Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sehwag becomes the fastest Indian to 4000 Test Runs....

Just found this out. Virendra Sehwag has just become the fast Indian to reach 4000 Test runs. He has done so in 77 innings, as against 79 by Gavaskar, 84 by Dravid and 86 by Tendulkar. He is 11th on the all time list.

A 1000 runs is an interesting number of runs, in that it is easily achievable by a batsman in one hot streak. It is the kind of run aggregate that a specialist batsman can achieve in a single calender year (especially given the number of Tests played in a calender year nowadays).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

An interesting decision by Brian Lara.....

Brian Lara decided to bat again after Tea on Day 4 against India, inspite of having the option to put India in to follow on after the West Indies gained a lead of 219.

Whichever way you look at it, it doesn't seem to make sense. This is the 4th day of the Test match. India were bowled out 219 behind at the stroke of Tea. 4 sessions of play and 8 extra overs of play were left at that point.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tendulkar Returns......

Sachin Tendulkar returned to cricket after his injury layoff following the England series with a 91 ball hundred against Cambridge University at Fenners. This beautiful cricket ground, is the home of Cambridge University Cricket, where a long time ago, one other Indian prince announced his arrival to the world - Duleepsinghji made 254 not out for Cambridge University vs Middlesex in 1927. University fixtures, usually played at the beginning of the first class season were preparatory games for the big counties, easy runs for the batsmen, easy wickets for the bowlers, against an enthusiatic if limited opposition. I wonder what the professionals and amateurs of Middlesex thought of Duleep's insolence!.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sourav Ganguly... realistic ambition or optimistic daydreaming?

Sourav Ganguly has been the premier left hander to have ever played Test or ODI cricket for India. He has been a celebrated Indian captain, and now is an ex-captain and a ex-player(?). His comments on reaching Northants for his stint in County Cricket make for interesting reading.

If you ask me, they encapsulate the man. Ganguly lead India with a lot of imagination. Very often, cynics might add, a lot of Indias success and Indias quality was in his imagination as well. While he was captain, it always sounded right - the players man, backing his players to the hilt. The reality of it all is, that in his time, India was a side with a mediocre bowling attack which stayed competitive in Test cricket by sheer weight of batsmanship from the middle order, and in later years from Virendra Sehwag. Harbhajan Singhs great form won Ganguly a historic series win against Australia. That this was down to 4-5 sterling individual performances - (Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman with the bat, Harbhajan and Tendulkar with the ball) is undeniable. What Ganguly brought was a never say die spirit and an almost childlike hatred for losing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Brian Lara scored a battling hundred after promoting himself in the batting order as the West Indies batted out almost 100 overs to earn a draw in the second Test and St. Lucia. Even though, at 294/7, it might be argued, that had rain not washed out an entire day, and 90 overs more had been available to India, they might have won, Lara did enough to ensure that given the circumstances, the West Indies will now leave this game have batted successfully under pressure on a wearing 5th day wicket.

This was Lara's 4th slowest innings of 20 or more, and he seemed intent mainly on keeping the Indians at bay. As it turned out, it was his best hunch of the Test series so far. He came in at number 3, in my opinion, to ensure that the Indians had to bowl at atleast one left hander at all times. The ability of Lara, combined with the obvious preperation he did for this innings (batting outside his crease etc.), and some help from the Indians (Yuvraj dropped him in the gully off Sehwag) meant that a superb Test century resulted.

The Indian view would stress on the the fact that one full day was lost to rain, and after 4 days of cricket, India had taken 17 wickets with the West Indies still 80 runs in arrears. They will claim, with some merit, that rain robbed them of certain victory. Some Indian fans will also claim that but for the team managements decision to go in with 3 pacemen and 1 spinner, India might have wrapped things up earlier - with Harbhajan in. This has some merit, and VRV Singh went wicketless in the second innings and Sehwag got plenty of wickets.

The West Indian view will probably state that if it hadnt been for those unfortunate decisions on the 5th day at Antigua, we might have seen 2 fairly comfortable draws in two games for the West Indies.

As it happens i think the truth lies somewhere else. It lies in the fact that here are two sides which are not used to winning Test Matches, both have inexperienced pace attacks, and a better side in Indias place might have forced a result both at Antigua and in St. Lucia. India have outperformed the West Indies in all departments of the game. The batting has been solid after that abysmal first innings at Antigua, and amongst the bowlers - Kumble is bowling well and in Munaf Patel India have finally found a long term Test match opening bowler (i'll stick my neck out and claim that).

