Tuesday, July 31, 2007

India abroad.... almost the best of the rest.......

You might wonder at the outset about this title - there are other sides which have done well overseas, as much, if not more often, than India have. Consider these numbers for this decade, for away performance of all Test playing nations (not counting performances in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh). The last figure in each line are points - 1 for a win, 0.5 for a draw and 0 for a defeat.

India 9-14 in 38 Tests - 16.5
Pakistan 9-15 in 32 Tests - 13
Sri Lanka 6-15 in 27 Tests - 9
England 12-18 in 42 Tests - 18
South Africa 10-15 in 36 Tests - 15.5
Australia 24-8 in 36 Tests - 26
West Indies 1-32 in 44 Tests - 6.5
New Zealand 1-10 in 21 Tests - 8

When you consider that fast bowling is what wins Test matches overseas, it is not hard to realize the magnitude of India's overseas achievements in this decade, coming as it does after India had not won a single Test match overseas (barring Sri Lanka in 1992) in the 1990's. Lets have a look at the records of the major Indian players in these results (these figures are for the Test's considered above only)

Rahul Dravid - 3352 runs at 60.95
Virendra Sehwag - 2068 runs at 49.23
VVS Laxman - 2325 runs at 48.43
Sachin Tendulkar - 2069 runs at 47.02
Sourav Ganguly - 1785 runs at 40.53

Ironically, as more and more fast bowling talent has begun to emerge, the batsmen have aged. They are still fine batsmen though - some of the finest in the world. The two bowlers who have played the large majority of those overseas Tests for India have been Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan. Other bowlers have played important parts - Ashish Nehra, Laxmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh etc.

Anil Kumble - 116 wickets at 34.87
Zaheer Khan - 91 wickets at 33.06

Comparing this with the best team in the world in Away performances

Ricky Ponting - 2408 runs at 51.23
Mathew Hayden - 2744 runs at 46.5
Justin Langer - 2377 runs at 45.71
Adam Gilchrist - 2356 runs at 49.08
Damien Martyn - 2184 runs at 49.63
Steve Waugh - 1059 runs at 54.95

Clarke, Hussey, Symonds and Lehman have all featured in the Australian middle order during this decade, as has Mark Waugh.

Australia's batting numbers, while superior to India's are not decisively so. Their great advantage has been Adam Gilchrist, and a world class, well settled opening pair. The quality of the Indian line up is apparent from the comparison of their numbers to those of this great Australian team. Rahul Dravid's record overseas is probably the finest amongst all batsmen in this decade (i haven't checked Kallis and Lara, but i don't think they have done much better than 3000 runs at 60!).

Where then does the difference lie - the difference indicated by 24-8 as against 9-14? The answer is quite obviously the bowling. The best (i say best, because they are the most capped) Indian bowlers average 34 and 33 respectively away from home. Compare that to the following:

McGrath - 127 wickets at 19.96
Gillespie - 105 wickets at 28.05
Lee - 93 wickets at 32.87
Warne - 199 wickets at 24.00

Add Kasprowicz, Clark and MacGill to this list, and even they have done better than India's best.

Thats the difference between India and Australia. At Lord's India's bowlers were lauded for keeping England under 300 in both innings, when they should probably have conceded no more than 225 in the first and probably the same number in the second (that would have meant victory at Lord's for India). Australia would have restricted England to that score, and been 2-0 up by now. And yes - they would have probably won by an innings at Trent Bridge.

It is fitting that Dravid is captain now. He has been the finest batsman in the world in away Test in this decade - arguably the finest of all batsmen in this decade playing anywhere (all though Ponting is probably supported by a finer argument - 4335 runs at 74.74 in Australia in this decade!). India will go to the Oval looking forward to breaking yet another of their perennial bogeys - that of going off the boil in the Test after an overseas win.

Matthew Hoggard will probably return to replace James Anderson, and i suspect that England may see if they can rush Andrew Flintoff back in time for the Oval Test now that they are behind.

India go to the Oval as equal, as slight favorites even. As Rahul Dravid said after the Trent Bridge win - "I think expectations have increased over the last four or five years,and people don't expect us to just come here and be part of the summer. People do expect us to come and perform and we expect ourselves to come here and perform. We don't come here just to be another team."

The numbers suggest he has played the telling hand in this transformation. But he has had a quiet time overseas in recent months. Five years ago, he confirmed his membership of the great players club with a double hundred at the Oval. Might we see an encore from the great man?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Trent Bridge Test, Day 4 Review - India on the brink!!!

After an unconvincing effort for most of the day, Zaheer Khan and RP Singh produced an inspired burst with the second new ball to break trigger a collapse of the English line up which has become an all too familiar feature in this series now. They lost 7/43 in the first innings at Lord's, 7/97 in the first innings at Trent Bridge and 7/68 in the second innings today. Their best effort was at Lord's, thanks in large part to the century stand between Prior and Pietersen.

Both Zaheer and RP demonstrated the ability to swing the ball both ways and got better as the day progressed. Zaheer was the stand out performer. Sreesanth on the other hand had a horrendous day - his second terrible day out of 4 bowling days on this tour. His figures in the first innings were better than he deserved as well. RP improved vastly from his first innings effort. Zaheer's has been the (potentially) match winning effort. Strauss's wicket was the opening that kept India in the hunt, even though it was followed by two reasonable stands - 45 with Kevin Pietersen and 112 with Paul Collingwood. It was in the company of Pietersen that Vaughan came into his own. In partnership with Pietersen, he was at his very best. He was helped to some extent by the Indian bowling - 49(58) off Kumble and 14(17) off Tendulkar.

Sreesanth is in serious danger of earning a reputation as someone who is not always honest. He was constantly heckling all the batsmen, even though he was bowling poorly, then he inadvertantly (hopefully) let slip a beamer and apologized immediatly. So far so good. But later, he went round the wicket very briefly and bowled a bouncer which was the biggest no ball in living memory. Sreesanth was so poor, that the commentators were at a loss to explain what he was upto. It was definitely one of the most bizarre displays on a cricket field in a long time. Being excited is fine - but being out of control is not.

India will look to wrap up the game tomorrow. They should aim to score at better than 4 an over and win in style. It has been a memorable game, with Zaheer appearing on the honours board.

Trent Bridge Test, Day 4, Lunch - Erratic India, Watchful England

The point has been made that the "blame" or responsibility (a better word than blame) for India's troubles at Lord's lay with the middle order and not with the bowlers, who "came back strongly after the first day". This view is fundamentally flawed and reveals a misunderstanding of the Test match contest in my view, and indeed the contest between bat and ball. The bowling today on the 4th morning, if it results in England going on to save the Test match, given the platform they have built, will illustrate why this is so.

The basic value of swing and seam, is that it is unplayable if the bowler gets it right. It doesn't matter who the batsman is - if there is consistent seam and swing on offer, with a quality fast bowler who possesses control in operation, then it is almost certain that the batting line up (irrespective of names in that line up) will struggle. The converse of this is that if the bowlers get it wrong and bowl inconsistently, then the batting line up make runs. The difference between Lord's and Trent Bridge is not that the Indian middle order was stung by criticism after Lord's, it is that James Anderson bowled poorly at Trent Bridge, while he was brilliantly consistent at Lord's. The sun shone for a while at Trent Bridge, which meant that the English attack lack the edge they had at Lord's. Therefore, the pressure was not relentless and there were scoring opportunities on offer. In short, the English bowlers were unable to exert as much control at Trent Bridge compared to Lord's on account of two reasons: their own accuracy and the conditions.

Similarly, the argument that the Indian bowlers actually did well at Lord's by keeping England under 300 in both innings is flawed, because England got to 300 in the first innings because India bowled rubbish for most of that innings. Those runs are counted in the course of the Test match - yet it seems almost as though the lack of quality in the pace bowling ought not to matter, if you've been reading reports in the Indian cricket press recent.

Play on the 4th morning was yet another case of India's mercurial bowling line up having one of their fitful sessions. There was swing on offer, yet too much of the bowling was wide, and Strauss was not made to play enough by either Sreesanth or Zaheer. They bowled very little that would have threatened the stumps, let alone actually been on the stumps. They allowed the English batsmen to leave easily outside off stump, and every time they actually strayed closer to the stumps, they beat the bat or had the batsman squared up. Zaheer was the best of the bowlers. RP and Sreesanth were not on song. Sreesanth especially seemed out of control with all his swearing and staring. As with Matt Prior yesterday, Sreesanth basically made a fool of himself and was spoken to by the umpire because things seemed to get out of hand. Somehow, this type of nonsense is quite popular with our Indian fans - erratic bowling, with no real control, coupled with arrogance. Give me the understated Munaf Patel who understands line and length (and actually bowls it) any day.

For the first time in this Test match, India have lost a session. The bowlers may yet make a "comeback", and the batsmen (helped by England's below par bowling effort) have given them enough of a cushion to still make a comeback - but the lack of quality and control in the bowling has hurt India for the whole of Kumble and Tendulkar's career. Things have improved recently, but India are still one of the weakest pace attacks in the world - only West Indies are possibly weaker.

The key is control. In arithmetic terms - its a question of how many balls you can bowl exactly as you intend to bowl them. In Sreesanth's case, that figure must to be somewhere in the low 30's in percentage terms. Just to illustrate what im saying further - a for McGrath or Akram, a similar figure might have been 80-85. For Zaheer, it is probably 50-60 right now.

If you don't believe what im saying about bowling and batting in Test cricket - check out the following two statistics:
1. How many "match-winning" Test innings has Brian Lara played after Curtly Ambrose retired?
2. How frequently has Lara reached 50 in a Test innings in England and in Australia in the last 10 years?

