Friday, March 31, 2006

Rahul Dravid on the Indian Cricket Fan...

Rahul Dravid commented on the Indian fan in his recent press conference. Sachin Tendulkar also mentioned recently that he didnt think the booing and general behaviour of the fans in Mumbai was "not so bad".. (i read that as "not unexpected").

What Dravid and Tendulkar have effectively said is... that theres nothing else you can expect from fair weather fans.... (not worthy of being called supporters).

When the intellectual level of the average fan seems to be to support an argument which says "they get praised when they win, so they deserve abuse when they fail", should Dhoni and co. expect anything else?

Like the Racehorse that ran fast enough to win......

India's ODI efforts this season have resembled just that - a Racehorse who always runs just fast enough to win. Infact, with a little bit of imagination, the same could be said about India's Test match successes. On no occasion this year, have India completely outclassed the opposition.

In almost every game, they have found themselves with their hands full, and someone, somewhere has turned up the got India across the line. They started the season in questionable ODI form, and indeed with larger questions about ODI team composition - with Tendulkar restricted by injury and no real ODI batting force apart from Dravid. In the first game, we saw Tendulkar make a hundred, and Pathan hammer the Sri Lankans, batting at number 3. Later in the series we saw Dhoni make 183 to help India achieved something that nobody had achieved against SL in over 5 years - beat them chasing 250+ when Murali was playing. The number of run chases India have successfully completed with the last 70-80 runs coming with them 5 or 6 wickets down is fast reaching astonishing proportions.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Freedom of Opinion

Arvind Lavakare write in his column on Rediff.com, that booing Tendulkar was probably the right thing to do - "only those handful of spectators booing Tendulkar had the honesty to tell him what he needed to be told". So far so good. But consider the other aspects on this attitude - abusive chants towards visiting players, and general bad behaviour in the media. Im amazed by the kind of judgement people make unhesitantly. Opinion is indeed free (as in tshirts not as in liberty).

Suddenly, lack of form is being attributed to

1. He doesnt really want it that badly anymore.
2. Hes old and isnt as good as he was when he was 23.
3. Hes never really performed when it mattered, and hes hanging on to his place only because of the money involved.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

India bat better overseas than they do in Home Tests.

Through out the 1990's, India were almost unbeatable at home, and suffered overseas. The assumption was that the batting failed overseas, while it did very well in India. Statistically though, the situation was just the opposite. The batting did very well - home as well as away. The bowling however failed away, while at home Anil Kumble ensured that India bowled out the opposition cheaply.

Now, with the BCCI decision of preperation of pitches for home games, the disparity between Indias home and away performances with the bat has disappeared. The table below a comparison of the Home and Away batting performances of all 8 Test teams (except Zim and Bangladesh), over their last Test cycle (Latest Home and Away series for each team against every other team..... so over 14 series for each team).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A question of Attitude......

These lines are admittedly a bit of a rant, but this is something that i have had issue with for a long time. Recently we have seen and read about (in my case read about and heard from my friends on the cricket forum), about Indian fans - booing Tendulkar, chanting uncomplimentary/disgusting things about the visiting Englishmen (which some commentators in their infinite wisdom passed of as actions of "affectionate, knowledgable fans"!!), chants of "bring back Sourav", and generally an obsession with using cricket and the cricketing context as an outlet for individual and collective frustration.

Which begs the question... are Indian's who watch cricket actually cricket fans? How many people are actually interested in cricket, and how many are interested in the victory? How many are interested in the entertainment (in Marathi we have a phrase "chaltya gadit chadhne", which roughly translated means piling on)? Can all these people together be actually held to be devotees of cricket?

Harbhajan's Match as India win from Memory...

Harbhajan Singh made 37 with the bat and then returned to take 5/31 with the ball to take India to a 39 run victory in the Delhi ODI against England. It was a spinners day all around in world cricket, as Shane Warne spun Australia to a 112 run series clinching victory in the Durban Test. In addition to this, Ian Blackwell produced the third most economical bowling analysis against India by a spinner, taking 1/24 in his 10 overs at Delhi. Only Tauseef Ahmed and Mohammad Rafique have done better than him.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ricky Ponting Scales new heights..

Ricky Ponting has now played 102 Test matches and made 30 Test centuries. His last 8 Test innings against SA have now brought him 5 centuries, apart from which he made 2 in the same Test against the West Indies this season. A study of Ponting in comparison with other great batsmen around the 100 Test match period in their respective careers is revealing. Ponting has the best average amongst these players, and only Tendulkar had a better century and fifty frequency at 101-102 Test matches. The batsmen listed below completed their Test careers with a batting average of atleast 45 and played more than 100 Test matches.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Injuries, Form....... long term strategy, short term arrangements

The Indian selectors have, since the appointment of Rahul Dravid as captain, the selectors and team management have shown a clear preference to youth and new players. Venugopal Rao, Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth have all been blooded in the last 7-8 months. 4 fast bowlers, 2 batsmen and a spinner. Thats a telling number of new additions. Laxman, Ganguly find themselves out of a place in the Test team, whil Gambhir has lost his opening slot to Wasim Jaffer. Yuvraj Singh has been made a first choice Test batsman.

