Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Test Series Eve....

Another overseas Test series begins for India, for most part with the same questions as have been asked everytime India embark on a Test series. Can they win overseas? Can they beat any one apart from Zimbabwe away from home? Can they get rid of a bogey that has been dogging India for 20 years now - poor travellers. Lets consider the facts - the last time India won a series abroad, Kapil Dev Nikhanj was at the peak of his powers. He authored most of our away Test wins - be it Melbourne 1981, or Headingley 1986 and any other. He was a master with the new ball, and a free spirit with the bat. With a deep batting line up, and a bowling trump card like Kapil, with multi skilled Test players like Ravi Shastri in the side apart from Kapil Dev, India were well equipped to win abroad - if not regularly, then atleast to an extent where their ability to threaten overseas was never in doubt.

The Ganguly era marked a return to the Kapil years. By cobbling together a rag tag combination of fast bowlers, India have managed to put the odd Test match in their own win column when they play overseas. Ajit Agarkar took 8 wickets in the Adelaide Test match. He has since gone through most of his Test series with fewer than 8 wickets. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra have come and gone, and Srinath, after a career which truly epitomised the "what might have been" idea, has retired. Srinaths best and paciest years coincided with the decline of Kapil Dev and the stubbornness of the multi-talented Manoj Prabhakar. His prime was dogged by injury, and by the time he mastered the art of fast bowling, limited support from the other end, and advancing age, and made him reach the point of retirement. His batting went into decline, and his fielding, which was modest to begin with, made him a liability when he was not bowling. The "lets look forward" selectors moved on - and selected almost everybody who would attain a certain speed limit.

India have yet to come up with their own thoroughbred fast bowler. Kapil Dev was the closest they got to him, and Kapil, by any stretch of the imagination, was no Imran, and was no Hadlee. To win overseas consistently, the team sheet must show 2 bowlers - pace or spin, who take wickets every 50 - 55 balls, for about 20 - 25 runs each, in all conditions. When the Indian team sheet shows this, we will have won Test match everywhere in the world, and Home advantage will no longer mean Away handicap.

In this series, the expectations are high, not least because India have picked 3 fast bowlers, Irfan Pathan and 3 spinners in their line up, and ChappellWay is concieved as the very expensive solution to all problems (in reality it is neither expensive, nor is it a magic wand), but because of an all together more worrysome perception - that the West Indies are weak - weak enough to be wooden spooner minnows. Given Indias bowling attack, which has been the most profligate in the world, and the West Indies batting lineup, which is probably superior to the Indian batting lineup, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you look at the West Indies batting lineup, from an Indian point of view, you would see nothing but trouble, given the rookie pace attack. Starting with Chris Gayle at the top of the batting order, and then working your way through Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, and any other batsman the West Indies may field. And then there is Lara. The man is virtually on a farewell tour around the West Indies, and the Indians are but bit players in his shows. The Gods, going by the ODI series, agree with Lara. On his day, Lara is untouchable - by anybody, anywhere. His vast experience, coupled with his recent luck, suggest a revival to match his 1998-99 brilliance against Waugh's Australians, who were a slightly better Test team than India.

It all sounds very depressing if you ask me. We go into a Test series, without Sachin Tendulkar, with a looney 5 bowler strategy, in which none of the fast bowlers have shown himself capable of passing the basic litmus test for a Test quality fast bowler - Can he bowl at 100% during his third spell of the day? A fast bowler gets about 20 overs a day to deliver. Off these, if a bowler has limitations of being able to be damaging only with the older ball, or being a slow starter, barring some outrageous luck, he has only about 10 - 12 overs where he will be effective. What that means, is that the 0ther 8-10 overs are going be basically free hits - which if India are lucky will go for 0/25, but will more likely go for 0/45. The other 10-12 overs are about 60-72 balls, which come to about 1 wicket, given the Indian bowlers strike rate.