He is considered a "match-winning" batsman. Yet he's won zero Tests in England and Australia since Ambrose retired. He's reached 50 in 2 out of 18 innings in Australia in the last 10 years and in 4 out of 17 innings in England.

It is one of the most interesting dichotomies in the discussion about Test cricket in India. Everybody agrees to the principle that quality fast bowling is a non-negotiable necessity if you want to be a top class Test team. Yet, when it comes to assessing actual Test matches, poor fast bowling is often excused even when the conditions have clearly suited fast bowling, simply because the fast bowlers haven't played a hundred Tests! So in effect the argument is - yes top class fast bowling is absolutely necessary to compete in Test cricket, but its the fault of the batsmen, because nothing much is expected from the fast bowlers anyways.

Judgements are made on Test cricket, while completely ignoring the contest between bat and ball!

Hopefully India will learn - its one of the advantages of bowling - it's possible to make right in one good spell, the wrongs of 3-4 bad spells, while batsmen are allowed 2 mistakes per Test match. Its a beautifully designed contest - one which ought to be given its due when Test match performances are discussed.

Cricinfo's lunch time headline reads - "Strauss and Vaughan dig deep" - they haven't had to dig too deep, because three of the four bowlers haven't bowled very well. India' bowlers may eventually do well enough to make Strauss and Vaughan go away, but they won't be able to recover the runs and time conceded while they weren't bowling well. In the final analysis, both the good as well as the bad performance will count - whatever the "expectations" may be. The "expectations" play no part in the outcome of the Test match.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Prior chirps..... misses the point...

Andrew Miller writes about the third days play at Trent Bridge. Chirping and on field needle is his subject of choice, and he quotes the new English wicketkeeper Mathew Prior as follows:

"It's a tough game at the top end and if you don't enjoy it, you're going to struggle," Prior said, while insisting that what is said on the field should remain on the field. "It's never nice when it's you batting, and 11 blokes are giving you a barrage, but it comes with the territory. It's Test cricket, it's a hard game. We all want to win, we're all playing to win. You're going to try anything to get one-up on your opponent, as long as its within the spirit of the game."

Considering that Prior has only just begun to play Test cricket, may be he might consider letting a few go harmlessly past his off stump before he starts making "It's Test cricket, it's a hard game" lines. He's hardly played Test cricket - most of it has been a home series against the weakest West Indies side in living memory.

When a team is doing well, chirp looks and sounds good and smart. Some wit helps as well. When your 270 runs behind on the first innings, chirp looks stupid. Prior has not been tested and if his professional wicketkeepers appeal which accounted for Sourav Ganguly is his understanding of Test cricket being a "hard" game, then may be a visit to the referee's cabin will do him no harm.

If Prior wants to learn about chirping, he need look no further than Andrew Flintoff - who's come up with some priceless lines over the years. Watch this video, and may be Matt Prior could take some of Flintoff's advice:

Two poor decisions...... Trent Bridge Test, Tea, Day 3

Tendulkar had reached 91 at Trent Bridge, and was still watching the ball extremely carefully. He left one outside off stump, watched it hold its line and hit his front pad outside off stump. He looked up and much to his surprise, Simon Taufel had upheld a fledgling appeal. There was barely a flicker of emotion on his face as he took it all in and then trudged off.

There will be a lot of comment about this - as to whether he might have been recalled etc. etc. as Pietersen was. This is not quite the same thing, since an LBW is a matter of opinion to start with.

Ganguly's was another matter all-together. He was seemingly strangled down the leg side. Replays showed that he hadn't hit it. He reacted with an explosion of disbelief, swirled around and marched off to the pavilion.

Both men desperately wanted a Test century in England, and it wasn't hard to recognize the disappointment. Even though there is the precedent of Pietersen being called back at Lord's, i don't think thats a very good precedent and should not be applied here in Ganguly's case. For better or for worse, that was the umpires decision, and in the long run it is probably wiser to respect it, even if it seems to have been in error in retrospect.

These decisions will give the world an opportunity to witness the other side of the Indian rage coin - if it isn't the players who are cheating India, it is the umpires who are cheating them by make errors against the players. ESPN (Harsha Bhogle and co.) are apparently making a special program on the Tendulkar LBW (i sincerely hope David Lloyd said this in jest), and after the Ganguly dismissal, they might add him to it as well. In the case of Ganguly's dismissal it can be categorically stated that it was a mistake, while in Tendulkar's case, it would remain an merely an opinion that it was out (Hawkeye would not stand as evidence in any serious argument).

Tendulkar and Ganguly's respective reactions to the decisions offered a fine study in their respective personalities. Tendulkar - not given to a burst of rage, far more circumspect and measured, while Ganguly - spontaneous disbelief followed closely by ill-disguised disagreement. Their subsequent actions, as visible on TV also showed how well they both dealt with the situation. Both probably calmed themselves down in the dressing room, blew of some steam. Tendulkar was later seen enjoying an ice cream on the balcony (a tea/coffee - something from a mug, a little while later), while Ganguly parked himself on the balcony and wondered in solitude about what might have been. If they meet Simon Taufel later this evening at the hotel or in the pavilion, im almost certain they will be polite and friendly. Taufel has trained with them before (the Elite Emirates Umpires often participate in pre match nets to practice some umpiring). They might even have a quiet word at tea time.

There are somethings which ought not to be questioned in my view - especially when the quality of an individual's work is as well proven as it is in Simon Taufel's case. Regardless of the position, genuine errors must be accepted. There is little merit in Indian supporters "forgiving" Taufel, he doesn't owe them an apology, and Tendulkar and Ganguly won't give the decision a second thought - by the time India take the field, it will all be forgotten. The TV channels will milk it for as long as they can, but they will still show the same footage every time.

India in a good position at Tea. It's Anil Kumble's match from here on....

Here's a priceless bit of commentary i just saw on Cricinfo

"Anderson to Laxman, FOUR, shot - brilliant shot. A flick through mid-off. Now, if you or I tried to play that stroke the ball would've ended up somewhere near fine leg, but such is Laxman's control that it was sweetly timed down the ground"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trent Bridge Test, Day 2 - India's day

India lead by 56 runs on the first innings with 7 wickets in hand at the end of the second day of the second Test at Trent Bridge. It was a day much like the ones at Lord's. There was plenty of help for the bowlers and the sun stayed to watch only parts of the opening stand. The rub of the green went India's way - the ball went past the edge, a couple of tough LBW's (Jaffer against Monty - Tendulkar might see that and smile later today, and Karthik missing a sweep against the same bowler) calls went against England and in general, England looked like they were there and there abouts - just not enough to convert their efforts into a flurry of wickets. The line and length they achieved did not compare well with their bowling at Lord's.

Much is made of the fact that this is England's second string bowling. They are missing Flintoff, Harmison and Hoggard. Flintoff is sorely missed, for he lets England play 5 bowlers. Hoggard has been a steady wicket taker in England and has been a fixture in the England XI for a long time now. Harmison, im not sure is missed. If you look at the series averages for the West Indies series, Harmison took 16 wickets at 34 in the series, while Monty, Sidebottom and Hoggard all took their wickets between 18-23 per wicket. Besides, Tremlett's has been easily the most impressive start to a bowling career, albeit in bowler friendly conditions, and Anderson bowled brilliantly at Lord's.

This has been a series of unheralded individuals of whom the expectations are low, coming to the fore. The English bowling at Lord's, and the Indian openers here at Nottingham. The real test of quality comes when the opposition knows you are good, and you still prove that you are. Monty has now passed that Test in my view, and ought to be seen as an established Test player.

Much will be made, and i just noticed that it has already begun of the weakest links coming through for India. That article by Sambit Bal consists of the ultimate doublespeak - every actual description of events on the field in that article points to two things - 1. That India were lucky, 2. That England were not. And yet, the Indian openers were "gutsy, skilful, and nothing short of heroic"! So presumably, had one of the near misses actually been an edge, say within the first 30 runs, we might have heard the usual nay saying about the ageing batting and the lack of talent in the openers slot.

It points to my earlier argument about the Tendulkar dismissal in the second innings at Lord's - it is a matter of chance to a large extent, especially in conditions with something in it for the bowlers.

We also saw further evidence on the story of the two techniques - Rahul Dravid chooses to play spin much like Prior. He is admittedly much better at it than Prior (about 9000 runs better), but playing out in front of the pad causes the batsman to reach out to the ball play away from the body a tad. It is what the a good spinner will work for, for that is his best chance as Panesar proved. Dravid was beaten in the flight, and since his method relied on looking for the ball out on the front foot, found himself off balance and bang in the middle of Michael Vaughan's well set trap. Tendulkar seemed to have made a slight adjustment (his method seemed to be a Bombay thing - Jaffer also uses the same method for playing spinners), in that he was consciously getting well forward and leaning into his defense rather than just block with a limited stride.

Panesar it has to be said, is a really good bowler.

There was the interesting incident of Tendulkar being hit on the helmet. I saw some superb analysis from Michael Holding (who's hit a few batsmen in his time) and Michael Atherton and David Gower (who've been at the other end a few times). Holding pointed out that Tendulkar kept his eyes on the ball till the very end, and hence caught it on the grill rather than on the back of the head or the shoulder's as he might have had he turned his back on the ball like many other batsmen.

All in all, it was a gritty effort in bowler friendly conditions. Holding made the point (which will doubtlessly ignored as irrelevant in India) that the English bowlers were a bit wide today as compared to Lord's where they were at the batsman all the time. That in my view is the difference between 180/8 and 250/3. That is Test Cricket.

I hope the rain stays away tomorrow. I suspect though that we might have to go to the Oval with two draws - both sides having been robbed once.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Two techniques, two results.... both Out!