However, injuries to Tendulkar, Sehwag may cause the selectors to revert back to Ganguly for the time being. I expect it to happen, barring India getting 3-0 ahead after the first 3 ODI's.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Test Match Ratings Update

I just updated my Test match ratings, and can present a 2 year summary now. A graph of the performance of the 8 teams is as follows:


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Of Illusions, set backs and the virtue of preperation...

In the final analysis, magnificient fast bowling from Hoggard and Flintoff won the day for England on the 5th day at Mumbai. India fought hard in this test match, inspite of the captains faux pas (possibly hedging, possibly just a misjudgement) at the toss, and three and a half specialist batsmen in the squad. It was a bit like tying your own hands together.

Hoggard and Flintoff bowled nothing down the legside on the whole of the 5th day. Anderson bowled one ball which Tendulkar was good enough to hit for four thru midwicket, but apart from that, there was nothing to hit. Flintoff was truly magnificient - fast, hostile, bowling a superb attacking line and length with unerring accuracy. He beat the bat almost every over, and nothing signified Englands preperation better than the fact that Rahul Dravid (probably the most professional of the Indian cricketers), fell in the first over after lunch to the English captain. There were no looseners, no wide ones to get into rythm. Flintoff was on the ball from the word go.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Can India finish their story?

Indias game in this test series has resembled the journey of good guy in Hindi and English movies. The team management has been positive to the point of being reckless, and Indias cricket has pretty much meant that the opposition has been but a bit player in what is essentially their show. After the dead wicket at Nagpur, we have seen two great wickets at Mohali and Bombay (ICC take note - two completely different wickets, different types of soil - not "substandard", even though they may not quite be green and fast), on which India have gone in with 5 batsmen, and inspite of 2 of those 5 being out of form, a two others having played less than 15 Test matches amidst them, and a 5th one whos also the captain of the side, find themselves with an outside chance of winning the series 2-0.

Monday, March 20, 2006

England leave the door open....

India stayed afloat in the Mumbai Test, thru resilient late order batting on the third afternoon. At 217/8, (which is when i called it a day), after some mercurial catching and fielding from England, it looked like England would enjoy a commanding lead of 175 (considering the run rates in this series, thats a 2 session advantage), begin their second innings and be 250 ahead on the day. Instead Anil Kumble and Sreesanth stretched the India first innings to 279. After which England batted for 15 overs, during which they scored at only 2 runs per over, and lost 2 wickets.

With England 150 ahead at the end of day 3, they are still well ahead, but a enormous morning session lies here, which will probably decide the course of this Test match. The fourth mornings givens India their last realistic chance of chasing victory at Mumbai.

The Bombay wicket has offered plenty to the bowlers especially in the morning session, and the wearing 4th day wicket would mean that Kumble and Harbhajan Singh would be a handful.

All in all, an exciting test match - there might yet be an opportunity for the beleagured Indian top order to redeem itself !

Sunday, March 19, 2006

ENDulkar? Of Form slumps and the curse of consistency....

Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed for 1 in the first innings at Mumbai. The problem with the Tendulkar situation, is that there arent many players in the world who can assess his troubles at 132 Tests. Steve Waugh had a form slump towards the end of his career, Gavaskar was less consistent in the last few years of his career, but this is probably Tendulkars first form slump. Given the image of Chappell and Dravid as iconoclasts, not averse to "tough" decisions, we can look forward to yet another calm before the storm, as Gandalf the Grey (or White, take your pick) likes to tell us every 14 minutes or so in the Lord of the Rings. This may not quite be the battle to preserve the Age of Men, but it might end up being just as cathartic, and more importantly, just as excrutiating as sitting through 9 hours to get through something that even Bollywood (songs, dances and all) might have achieved in 3.

Lets look at the form slump though (Gandalf, if youve noticed was quite statistically inclined... emphasizing the team view, but always statistically informed). Consider the following facts:

This is the first time since Melbourne 2003, that Tendulkars 10 Test split batting average has dropped below 40. It has happened to hm 6 times in his career. Early in his career, his 10 Test split was down below 40 on the South African tour of 1992, the second time this happened was during the West Indies tour in 1997, he ended the Barbados Test with sub 40 ten test split. The following chart shows the batting average distribution over the 10 Test splitis for Tendulkar, Ponting, Inzamam, Dravid and Lara, 5 of the most successful contemerory Test batsmen.