All this, is if the bowler has an average day (going by what we have seen so far). But McGrath or Pollock or Donald or anyone else from the great Pantheon, which does not include an Indian bowler, and you get about 18 out of 20 overs which are effective, and as a result about 2 wickets per day from the bowler (on an average day). If we consider injuries - the ability of bowlers to last for 4 Test series (and the Indian schedule where they played cricket on 4 of 7 day prior to the Test match, which at the end of the match will mean that theyve played cricket for 9 out of 12 days, this at the end of a season in which theyve played 9 Tests and 34 ODI games), it would be a miracle if India managed 20 wickets in a Test even once.

It will take a miracle for India to win anything in this Test series, the great Anil Kumble notwithstanding. Kumble has outperformed the pacemen for India in overseas Tests (which says something about both Kumble and the pacemen). The batsmanship of the India top order, is irrelevant here, as it has been for the last 20 years. It wouldnt have mattered if Sachin Tendulkar had made a hundred in every single overseas Test Match. India still would have won nothing overseas. The batsmen are merely there to ensure that we don't lose.

But lets wait and watch - if there is one thing that the Chappell-Dravid (C-D) era, surprises never cease. This may just be the beginning of a streak of beginners luck (of the kind enjoyed by C-D over this Indian season in ODI's or the kind enjoyed by the incomparable Brian Lara over this West Indian ODI home season).

Lets wait and watch. Where class in the fast bowling is scarce, there victory does not visit.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Contest in Cricket

Very rarely has a side gone into a cricketing contest as clear favorites, and lost the series so swiftly. Before this series, West Indies had lost 19 out of their last 23 games, not counting the Zimbabwe results. India on the other hand had won 21 on their last 29, and 17 of their last 22, all against opposition which had beaten the West Indies easily.

As i write this, the West Indies have won their 4th game on the trot against India, to take the series 4-1. This 4-1 series result, is almost as unexpected, if not more, than Indias 4-1 series win in Pakistan.

All of Indias bogeys came to the fore in this series such as the lack of a dependable support pace attack to Irfan Pathan. Ajit Agarkar did well, but apart from him and Irfan, the other fast bowlers went for 354/4 in 61 overs of bowling. In a series where the runrate stayed below 5 in three of the 5 games, and never went above 6, this cost India heavily. Once Ramesh Powar was sorted out by the experienced West Indies middle order, India in the field were considerably handicapped. Irfan Pathan did not have his usual prolific series with the ball, and most importantly, was unable to master Chris Gayle, whos explosive batting at the top of the order hurt India badly, especially given that the games ended up being quite low scoring.

On the batting front, the two Indian batsmen who were under a cloud before this series came good, but Rahul Dravid had a poor series, with 4 failures in 5 games. Suresh Raina did not come good either at number 3 or further down the order. Yuvraj Singh missed that crucial third game through injury, but otherwise had a good series and batting well. The Indian batsmen's apparent inability to read the bowler from the hand - either with slower balls, or with Dave Mohammad, and their inability to score of Gayle and Samuels (whos action admittedly made life difficult), are worrying signs, because they reveal some basic limitations of this line up.

There are, it has to be admitted, some pressing issues which need to be addressed both with the batting and the bowling lineups. Quality is exposed differently in tournament play and bilateral series. In bilateral series, the individual contests come to the fore, and their outcome usually reveals who wins. Through out this year, Indian players have won these contests - be it Irfan v Strauss, Harbhajan v Flintoff or Pietersen, or Yuvraj v the best bowler in the opposition. Dhoni has usually been able to master any situation with the bat in hand. In tournament play, there is less occasion for individual bogeys to be played out. Who ever plays better on the day, usually wins. This is where the great players come to the fore. The Tendulkars and the Laras and the McGraths and the Inzamams, because of their inherent class and quality, tend to do better in tournament play.

India have suffered from a lack of class and experience in the Caribbean. When Rahul Dravid and Irfan Pathan were rested in the 5th game against England at Jamshedpur, and India lost, and lost very badly, that was the game where the Indian momentum snapped. Since then its been 6 defeats in 9 games (counting that game). In that game, Dhoni opened the batting, it being his home ground. He made 96, but the whole attitude of the Indians to that game, suggested that they were beginning to take winning for granted. Their inexperience has hurt them in the Caribbean. It does not take away from their inherent potential and their basic quality as a team - being greater than the sum of the parts. It will however require significant soul searching in the offseason for the Indians to recover their lost form. I suspect however, in the Los Angeles games, India will beat the West Indies.