We've seen two seperate ways of playing spin bowling recently - Tendulkar plays in the classic modern way, with bat never going past the pad in defense, and tucked behind the pad for the leave. An inadvertent straight ball from Monty left him with no chance of defending off the pitch.

Matt Prior on the other hand, uses the current English theory of playing Kumble with bat in front of pad. I suspect this allows more late adjustment, but if you are not good enough to do it, someone like Kumble will tease you out, like he did with Prior, causing him to push out far away from his front pad for Dravid to snaffle the catch at first slip.

Probably tells you why batsmen have traditionally chosen not to play like Prior. In these two examples however, it turns out the neither method proved successful.... :)

India doing well. Ideal conditions for swing bowling, suggested that no batsman was on top of the situation. No surprises there, other than in "batsmen must fire" world, where batsmen make runs because they choose to do so and nothing else comes into it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Akash Chopra on the Tendulkar and Dravid dismissals...

Akash Chopra writes about the Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid dismissal's in the second innings at Lord's and pretty much seconds my assessment that the Tendulkar ball was not the arm ball. :)

Two days ago, i wrote - "Sachin Tendulkar fell to a Monty Panesar stock delivery which not only didn't turn, but also didn't move naturally down the slope! It was not the arm ball as has been suggested (the seam was not pointed towards fine leg, neither was it perpendicular to the direction of flight). Assuming that specialist batsmen make the effort to read a spin bowler from the hand or atleast in flight, Tendulkar played for the expected break towards the slips. The ball was also flighted and slower than an arm ball would be. Monty's wicket then was unintended...."

There are those who believe that Panesar did actually fox Tendulkar with the arm ball -

Shrinivas Rao at Indian Express
Dave Tickner at Sporting Life
Andrew McGlashan at Cricinfo
R Mohan on Sify
Harish Kotian at Rediff

Mike Selvey does refer to the Tendulkar dismissal but doesn't mention Monty delivering the arm ball.

Just like Harbhajan's barely existent "doosra", Monty's arm ball has taken on a life of its own, and anything which fails to turn from leg to off gets caste as something Monty does on purpose, just like anything that wasn't a turning off break from Harbhajan had commentators (and spin bowlers like L Sivaramakrishnan... no less!) piping up .... "That was the doosra from Harbhajan Singh!" (even if it was actually the much simpler floater which is distinct from the doosra)

The common theme that seems to run through much of the reporting seems to be that accurate accounts are secondary - propogating myths and assaulting "stars" is the order of the day....

Why is it important that Monty didn't get Tendulkar with the arm ball? Because it suggests that the dismissal was a matter of chance, like so many things in cricket - an inconvenient reality when you consider that propogating and then demolishing the "Tendulkar is God" myth is a billion dollar industry. Tendulkar is a magnificient batsman - sure, but the rules and realities of the game are not suspended when he is at the wicket. It is to his credit that he has given us the impression over the years that this is so.

But seriously - what good are commentators and journalists if they consistently discard perspective?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is this why the English bowling is superior to Indias?

The common refrain about the "inexperienced" English bowling has been well accepted. But consider this for a moment. The following are the First class records of the six fast bowlers on view in the Lord's Test:

R P Singh 30 matches, 5531 balls, 121 wickets at 24.07 (2003-2007)
Zaheer Khan 107 matches, 21692 balls, 442 wickets, 27.41 (1999-2007)
S Sreesanth 37 matches, 6713 balls, 118 wickets at 31.20 (2002-2007)

Chris Tremlett 69 matches, 11322 balls, 234 wickets at 26.94 (2000-2007)
James Anderson 64 matches, 10917 balls, 221 wickets at 28.81 (2002-2007)
Ryan Sidebottom 110 matches, 18336 matches, 346 wickets at 24.95 (1997-2007)

England's attack had 69 matches more first class experience (in conditions akin to Lord's, unlike what Sreesanth and RP may have had) than the Indian bowlers. Were they really inexperienced compared to the Indian attack?

Which begs the question - do the Indian bowlers bowl in enough number of first class games? R P Singh averages 7.5 first class games per year, Sreesanth averages 7.28 first class games per year. Zaheer averages 13.38 games per year (but that includes 16 games in 3 months in England in 2006). The English bowlers average 10, 11 and 12 matches per year. Additionally the English bowlers arguably play their matches against better players of fast bowling than Indian fast bowlers do in India - just have a look at the glittering array of overseas professionals playing county cricket.

India need to encourage more cricket of a better quality at the domestic level. It needs to be rigorous and it needs to keep bowlers match fit. The problem is not too much cricket. The problem is too little cricket. England manage their cricket season within a 5 month window - April - September.

Lets look at the first class careers of some of the great fast bowlers, just to verify how much cricket they actually played.

Wasim Akram 257 matches, 50277 balls, 1042 wickets, 21.64 (1984-2003)
Glenn McGrath 189 matches, 41759 balls, 835 wickets, 20.85 (1992-2007)
Malcolm Marshall 408 matches, 74645 balls, 1651 wickets, 19.10 (1977-1996)
Allan Donald 316 matches, 58801 balls, 1216 wickets, 22.76 (1985-2003)

All of them played more matches per year than the Indian bowlers do and three of them were significantly quicker than any of the Indian bowlers. All of them played regularly in England. All of them were great bowlers. Now lets have a look at the only great Indian fast bowler.

Kapil Dev 275 matches, 48853 balls, 835 wickets, 27.09 (1975-1993)

Kapil's record compares more favorably than those four greats than it does with the current Indian lot.

Looking at Srinath, who was more akin to the current Indian lot than he was to the greats listed above.

Javagal Srinath 147 matches, 28618 balls, 533 wickets, 26.31 (1989-2003)

Even Srinath averaged 10 first class games per year.

All these numbers include the number of Test matches played by these bowlers, and im willing to bet that as these bowlers established themselves and became great bowlers, they played fewer first class games. While they were learning their trade, they probably bowled day in and day out.

Thats why they never bowled poorly all day and thats why their par effort was so always special.

England know this and therefore English cricketers are expected to play first class cricket when it isn't immediatly before a Test match. Extra players selected are released to play for their county sides rather than sitting around in the dressing room. They are released because there is first class cricket being played during the Test match season.

India's first class cricketers play lesser cricket every year than their Test cricketers do. The Indian bowlers seem to be light invariably light on match practice as indicated by their tendency to go off the boil frequently.

In a real cricketing sense - the reality of India's domestic scene, which contributes nothing to the development of fast bowlers in merely underlined by the Lord's Test.

The Star obsession in the press...... David v Goliath.....

Tim de Lisle asks why Indias batting "goliaths" keep falling to bowling "davids"? On the face of it, this looks like a fine analogy. But think about it...... take James Anderson's pitch map from Lord's and compare it to any of McGrath or Pollock's best pitch maps. If you show them to a expert observer without identifying the author of each pitch map, he won't be able to tell the difference.

This star mania is reaching ridiculous proportions. The simple story of the Test match was that the conditions suited fast bowling through out the game (the ball swung for the full 80 overs), and all the batsmen struggled whenever the fast bowlers got it right. The English fast bowlers got it right almost all the time, while the Indian's didn't get it right at all on the first day. In the end, those 150 odd runs which England made on day 1 came to their rescue.

This story obviously does not suffice - because editorial pages and columns have to filled up. It therefore becomes inconvenient to accept that if James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Ryan Sidebottom produced pitch maps rivalling those of McGrath or Pollock or Donald in their prime, then the conditions would entail that their returns might rival those of McGrath, Pollock or Donald. If Monty Panesar can get it to drift from off stump to middle and the turn away towards the slips off a perfect spinners length consistently then he's going to be difficult to score off.

All the expert commentary, which tells us everything about technique and tactics and strategy, has not been too keen to point out what it was that the so called goliaths did wrong in their dismissals. Sambit Bal attempts an explanation, which sounds extremely balanced - but a case could be made that anyone who's actually followed cricket over the last 5 or so years reached Bal's conclusion a while ago.

The stories have tended to feed the hero myth - or rather the delicious counterpoint to the hero myth which involves gleeful accounts of heroes in decline. That in its is no bad thing i suppose. But it has a couple of residual effects -

Imagine Sachin Tendulkar going out to bat. Do you realistically think that he can play normally anymore? If he makes a hundred, will be it viewed the same as a hundred by any other cricketer? If he plays a square cut, it is no longer just a square cut, but an emphatic statement that whatever cobwebs there were have been vacuumed away. If he plays a pull shot, it means that he's fighting old age or something.

Its quite amazing that Cricket is sometimes set aside in discussions about Test matches.

Monday, July 23, 2007

An unfathomable match up........

That is what this series is turning out to be. It is a peculiar series in that there seems to be no agreement as to the relative merits of the two sides. Is it a once great batting line up with a rookie bowling attack facing a strong home team with a rookie bowling attack? Or is it a very strong home team facing a overrated team of no shows? If you've been reading commentaries about this series you have in all probably come across both these points of view. The Englishmen like to talk up their own side, emphasizing the fact that Monty Panesar was their most experienced bowler in this Test match, facing an India middle order with 400+ Test caps between them. The Indian's like to point out that the middle order is past it and that the "superstars" should be done away with, or atleast recognized as being on the wane.

So its one side which is a powerful team, but without its best bowlers (that last bit is debatable, since the attack minus Harmison and Hoggard has looked far more threatening than the one with those two bowlers..... atleast nothing was delivered straight to third slip), and the other whose batting has such a reputation, that this reputation is weighing it down. Indians who comment suggest that nothing much is expected of the bowling in any case, and so the bowlers bowling rubbish every now and then is to be expected - the batsmen must cover for it because they are "superstars". Even if not in so many words, that this is the underlying sentiment and has historically been so ever since someone suggested that the Indian batting doesn't click when it matters (nobody has been able to point out times when it doesn't matter). This flies in the face of all cricketing sense, because bowlers win Test matches, while batsmen prevent them from being lost. The classic evidence of this is Pietersen's innings on the 4th day at Lord's. It didn't end up being "match winning" because Vaughan procrastinated about a declaration, it rained and Dhoni and co. rode their luck.