These figures are derived from matches completed upto the start Mumbai Test match. Tendulkar has gone thru fewer troughs in form then the other 4 players. Infact, whenever his average has dropped never dropped below 40 for a 10 Test split for more than 2 Test matches at a stretch until now. Now he has gone into Karachi, Nagpur and Mohali, having averaged less than 40 in his previous 10 Test matches. His consistency over his entire career has now become a curse - for all other players above, other than Dravid have gone through slumps before, worse slumps than Sachin Tendulkar has. It seems to me that the end of the Ganguly era really does me that! Ganguly, Laxman, Zaheer, Agarkar, possibly Harbhajan, and now possibly Tendulkar as well, will make way for a new breed. "Youth" is the buzzword, as it always is in the quest for progress, and Sachin Tendulkar does not answer to that category anymore. Gandalf (in his various avatars) seemed to take a bunch of kids (amongst them grown Kings) through an exciting adventure. He always seemed to know the score, and always knew what to do. In the adventure of India cricket, Sachin Tendulkar for much of his career, has been India's Gandalf. For him though, i doubt whether a Gandalf exists - someone who knows what the future holds for him. He must be his own Gandalf. Meanwhile, for India, Rahul Dravid seems to be the new Gandalf. The end of spring break means that i must turn away (however unwillingly) from the cricket for the time being - unless of course Tendulkar and India suggest otherwise in the Mumbai Test. So heres wishing Sachin Tendulkar and India all the very best.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

England have a good batting day as the Indians hedge.....

All the ingredients for another potboiler with the press, the "cricket" fans are in place, and tomorrow will decide whether we'll have a hit or another addition to the list of bad flops. Rahul Dravid chose to field after winning the toss at the Wankhede Stadium at Mumbai, in his 100th Test match, in the Test match where another great champion (who knows all about potboilers) became the most capped Test cricketer for India. Dravid's decision and Indias subsequent lack of success, which the English commentators have criticized in cricketing terms, was explained away by the shocking Javagal Srinath as being the result of "celebrations over the past two days".

Friday, March 17, 2006

A good read.... an Australian is relieved!

Peter Roebuck on the first days play in the Cape Town Test.

The Captain plays his 100th Test Match..

Rahul Dravid plays his hundredth test match at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay. Its been a phenomenal journey, and him becoming only the 6th Indian player to play 100 Test match, is in itself a signal of his place in the pantheon of Indian greats. In the current side, Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble have completed their hundred test match - Tendulkar against England at the Oval in 2002, while Kumble against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad. Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar are the other Indians to have completed a 100 Test matches for India. Azharuddins career poetically enough, ended at 99 tests.

Rahul Dravid has been the architect of many of Indias greatest victories, but i think that to celebrate Rahul Dravid by celebrating him as "India's MVP" or to say time and again that he has been "overshadowed by his more flamboyant teammates", would, in cricketing terms, be doing him a disservice. For Rahul Dravids greatness lies in his classical game, and in the classical mould in which he is cast - as a Test cricketer and as a Test batsman. In an age of unorthodoxy and freak talents like Gilchrist and Sehwag, Rahul Dravid has held his own, and stands as the very embodiment of the traditional Test cricketer.

His game, like all enduring realities of life is built on rock solid defense, and a rock solid temperament, honed in the heat of battle. They say Test Cricket mirrors life like no other sport does - Rahul Dravid is the very embodiment of Test cricket.

Numbers in the final analysis are always passe.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The 129th anniversary of Test Cricket.....

March 15th 1877 saw the first test match being played between England and Australia at Melbourne.

The first century and the first five wicket haul in test cricket were taken by Australians - Bannerman made 165 in a total of 245, a record which hasnt been broken for 129 years, while Midwinter took 5 wickets as Australia beat England by 45 runs. The Australia-South Africa Test match which started today was the 1789th Test match.

A 129 year old history - and what a history!!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A perspective on the greatest game ever

I woke up on Sunday morning, and was naturally astonished by Cricinfo's headline - "South Africa wins greatest game". It took me a while to realise what had happened. The same world record had been broken twice in the same game. It was a bit like Lara's 400 not out being surpassed twice in the same game.

With the perspective of a couple of days (and one assignment - can't escape reality, even if some great things happen at the cricket), i was thinking about it, and now it seems to me as though one ought not to be really surprised by the events at the Wanderers. A study of the progression in run-rates of all teams in recent years shows that more runs are being scored faster in ODI cricket.

Some put it down to the decline in bowling. I dont think there has been a decline in bowling. I think what has happened is, batsmen have learnt how to play ODI cricket, and it has now became a contest between one batting run-rate and another, rather than one between bat and ball.



A look at the runs scored and runs conceded in time periods defined by the world cups, shows an steady increase across the board, with the exception of Sri Lanka.

So, im more and more inclined to agree with the view of one of my Australian forum friends, who made the sage comment that the Wanderers ODI was "an elongated Twenty20 contest". Brings you back down to earth doesnt it?

How do we then make ODI cricket a contest between bat and ball? Heres an option i worked out.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Surrey basking in reflected glory???

The Surrey cricket website headline is funny.

South Africa equalled Surrey One Day record?

Alistair Brown made 268* for Surrey in that game, where the pitch used was at one end of the square, and the square boundary on side was about 45-50 yards!

Comparing that with an International contests between the two top teams in the world, in a series deciding clash is a bit ridiculous.
Cricinfo seems to have posted an well edited version of the commentary in the series website. Sad...... cos that commentator was going berserk!

The Greatest ODI ever....

Its being called the greatest ODI ever - 100 overs, 872 runs, and a last over victory by 1 wicket.