There appear to be no secret formulas in ODI cricket, and most discourse about cricket, focusses on team results and individual successes and failures. There is so much ODI cricket played nowadays, that very often, a single successful strategy or tactic can outlive its utility in a single season, often many times over. Ideas become stale, and methods can be countered, all within the length of a single season. Brian Lara played his cards perfectly, and every move he made was gold during this series. Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Chris Gayle, Ian Bradshaw and even the usually erratic Fidel Edwards delivered everytime he asked them to. His batsmen produced responsible innings, and in low scoring contests, it was often a single batsman's batting which decided the game. The Contest in Cricket, is often a function of players implementing fairly simple strategy successfully. It is as Greg Chappell said.... "We try to ensure that the odds are in our favor everytime we make a tactical move". As much as anyone may measure the odds, they are after all odds. And the law of averages must eventually catch up with a side. The value of the great players, with their great statistical records is that they lower the odds of success in most tactical moves. What Tendulkar's 48 run average as opener means is that the odds of him succeeding at the top of the order in an ODI innings, are lower than someone like Sehwag (average 33) succeeding at the top of the order.

Cricket analysis therefore is a futile activity in some ways. Analysis is mainly an exercise in analysing the odds of somebody succeeding. That is the extent to which the cricketing contest can be examined. The Cricket itself, is a different matter all together. That can be the subject of endless discussion.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Series Defeat......

Brian Lara said before this series, that "winning is contagious". Today he played an assured hand, tailored to the needs of the run chase and led the West Indies to series victory over the much fancied Indians at Port of Spain, Trinidad. It ought to be said that Lara as West Indies captain has masterminded this series victory. His moves have generally worked well for him - his faith in Dwayne Bravo, his faith in the twin off spin of Gayle and Samuels, and the batting of Sarwan and Gayle have ensured that the West Indies have done well enough to beat India three times in a row.

For India, they have now lost 5 of their last 8 ODI games, and the horse that ran fast enough to win, has finally met his match. I suspect that theres a bit of tiredness at play as well. The Chappell-Dravid team has played trick after opportunistic trick, gambled like millionaires on death row, and strung together Indias finest winning streak in their history. The problem however, is that this winning streak told us nothing about the long term plan of the Indian ODI squad. In one of my earlier posts (i think it was at the end of the England ODI series), i pointed out that inspite of what was then a 17-5 record then (it now stands at 19-9), we still did not know what our first choice team was. The bowling squad rotation invariably occured whenever one of the bowlers have a couple of bad games, and not because some of the bowlers had to be rested.

The West Indies success in this series is not dissimilar to the India success in any of the series this season, and i would not be surprised if this series ended 4-1 in the West Indies favour, because they are on a roll, and unless on the the crucial cogs in their wheel, gets injured (hopefully not) or runs out of luck (more likely), they will face similar crippling holes in their line up. Say if Gayle and Samuels go for 8 an over, then who does Lara turn to? If they stop being effective, who does he turn to? Gayle began poorly today, but luckily for Lara, Fidel Edwards was having an exceptional day.

It is when these gambles don't come off, that a team and especially the captain begins to look bereft of ideas. The sameness of his fast bowling, coupled with the class of Brian Lara, made him look clueless in Indias defense of 217 today. Similarly, Kaif and Dhoni looked equally clueless when they couldn't get Gayle and Samuels away. Gayle and Samuels rushed through their overs, to add to the Indians woes.

All in all, inspite of the success this season, some pressing questions remain. No especially gifted fast bowler has been discovered this season, and while Suresh Raina and Sreesanth are undeniable gains, they do not look like talents in the Tendulkar or Lara mould.

India have missed Sachin Tendulkar sorely this season, because they have struggled in the top order without him. Tendulkar, in his usual form, contributing 30-40 consistently opening the batting, would have probably meant that India would have been 2-1 up instead of being 3-1 down in this series right now. The bench strength has been tested and has not been upto scratch. Ramesh Powar has been sorted out by the experienced West Indies batsmen, which kind of puts the 5 bowler theory under the scanner.