Lets have a look at England's recent Home record: beat New Zealand 3-0(3), beat West Indies 3-0(4), beat Australia 2-1(5), drew with South Africa 2-2(5), drew with Sri Lanka 1-1(3), beat Pakistan 3-0(4). Thats a mighty fine record by any standards and suggests near invincibility at Home in the last 4 years since India toured in 2002. Yet, English commentators would have us believe that England are nearly underdogs in this series! The English team views their effort in this Test match to be exceptional! The Indians agree with England that they were lucky and escaped because of the rain. There isn't even a murmur that Michael Vaughan might have declared when Mathew Prior was out (and the lead was 347) with the near guarantee that it would rain today. This against a line up which India thinks is living on past glories and needs to be cut down to size - and managed only 201 in the first innings!

There is more to this Test series than the fact that the Indian batting line up is aging, that the bowlers are not bowling well and that England's bowling line up is largely untested. The core reality is that the two sides are not too far apart in terms of basic class and ability. The English bowlers and batsmen are far more experienced in the prevailing conditions. Yet, the balance of both sides is so similar, that the conditions alone do not make the decisive difference. Consistent performance, especially by the bowlers on either side makes an enormous difference, especially because the conditions suit the bowlers and both sides possess bowlers who can potentially destroy the opposition. If you think about the Lord's Test, once India stopped bowling rubbish in their first innings, the only batsman on either side to get on top of the bowling was Kevin Pietersen.

This is a series between two well matched sides, and the result will hinge based on how many poor spells the bowlers on each side bowl. Sadly, too many extraneous consideration borne out of preconceived notions about the individual players get in the way of a lot of the assessment. Thus the key question is why the "big four" didn't deliver like their sobriquet suggests they ought to have? Why is the Master Blaster not playing like the master blaster anymore?

The press wants to build notions about individual cricketers - they want to create stars and labels. And so, if James Anderson delivers a pitch map which would make Glenn McGrath proud, it comes as a startling surprise that he has in fact ended up being as effective as McGrath might have been. If Tendulkar plays correctly for a orthodox SLA which accidentally doesn't turn, the detail is ignored (this is reminiscent of every other wicket taken by Harbhajan Singh being attributed to his "doosra" - a largely fictitious variation which he rarely bowled - most of his wickets came from either his off break or his straighter one) and "twice in broad daylight" as a counterpoint to "once in a blue moon" becomes an irresistible line.

Too much of the analysis has centered around the personalities and their current flavors. Cricket seems to be secondary. That is probably why there is so little agreement about what happened at Lord's.

Lord's Test Review - Saved by Mahendra Dhoni and the Rain!!

A characteristically whole hearted unbeaten 76 by Mahendra Singh Dhoni enabled India to escape with a draw at Lord's in 2007, making this only the 5th draw in 18 Test match at the home of the MCC in the last decade. India have never lost a series in England when they haven't lost at Lord's (they have split a series in 2002 after losing at Lord's). The last four Test matches at Lord's have now been draws, all though it could be argued that this game would have definitely yielded a result had it gone the full distance.

But consider this - the English first innings lasted 91.2 overs, the 2nd and 3rd innings lasted 77.2 and 78.3 overs respectively. The 4th innings lasted 96 overs. It was the longest innings in the match, and England failed to bowl India out. The rub of the green began to go India's way on day 5, with Dhoni edging Panesar between slip and the wicketkeeper, and VVS edging the first ball after lunch through a vacant third slip (no reason to not have a third slip in the first over after lunch given the match situation). After losing the overnight pair within the first 30 minutes of play, it was a fine achievement to have survive as long as they did. After VVS Laxman fell, the tail, along with Dhoni survived for 20 overs, against the new ball at that.

The Lord's Test must rank as the finest hour for many of the young players in this team - it was by far the best opposition many of them have played against, in the most trying conditions. In South Africa, they were unable to survive when they fell behind in the 2nd and 3rd Tests. Here at Lord's they survived just long enough. There was a healthy dose of the "natural game" on show with Dhoni dancing out to Vaughan and then only just surviving a miscued cover drive.

From England's point of view, their young unheralded bowling line up bowled as well as a bowling line up could have in these conditions. They never had a bad spell, from either end. The result was that even though every single Indian batsman got a start and built an innings of some note in either innings, none of them could ever get on top of the bowling. Tendulkar, Ganguly (twice) and Laxman were all dismissed between 30-50, while Jaffer, Karthik and Dhoni made 50's. Batting did not get easier once an Indian batsman was set because the bowling was relentlessly good and the conditions were equally unrelenting in their reward for consistent line and length. Vaughan's fields were usually well thought out and the bowlers bowled to those fields almost without exception.

Day 4 was England day. Pietersen made a fine century and Prior keeping him company in what turned out to be a crucial stand (if they had added 19 instead of 119, India might have been 10-20 runs from victory at 282/9, who knows where that might have lead). Rahul Dravid then got a stiff decision to one which stayed low from a shortish length, and to which he was good enough to get his pads outside the line to. Sachin Tendulkar fell to a Monty Panesar stock delivery which not only didn't turn, but also didn't move naturally down the slope! It was not the arm ball as has been suggested (the seam was not pointed towards fine leg, neither was it perpendicular to the direction of flight). Assuming that specialist batsmen make the effort to read a spin bowler from the hand or atleast in flight, Tendulkar played for the expected break towards the slips. The ball was also flighted and slower than an arm ball would be. Monty's wicket then was unintended. It was however a testament to his relentless accuracy. The great Bishen Bedi says it is a spinners greatest strength - to be able to bowl the stock ball at will on the perfect line and length. Wasim Jaffer fell to a soft dismissal when his uppish flick to midwicket flew gently into Kevin Pietersen's waiting hands. The bat turned in Jaffer's hands, something which ought not to happen, but which might allude to Sidebottom's ability to bowl the "heavy" ball. Another left armer was a master of this kind of delivery - Wasim Akram. Watch these three dismissals here.

This was also India's 5th best 4th innings score ever to save or win a Test match. They recently made 4/298 in the 4th innings at Basseterre, St. Lucia. We have to go back to the beginning of Sachin Tendulkar's career to find a 4th innings score higher than 282 posted by an Indian side. Tendulkar watched on Test debut as Sanjay Manjrekar made a match saving century against Wasim, Waqar, Imran and Qadir at Karachi in 1989. India made 3/303 in 96 overs on that occasion. A few months later Tendulkar was to take over the lead role, producing his first Test century in a match saving stand with the gutsy Manoj Prabhakar which took India to 6/343 in 90 overs at Old Trafford.

India now have to live up to the record of never having lost a series in England when they haven't lost at Lord's. England will look forward to the return of Mathew Hoggard at Nottingham - the lowest scoring ground of the three featured in this series. India have done well at Nottingham, even though they have never won a Test here. Tendulkar has made 177 and 92 here, Dravid has made 84 and 115 here, while Ganguly has made 136, 68 and 99 in his two tests here. Michael Vaughan will also have fond memories of Nottingham. He made 197 v India here in 2002.

Unless there are injuries, it is almost certain that India will play the same eleven at Nottingham as they did at Lord's. England will do the same unless Mathew Hoggard is fit. That will create a ticklish dilemma for the English selectors. Tremlett is most likely to miss out, but he does offer the English attack some variety.

I have a sneaking feeling that by the end of this series, everyone will have been left wishing that it ought to have been India v England playing 4 Tests and not West Indies v England.

Whats it like to be in the Indian Cricket team?

I just found this video on Youtube.

Take this video, extrapolate it for every journey in a public plane, and then take into account idiots like the guy in this video who seemed to have a hidden camera. Its a wonder they any of them don't lose it. If any of them were honest about it, their reactions would see them cast irrevocably as arrogant, ill-mannered big-headed non-performers (this tag has to be included, it lends weight to the rest of the adjectives) louts.

Is it any wonder that they prefer playing overseas, in places without plane journeys?

More of the same

The comments are heartening though. Thankfully most people seem to find these videos offensive.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lord's Test Day 4 Review

India find themselves fighting for dear life at the end of day 4 of the Lord's Test. For a short time, they had England under pressure, keeping in mind the first innings batting collapse of the English middle and later orders. But Prior and Pietersen put that to rest with a brisk stand of 119 in 25 overs which took England to safety and beyond. RP Singh took five wickets in the English second innings to become the only Indian (so far) to find his name on the honors board in this years Test match.

In response, India lost their two best batsmen - Tendulkar and Dravid in addition to the first innings half centurion Wasim Jaffer. Dinesh Karthik and Sourav Ganguly have added 53 for the 4th wicket, and i dare say they need to make that 153 tomorrow to give India any chance of survival. Thankfully, a wicket was not lost at the end of the day bringing with it the batting line up disrupting phenomenon of a night-watchman. Ganguly has played the senior partner to the hilt in this stand, helping KKD out when he was getting some lip from the English fielders. It is this hands on approach which has earned for Ganguly the loyalty of his fans. Rahul Dravid might have preferred a quiet word between overs or may be let things play out. Both approaches have their merits. One is not better than the other - one surely does look better than the other.

India have been outplayed for the whole Test match apart from that one session at the beginning of the second day - the day when this Test match was set irrevocably on its current path. They need to win the 5th day decisively to prevent defeat. The forecast for tomorrow shoes an 80% chance of rain, but the drainage at Lord's has basically removed rain delays from the equation (other than when it is actually raining). It should be an intriguing 5th day though - this wicket by all accounts is playing better than a usual 5th day pitch, and with 243 needed, it is quite likely that if India are batting at the end of day 5, they will probably find themselves winners.