In other news, the ICC have finally come clean on the Lara episode in Antigua. Theyre press release is a lot of nothing. Here is what it says:

After almost a week of confusion, the ICC have explained the reasoning behind the umpires' decision not to report Brian Lara to the match referee in relation to events following the catch which dismissed Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the Antigua Test.
"The circumstances surrounding whether or not Dhoni was dismissed were confused and confusing, and the delay in arriving at a decision provoked frustration and uncertainty among players, officials and spectators alike," an ICC spokesman told Cricinfo. "Cricket is an emotional, passionate game but, at the same time, there is a thin line between an expression of frustration or disappointment and something more serious, and Lara came close to crossing that line during the course of the delay."
The spokesman also dismissed allegations of double standards in the way its rules are imposed. "Any accusation of bias for or against any player or team is wholly inappropriate and, quite simply, wrong as incidents will always be viewed on a case-by-case basis. The context of this one was unique given the circumstances surrounding it, and is something that needs to be considered when forming a judgment over what went on.
"In this instance the two captains, umpires and the match referee discussed the incident afterwards and felt that, in that forum, it was resolved satisfactorily."

Someone should point out to them that there was no confusion in the matter at all. The obvious, specific questions that need to be answered are as follows:

1. Did Darren Ganga claim the catch at first, or did he say he was not sure?
2. Did the Umpires decide to give the batsman in after the third umpire couldn't make a call?
3. Did Lara intervene after the umpires made such a decision or before?

Each of these questions can be answered unambigiously.

Besides, if you read the last line in that quote, it rather suggests the decisions about the spirit of the game and decisions about dismissals are made by discussion and consensus and not according to the law.

Basically, the onus of making the decision is on the umpires, and if they cannot make the decision, they have to give the batsman in. If they give the batsman in, then they cannot be forced by Lara to reverse their decision. In any case, they have no business wasting 15 minutes of playing time over the incident.

The ICC is obviously hoping the whole thing will go away, and has made its typical angry, incoherent response to some pointed questions.

India on the other hand, have been Laraed from the moment they set foot on Sabina Park for the 1st ODI.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Hunch Captaincy and the problem of Class.....

The last 2 Test innings by India have revealed the limitations of hunch captaincy. Lara has ridden his luck during this Indian series (both in Tests and ODI's), and played his hunches like an inveterate gambler. Once a hunch works, he seems unwilling to back away from it. The Gayle-Samuels restrictive off-spin hunch worked for him, because they invariably came up against batsmen unwilling to sweep or paddle or leave their crease (admittedly difficult given the pace at which Gayle and Samuels bowled). The golden arm of Dwayne Bravo seems to have lost its sheen, as the Indians seem to have sized him up.

India have had similar problems in the field. If you leave aside the class of Anil Kumble, Indian captains have for long been reduced to hunch captaincy. This is basically down to limitations of skill and ability on the part of the bowlers. Its very simple - if the bowlers don't have the basic skills - the ability to swing the ball, control over line and length, a basic understanding of length, pace (a priceless asset), then captains like Lara, Dravid etc. are invariably reduced to playing their hunches and hoping they work.

Sehwag in the Antigua Test was an inspired hunch by Dravid. He was a hunch, because you can't bank on him to bowl 25 overs a day of top class off spin. He can however be counted on to produce the occasional beauty like he did to Dwayne Bravo in the first innings. He has a very strong basic skill set for Off spin bowling - a great side-on action, good use of the body, resulting in nice control over length and flight. He also occasionaly gets curve in the air, away towards slip. His limitation however, not being a full time off spinner, is that he is never as consistent as a full time off spinner, and he does not possess the variety of a full fledged off spinner.

Class then is a function of basic skill, and more crucially the ability to deliver that skill relentlessly. Anil Kumble has class, because he can bowl all day and rarely bowl a bad ball, inspite of his subtle variations in flight and line.

Thats the reason why a team like Australia never has a string of losses - because they have relentless class in every department of the game. Not only is a class player more difficult get on top of, he is also more likely to work out a new bowler who may have troubled him before much faster than the average player.