If the wickets in the West Indies are really going to be as spin friendly as we have seen in this series, it might be worth Indias while to investigate the possibility of recalling Anil Kumble to the ODI side.

All in all, a great result for the West Indies, and a set back, in an otherwise exciting season for Indias new look ODI side.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

2 consecutive ODI defeats.... and the selection of the Test team

The last time India lost two consecutive ODI games was in August 2005, when they lost in the IOC cup final to Sri Lanka, and then lost to New Zealand by 51 runs in their first match in the Zimbabwe Tri-Series. The recent losses against the West Indies, have been waiting to happen in my opinion - given the consistently brittle batting performance, masked so effectively by the brilliance of Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid, and the makeshift resourcefulness of Mahendra Dhoni and Irfan Pathan. In the last two games, only one out of Yuvraj and Dravid has fired, and neither Dhoni or Irfan have contributed anything significant with the bat. Dhoni's run out does not augur well, because the nature of the run out, suggests an almost contemptuous attitude towards the international game. It looks brilliant when it comes off, but it belies the basic rules which provide a solid base for international batting. Every cricketer, now and then ignores these basic rules to his own detriment. We saw Rahul Dravid take his eyes of the ball yesterday in that crucial last over misfield, which probably cost India the win. We saw Brian Lara completely ignore the off-break of Harbhajan Singh and play both against the break and across the line in his brief innings yesterday. Lara's dismissal was elementary, and one would have expected someone like Lara to not fall for an elementary off spinners trap like that.

Sarwan on the other hand was brilliant, and correct in his methods. Not for nothing is his ODI average in excess of 46 after 100 games. He took on the orthodox off spin of Ramesh Powar, with classical footwork, and more than once got himself risk free boundaries of short pitched deliveries, which were the result of his earlier footwork. The West Indians seemed to have targetted Ramesh Powar as a run scoring opportunity. With Irfan Pathan not providing the early wickets, it was the usual story for India in the field, after they made an astonishing 47 runs in their last 16 overs for the loss of 5 wickets. 2 of those wickets were ridiculous run outs. Venugopal Rao didn't seem to have a game plan, unlike the enterprising Suresh Raina, who always seems to play to a plan. Raina's promotion to number 3 is interesting, and suggests that the team intends to give him more responsibility. Yuvraj Singh was missed not only with the bat, but also with the ball yesterday, for there was a sameness about the Indian spin attack. Which made it all the more surprising that the SLA of Suresh Raina was not tried.

Given Tendulkars woes, i wonder whether the recall of VVS Laxman to the ODI side is imminent. His West Indian sojourn will decide that i suspect. Without Tendulkar and Ganguly, the Indian batting lineup in the Test series will be a new look one - to use a cliche. The selection of Dhoni as well as Dinesh Karthick in the Test line up is puzzling, because all indications suggest that the intention is to use Dhoni as a specialist batmsan if required. Kiran More's comment about Dhoni filling in as opener if required suggests that Rahul Dravid will not do the job, should Sehwag or Jaffer be unavailable in any of the Tests. Without Tendulkar, i suppose it makes sense to have VVS and Dravid manning the middle order. The recent Indian strategy of playing 5 bowlers suggests that the Indian lineup for the 1st Test would be - Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Laxman, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Pathan, Kumble, Harbhajan, Munaf, Sreesanth. Thats a pretty good line up on paper. The reserve batsmen - Kaif and Raina are interesting choices for barring injuries, the only way one of them will play, is if India secure a lead in the series and resort to playing the extra batsman (unlike their Mumbai gamble), in order to strengthen the batting. Another way of doing so would be to play Powar instead of Harbhajan Singh in case we get the lead, or even Powar in place of Sreesanth or Munaf.

Irfan Pathans ability to master Chris Gayle, like he did in the case of Andrew Strauss will be crucial to Indias chances. The formidable West Indies batting - Lara, Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Gayle, along with 2 other batsmen, Baugh and Bravo will not be dismissed twice unless the new ball is made to count. If playing 5 bowlers is going to result in the opposition making 400-500 anyways, one wonders about the wisdom in playing 5 bowlers.