New ground was broken in the annals of ODI Cricket - 35 years after ODI cricket started in earnest in Melbourne, Australia, came the day when South Africa chased an unlikely 434 to beat Australia in the deciding game. If ever a game was meant to be written about, this was it.

I however choose to present to you, two links -

Cricinfo's ball by ball commentary - The commentator was in top form, and not shy of an opinion - seemed to be an Aussie too!

And the Match thread from this Cricket Forum i participate in on C4. Its a bit long, but its priceless - with a few Aussie and South African fans offering candid opinions, sage advice and sarcastic commentary to the cricketers and to each other.

These two links i think represent the new age of cricket communication. Columnists, unless they are really good, are going to have a hard time in the future.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

ODI Ranking Monthly Summary - Feb 10th to March 12th

This is the first summary of my ODI Rankings. I will endeavour to publish one every month during the season, and in the off season month, when there isnt that much ODI cricket, i will do it every two months.

24 ODI games were played in between Feb 10th 2006 and March 12th 2006, and Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies played ODI cricket during this period. Matches 1st VB Series Final to the 5th ODI - Australia v South Africa at Johannesburg fall under this update.


(Click on the image to see full size)

South Africa were temporarily Number 1 in the world on March 3, but it will take more than one close fought defeat for the Australians to be knocked off their lofty perch.

England and Zimbabwe have not played any ODI cricket in this period (atleast not against any of the teams included in the rankings, and hence their ranking remains unchanged.

India have won 3 of their last 5 games against England. This gives both England and India to improve their present rankings, should either side dominate the upcoming series, especially towards the business end of the series.

The Cricket World Comes Alive.......

What a weekend its been for international cricket!

West Indies, seemingly cruising to victory at Auckland, lost 6 for 60 to find themselves 246/8, chasing 290, thanks to Shane Bond, Daniel Vettori and Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, who played a wretched shot to get out by all accounts. India have turned the Mohali test around, thanks to Anil Kumble, and find themselves in good position to force an unlikely victory inspite of all the loss of time due to bad weather. And South Africa have produced a miraculous run chase to beat Australia in the decider at the Wanderers!

Given all the subtext to that series - with South African appeals to patriotic fans to abuse the Australians, and give back exactly what they recieved in Australia, and Greame Smith, whos never short of a word, this was a fabled end to a epoch making series.

The Australia dominance in the ODI game has never been seriously challenged since their victory in the 1999 world cup in England. Apart from Pakistan in the off season indoor ODI series in Melbourne in 2002 (or maybe it was 2003), nobody has really beaten Australia. India have managed to beat them twice in the knockout miniWorldCup tournament, once and Dhaka, and once at Nairobi. And they lost the VB series in 2001-02, which signalled the end of Waugh's ODI career. But they havent been seriously challenged.

The South Africans have just achieved that.

Given Chanderpauls problems as West Indies captain, and his loss of form with the bat, i wouldnt be surprised if the West Indies resorted to a Lee Germon like arrangement for their side.

Fine start to my spring break weekend all in all!!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Lone Champion..... 500 Test Wickets!

Anil Kumble took his 500th Test wicket at Mohali, when he trapped Steve Harmison LBW first ball in the England first innings. It was the great mans 315th Home Test wicket.

Anil Kumble inspite of his superb record, does not recieve the same plaudits as his more conventional contemperory from down under - Shane Warne, and that is down to his away record.

If we look closely however, Anil Kumble has actually outperformed other Indian bowlers outside the Indian subcontinent in the Test that he has played.

In Stats including the first innings of the Mohali Test match, Anil Kumble, in his 104 Tests has taken 501 wickets at 28.87. The bowling from the other end for India has taken 1107 wickets at 37.11 in these 104 Test matches. Kumble therefore has outperformed the other Indian bowlers by almost 9 runs/wicket.

If we consider matches outside the Indian subcontinent, Kumble has 133 Test wickets at 37.53, while the bowlers at the other end had 412 wickets at 38.84. These other bowlers would invariably pacemen. On wickets which suit pacemen, where Anil Kumble was used as a stock bowler because he was so good at keeping things tight, Kumble has atleast matched, if not outperformed the pacemen, both in terms of wickets/match, and runs/wicket.

In the Indian subcontinent, outside India, Kumble has 52 wickets at 37.83, while the other bowlers in the same Test matches have 143 wickets at 42.07. Even here Kumble has been the chief wicket taker for India.

Whether as a strike bowler in India, or as a stock bowler used to block one end up overseas, Anil Kumble has single handedly kept India afloat over the last 16 years of Test Cricket.

It is quite typical that Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar have been the most abused and criticized cricketers in India over the past 8-10 years, inspite of being the most consistent performers. Rahul Dravid has had the benefit of developing in the shadow of the great Tendulkar, while Harbhajan Singh has had the benefit of Anil Kumble to draw attention away from him.

In a team sport, especially when a team fails, it is the performers who are often adversely commented upon. They end up taking the heat - but when victory comes, its always a team victory. That is why they are true leaders.