There is no substitute for class then. And unfortunately for captains whos teams don't have that requisite class in their batting or bowling departments, they have no choice but to play their hunches occasionally, because more of than not, the opposition batting will get on top of their bowling (as in the case of both Dravid and Lara), or the opposition bowling will get on top of their bowling (as in the case of Dravid when he inherited the side - the problem was tackled by having very flexible batting orders). Some bowlers develop as they gain experience, others show no discernible improvement (Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar... their test records remain poor even after 30 odd Tests each).

This is also why it is a good idea to back proven class when the player goes through a bad patch. As i write this, India are piling on a first innings score at St. Lucia. They are 482/4 just before lunch on day 2. A few balls from Chris Gayle have turned and a few from Collins have kept low. India haven't selected Harbhajan Singh in their eleven. I wonder whether they will regret it. The West Indies are already regreting the fact that they have played a specialist spinner. Its 485/5 now, Rahul Dravid has just gotten out on the widest delivery ever to get a Test wicket - it wasn't even within the width of the pitch!

But the Indian decision can be defended by pointing out that the West Indies have rarely lost Test matches to spin bowling, especially in the West Indies. Warne has toured there, so has Murali, so has Kumble. And the West Indies defeats have been down to pace bowling. And so, the Indian team management have gone with the trends from recent history.

There will be a lot of criticism of the side in the Indian press, some of it down to sympathies with the previous team management, some of it down to disenchantment with the BCCI, and some of it down to the primacy of criticism as the content of a good story. A lot of it is admittedly down to a genuine belief that India should play to its strength which is spin bowling. But the fact of the matter is, that the Indian spin bowling has not been in the class of Warne or Muralitharan - especially overseas. Rahul Dravid is being true to his word. His side are battling the weight of history as he so famously said prior to this tour, and they are definitely trying to win with a different paradigm.

Its uncanny - with 1 spinner, they came closer to winning on the 5th day in an overseas Test than they ever have in the history of their Test cricket. Now, once again they have bucked popular opinion, and gone with 4 pace bowlers and 6 batsmen.

India lack the class to win Test matches consistently. Thats why they have to do what they have done here in the West Indies and through out this ODI season. Try out new players and develop them. Because without class, there will only be the occasional Adelaides to savour. Sydney or Karachi will be the more common outcome. Class is what India need, and that is what they are trying to find and develop.

This team management continues to amaze....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Thriller at the Antigua Recreation Ground

The last Test Match to be played at the Antigua Recreation Ground, crickets 52nd Test match venue and home to some of its most celebrated batting records, will go down in history as one of the most exciting Test matches to be played there. The ground has consistently shown up wickets which reveals the genuine quality of sides. Teams with weak bowling attacks invariably ended up sending each other on leather hunts, while superior teams almost invariably won Test matches here. This time around, we saw a contest between two modest Test teams. Neither India, nor West Indies can lay claim to the Test match high table (seats 3 in my opinion) currently. India are some ways away and the West Indies have been even further away from it in recent years.

The week - 7 days of 24 hour duration, is the basic unit of time in the human existence. The 24 hour day takes care of sunrise and sunset and the biological cycle is organized around it. But human life and modern civilization is tied very strongly to the week. They say a week is a long time in politics. A week is basically a long time. A Test match is played over 5 days. This unique sporting contest, spanning over 5 days ebbs and flows, questions and demands, rewards and punishes and at the end of it all, the joy of victory is not always gauranteed. Some would point out that neither is the disappointment of defeat. But no one cares about second place, as yet another terrible cliche goes. Test Cricket has the wisdom to reveal at times to its participants, that neither of them did enough to win. Try again next time. 5 days is a long time - long enough for cricketing skill and human character to be rigorously tested.

