They are slow starters and will rebound hard. The series is alive and well.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

India Vs England Lords Test Day4

What a roller coaster of a day! England started 193 ahead with all 10 wickets in hand, and were soon down to 62-5, thanks mainly to an amazing spell of hostile bowling by Ishant Sharma. The match came alive, with a complete reversal. Was India going to restrict England to a small second innings total and settle in for an early chase? Lords was buzzing with Indian optimism, probably first time in the game. Just for a while Zaheer Khan's absence did not seem the worry. News of Sachin's viral fever and consequent absence from the field trickled in.

The most amazing thing happened post lunch - Dhoni kept Ishant away from the attack for 35 minutes, using Raina instead. Huh!? Was this master plan to have off-spin at both ends to attack Morgan? Ishant was on a roll, recovered after the 40 minute lunch interval, and clear as daylight to all, he was the "go to man". As soon he was reintroduced into the attack, he delivered Morgan's wicket.  This was probably the last bit of joy for the Indians. Matt Prior and Broad went onto build an excellent partnership without further loss. Prior played an absolutely brilliant hand, coming in at 62-5 and taking his team to an overall lead of 458, and notching his third test century at Lords. Broad exhibited some lusty hitting to add to his bowling exploits of the first innings.

India's agony was compounded by a really hard blow Gautam took to his left elbow standing close at forward shortleg. Two of the top four batsmen in trouble now.

In the absence of Gautam, Dravid opened the batting with Mukund, and held strong at one end. Mukund exposed an obvious chink in his armour dragging a ball onto his stumps, second time in the match, this time of the back foot. Laxman came in at number three and alongside Dravid, played his typical reliable second innings role, despite being tested by Tremlett. India finished at a respectable 80-1 at stumps.   

England remain well poised, and will play attritional cricket on day five. They will hope that wickets come in clusters, when they get the break throughs. Indian's however will work to cut out errors, build partnerships working with one's and two's each time a wicket falls. Playing out a full day against the English hunting pack, with effectively  6 remaining wickets - discounting Gautam, Sachin, Zaheer and Mukund - will be steeply uphill. But then, they are a champion side, as they showed this morning. So let's not draw conclusions yet!

It will certainly be last game that Sachin, Dravid and Laxman will play at Lords, and that is a big occasion for the memory bank!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

India Vs England Lords Test Day3

A great day for England, now firmly in the driver's seat. Probably a career best, and definitely a match winning performance from Stuart Broad. He bowled intelligently, with venom, and despite a couple of dropped chances off his bowling, finished with very impressive figures. He was clearly the standout performer for England today.

The standout performer for India was the Wall Rahul Dravid, who played a near perfect knock to hold the Indian innings together. Several of the Indian stars settled down and fell to indifferent strokes or well laid plans. Either way the consistent pressure of four bowlers working in tandem was too relentless to handle. Rahul's poise and control at one end raised questions about the skill of his team mates against top class bowling. Rahul is now the only player in the current Indian side to have scored a century at Lords.

The disappointment of Mukund who missed a well deserved 50 was topped several times during the day. The one that hurt most was Sachin. On arrival the master received a standing ovation all the way to the crease. He settled well, despite being tested by Tremlett, but then broke the collective heart of the Indian fans by edging Broad tamely. Laxman, Dhoni and Gambhir did much the same, looked set but could not carry on.

By the skin of their teeth India avoided the follow on, but conceded a match defining lead. At the end of the day England were about 200 ahead, with all 10 second inning wickets in hand and 2 days of play left. India have effectively surrendered this game.

So the real question, come tea time on day four, can Indian batting survive 4 sessions to save this test?

Lords remains the final frontier for Sachin, with a top score of 37 here. One last go for the master to set the record straight at the spiritual home of cricket and redeem his team?

Friday, 22 July 2011

India Vs England Lords Test Day2

India missed Zaheer, but Praveen Kumar did not disappoint. It was good to see him use the opportunity with skill and a lion hearted effort. The day was dominated by KP, genius at work. His second hundred was a true exhibition to watch. Bhajji, Ishant looked quite ineffective, but the absence of consistent pressure could be the reason. Bowlers work best as a unit.