England are odds on favorites to win from here. The rain may help India escape with a draw, and some brilliant batting (not in evidence so far from India on this tour, except Tendulkar's 171 and to some extent VVS's 95 and Dhoni's 76 in the tour games) will help India win it. Lets hope the rain stays away and we get a fine day of Test cricket.

Heres an interesting trivia question - Before Ian Bell in this Test match, had any batsman been dismissed playing on to his stumps twice in the same Test match?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lord's Test Day 3 Review.....

The rain came at the perfect time for India, when they were down and out and England were looking forward to some brisk batting in the post lunch sunshine. As it happened close to two hours of pay was lost and with both openers lost, India need a good morning session tomorrow to make sure that they stay competitive in the fourth innings.

Length and control seemed to be the distinguishing features between the English bowlers and the Indian bowlers (maturity as well if you take into account Sreesanth's stupid bit of petulance). The conditions offer the bowler genuine opportunity to beat the batsman. The match is invariably decided based on how often a bowler is able to put the ball in the right space. So far England have outdone India.

There will be much comment about whether of not VVS Laxman should have chanced his arm a bit more once Dhoni was dismissed. There will be other questions about whether the Indians could have done something to disrupt the almost monastic efforts of the English bowlers, such as possibly by charging them, but these things are easier said than done. Ganguly was the big wicket of the day. The limitations of the Indian middle order after Tendulkar in areas such as running between the wickets meant that India scored 10 runs fewer than they would have otherwise. Dhoni never got in, and it would be unfair to question his place in the side at this point.

All in all it was England's day. Unless India make it an Indian morning tomorrow, it may well become England's Test match.

The difference lies with the bowling...... Lord's Test, Lunch Day 3

At lunch on the third day England were 8/0, with a lead of 105. Those 8 runs came due to one leg side half volley and one brilliant stroke. Contrast that with England - where Anderson and Sidebottom gave an exhibition of swing bowling and made full use of conditions which enabled the ball to swing for the full 80 overs (by contrast, the cricket ball does not swing after the first 10-15 overs in India or in Australia even). Tremlett's was a quality supporting role.

There can be very few complaints about the Indian batting, almost all the wickets fell to good balls, and there were a lot of other very good balls which didn't get wickets. The difference in this game is that India bowled rubbish on the first day and let England reach 200/1. Zaheer Khan's opening over in the second innings was shocking, especially when you consider that he was bowling at Andrew Strauss who is arguably the weaker of the two opening batsmen.

All in all England have out-bowled India in this game so far, and it doesn't look like India have the quality or the consistency in their bowling ranks to match them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

England v India, Lord's Test - Day 2 Review

After a morning of gloomy forecasts and threatening rain, the Lord's Test exploded to life when play began almost 3 hours late. The Indians seemed to have taken the Brisbane analogy to heart and the bowlers found their line and length. After producing 1/165 between them on the first day, the Indian pacemen used the second new ball to devastating effect wrapping up the England innings for 298. England lost their last 9 wickets for 82, their last8 for 46. The English batsmen were found wanting against the swing on offer.

In reply India began reasonably well and it can't be said that any of the batsmen fell to unforced errors. There was something on offer for the bowlers and the unexpected selection of Chris Tremlett ahead of Stuart Broad proved to be a good move - for Tremlett bowled a superb spell late in the day where he accounted for the phlegmatic Wasim Jaffer. The tall upright Mumbai opener's record at Lord's (his second half century in as many Tests there) is beginning to approach that of the man who in many eyes he resembles uncannily - Dilip Vengsarkar. My friend made the observation recently that Jaffer has a tendency to make scores with an odd number of digits, and while this was not strictly true today, the observation seemed accurate atleast in spirit - if Jaffer gets in, he is unlikely to throw his hand away, and he has enough strokemaking ability to keep his innings going, while possessing the temperament and technique to survive against quality bowling. He has in short, a touch of class.

Tendulkar played well but fell in the 30's yet again. May be it was a case of first-test blues. Sourav Ganguly played watchfully and England lacked the firepower other than the debutant Tremlett to test him with short pitched bowling. Towards the end of the day RP Singh was sent in as nightwatchman and his play led Michael Holding to suggest that RP possibly viewed this as a promotion up the batting order. But he survived and an eventful day which saw 10 wickets fall for 175 runs meant that the phenomenal Lord's drainage system (it can drain 2 inches of rain per hour!) had ensured that this Test match is almost certain to yield a result. India will have to compete on the first innings and bowl well in the second if they are to overcome their poor performance on day 1.

Today's play was all the more memorable because i came across some BBC Radio commentary online. This has the finest line up covering the Test match and the ball by ball commentary is masterfully delivered by Henry Blofeld (sadly India knows Mr. Blofeld purely as the earrings obsessed English commentator). Freed from the limitations of commenting on a video feed, Henry Blofeld was at his best, accompanied by experts like Geoffrey Boycott. In one 10 minute spell Blofeld demolished the morning rain - referring to it as a "typhoon", "the monsoon" and then finally "hideous weather". He put wicketkeeper Prior's effort to drop Wasim Jaffer before he had scored in perspective by observing that one of his subsequent collections seemed to be a "wooden effort". Blofeld on the Sidebottom run up - "He takes a couple of steps, begins his trot.... breaks into a canter... bursts into gallop....... " - all this delivered in a peculiarly easy breathless burst. Blofeld was masterful in that he never seemed to repeat himself and yet managed to paint a vivid picture of proceedings - one which the comparatively pedestrian gentlemen on television could not even begin to match.

Michael Vaughan showed himself to be a fine captain in large part because his bowlers bowled to the fields set for them and when Vaughan made a fielding change they seemed to know exactly what was going on.

All in all it was fine days cricket with the game in the balance. India need to get as close to the English score if not past it. Chasing anything substantial in the fourth innings may prove to be difficult.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jogging Zaheer Khan's memory....

I apologize for the title of this thread.... but he has been taken to the cleaners by the commentators at the end of day 1. He didn't bowl well and much of the commentary has singled him out. Cricinfo writes about pedestrian bowling, Geoffrey Boycott has called it rubbish, as have other commentators.

It would be useful to take the reader back to Brisbane 2003. The first day was similarly woeful and the papers declared "Indian Summer Over!", clearly fortified with a substantial dose of Aussie bluster. Australia had reached 2/262 in 62 overs on a shortened first day in conditions which were bowler friendly. The next day, the chastised bowling attack returned to demolish the Australians for 323 (8/61 on the day). Day 1 at Lord's was not quite so bad - the English line up is not quite the Australian batting of 2003-04 and the bowlers recovered nicely in the latter stages of the day. Anil Kumble has been solid as a rock and England seem to treat him with great reverence.

If inspiration is necessary, then Brisbane 2003 stands out. It triggered a brilliant few weeks for India on the Australian tour.

England v India, Lord's Day 1 Review

England won the toss and elected to bat first. The game starts at 3 am where i live and i didn't watch all of it. But i did watch for a while, and wickets fell while i was watching :). Kumble was his usual self - bowled well. One comment by Michael Holding - "The Indian fast bowlers were ordinary with the new ball", later seconded by Michael Atherton - "They have to accept they were ordinary early on today, but have come back well later in the day trying every variation" probably summed up the story of the day (its invariably been the story of most days when India play Test cricket abroad).

At 268/4, India are a couple of quick wickets away from a fighting comeback, while England are 1 good stand away from making this a game they cannot lose. Given the efforts of the new ball bowlers today, and given the quality offered by Kumble (and indeed the good use of the old ball by RP Singh), Dravid faces a genuine dilemma early tomorrow with the new ball being available. With Rain forecast tomorrow, it becomes an even more difficult choice. Contrast the options Dravid faces with those faced by say Steve Waugh...... "Do i let Warne continue with the old ball or do i take the new one and throw it to McGrath and Gillespie?". The respective records of Australia and India are explained in that one question.

Given rain and the possibility of intermittent play, it might be a better idea to stay with the older ball, because it will ensure that the bowling is consistently of a high quality from atleast one end. The new ball will probably be delayed until at least the night-watchman is dismissed. If the rain comes intermittently tomorrow and it turns out to be a miserable stop-start type of day, then it might just prove to be a pivotal one, because should India bowl England out quickly tomorrow, they will have to bat in those conditions.

The late wickets today have made it interesting....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

India v England, Lord's Test Preview

Nobody would have anticipated the possibility that on the eve of the first Test at Lord's, the most experienced seam bowler on either side would be Zaheer Khan and that Monty Panesar would be England's most experienced bowler. With Mathew Hoggard going kaput, that is exactly what has happened. With the weather forecast predicting rain on the first afternoon, we might yet have an anticlimactic Test match.

India have a lot of demons to conquer. They have lost their first Test on their last 3 England tours. At Lord's in 1990, Mohammad Azharuddin found himself out in the middle for the toss after having given the right answer to Bishen Bedi's memorable "Kyun miyan.... captain banoge?". He won the toss, elected to field..... and field he did..... Graham Gooch made 333 and England declared after making 600+. Azhar answered as only he could, making a brilliant 179. Kapil Dev then hit Eddie Hemmings for four sixes to avoid the follow on and promptly got out next ball. Gooch then made another brisk century (he might have made it a triple again had there been time) and India succumbed in the fourth innings. In 1996 on a treacherous Birmingham pitch India limped to 214 in their first innings and then had England at 8/215, when Nasser Hussein was given not out on the back foot off Kumble and went on the make the century that cemented his career and gave England a priceless 100 run lead. A Tendulkar special (122 out of 219, the next best score was 18 by Sanjay Manjrekar batting at number 7) proved inadequate and England knocked off the 121 required runs with 8 wickets standing. In 2002 at Lord's, it was Hussein who held England together, making 155 as England raced to 487. In reply India collapse from 2/130 to 221 all out. England batted again 250 in front and rattled off another 300 with Michael Vaughan providing a glimpse of things to come during his strokefilled century. The wicket strangely was at its best in the 4th innings, so good in fact that Ajit Agarkar rattled off a Test century and India fell 166 runs short chasing an improbably 563 for victory. This was also the Test match where Sachin Tendulkar was heckled by one of the members at Lord's after his low score in the first innings.