All in all, this West Indies series has just become very interesting.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Opportunities from affluence....

Andrew Leipus the former physiotherapist of the Indian Cricket team wants to advance the sports physiotherapy profession in India. I say its a great opportunity - and will surely benefit other sports like our hockey team, our athletes and our fledgling Olympic sport.

History was made at Sabina Park....... on the 18th of May

India broke even!!!!

After 620 ODI games, for the first time, India had a record of winning as many games as they had lost. Up until the 18th of May, India had never won atleast as many games as they had lost.

Of course, the record was promptly squandered in the next game, when India lost by 1 run. But a series victory in the West Indies, should ensure that India's ODI team will have 50% or better career win-loss record!

May 19th 2006

India - Played 619, won 296, lost 296

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Finding cracks....... and hiding them..... Greg Chappell and strategy....

The position of national cricket captain or national cricket coach, is akin to that of the doomed ship captain trying perpetually to plug leaks in his boat. Just when he thinks he has one leak well covered, another one pops up. Given that most captains have limited means when it comes to covering leaks, it is inevitable that they end of up in the drink every now and then.

Chappell and Dravid have shown themselves to be more capable than most when it comes to plugging these leaks. By invokinig "experimentation" and other such mantras, they have managed to conjure up a winning streak over a span of 26 ODI games. There have been only 4 losses in matches where the series has been alive (1 vs Pakistan, 2 vs South Africa and 1 vs West Indies). Yet, if you look at the batting averages of the Indian batsmen over this period, it makes for very interesting reading.

Virendra Sehwag (Played 21 out of 26)
vs Sri Lanka - 7 matches, 221 runs at 31.57
vs South Africa - 4 matches, 135 runs at 45.00
vs Pakistan - 2 matches, 72 runs at 36.00
vs England - 5 matches, 78 runs at 15.60
vs Pakistan - 1 match, 73 runs at 73.00
vs West Indies 2 matches, 34 runs at 17.00

Sachin Tendulkar (Played 14 out of 26)
vs Sri Lanka - 6 matches, 231 runs at 46.20
vs South Africa - 4 matches 36 runs at 9.00
vs Pakistan - 4 matches 237 runs at 59.25

Rahul Dravid (Played 24 out of 26)
vs Sri Lanka - 6 matches, 312 runs at 156.00
vs South Africa - 4 matches, 102 runs at 34.00
vs India - 5 matches, 205 runs at 41.00
vs England 5 matches, 219 runs at 43.80
vs West Indies 2 matches, 116 runs at 58.00

Yuvraj Singh (Played 26 out of 26)
vs Sri Lanka - 7 matches, 124 runs at 31.00
vs South Africa - 4 matches, 209 runs at 69.66
vs Pakistan - 5 matches, 344 runs at 172
vs England - 6 matches, 237 runs at 47.40
vs Pakistan - 2 matches, 31 runs at 15.50
vs West Indies - 2 matches, 105 runs at 52.50

Mohammad Kaif (Played 18 out of 26)
vs Sri Lanka - 2 matches, 51 runs, 51.00
vs South Africa - 4 matches, 63 runs, 31.50
vs Pakistan - 5 matches, 13 runs, 4.33
vs West Indies - 2 matches, 70 runs, 70.00

Suresh Raina (Played 20 out of 26)
vs Sri Lanka - 5 matches, 52 runs, 52.00
vs Pakistan - 5 matches, 35 runs, Not dismissed
vs England - 6 matches, 242 runs, 48.40
vs Pakistan - 2 matches, 46 runs, 23.00
vs West Indies - 2 matches 34 runs, 34.00

These 6 specialist batsmen have formed the bulk of the Indian batting during this successful period. The fortifying presence of Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Dhoni with the bat has been a huge factor. Not only have they made big runs, they have made they in the top order.

Inspite of all the experimentation, the bottom line remains the same. The side which keeps wickets in hands and makes best use of its 50 overs with the bat, wins. Whether it is Dhoni or Pathan or Yuvraj or Dravid, Indias wins have come from big runs made at one or more of the top 5 positions. In the Ganguly-Wright era, the way this was achieved was by playing a deep batting line up - 7 specialist batsmen, with Rahul Dravid keeping wickets. Chappell-Dravid have created depth in the batting by promoting Pathan or Dhoni, and by shuffling batting positions - keeping the opposition on their toes, doing the unexpectated.