And so it happened at Antigua. Two weary sides at the end of a long season began the Antigua Test, resigned to the reputation of the pitch. The visiting captain won the toss and chose to bat. Much to everyones surprise, the host captain said he would have fielded had he won the toss. Home knowledge came to the fore when the visitors were strangled out for 241 early on the second day. For India it was an old story. Batsmen getting stuck, playing for survival, and perishing, only for the tail to point out that only survival never got anyone anywhere. The West Indies, on a high after their bowling success (remember, Antigua is at the pinnacle of the graveyards list for bowlers in Test Match folklore), set about the Indian bowling with gusto, and before the day was out, found themselves almost 80 runs ahead, with almost half their side left to bat. The next day, the remaining 4 wickets gave what turned out to be a mere preview of what was to come later. Yet, inspite of the 130 run deficit, the ARG's reputation again came to the rescue. And this time it was India who benefit. With the sure knowledge that the deficit was "only" 130, and with time still available to force a victory if they batted well, India set about piling on their score in a most professional manner. Leading them was a seasoned first class cricketer, for whom a recall to the Test arena has meant an opportunity to "get used to and feel at home" in Test Cricket. He looked very much at home as he, along with the captain added 203 for the third wicket. Wasim Jaffer made 212. Every single Indian batsman made his innings count. Yet, had it not been for Jaffers double hundred, we might have been reading about yet another overseas Test defeat for India and yet another story about batsmen getting starts and not going on to get the big one.

Enter Dhoni. He came as if ordained by the Gods - with Lara's restrictive seam bowling resources almost completely wasted, and set about the plebeian spin attack with gusto. His innings ended rather infamously with plenty of histrionics and Brian Lara - that famous son of Trinidad, enjoying 15 minutes of rather dubious fame. Dravid declared in exasperation and the stage was set for the final act - the 4th innings.

The Antiguan wicket refused to fall apart and given Indias inexperienced pace attack, common wisdom suggested that the West Indies would hold on for a draw comfortably, the incomparable Kumble notwithstanding. Kumble inspite of his great successes, is no Murali, and is not yet capable of running through Test line ups on glass tops. Yet, a combination of West Indian batting, Indian opportunism and some uncharacteristically poor umpiring, turned what should have been a calm uneventful final day of Test Cricket at the ARG, into a circus.

In the end, the West Indies held on by 1 wicket, and Test Cricket told India yet again, that they werent quite good enough to win. Anil Kumble outperformed the pace attack yet again in an overseas Test match, and we had a part time bowler pull his weight for India yet again. Indian Test victories in recent times, against good oppposition or against opposition overseas have depended on part time opportunism. Sachin Tendulkar, in two of Indias most famous victories against the might of Australia (Kolkata and Adelaide) has taken 5 wickets - Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne. In Pakistan at Multan in the Pakistan second innings, specialist batsmen were dismissed by part timers. Virendra Sehwag filled in those shoes today. But in the end, it all fell short.

I just wonder about two things - what if Sehwag had bowled that last over to the tailender with men around the bat - teasing flight, his beautiful curve away towards slip luring the nervous tailender to his doom. More importantly, and this is the piece the resistence:

What if Brian Lara hadn't wasted 15 minutes arguing about a catch on the boundary that his fielder didnt realistically claim? 6 overs for the last pair instead of 3? What might have been?

With the benefit of hindsight, i have to say that Brian Lara is a pyschic genius!!

A Test Match is a long time in cricket. The dominant West Indians after clearly winning the first innings exchange, hanging on for dear life against a rookie pace attack and a team "battling the weight of history" in the words of its Captain.

Who would have thought! 4 last over ODI finishes and 1 last over Test match finish later, im beginning to think that something of lasting significance is up for grabs for the victor in this Test series.

On to St. Lucia.......

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mid Test Match - twist, turns, a fight back and home advantage

India have shown their customary fight, and not insignificant class, to ensure that the last test match at the Antigua recreation ground does not go down in history as yet another drab one sided contest, won by the clearly superior side, or a high scoring draw. Two sides - evenly matched, one fighting the weight of history, and the other with a captain eager to end his illustrious international career on a successful note, hopefully having put the West Indies on an irreversible path of recovery from their recent slump.

In this Test match, India lost the first day, the second day went to the West Indies, marginally, while the third day, i would put as a draw. Once they were dismissed for 241, inspite of playing the extra batsman, they were always going to have to play catch up. With their rookie bowling attack, they have done so admirably so far. Having gotten 80 runs ahead, Brian Lara will have to be increasingly mindful of conceding runs as the game progresses. During of the coverage of the game today, an interesting statistic was shown, pointing out that the wicket has gotten progressively quicker. This augurs well for India, for it will mean that Anil Kumble will get quick turn and will be able to hit the bat harder in the 4th innings than he did in the first. He will be a handful on this wicket, with about 300 runs to defend.