India must start well. In recent overseas tours the first match bogey has not been quite so potent. They secured a first innings lead at Brisbane in 2003-04, hammered 675 and won by an innings at Multan in their next away series, won in Zimbabwe, responded to Pakistan 600+ score with a 400 run opening stand at Lahore in 2006, and won the Johannesburg Test. They almost won the first Test in the West Indies in early 2006 after conceding a first innings lead. This recent record must give India plenty of hope. The absence of England's crack pacemen will help as well.

The English batting bears a settled look, and even without Hoggard, Harmison and Flintoff, they will still go in with their find of the season - Sidebottom and their most talented fast bowler since Harmison - Stuart Broad. Monty Panesar gives their attack some much needed variety, and with Vaughan back at helm, England always look twice the team. The new wicketkeeper Prior seems to have settled the wicketkeeping question for the foreseeable future.

India will have to make a choice when it comes to their batting balance. Playing KKD as opener-wicketkeeper will be difficult on the youngster, but will allow India to bolster the batting with Yuvraj Singh at 7. Alternatively, Dhoni will retain his place as wicketkeeper. The bowling selects itself.

On paper at least, there appear to be two evenly matched sides. Lord's awaits.......

Monday, July 16, 2007

India in England 2007 - Series Preview

English tours have been landmark events in India's cricket history. The very first tour in the 1932 saw India stun an illustrious English line up - Percy Holmes, Herbert Sutcliffe, Frank Woolley, Wally Hammond, Douglas Jardine, Eddie Paynter and Leslie Ames on the opening day - Mohammad Nissar earned a place on the Lord's honours board, and England were bowled out for 259. That English line up was to regain the Ashes later that year under Jardine's uncompromising leadership and leg-theory. As with much else about India's cricket in England, this first tour was a story of individual brilliance amidst collective mediocrity. Since that solitary Test match in 1932, India have toured England in 1946, 1952, 1959, 1967, 1971, 1974, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1996 and 2002. They have won twice (1971, 1986), and drawn once (2002). The stand out feature of each of these tours has been solid collective effort. 2002 was Dravid's tour. But consider this - Tendulkar made a 92,193,54, Ganguly made 99,128,51, Sehwag had scores of 84 and 96, VVS Laxman made runs almost every time he had a hit without ever making a big hundred - even Ajit Agarkar made a century. Wasim Jaffer who lost his opening slot during this tour, had a 50 to his name as well. In 1986, an attack which consisted of bowlers good enough to be "3rd seamers in a county attack at best" kept up the pressure collectively, while Dilip Vengsarkar and stubborn late order batting provided enough runs. There was Maninder Singh as well. In 1971 it was even more so. The great spinners were on top of their game, while the runs came from the large majority of batsmen. There was Chandra to deliver the killer blow at the Oval.

In all other tours, there have been some magnificient stand out performances - Mushtaq and Merchant with their double century opening stand in Old Trafford in 1936, Vijay Manjrekar and Vijay Hazare with their double century stand in the first innings at Leeds in 1952 against Fred Trueman at his fastest (sadly undone by that famous 0/4 start in the second innings - Trueman 4/27) or be it the brilliant fight back after following on at Headingley in 1967, inspired by the Nawab of Pataudi's 148 (made with one eye), or Gavaskars century at Manchester in 1974 on a wicket which could not be distinguished from the outfield by the naked eye, or his mammoth 221 in the fourth innings (i think it is still the highest innings in the 4th innings of a Test) at the Oval in 1979 - or Kapil Dev's all round exploits in 1982, Tendulkar's match saving century at age 17 in 1990, Azharuddins majestic 179 at Lord's in that same series, or the brilliant debuts of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid............. all come to naught because India couldn't bowl England out cheaply enough. A number of English batsmen have filled their boots against India - in recent times most notably Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussein (Indian batsmen have returned the favor, with the result that draws have remained the most favored outcome).

In this series, there is an even greater likelihood of high scoring draws - what with both sides going in with depleted bowling lineups. The series is likely to be decided on the basis of a single poor innings - much as the series in 1990 and 1996 were decided. England have been more successful in England in recent times - they have dominated all opposition except Australia and Sri Lanka. India do not have a Mutthiah Muralitharan in their ranks, and so their batsmen will have to put up the runs in atleast two, if not all three Test matches and hope that the bowlers can produce an inspired spell or two to force a win atleast once. On balance though, England are more likely to achieve this compared to India.

Both teams have problems at the top of the order, all though Andrew Strauss does not represent as much of a problem to England as Wasim Jaffer does to India. India have other selection issues in the batting department, which essentially boil down to a choice between two options - Karthik to open and keep wickets, and Yuvraj to bat at number 7, with Dhoni missing out; and Dhoni to keep wickets and bat a number 7, Karthik to play as a specialist opener and Yuvraj to miss out. G Rajaraman makes a persuasive case for the latter option, but reports suggest that the dilemma may be resolved based on Dhoni's form with the gloves.

Recent seasons have suggested that the era of stray individual brilliance which has little or no bearing on the result of the contest due to the ordinary efforts supporting it are a thing of the past as far as India's overseas trysts are concerned. Unlike in say the year 2000, India are now expected to win a Test match on each tour. England will represent their stiffest Test yet - more difficult than South Africa or Pakistan. England have had a phenomenal home record in this decade - they are 31-11-11 (W-L-D) in 53 home Test matches played over 8 seasons (2000-07), and not counting the Ashes defeat of 2001 (the only series where they were outclassed), they are 30-7-11 (W-L-D). To put this in perspective, India have played 62 home Test match in the last 17 years and have a 30-12-17 (W-L-D) record. We consider these years (Anil Kumble, strong spin attack after the drought of the 1980s) to be years of dominance at home.

English tours have been especially important in the life of Rahul Dravid - he made a memorable debut (made 95 at Lord's and walked!) and followed it up with an 84 in his two tests on his first tour in 1996, and emerged as a truly great batsman with his mastery in 2002. It remains to be seen whether this tour, coming as it does in the aftermath of his worst days as an Indian captain turns out to be just as memorable. He has started well (India's first ever ODI series win against SA outside India). I just have a feeling that it might. Where the wickets will come from - that has always been and remains in this tour as well the key question. In 2002 it was the sheer pressure of runs and Anil Kumble which brought 20 wickets. A similar collective effort will be needed in 2007. Our best chance (and traditionally the best way to win Test matches) would be to force England into a substantial fourth innings on the fifth day. It will require India to compete on the first innings and not commit batting yahoos like Cape Town.

I hope India play well at Lord's. That will be half the battle....

Players to watch for : Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Stuart Broad, Monty Panesar...... and .. Sachin Tendulkar. There is also the small matter of an Essex opener, who is also a left hander (both very much India's bogies - Essex batsmen in general - Hussein, Gooch, and left handers) and made a century on Test debut in India in 2006.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Adil Rashid, Monty and the Indians......

This was Indias first batting day against some serious bowling opposition. The Australian view of Stuart Broad was that they were lucky he wasn't picked in the Ashes line up. And Adil Rashid the young English leg-spinner is thought of so highly, that he makes the England A side after a mere 14 first class matches. They struggled against the new ball, Sachin Tendulkar found himself in a situation which most observers might consider difficult, but he himself relishes, and one couldn't help but get a feeling of deja vu at the end of the days play.

The top order collapsed to the new ball, and yet it is impossible to know anything about the form of these players from this one innings. Wasim Jaffer fell before he was set (7 balls), Dinesh Karthik and VVS Laxman, both of whom made runs at Hove faced 12 and 3 deliveries respectively. Tendulkar entered into a situation which he has pretty much mastered over the years - early wickets, the opposition bowling on song - but crucially - attacking fielding and opposition bowlers trying to dismiss him. In these circumstances, his technique and his naturally attacking instincts allow him to counterattack successfully more of than not, simply by playing normally. It is when the game is set and the opposition looks to bore him out, that he hasn't been at his best. He survived two chances and stroked his way to 171(236). If you ignore the runs he made of Adil Rashid - 54(41), the rest of his runs were at his normal pace - 117 (195). In a Test match, he is unlikely to find a bowler like Rashid whom he can target. The added pressure of a Test match may not allow him to play with as much freedom either. I cannot see him attempting a reverse sweep with India at 235/5 facing 400+.

I do hope however that this innings and his stroke-filled displays against South Africa are an indicator that Tendulkar has decided to be a bit more assertive at the wicket than he has been in the recent past. Some old strokes have been dusted off, and his batting seems to have acquired a different, far more robust rhythm recently. There may yet be occasion for circumspection, and i have no doubt he will demonstrate it at some point, but the default mode seems to have changed.

Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni made important runs, merely adding to the selection dilemma. I think India will persist with Wasim Jaffer at Lord's and i hope that if it comes to a choice between Dhoni and Yuvraj, that Yuvraj is preferred.