Kumble the bowler, Tendulkar the batsman and Ganguly the captain, have been the leaders of Indias cricket over the years. Now we see a new era emerging - with a new captain - Dravid, new bowling and batting strategies in Test cricket. Its time for the new leaders to step out into the sun and take the heat. It will be interesting to see who they will be.

Virendra Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan are my picks. If Kumble is not inspiration enough, then i dont know who is.

Harmison to Dravid.. the story of a two run over..

Been sitting up and watching the match tonight, enjoying the start of the spring break. India have just started batting and Sehwag, after his usual mastery of the ball pitched up to him, has just been dismissed by a snorter from Harmison, which seemed to take him by surprise.

Just watched a great over of cricket. On the face of it, an ordinary over - 2 runs came of it... Harmison to Dravid. This is cricinfos description -

"7.6 Harmison to Dravid, no run 7.5 Harmison to Dravid, two runs, fullish on off, Dravid drops that bat on it and it carries past point for two 7.4 Harmison to Dravid, no run, a bit wider, no inswing and he shoulders arms 7.3 Harmison to Dravid, no run, full outside off, Dravid well forward in his stride and leaves it 7.2 Harmison to Dravid, no run, and this time Dravid sways well away from a well-directed lifter on off, good contest here 7.1 Harmison to Dravid, no run, bouncer down leg, batsman ducks on his knees"

A pedestrian description of a great bit of cricket. It comes with ball by ball commentary i guess.

The First ball was a bouncer, well directed, but Dravid read it early and ducked. The line of the bouncer had something to do with it - leg and middle stump, and Dravid was able to stay side on and get under it. The Second ball was an even better bouncer - a bit fuller than the first one, pitched on off stump, and seemed to seam in to the batsmen as all bouncers do (remember Malcolm Marshall?). This time Dravid was on the back foot, and slightly more front on as a result, but watched it right to the end, swayed out of line, making sure he kept his hands low. A classy leave to a testing ball.

The third ball was a good length outside offstump, and Dravid left it, with a decisive forward movement. The fourth one was a bit wider and a bit fuller, and again Dravid left it. Two decisive leaves.

The fifth one, was a it closer to Dravid, and he played a firm push past backward point for two. The last ball was played away safely.

It was a great over of fast bowling. Harmison didnt waste a single ball, every ball was testing - ball three and ball four were sucker balls, pitched up after the first two short ones had pushed the batsman back. Dravid to his credit (and this is the reason for his greatness in my view), played every ball to absolute textbook perfection.

A World Class response to a World Class over with the new ball. It was all about discipline - the discipline of fast bowling, and the discipline of batting. I wonder whether that is a pun or more of a synonym. The very essence of Cricket.

Was just wondering what the 17 year old Piyush Chawla must be making of all his -he got carted all over the park at 5 runs/over inspite of bowling really well. For a leg spinner in his first test match, at age 17, to bowl well enough to never get square cut in 9 overs of leg spin, is an extremely good beginning. At the other end, Anil Kumble was bowling to the same batsmen, who struggled to take 2.5 runs/over against him. He ended with 5/76 and 500 test wickets. Then he sees Rahul Dravid take on some world class fast bowling on a hard wicket offering decent carry.

More on Anil Kumble later though.

Back to Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffer and co. facing up to the best all round pace attack in the world..

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mohali, unseasonal rain, and weather affected series....

New Zealand went to Australia in 2002-03 and came away with a drawn series, thanks to rain, and one great performance by them at Perth, where 4 NZ batsmen made first innings hundreds, after which Shane Bond set about the Aussies, and had them in trouble. Zimbabwe played a fog affected series in Pakistan, in the mid 1990's and stole a series victory there.

The current India-England series promises to be similar. With the first test drawn, and the second test likely to be affected by rain, thanks to the bleak forecast for the weekend at Mohali, the Bombay Test will in all probability be the series deciding one.

There hasnt been too much happening in the India-England series apart from Harsha Bhogles "breached Laxman Rekha" - a classic Bhogleism if there ever was one, and Piyush Chawlas assured test debut. The second youngest and the youngest Test debutants for India playing in the same Test team.

Australia have beaten South African by 1 wicket in the 4th ODI at Durban, and ive included this result in my ratings. South Africas brief tryst with the number 1 position ended with the Australian wins at Port Elizabeth and Durban.

9 out of 10 Test playing nations are engaged in international cricket right now. England are visiting India, West Indies are in New Zealand, Sri Lanka are in Bangladesh, Australia are in South Africa, with the Pakistan-Sri Lanka series in Sri Lanka on the anvil.

With lots of Test cricket being played, expect a big update of my Test Ratings soon!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

India breaking new ground at Mohali....

India have won 25 Test match in this decade. A look at Indias bowling combinations in each of those Test victories is quite revealing.

India have won 10 out of those 25, playing 2 seamers and 2 spinners.
5 Test victories have come playing 3 seamers and 1 spinner (Tendulkar took 4 wickets in these games, Yuvraj took 1 as did Sehwag)
2 have come playing 3 spinners and 1 seamer (on both occasions, Australia was the opponent)
6 have come playing 2 spinners, 2 seamers and an all rounder (Sanjay Bangar)
And 1 have come playing 3 seamers, 1 spinner and Sanjay Bangar.
Only 1 Test win has come while India played 5 bowlers (Bangladesh, Dhaka, 2000)

None of the home victories have come playing a 3 seamers, 1 spinner combination.