There is an element of opportunism in all these methods. This opportunism masks a lot of cracks. In Indias case the cracks are as follows:

1. A rookie pace attack, whos composition is still far from certain.
2. 2 out of 5 specialist batsmen out of form - one of whom - Sehwag, is facing something that is more than just a lack of form and more career threatening than in the case of Kaif, because it coincides with a technical flaw which has been exposed and exploited superbly by England and Pakistan.
3. The uncertainty with regard to Tendulkar. Considering the end of Ganguly, and the decline of Sehwag, India suddenly find themselves without a good opening pair in the ODI game.

For India to take the next step and become a truly dominant, world number 1 ODI time, like the Australians and the South Africans have been over the last 10 years or so, they must find a settled first choice for the specialist batting - especially for the specialist opening batting. World Cups and world domination has been traditionally achieved by ODI sides having
1. Top class top 3 in the ODI batting
2. A top class finisher
3. Penetrative fast bowling
4. 1 quality spinner

Having all 4 together is absolutely crucially. If not all 4, alteast the first 3, with the quality bowling available for all the 50 overs. India, inspite of their success, do not possess these resources.

Until those resources arrive - and Dhoni, Pathan and coming of age of Yuvraj Singh, are a great start in that direction, India cannot realistically hope to be truly dominant a la Australia. Until then, Chappell or anyone else will have to make do with some brand of opportunism. Beating all comers, anywhere in the world, will require more than that.

Fans must understand this, or else another episode like the one which happened during the 2003 world cup is inevitable. Now is the time to understand this, when the going is good.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bravo West Indies!

Indias 17 match chasing streak came to an end at Sabina Park in their second ODI against the West Indies. The defeat, by 1 run, off the last ball, ended a thrilling game. The close finish however, should not take away from the fact, that India have now consistently turned in below par performances in their last 4 ODI's, (resulting in 2 wins and 2 losses). The top order batting remains a worry, with Sehwag's consistent failures, interspersed with the odd 50, must raise questions about his position in the side. Sehwag's run scoring seems to merely reaffirm his ability to make runs at the international level. That must not be the expectation from one of the senior batsmen in the side, whos had his specialist openers slot for 4 years now. The same is the issue with Kaif. It was a matter of time before this chasing streak came to an end, because the poor form of 2 of the top 6, was going to catch up with the side at some time or the other.

Earlier in the day, the bowling was well organised, but with the West Indies at 105/6, the lack of a strike bowler to come on and destroy the tail was felt, as the last 4 wickets added 90 runs at 6 runs per over, on a slow wicket, where runs scoring was not very easy.

All in all, the result might be a blessing in disguise for India. This is only the second ODI lost by India this season, with the series still alive. The batting needs to start firing consistently. Indias best top order efforts this season have come when Irfan Pathan or Mahendra Dhoni have batted in the top 4. The specialist batting seems to lack consistent quality currently. Dravid and Yuvraj are on top of their game, and are probably two of the best ODI batsmen in the world today. But the others consist of one new comer and two who have been out of form for a while now. It will be interesting to see what the team management does in the third game - whether they ring in the changes, or they stick with Sehwag and Kaif yet again. It has now become a matter of faith, rather than a question of reason. It will also be interesting to see what Rahul Dravid does if he wins the toss in the third game.

For the West Indies, it was a terrific effort in the field. Without ever looking very threatening, the West Indies stay in the hunt by getting wickets at the right time. Lara's faith in Dwayne Bravo was an inspired bit of captaincy. Marlon Samuels and Chris Gayle kept the West Indies in the game, but Samuels will be lucky if he does not get reported for his bowling action, which is worse than that of any off-spinner i have seen in international or domestic cricket.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Another day... another victory