There is bound to be speculation that Tendulkar's attitude towards Rashid might be an indication of what he has in store for Monty. In his recent Test matches, Monty has consistently conceded about 3-3.5 runs/over. Surprisingly, he was more miserly against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in England last year, than he was in India or in Australia. With regard to Tendulkar or the other Indian batsmen, it is unlikely to be a case of them targeting Monty because they view him as a threat. It is more likely to be a case of them viewing him as a run scoring opportunity. Beyond that i don't think they will seek out specific individual battles with him. The pressure of a Test match is completely different from that of a tour match, with a 100 over cap on the length of an innings.

Today however was Tendulkar's day. He ought to really stop making modest comments though. His latest effort - "Having been around for reasonable time, I know when to accelerate and when to hold back and be patient. I read the situation and it's a lot to do with the way my body is moving, the way I'm thinking as well. You can't go out everyday and try bang, bang, bang and say it's my natural game."

Press conferences have lost all meaning - they consists of the same questions and the same responses and betray a paucity of thoughtfulness amongst the members of the press. There must have been no questions asked of Tendulkar during this tour, which would have applied specifically to this tour. This Q&A might have occured any time during the last 18 years, and the only difference would be that Tendulkar's command over the English language has become increasingly assured. He did offer some comments about needing time in the middle. But given the almost incessant prattle about "decline" and lack of desire to "dominate" - one might have expected some respectful questions about his thinking. Has he changed the way he approaches an innings? Has he resolved to play more strokes on this tour? Tendulkar has been injury free since the beginning of the South Africa tour now - almost 8 months. Has that continuity influenced his batting style? How does he view this - his last England tour? So many questions - when do you think he might be willing to take them on? When hes made 171 or when hes made 2?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two many wicketkeepers.....

Wicketkeeper batsmen have had a long chequered history in India. From Navle in the inaugural Test, to Karthik in the upcoming Lord's Test, they have frequently faced the new ball. Apart from Sunil Gavaskar's era when wicketkeepers did not open the batting for India (the only wicketkeeper who Gavaskar partnered was Farokh Engineer very early in his career), they have often been asked to do the job. There is another facet to this story. For most of Sunil Gavaskar's career, India have also had all-rounders in their side. Be it Eknath Solkar and Rusi Surti in the early 1970's, or Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri since the late 70's, there has never been a shortage of the all round cricketer who can contribute with both bat and ball. Since Gavaskar's retirement in 1987, India have not found a single all-rounder of note. Manoj Prabhakar and Kapil Dev were around till 1996 and 1994 respectively, but since then the cupboard has been bare.

By asking wicketkeepers to open, India have in effect tried to create an all-rounder. All-rounders provide crucial balance to a side and successful sides have always had all rounders - players who can perform 2 specialist tasks with sufficient competence. Even the great Australian side have Adam Gilchrist, who apart from being a fine batsman is also the specialist wicketkeeper.

Dinesh Karthik is a specialist wicketkeeper with some batting talent. He has been courageous enough to take up the role of opener and so far and has done quite well in his short stint. As Rahul Dravid said of him - "He has a good basic technique and his courage cannot be faulted". He has played as a specialist batsman, and has not been keeping wickets recently. Dhoni has been the first choice wicketkeeper. However, the question is - can India afford the luxury of playing both Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni in the eleven, especially when they have Yuvraj Singh waiting on the sidelines for a middle order slot? As i have written before, this is the crux of the selection dilemma for the Indian management during this England tour, and in the near future - as long as Dinesh Karthik opens the batting. All the options are difficult.

Given India's depleted bowling line up (Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh), the batting has to be as strong as it can possibly be. India do not possess 5 good bowlers who can make possible up a 5 bowler line up in the current squad in England. If India play only 4 bowlers, then it is very likely that India will bat against very stiff English totals. India have to play Yuvraj at 7 to add some depth to the batting. Dinesh Karthik has to keep wickets and perform the all-rounders role. He is the only one in the current squad who can do so. MS Dhoni, while he is a tremendously powerful stroke player, is likely to find his defensive technique tested (and frequently bested), and hence, can not perform the conventional all-rounders role.

The strongest Indian line up from the current squad would in my view be as follows (in batting order):

Jaffer, Karthik, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Kumble, Zaheer, Sreesanth, RP

Saqlain Mushtaq to play for England?

The brilliant Pakistan off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq is eligible now to play Test Cricket for England. If he does choose to play, and if England do pick him (i can't see why they shouldn't), then England might end up with the strongest spin attack in the world. Panesar, Saqlain, and if Adil Rashid turns out to be all that he is built up to be. The Cricinfo story which reports this makes the point that Saqlain could still retain the option of playing for Pakistan. It is difficult to see how that is possible, since Saqlain is a British citizen now. Would Pakistan let a non-citizen play Test cricket for them? And would England react well to Saqlain - a British citizen, playing for Pakistan in a Test match against England in the near future?

I do hope he stays fit and that he is able to play international cricket soon. He brought a rare brilliance to the cricket field in his hey day, and given that he is only 30 - could play for 7-8 years more. As for England - a former Pakistan off-spinner and a Sikh (Panesar) and a Muslim (Rashid) of British origin might soon lead the English spin attack in the Indian sub-continent. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"News" Report about India after the World Cup...

I came across this report (it is in Hindi) by IBN7, the Indian news channel in the aftermath of India's ouster in the world cup. The irony here is clearly lost on IBN7 and the BCCI boss - the commentary is about standards - that cricketers did not show the requisite discipline and sincerity - they went out at night instead of staying "focussing" on the cricket ahead of them.

Yet, Narvekar is quick to offer advice to Sachin Tendulkar (15000 ODI runs, 10,000 Test runs, 78 international hundreds, and more genuine effort and sincerity in his little finger than the whole of the BCCI put together) about his endorsements being the result of performance on the field. As that link shows, Narvekar was arrested (! no less!!) in a ticket selling scam at Goa.

Thanks to Youtube, it is possible to call both Narvekar and the "news" channel to account. Their report can be seen and reviewed dispassionately. We have seen a glimpse of Mr. Narvekars record on integrity, sincerity and all those other qualities which our cricketers supposedly left behind during their caribbean sojourn. Now lets have a look at the news channel.... watch the video

Purely from the point of view of correctness and accuracy (not even going into value judgements about sincerity) - that video reveals that IBN7 (im not sure of their affiliation, but there is a channel called CNN IBN which is run by Rajdeep Sardesai, son of the late Dilip Sardesai) has absolutely no regard for being accurate and brazenly uses hazy video footage from night clubs which reveals in Indian cricketers. Indeed, it is probably not even from the caribbean. Expecting a counter view point (to Narvekars) is expecting too much, but the language is that of a sleazy political advertisement and not of a news report.

The gist of the report is that a few cricketers (who conveniently remain unnamed) went out the night before the Sri Lanka match (and possibly also the Bangladesh match). Now, this is a matter of team policy. What was the curfew hour imposed by the management on the players? Who was enforcing the curfew? Was the curfew broken? This is vital information - because IBN7 isn't the first agency to discover that players go out and have lives of their own (over and above the ones people like IBN7 prey on). One would have expected that this would be a important part of such a story.

In the end, the story offers mere hearsay. It doesn't even say when Mr. Narvekar went to the caribbean, and in what capacity. As an example of journalism, it is sloppy, and as a source, Mr. Narvekar is dubious. I feel sorry for cricket fans in India who had to put up with this nonsense in the period after the World Cup. As for the players - well, if they really wanted to go to the effort of defending themselves, they could find a good lawyer and sue each of these channels until those channels ceased to exist. They would win too....

But these battles are matters of public opinion and the public mood. IBN7 which ought to have been informing public opinion and thereby helping describe the public mood, instead chose to inflame public opinion and let themselves down in the process.

Thanks to youtube, their story will stay on record here at cricketing view....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Indians v Sussex Tour Match - Review and Video (from Youtube :) )....

I found these videos of the tour match on youtube. Cricket looks different when all you can see is the pitch. The parts where the bowling is from the far end remind me of a very famous stroke - Abid Ali's winning square cut off Ray Illingworth at the Oval in 1971 (the story goes at the captain Ajit Wadekar was so confident of India chasing down 174 to win, that after he was run out early on the final morning, he had a nap in the dressing room!), which we have all seen only from behind the wicketkeeper, because the bowling was from the far end.

The game itself ended with the Indians one wicket short of a win after 3 sporting declarations. That is how county cricket is played. In Championship games, negotiating declarations with the opposing captain has long been the norm (Nasser Hussein writes about it in some detail in his autobiography). In the end it was fitting that Essex survived, if only by the thinnest of margins (possibly even as thin as a plumb lbw being denied to Anil Kumble with Sussex 9 down!). The decisions of the team management in this team seemed to suggest that the plan for the first test has already been etched. The practice games seem to be a mere question of bringing the players back into match fitness following all the flu related trouble in Ireland. It looks like Dinesh Karthik will definitely keep wickets at Lord's. The only dilemma would then be choosing between Dhoni and Yuvraj for the sixth batsmans slot. There i would pick the specialist batsman ahead of the wicketkeeper, however destructive Dhoni might be capable of being (Yuvraj as ODI results suggest is capable of being quite destructive as well). A left hander might be useful against Panesar and requiring Harmison to change his line might test his mettle.

The English Lions will pose a stronger fast bowling threat that Sussex did, and India may just decide to go in for a full dress rehearsal and play their prospective Test XI in this game. All in all, an interesting beginning to the tour. The lucky few who watched Laxman v Saqlain at the ground must have enjoyed it for sure....

Monday, July 09, 2007

Steffi Graf - Classic

Watch this video....

A brilliant disarming response....

Selection Issues lie in the batting department.....