I fear England do not realize that KP's innings must have inspired the Indian stalwarts. A small trailer in the dying moments of the day by Gauti.

Tomorrow will be another run feast, I promise. Lords is brilliant for batting on day three. Gauti was incensed by Jimmy Anderson with a return throw to his head. Not bad for India, I'd say.
Next two days will be seriously absorbing if you are a fan of Gauti, Sachin, Rahul, Laxman, Dhoni, Raina and company.

England have an amazing view of their bowling unit. They are good, but barring one afternoon against Sri Lanka in Cardiff, could not pick 20 wickets in the recent series against them. So what is the fuss about?

I think Sachin will not disappoint - not after being made to toil for two days by KP. Looking forward to a most memorable third day at Lords tomorrow.

A must watch!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

India Vs England Lords Test Day1

First day at Lord's, England battle hard and have the edge? Dhoni won a crucial toss, put England into bat in great bowling conditions. India dropped a few crucial chances, Zaheer picked up an injury. Not good. England battled hard to finish the day well.

Probably the toughest of the 20 days of Test Cricket in this series is over. India may rue the missed opportunity to put England under pressure....for the Test and may be for the whole series. Next four days, weather is likely to be good at Lord's. If England put on 350 plus in the first innings, India could be put to the sword.

I am hoping to be there on day three, four and five. Hope Sachin achieves his biggest milestone!!! Would be amazing to witness it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Cricket - An Asian Sport

Recent article by Steve James, ex-England Test Cricketer, in the Telegraph of 16th April 2011 makes a thought provoking read. The article refers to raging debates on the question - ‘Is the influence of Asia destroying world Cricket?’

James also presents his arguments in predicting the eminent fall of Indian Cricket, marked by their defeat in this English summer. Indian Test stature is under threat, thanks to its senior players getting too old, the absence of a coach at present, and the risk of complacency, caused by the extreme adulation the Indian Cricketers enjoy. 

A few weeks ago former ICC Chief Executive, Malcolm Speed released his memoirs, Sticky Wicket, making the point that “India's influence must be managed”

Over two billions viewers follow Cricket today according to most estimates, making it the second most watched sport in the world, second only to the “Beautiful Game”. A very large majority of these followers are Asian. These fans in their numbers and the market they represent make Cricket the powerful sport it is today. Thanks mainly to the invention of new formats pioneered in England, this fan base is growing. The early innovation in Cricket was accelerated by the World Series Cricket of Kerry Packer in the late 1970’s. As veteran game fanatics will recall, the World Series Cricket was a player mutiny against their respective Boards, for disproportionately low rewards. It was also recognition of the media possibilities in this relatively confined sport.  

In my analysis, these two issues - the negative impact of Asian dominance on world Cricket, and India’s fate in the English summer, are largely unrelated.

The second one is more fun to dissect, from a followers’ perspective. It has everything to do with on field performance, so that’s where we go first.   

India has held the number one Test ranking since Dec 2009. This rise was hard fought over a long period of building. Like every team sport which has top drawer contenders, at some point the top spot will be occupied by another competent side. The era of Test Cricket domination for a decade or more is now probably over. In the long history of the game there have been long periods of domination by England, Australia and the West Indies. The top spot in recent times has always been under threat, much like ATP rankings of tennis pros. This is good for the game, as uncontested leadership makes the sport less exciting. Recall the period of domination in F1 of the Ferrari Schumacher combination, which forced significant changes to the sport, to open up the field. In Test Cricket today there are at least five teams at any point within striking distance of the number one spot, keeping the whole “Cricket Industry” interested. Akin to the changes in F1, the threshold into this variable era of Test Cricket leadership was marked by the famous English victory over the dominant Aussies in the Ashes summer of 2005.   
No team can afford complacency, beyond a healthy level of confidence, aiming to maintain the winning habit and the momentum. India will be very conscious of complacency, either for the upcoming West Indies tour or the English tour this summer. England, they well know have always been very tough competitors, especially in their own typical conditions.