By playing 5 bowlers at Mohali (if Kaif and Laxman are indeed left out of the 12, as Cricinfo and Rediff have reported), India are doing something they have rarely attempted in the last 5 years.

Further evidence that Dravid is probably more aggressive in his decision making that Ganguly ever was....

Mohali Test Team - Strategy, Form or Creative media management?..

India seem to have successfully circumvented the ticklish problem of which batsman to pick and which to drop for the Mohali Test, my leaving of VVS Laxman and Mohammad Kaif out of the 12 on the eve of the Test match. This suggests that they will play 5 batsmen - Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar and Yuvraj, and expect runs from Dhoni and Pathan. Chawla or RP Singh will play in the final eleven.

A beautiful move you would have to admit - elegantly bypassing all the ticklish problems that might have arisen, had they dropped yet another one of the senior cricketers - Laxman or Tendulkar. Theyve chosen to play 5 batsmen, and then can easily explain that they can't drop Jaffer as the specialist opener, and Yuvraj would basically walk into any side in the world right now.

Ever since Dravid and Chappell took over, everything that the selectors and the team management have done has worked out for them. Every hunch of theirs has come good. Kaif at Nagpur was the best example of this. Ganguly at Karachi throwing it away after doing all the hard work further vindicated the selectors. Dropping Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar has worked - playing Jaffer ahead of Gambhir has worked.

Don't be surprised if the 5 bowlers who lineup for India at Mohali are Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, RP Singh and Piyush Chawla.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

An Englishman takes on Husseins mantra, when Andrew Flintoff wont.....

Tim de Lisle, British Cricket Writer, and former editor of Wisden.com, writing about the Nagpur Test, offers an interesting, if tremendously English perspective on proceedings. He suggests that Rahul Dravid ought have scored quicker in both first and second innings, and then India might have had a real chance of making the run chase. In principle, that is a fair assessment of the game. It does however ignore the nature of the wicket, the fact that English bowling tactics were not exactly aggressive (bowling outside offstump with a packed off side field, on a slow wicket, is not designed to take wickets, its designed to kill the run chase and makes the odds for quick run scoring impossible, without taking outrageous risks), and the fact that as a professional cricket captain of a national cricket team, Rahul Dravid cannot afford to be quixotic in his decision making and playing methods.

His commentary about Rahul Dravid reeks of Nasser Husseins advice to Michael Vaughan about playing the Sourav Ganguly card intelligently, when he suggests that Ganguly might have run the game differently at Nagpur. His comments, apart from being obviously ill-directed, also reveal a basic ignorance about subcontinental cricket. Rahul Dravid, strategically has shown himself to be consistently more aggressive that Ganguly ever was. De Lisle's comment reminded me of Simon O'Donnells priceless exclamation, after Sourav Ganguly had waded into Stuart MacGill during his Brisbane hundred in 2003 - "I didnt know he could hit the long ball!" - this about one of the renowned strokemakers against spin bowling in the last 7-8 years.

Is de Lisle's column designed to offer some malintended opinions about the "opposition"? Or maybe, de Lisle is just stunned that an English side which hammered everyone they played leading up to the Ashes, and then got thumped in Pakistan, in Sri Lanka just before they began their successful run in the West Indies, and now in India, have never looked like winning inspite of getting into winning position?

This "depleted" bowling attack, also consists of the best all round fast bowler in the world, probably the best genuine swing bowler in the world, and a hostile genuinely quick fast bowler, apart from 2 spinners (who were picked out of choice).

de Lisle's also been promoting the idea of a 20-20 world cup, even though every well meaning cricket commentator in the world agrees that theres enough cricket being played already. Of course, he makes no delay in blaming BCCI for opposing the suggestion.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Keepers

On some great players:

Keepers

On some great players:
Adam Gilchrist

Nagpur Review

Before i get into the review, want to just point out that the Australian victory in the third game has ended South Africa brief run at number 1 in the Rankings. Their lead over the Aussies was slim, and they will have to string together a couple of victories more on the trot against the Aussies before they can hope to make the position their own. New Zealands rating has dropped following their defeat in the last game to West Indies. Ive in the column of the right side of this page.

On to Nagpur....

A test match categorized by the "lets make sure we don't lose first" strategy employed by both sides - England after they got in front at lunch on day 3, and India who stonewalled right up to Tea time on day 5, ensured that a decisive result one way or the other was never a serious possibility barring a miracle. India made an optimistic dash for the line in the last session, thereby drawing England out of their comfort zone. Given the way it went, Indian fans might be left wondering about what might have been. However, given that the Indians had a clear strategy in mind - "dont worry about runs till Tea, and then reassess things", i think they did well.