It would be a brave move for India to play 5 specialist batsmen against England at Lord's. The question, given the lack of depth in the bowling (Powar or RP are not likely to run through England even on a 5th day Lord's pitch), is where the 5 specialist bowlers will come from? Assuming that Zaheer, Sreesanth and Kumble are fully fit, that still leaves two slots with RP Singh, Ranadeb Bose and Ramesh Powar vying for them. Ideally, one spinner and one pace bowler would be the way to go. However, none of the bowling options are even remotely reliable lower order batsmen. Each of them is very much the classical tailender. Given this reality, it will be difficult for India to play 5 bowlers.

Typically, the strategy for a visiting team like India (and India have followed this strategy before overseas) would be to pick one of the test matches as one to target for a result, and play to not lose in the others, where the conditions favor the pacemen. That might be difficult as well - because Lord's, Nottingham and the Oval are not known to be decisively spin or pace friendly. Besides, in this side, Zaheer and Sreesanth are as likely to force a result for India as Kumble is.

All things considered, it would seem that Dinesh Karthik will have to perform the dual role of Wicket Keeper and Opening batsman, there by giving India the all rounder they so badly need. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly will have to bowl quite a bit, and India will have to go in with Zaheer, Sreesanth, Kumble and one other bowler - one might want a fast bowler simply because the first change option should be a specialist fast bowler (if only Irfan Pathan was available!). For now, it looks as though RP Singh will get the nod. Ideally, someone with the ability to kill the runs would be the perfect first change bowler. Srinath would have been the perfect first change bowler for this team, with his natural defensive length. Even the current bowling coach might have been a great addition to this line up. With the options India have, it is not hard to picture Kevin Pietersen bullying the first change bowler.

The bowling question though is not difficult, for there aren't too many realistic options. RP Singh is likely to get the nod ahead of Bose - unless Bose does something spectacular. In any event, it is not a difficult choice. Only a spectacular heat wave will give Ramesh Powar a realistic chance to get into the reckoning. Indeed, the options for the 4th bowlers slot are clearly demarcating considering the conditions - on a green seaming wicket - Bose would get the nod, on a normal wicket, it would be RP, while Powar would play only on a really dry wicket.

The batting problems are well known and difficult - because they involve making difficult choices. The temptation to ask Dinesh Karthik to open and keep wickets might just be irresistible, even though it is a choice which puts the young batsman under severe pressure. The whole balance of the side would rest on his still formative shoulders - and should he break down in the middle of a game, then the next candidate for opening the batting and keeping wickets is the captain! After making this difficult choice, the management faces the other difficult option of choosing between 3 of the most talented Indian cricketers ever - Laxman, Yuvraj and Dhoni for 2 middle order slots. If Karthik keeps wickets, and 4 bowlers are played, then 6 batsmen - Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Yuvraj can play. Dhoni will miss out. This seems to be the most likely scenario, but it is not as easy as it looks. The batting problem will be solved only if Dinesh Karthik is saddled with the burden of opening the batting as well as keeping wickets. Given how important playing the new ball is going to be, and given that the other opening batsman is not quite Mathew Hayden, it might just be a far better option to play 2 specialist openers - say Gambhir and Jaffer, push Dinesh Karthik down to number 7. In which case, two difficult choices still remain - who is the better wicketkeeper-batsman batting at 7? Dhoni or Karthik? Who gets the nod out of Laxman and Yuvraj? Does Ganguly's place come under scrutiny as well then?

Given the selection for the Sussex match, it appears that Dinesh Karthik will keep wickets and opening the batting. That seems to be plan A. It is hard to say whether that is the best idea. The Indian team management has the unenviable task of choosing between 5 equally good options -

1. Dinesh Karthik opens the batting, keeps wickets, Laxman and Yuvraj bat at 6 and 7.
2. Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir open the batting, Laxman at 6, Karthik at 7
3. Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir open the batting, Laxman at 6, Dhoni at 7
4. Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir open the batting, Yuvraj at 6, Karthik at 7
5. Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir open the batting, Yuvraj at 6, Dhoni at 7.

Ordinarily, it could be argued at options 1 and 2 are the best available ones. But consider the threat of Monty Panesar and consequently the value of additional left handers, and Dhoni - who can destroy a bowling attack like very few others in world cricket can. Laxman it could be argued is a better player of spin bowling than Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj Singh however, offers India a second spin option after Tendulkar which might come in handy especially since India can ill afford the luxury of Ramesh Powar as the second spinner. Gambhir and Jaffer remain an untested combination - both have their problems, but together they have several advantages as well - not least that they are a left-right combination. Given Steve Harmison's fragile radar, this might be a factor worth considering.

All things considered, there is plenty of ammunition there for the usual suspects in the event of India losing. I can see it - the bowling conceded 550 and then its 20/2. The batting limps to two fighting scores in the 300 range, and India lose by 10 wickets. The arguments begin - X (who didn't get picked), ought to have been picked, he didn't get picked because the captain didn't like him, or because the selectors hate him...... etc. etc. etc. - all the while, 23-2-115-1 on a first day pitch goes unnoticed.

Well..... as i've shown, any of the 5 choices listed are good realistic choices. There is always an element of the "horses for courses" concept in selection matters - it is what makes the task so difficult. If any one of these choices is made, it will be difficult for anyone to point fingers to the selection in the event of a defeat. If India win - it won't matter. :)

My choice - asking Dinesh Karthik to open the batting, and playing both Yuvraj Singh and VVS Laxman. Playing RP Singh as the third seamer unless Ranadeb Bose runs through the English Lions before the first test. Furthermore, i would suggest, that barring injuries, the same eleven should be played for the first two Test matches, and unless someone fails spectacularly, for the whole series.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Irfan Pathan and a subtle shift in the debate.....

The Indian Express has a full page feature on Irfan Pathan's recovery from his form slump. The recovery, the Express reports is very much a work in progress. It is a measure of stature of both Cricket and Irfan Pathan, that the Indian Express chose to publish a full page feature on him - this is the first time since Sachin Tendulkar's little toe made it to the feature section of the national dailies, that a player has been singled out for such attention. This in itself is quite a peculiar phenomenon, because cricket journalists have been shy of writing about technique (Rajan Bala did write about Akash Chopra locked wrist, but that was a one off) of players and indeed even about the laws of the game. Star value is very much evident is the Indian Express's choice.

Irfan Pathan for his part, is worth every word, every minute and every rupee that is spent on him. He is the nearest thing India have had to a genuine all rounder since Kapil Dev retired in the 1993-94 season. At 22, Irfan has already taken almost 100 Test wickets, made over 800 Test runs (scores a Test 50 once in 5 innings), scored a 1000 ODI runs and taken a 100 ODI wickets. In addition, he's been through a major slump, and the only way he can go is up.

Like Sehwag and Yuvraj and Harbhajan, he is not in the same boat as a completely untested young player, or a slightly older player making a comeback after an unexceptional first stint (Gambhir, Mongia, Murali Kartik and other such players). He is a proven match winner and in form, provides India with balance which may just be the key to India going on to the next level. An Indian Test team playing 6 batsmen, Dhoni, Irfan, two out of Munaf/Sreesanth/Zaheer and Kumble all at full fitness in terms of physical as well as match form, are a formidable outfit. Without Irfan, it's always a gamble to play 5 bowlers, and without him, especially on good wickets, the bowling with 4 bowlers seems to lack depth. While Kumble is still around, this issue of depth may not be felt as badly, because Kumble has an almost demonic ability to wheel away and keep control on proceeding from one end, but once he is gone, playing 4 specialist bowlers in Test matches will no longer be a real option. That is why Irfan Pathan (in form) remains the most crucial member currently missing from India's Test team.

The Indian Express article also points to some interesting issues with regard to the Chappell era. For years, the common complaint about the Indian side was that they lacked "killer instinct", which held them back. Wright and Ganguly had seemingly restored that to some extent. They also seemed to have addressed the other perennial bogey - lack of "professionalism". Chappell came along, and placed these two items at the forefront of his agenda. He would try to build a team of the future, professionally managed, with a focus on "processes". For a while this worked - and it probably had plenty of merit as well. However, with Chappell's innate capacity for souring relationships (i think this can be safely said now), the process mantra seems to have become a bit of a cruel joke at some point, when the batting and bowling departments failed to deliver enough quality on the field to ensure that the team could compete. With the press hungry for personalities and other such juicy entities, Chappell played right into their hands. In the process the team was first and foremost casualty with players such as Irfan Pathan bearing the brunt of troubles. Older players such as Tendulkar and Dravid were probably able to manage their own game much better than Irfan Pathan could.

The upshot of the whole sorry episode seems to be a good one. There seems to be an acceptance, that it is quite simply the quality of batting and bowling (of which attitude and temperament are doubtless components) which determines the results on the field. It is noticeable that nobody put India's ouster from the world cup to a "lack of killer instinct". All the favorite adjectives were doubtless brandished - and brandished with venom, but the underlying sentiment seems to have changed - it is no longer that the players are timid and lack killer instinct or the right temperament, it is that they are simply losers who are interested in their bank balances, and who had shattered the aspirations of the people.

It is my view that killer instinct was never the issue - Indian sides of the 1990's were simply technically inferior to the opposition especially overseas. Today's Indian side is much better off - they possess explosive batting talent and some nascent bowling talent, allied with the re-emergence of Kumble, which makes them technically competitive outside India. Add to this - the fact that India have in recent years played excellent contemporary One-Day Cricket and have not been outplayed technically in any area of one day cricket (indeed they have set the standard, especially when it comes to batting along with Australia).

It is technical superiority which will take India to the next level. Irfan Pathan is likely to play a lead role in this journey. That is why the Indian Express article was heartening. Ajay Shankar began with the standard list of questions - "Was it his action, was it his mind, was it the fame, what was it?". The answers he got and reported pinpointed technique as the problem. Thankfully there was no breast-beating about "stardom" (all though inevitably there was some lip service to this irresistible idea) or "attitude".