If the word metronomic applies to Glenn McGrath amongst bowlers, then it must apply to Rahul Dravid amongst batsmen. The man is relentless, irrespective of what the opposition or his partner at the other end are doing. India's 17th consecutive successful run chase was built on a partnership between two batsmen who are as different as chalk and cheese right now. Rahul Dravid faced only 102 balls in almost 45 overs of the Indian batting, inspite of the fact that he opened the batting. His innings was a classical ODI openers innings - watchful at the very beginning, then opening out to take advantage of the restrictions and the hard new ball, followed by consolidation, and finally, a burst at towards the end. Mohammad Kaif on the other hand, resembled a man riding a bicycle without brakes, with worn tyres and with a heavy, rusty steering bar. Every ball was met by Kaif with a hopeful blade. Hopeful of making something of the delivery - hitting it into the gap, pushing it for one. What he wanted, didnt seem to happen most of the time. A lesser man might have gotten frustrated and tried to hit his way out of trouble. Yuvraj Singh did that in his innings, when timing and fluency deserted him. He fell victim to Ian Bradshaws rythm upsetting spelling in the middle overs. Kaif on the other haand survived on sheer willpower. He dug deep both into his own resolve, and into the cumulative confidence from the teams 16 consecutive ODI run chases. He will play better, more fluent innings in the future, but for sheer tenacity, this effort of his ought to be applauded. There are those who argue that Mohammad Kaif does not have the talent to match the Yuvraj Singhs and the Mahendra Dhoni's in the Indian side. Today he showed why the selectors have backed him, and why he has made the runs that he has over the last 4 years.

Coming back to the captain, he played a marvellous hand - irrespective of what was going on at the other end - be it the opportunistic Sehwag and his nerve racking running between the wickets, or be it Yuvraj Singh and his sudden loss of rythm, or be it Mohammad Kaif, who played like a stuck record, Dravid remained unmoved. His greatest quality in my view, is his ability to resist giving advice to the batsman at the other end, even if the other guy is clearly struggling.

Earlier in the day, the "tinge of green" and the "early morning moisture", did not count for anything as Chris Gayle waded into the Indian bowlers, who for some reason seemed to resort to shortening their length at the slightest opportunity. The fast bowling attack remains unconvincing in the ODI game, and when Irfan Pathan has a ineffective opening spell, India seem to get pushed onto the defensive. Harbhajan bowling well is a good sign, for a spinner is absolutely crucially to ODI success, especially while defending scores. One just wonders though - if played 5 bowlers still results in 5.5 runs per over being conceded, is it really worth it? Especially when Sachin Tendulkar is available.

All in all - a routine day at the office for the Indians. They seemed to have mastered the routine ODI game, their great test will come in tournament play.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cricket begins again....

That 2001 series, is the only one Australia have lost, when Warne and McGrath have played. Someone has finally uploaded a really good video of the innings that broke Australia in that series. A magical innings in a magical series.

As i write this on the eve of the 1st ODI of Indias West Indian sojourn, i must point out, that India are in pretty much uncharted territory here. They go in as favourites in an ODI series outside the subcontinent, and probably as favourites in the Test series as well.

Will Brian Lara haunt India again in 2006 like he did in 1997 when he was captain? In that series, Sachin Tendulkar outbatted Lara, but Lara won the captaincy battle, thanks to his inform bowling lineup. This time around, both sides have a Test match fast bowling attack, thats a bit of an unknown quantity. Tendulkar, inspite of his waning run output, would be missed if he doesn't pass the fitness test. If Tendulkar does pass the fitness test, then the Indians will have an interesting dilemma. With Wasim Jaffer likely to play as specialist opener, and with India likely to play 5 bowlers, given the presence of Dhoni and Pathan, only 4 other specialist batsmen can be played. Who will they be if Tendulkar makes the tour?

Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Yuvraj?


Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman?


Sehwag Dravid, Laxman and Yuvraj?


Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and Yuvraj?

In either event, India will be forced to leave out a specialist batsman because of team composition issues. The problem of picking the form player will rouse itself again. Assessing form in Test cricket is particularly difficult, given the lack of tour matches in international tours nowadays to make up your mind about who your form batsmen are.