I just wonder whether India missed a trick by sticking to the batting order and letting Tendulkar take control of the run chase immediatly after Rahul Dravid fell trying to up the runrate. Dhoni and Pathan might have been asked to play around him, instead of being asked to run the show. For as Tendulkar showed, he could maintain a strike rate of close to 200, with very deliberate batting if he so wished.

Flintoff on the other hand was magnificient, both with the ball and as captain. I think his decision to shielf Panesar from the slog was a good one. If Giles had been playing, he might have bowled him from one end.

Munaf Patel and Yuvraj Singh replace Suresh Raina and VRV Singh, which in itself is an interesting case study in the way selectors think. There must always be a pecking order which the selectors seek to establish, and then they probably try to stick to that pecking order. Suresh Raina and VRV being dropped is not a comment on Raina and VRV, but can be put down to the simple fact that only 15 can be selected, and that Munafs 10 wickets against England were too huge to ignore. Yuvraj obviously makes the first team, and with Kaif making runs, Raina isnt amongst the 7 best batsmen in the country, who at this point in time are Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kaif and Yuvraj.

So its on the Mohali, and while India definitely have a fight on their hands, on a slightly quicker wicket, both the Indian batting and Anil Kumble might be a completely different proposition for this English side. Harmison, Flintoff and Hoggard might enjoy it as well.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nagpur Test Day 5 - England on the brink...

In my Series preview i suggested that England would not feel the loss of the odd player, and that as long as their bowling attack remained largely intact, they would do well in India, and so it has proved. I thought before the series that England would have no trouble putting the runs on the board, against an Indian bowling attack which is the weakest that it has been in a long time. However, England themselves dont seem to believe this, otherwise they would have declared last night and gotten Sehwag and Jaffer to face an uncomfortable half a dozen or so overs yesterday.

India have not managed to better 2 runs/over in this test match, and apart from Sehwag have not done too well in the run rate department for quite a while now. England could have set the tone for this series by declaring when they were about 330 ahead.

The English would of course take the contrary view, that they wanted the Indian batsmen to have to bat on the last day, with virtually no chance victory - taking the runs out of the equation. That sort of situation brings about its own pressure. All in all, with the best all round fast bowler in the world in their ranks (Flintoff) and with Matthew Hoggard in the form of his life, England could have declared and thrown all that they had at the Indians. Steve Harmison might have bowled himself into some form, and most crucially, England might have gone one up.

They may still do so, but their decision to bat till the end of the day, and possibly today to get a lead up to 400, may just cost them a victory in this game.

If Sehwag was what delayed their declaration, then one look at Sehwags second innings record should have allayed all English fears.

India for their part need to seriously rethink their bowling combination. They cannot play Irfan Pathan at his pace as one of only two pace bowlers. Pathan is at best a third test match seamer, who is also played for his batting. By playing the 6th batsman, they have probably sent the wrong signal to Dhoni and Pathan as far as batting is concerned. The failure of the 5 bowler strategy in Pakistan however, may have contributed to the Indian decision to play 6 batsmen at Nagpur.

I am going to suggest that unless Sachin Tendulkar makes a significant score in the the second innings at Nagpur, he should make way for Yuvraj Singh in the second Test match. VVS Laxman, after his hundreds against Sri Lanka and Pakistan cannot be left out. If you leave out Tendulkars innings of 248 against Bangladesh at Chittagong (i think), he has been consistently dismissed cheaply.

Having said that, great player that he is, Tendulkar may just produce an absolute gem today, and i really hope he does.

But these are some significant questions before the Indian Test team, which has been struggling with the middle order batting for a while now - even in the Sri Lanka series, the middle order didnt deliver the partnerships that it ought to have.

All in all, a significant day in prospect at Nagpur.

Friday, March 03, 2006

South Africa - World's No 1 ODI Team

Makhaya Ntini took 6/21 to demolish Australia in the 2nd ODI at Cape Town to propel South Africa to the top of my World ODI Rankings. This marks an important milestone in the South African One Day revival which began with their 4-1 series win against England at Home in Jan-Feb 2005.

The ODI Rankings, as of March 3rd 2006 are as follows:

1. South Africa 0.612
2. Australia 0.607
3. New Zealand 0.566
4. India 0.549
5. Sri Lanka 0.479
6. England 0.467
7. Pakistan 0.461
8. West Indies 0.439
9. Zimbabwe 0.321

These rankings ought to be seen as being purely provisional rankings, as the South African lead does not ensure that they will stay at the top of the list at the end of the current series. Should the Australians square the series, chances are that they will regain the top spot. This is however the first time in almost 4-5 years (i'll have to work out the exact time frame), that Australia have lost the top spot in either Tests or ODI's.

Nagpur Test Day 3 - A Test Match for Mohammad Kaif

It was a day of old fashioned Test Cricket at Nagpur. England bowled with great discipline in the morning session, and had the sort of luck which comes rarely for a Test side. In one single session of play, they had Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar given out for a total of 16 runs - decisions which on most other days might not have been given. Ordinarily, even if only one of them had been given out, critics might have pointed out that England had been adequately compensated for the unfortunate dismissal of Andrew Flintoff.