Any ardent follower of Cricket will know that all teams go through periods of uncertainty and change at the helm. England and India are no different. Both teams in the past years have had changes and issues in this area. At present England and India seem to be the among the few Test teams going through a phase of stability in Test Captaincy. Gary Kirsten, most certainly did a tough job as India Coach and did it brilliantly, as did his opposite number, Andy Flower, for England. These are big shoes to fill. Both men are highly regarded by their respective teams. The picture of Gary Kirsten on the shoulders of the Indian team at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai a few weeks ago is iconic. Gary understood the nuisances of the job and deserves all the accolades he has received from Dhoni, Tendulkar and the others.

Trouble at senior management level is not unheard of, in sport or otherwise. It happens sometimes in the public eye, as it did between Saurav Ganguly and Greg Chappel. However this is not unique. This headline is not that far back, 7th Jan 2009, on BBC Sport website “England captain Kevin Pietersen has quit in the wake of his rift with coach Peter Moores, who has been sacked.”

We recall the impact on Australia with the departure of McGrath, Gilchrist, Warne and Hayden in quick succession. Their rebuilding process has been ongoing since. The Indian Test side have long standing performers in Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Zaheer Khan, who are not getting younger. This is certainly a concern for Indian Cricket and an opportunity for the opposition, be it West Indies or England.

A closer look at the last Test Series India played in England in July-Aug 2007 throws up interesting points to ponder. The ground conditions were tailored to suit the strengths of the English attack. In this series of three Tests, 80 wickets were accounted for by seamers; 41 of these were shared between the Indian seamers, including Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and Sreesanth. The English seam attack of Sidebottom, Anderson, Tremlett were equally dominant bagging 39 Indian wickets.

India’s veteran performers Tendulkar (averaged 38) and Dravid (averaged 25) did not make a big impact in this series. Laxman and Dhoni each averaged above 50, while the only centurion for India in the series was Anil Kumble at the ripe old age of 37, in his 118th Test appearance, as I recall. The top run getter for India in the Series was young Dinesh Karthik, who does not find a place in the Test side at present. Sehwag was not included in the touring party, and Yuvraj did not get a Test, though he was in the team.

A good domestic circuit, the annual gluttony of the glitzy Indian Premier League and the three international level formats, all seem to help India find young batting talent. Examples in recent times that are visible include Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, and are in good company with the likes Gambhir, Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Ishant and Sreesanth. The selection of the Indian Test side for the English summer will present a few good problems to the Indian selectors.   

England has some of the best regarded Test  players in their ranks. Insatiable appetites like Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, alongside skipper Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Ravi Bopara and Matt Prior. The real strength in the English squad will be provided by the bowling battery of Anderson, Swann, Broad, Tremlett, Finn and Bresnan. That is a very strong line up, in any conditions. Engalnd selectors also have a problem of plenty.

It is surprising though that in several quarters there remains a popular belief that India is spin heavy and depends on turning tracks. The best spin bowler in the world today is Swanny, who spins the ball and uses the bounce, in all conditions. Name two top class Test spinners in India today? Harbhajan Singh and….…….….my point exactly! Going back again to the 2007 series, the only stand out spinners were Kumble and Monty. There is emerging talent in the Indian spin department, the likes of Amit Mishra, R.Ashwin and Pragyan Ohja, but these players have yet to make an impact at the Test level.    

Seaming pitches and heavy weather conditions in England are enjoyed by all bowlers, as evidenced in the 2007 series. Way it probably works is that a seamer who works to swing the ball in the sub-continent, exploits English conditions as well, if not better. Pitches around the world, other than those in the sub-continent, offer pace and bounce in varying degrees. It is the heavy conditions in England that add to the drama. The English groundsmen prepared the pitches to seam specifications in the 2007 series, and yet the one really tough period Indian batsmen faced was at Lord’s on an overcast fifth day, when Anderson and Sidebottom were swinging and seaming away.  

There is no doubt that the upcoming England India Series will be a tough contest, a hard fought battle, and to die for, for the Cricket aficionado. The predication of English dominance may need support from the weather, more than the grounds men. And as we know, it hardly ever rains in England!

There ends my analysis and thoughts on the India England Test Series of summer 2011. 

Watch this space for the second and concluding part.   

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