The ODI side though, would have no such trouble. They seem to have place for all the form players, and all the form players seem to be able to fit in just about anywhere. The batting lineup for the Jamaica game was Sehwag, Dravid, Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Venugopal Rao, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar..... Add Munaf and Harbhajan Singh to that, and you have a possible 1st ODI side. I wonder if they will leave out Venugopal Rao and play an extra fast bowler - RP Singh in his place. With Ramesh Powar out of action for 2 games, that looks a distinct possibility.

All in all, its time for Cricket again. With the Indians in superb ODI form, playing against the West Indians, who remain the only ODI side in the last 8 years to beat the Australians in 3 consecutive ODI games, this is a better series than people are giving it credit for.

With Lara as captain, we will see the great man lead from the front in the ODI batting order. India have never really felt the lash of the Lara blade, either in Tests or ODI's, apart from one great 90 in the Mohali Test of 1994 and another hundred in a rain affected Antigua Test. This series might just change all that.

Mahela Jayawardene made a brilliant hundred in a scarcely believable Sri Lankan rearguard action at Lord's. This is Sri Lankas second 500+ score in a Test at Lord's in as many Tests.

With the Pakistanis following the Sri Lankans this English summer, theres lots of exciting cricket in store.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Golden Age of Cricket...

Recent commentary has suggested that Test Match bowling is close to its all time weakest, resulting in inflated batting averages. One the face of it, this appears to be true, what with the proliferation of batsmen making big hundreds and averaging in the 50's. 5 years ago, 25 Test centuries in a career put a batsman pretty much at the pinnacle of Test batting.

But a closer look suggests a far more interesting picture. As the following tables will show, each of the top 8 Teams in Test Cricket, are having their most result oriented decade ever. There are more teams which have a competitive Test record in this decade than the in any other decade in history. Cricket has become a truly multinational sport. If you take the average Test record of the top 18 bowlers in the Test Match world over their last 20 Tests, then they take 4.26 wickets per test at 27.15.

Lets have a look at history:

The following table lists Runs/Wicket scored (S) and conceded (C) by each team by Decade.

The runs/wicket rations do not suggest that the 2000's have been particularly easier to make runs in that other decades. If anything, what it suggests is that in the more recent decades, there have been fewer sides which have been easy opposition in Test cricket. If you leave out the West Indies in the 1980's and the Australia in 2000's, no single side has been really dominant. The West Indies of the 1980's have been the harded sides in the world to score runs against, while in that decade England and Australia had their weakest ever bowling attacks. Which puts into perspective the record of someone like Vivian Richards, when compared against the top players of today. The argument that "he played against better bowling", does not really hold.

Every team listed in the Table above is enjoying their most result oriented era in Test cricket ever. This contradicts the quality of bowling comment. I think what we are seeing in this decade is not a drop in the quality of bowling, but the influence of One Day International Cricket. Batsmen are batting differently nowadays and bowlers are bowling differently. This is not to suggest that traditional batting or bowling is now obsolete. I would suggest that a 25 bowling average in the modern day is equivalent to a 22 bowling average say 20 years ago. Every team has batsmen capable of big scores, even the lower ranked Test teams like West Indies and Sri Lanka.

So we have more runs, and more results - truly a golden age.

Friday, May 12, 2006

While i was away......

Nothing seems to have changed. The cricket world is still simmering with the same issues. Too much cricket, media "controversies" caused by the media and reported by the media... theres just been very little cricket.

From the usual press controversy surrounding a players fitness - Tendulkar was reported to have said that he was fit, after which the board said they knew nothing, after which Tendulkar issued a denial. At the end of which the press blamed the BCCI as usual!! The first press story supposedly quoting Tendulkar was so unbelievable - that Tendulkar would be presumptious enough to state that "Im fit and am looking forward to the West Indies Test tour" is hard to believe.

England are dominating Sri Lanka on the first two days of the Test Match.

Dinesh Mongia has begun his season for Leicestershire with two big hundreds in his first 3 first class games.

The West Indies tour is a peculiar one for the Indians. India havent won a Test series outside the subcontinent in 20 years (not counting Zim 2005) and the West Indies are without doubt the wooden spooners in current Test Cricket. The appointment of Brian Lara as captain can only make things better for the West Indies. For India, as in all previous overseas tours, it will be the form and fitness of the fast bowlers which will decide India's success.