The Rahul Dravid LBW seemed to be going past legstump, and moreover, any batsman who gets given out when hes full stretch forward, and hit above the knee roll, might consider himself unlucky. All in all there was too much doubt, and in my opinion an error of judgement on the part of the umpire.

VVS Laxman got a great one first up, and got his bat down just in time to get an inner edge on to the pad, which the umpire unfortunately missed.

Sachin Tendulkars was a brilliant decision. Coming from an umpire who has shown a consistent willingness to give batsmen out LBW on the front foot, it was a brilliant decision.

India fought back well, thru the persevering Anil Kumble and gutsy Mohammad Kaif.

Mohammad Kaif had the odds stacked against him today. His selection was a vote of confidence from a selection committee, and there couldnt possibly have been tougher test for him. The batting had failed, on a wicket which wasnt conducive to strokeplay, and India faced a deficit of over 200 with just 3 first innings wickets standing. The bowling was accurate, and it might have been hard to score quickly against this bowling in the best of circumstances on the flattest of wickets (which this was not). Additionally, when Kaif started his innings, he came in to face a hattrick, and the shock of losing 3/16 in the first 10 or so overs of the day.

In the face of all this, Kaif produced a Test innings that was timeless in its style, priceless for his team, and yet, also bore the stamp of modesty. It bore the stamp of Mohammad Kaif. He demonstrated what he had to offer as a Test Match batsman to this Test team, and i think any team in the world would take what he has to offer. Kaif is not as outrageously gifted as Yuvraj Singh, neither does he have the class of Laxman or Tendulkar. I hesitate to term him to poor mans Rahul Dravid, for he is his own man, and has his own approach.

All in all, a magnificient hand in a tremendous stand with Anil Kumble, whose fighting 56 confirmed his resurgence as a dependable lower order bat, and is a welcome extension of his revival as a Test cricketer in the Australian tour of 2003-04.

Hopefully the rain will stay away, for all four results are still possible at Nagpur.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Quiz Question

What do the following cricketers have in common:

Sachin Tendulkar
Brian Lara
Rahul Dravid
Courtney Walsh
VVS Laxman
Nehemiah Perry
Harbhajan Singh
Sherwin Campbell

Mumbai batting on the wane...........

The century count, and the fact that Mumbai have been unable to contribute a regular Test batsman to the national side apart from Sachin Tendulkar over the last 12 years of so, suggests at first glance that Mumbai cricket is in decline. The strange dichotomy however, is that between 1993-34 and 2005-06, Mumbai have won the Ranji Trophy 6 times!

Wasim Jaffer 73 not out!

Test Centuries by Mumbai batsmen

Ive been watching the Nagpur Test, and just wondered about Mumbai batsmen in Test Cricket.

Of the 355 Test Centuries scored by Indian batsmen, 155 have come from Mumbai batsmen, which is about 44%.

The last Test century made by a Mumbai batsman (other than Sachin Tendulkar), was Vinod Kambli's 120 vs Sri Lanka at Colombo in 1993-94. Ajit Agarkar did make a hundred at Lords in 2002, but we will ignore that innings as a freak one off.

Since Kambli's hundred at Colombo, 112 Test centuries have been scored by Indian batsmen, of which Tendulkar has made 29.

So if you take away Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbai, the powerhouse of the Indian batting for much of Indias Test history, has produced 1 Test Century out of the last 83 Centuries.

Will Wasim Jaffer make the 2nd at Nagpur? Only time will tell. Ive watched Wasim Jaffer a lot in Mumbai, and i'll be willing him on to his hundred.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Nagpur Test - Day 1 Review

England won the toss and batted in the Nagpur Test. With India playing yet another scratch bowling combination, it was down to the control exerted by Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble (2/120 in 52 overs between them), and the captaincy of Rahul Dravid which allowed India to control proceedings in the England 1st innings. None of the English batsmen seemed to master the bowling, and none of them bar Strauss and to some extent Flintoff seemed intent on being aggressive and asserting themselves in the First innings of the Test match.

England selected Monty Panesar and Ian Blackwell, in their eleven, in addition to Andrew Flintoff - a move more in order to bolster the batting than to bolster the bowling. Inspite of the two spinners (it will be interesting to see how the new captain handles the spinners on their debut), it will be Harmison and Flintoff who will run the English bowling machine.

Flintoff captaining the side is also the first time since the 2003 World Cup that we have a bowler captaining an international Test team. Shaun Pollock was the last bowler/bowling allrounder to do so.

At 246/7, India will be happy to settled for an English first innings under 300. The English strategy to the various Indian batsmen will be interesting. A few predictions - they will target Virendra Sehwags ribcage more consistently than any other side has done so far, and they will bowl straight to Rahul Dravid, with a strong field in front of square on the leg side.

Given the spin bowling options that they have, England have chosen their spinners well. Blackwell and Panesar, both left arm spinners, can tie down the right handers in the Indian line up (India do not have a single left hander in this side) bowling over the wicket, into the rough.


It remains to be seen, how the debudant Test Captain will handle his debubant Test spinners. Thats probably a first for Test cricket too - especially if you don't count the first tests played by the respective test teams.