Sreesanth has had a poor game so far. His effort with the bat however revealed a willingness to persevere on his part, which will stand him and India in good stead. Munaf has shown himself to be a class apart from the other Indian pacemen ever since his debut against England. Inspite of his worrying tendency to fade away in his third and fourth spells, especially later in the day, his ability to trouble good players augurs well. There also seems to be a method to whatever he does.

The Indian strategy must now be to bat until Tea time tomorrow, just playing normally. If Dhoni is still to come, or is in at tea time, then India would fancy making 100 runs in the hour after Tea, and let the West Indies face a hour tomorrow evening.

From the West Indian point of view, they are still well ahead in this game, and would fancy their chances if Rahul Dravid falls early tomorrow. With an experienced lineup, and the wicket still playing well, they will feel that anything upto 300-325 is well within their reach. With Brian Lara in their ranks, and Sarwan, Gayle and Chanderpaul all having been amongst the runs, not to speak of the exploits of Dwayne Bravo, they must believe that they are still well and truly in front. With a world record run chase behind them on this very ground (and the batting line up is pretty much the same, on that occasion Chanderpaul and Sarwan made hundreds while Brian Lara made 60), they should feel confident of winning this Test match.

All in all, after being down and out at the end of day 1, the Test match is still well and truly open. India have Wasim Jaffer to thank for that. The Mumbai opener has just made only the 3rd century by a Mumbai batsman other than Sachin Tendulkar, since 1994 (the other two came from Ajit Agarkar, Lords 2002, and Wasim Jaffer, Nagpur, 2006).

Friday, June 02, 2006

India lose Day 1

The saying goes that the first day of the series decides the course of the series. If so, then the Indians are going to havea long tour of the West Indies. The West Indies bowlers seems to have the wood on the Indian batsmen, who have show a worrying tendency in the recent past to get a start and then throw it away. Kaif, Yuvraj, Laxman, Sehwag and Dhoni all got starts and threw their hand away, just when they should have gone ahead and converted their score into a fifty or a hundred. Rahul Dravid had one of those days, when he doesn't get the ball off the square, and unless something drastic happens this tour is likely to go pear shaped really soon for India.

The West Indies, especially the bowlers, have had the wood on India through out the ODI series. It doesnt help that 4 of Indias top 7 batsmen have played less than 50 Tests between them. This is suddenly an inexperienced batting lineup. Remove a Tendulkar from any lineup, and its bound to end up weaker, but here there seems to be a further problem. The batsmen don't seem to be playing in pairs. There has been a tendency over the past couple of years for the India batting to get stuck, if Sehwag does not fire, or if he does fire, then after he gets out. Both VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid have shown a tendency to go into inexplicable strokeless periods, as happened after Sehwag's dismissal today. 22 runs were scored in the 15 overs after he was dismissed. This after the Indians won the toss and elected to bat. VVS, who started so well, struggles when hes kept quiet, because his tardy running between the wickets prevents him from running quick singles and converting ones into two.

If the ODI series is any indicator however, the West Indies should not fare any better, but given the paltry Indian total, they are certain to get a lead.

Winning the toss and scoring at 2.6 runs per over, admittedly on a slow wicket, is just not good enough in contemperory Test cricket. It suggests inexperience, a lack of class, and an inability to get on top of the bowling.

Irfan Pathan epitomises the Indian side right now. He has inherent limitations in his bowling (pace, his inability as a fast bowler to threaten a batsman on the back foot), and when hes down on confidence, he looks very ordinary. In his case, Greg Chappell has always defended him strongly suggesting that hes never going to be as quick. The question however is that he was significantly quicker when he started bowling, and he still had his inswing then. What we are seeing with India, is a team reeling from the shock of a 1-4 defeat following 18-8 run against apparently superior opposition. Irfan Pathan fittingly enough, is sitting this game out. His batting as well as his bowling will be sorely missed. India have done pretty much the same.

Having gone into this Test with the extra batsman, Indias rookie pace attack faces the sternest Test possible - facing a seasoned Test batting line up, not short of class, on a flat wicket (or so we are told, Lara evidently thinks different because he was planning to field on winning the toss), with a low first innings total to play with.

Rahul Dravid said his team would have to "battle the weight of history". How right he was... India have a fight on their hands. They will need some divine assistant with regard to a certain Brian Charles Lara, but the rest is in their hands.

Fight on......