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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 Some felt India should never have appealed, others felt India should not have withdrawn the appeal.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.

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