Archive for the ‘Indian Cricket’ Category

Dhoni’s No. 3 Position – An Average Booster or something more?

Scenario 1:
India, batting first, are 85/1 at the end of 15 Overs, One of the openers is still going strong, and other just got out after making a significant contribution. Pitch is a beauty to bat on. Now, Guess who will you see walking out to bat? Yes, You guessed it right, the captain himself, taking this huge responsibility on his very strong shoulders.

Scenario 2:
India are 80/1 chasing 300 something under lights, batting is not easy, there is some assistance in the pitch for the bowlers, and who do we see walking out? Most probably the designated #3 or a guy playing his 5th International ODI.

So what does this imply?

Yes we know it is hard to keep up an ODI average above 50. Ask Michael Hussey, the stark realty of variable form is catching up with him. Unfortunately for Hussey, he does not lead the Australian side and can not make the decision at which position to play by himself. Well, if he ever gets to make that decision, he can take inspiration from the Indian Skipper.

Initially, under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy, MSD had been assigned to the No. 3 position to leverage his hard hitting abilities on flat tracks. That 148 against Pakistan in Visakhapatnam and 183 against Srilanka in Jaipur being the notable examples. However, It did not become a standard practice mainly because his technique and footwork were not trusted with in challenging conditions.

Soon after Rahul Dravid stepped down and Dhoni was trusted with the responsibility. Around that time, the concept of flexible batting order was coined. While the concept is good and applied successfully by some of the teams in the limited overs game, it brought mixed results for the Indian outfit.

This was also around the time where MSD started utilizing himself frequently as # 3 mostly to the team’s advantage. Everybody was happy since big run chases were made and big totals were posted during this era. India had a good balance of early smashers, middle order anchors and hard hitting finishers in the batting line up. However, this all has changed a bit in last few months. When India is chasing a big total, in a difficult situation, with either of the opener(s) gone early, you expect to see someone like MSD walking out and anchoring the chase. But mostly you will see a different man walking out, not the captain himself. Compare two matches in the recently played Compaq cup series, and you will know what i am talking about. Same pattern falling into place in the ongoing Champions Trophy match against Pakistan. So, make notes, Mr. Hussey, That is how you keep your average from going below 50! It is going downwards very quickly.

Making a case for Harbhajan Singh.

Recent ouster of India from the T20 World cup has driven the trigger-happy bunch of people and TV journalists in frenzy. The News media went overboard in hurry to find every possible scapegoat in the Indian side and slaughter it. In this madness, even when the popular ones like MS Dhoni got caught in the fire, how can we expect the bad boy of Indian cricket to be spared? A lot of criticism has been directed towards Harbhajan Singh for giving away 10 wides in the crucial match against England .

Now, why did Harbhajan need to bowl those death overs? It was because Indian pacers could not do it. Bhajji has done this constantly and with good results. Apart from those 5 wides in the last over (Which was partly Yuvraj’s fault as well – It should have been just two) he did bowl an excellent spell. His Economy rate along with Pragyan Ojha’s was better than all other Indian bowlers in the tournament. Bhajji bowled excellent tight spells in T20 WC 2007 as well except that one over in finals where a well set Misbah took on him. While some people criticized him for bowling flat and not looking for wickets, it was the role he was given to. When other bowlers could not contain the flow of runs, the task was given to Bhajji. When there is pressure from one end, the other end can be attacked you can not do it when Ishant Sharma is leaking runs from the other end.

A lot of people have questioned his place in the current test side accusing him of bowling flat, not turning the ball enough, not caring enough and his attitude in general.

I disagree to the general notion that he balls flat all the time, on the spinning tracks, I have not seen any other spinner apart from Kumble generating same amount of bounce as Bhajji does. In the last series against Aussies, he bowled with spin and bounce and his Doosra really baffled likes of Michael Hussey. He only bowls flat and straight when he is not getting any assistance from the pitch. A big turn has never been essential in getting wickets – Kumble’s 600+ wickets are perfect examples of that. People who compare him with yester year’s great spinners like Bedi and Prasanna forget that things were not that batsman friendly back then. If we put things into context his achievements are only second to Kumble’s. His batting has improved a great deal in last 2-3 years and I can count at least 3 match saving/winning cameos from him when top order crumbled. He is a gutsy batsman and is not afraid of any bowler at the crease.

In limited overs cricket, he has an excellent economy rate of 4.23 in ODIs and 6.55 in T20s. Even Kumble had the economy rate of 4.30 in ODIs. Compare this with India ’s main pacer Zaheer’s 4.86 and 7.23 respectively. To add to that, he is an excellent fielder in the outfield and has one of the best throwing arms in the squad. Do you remember him dropping one at the ropes? I surely don’t. He is a naturally aggressive guy who does not give up easily.

The problem is that Bhajji’s aggression is mostly driven by emotions rather than logic. This aggression which turns him into a fighting cricketer, has landed him in trouble over the years. This emotionally driven aggression is the reason he will be never trusted with any responsible position within the Indian team. He has been part of some ugly incidents like ‘slapgate’ episode during IPL season 1 and the racial abuse allegations by the Australian team. Now we all know what Sreesanth can do to you. The guy has a knack of rubbing people in the wrong way – mostly at the wrong times. I still remember him sledging Hayden in IPL2 after being hit for 20 odd runs in an over. Bhajji has always been at the loggerheads with the Aussies. Australians learnt years ago that he was not one of the nice quiet Indian boys they were accustomed to in when he pissed off Ricky Ponting after getting him out in his early days. (Don’t remember the year exactly but Ricky got angry and ambushed Bhajji with bat in hand – I believe it was in Sharjah – any pointers will be appreciated).

Bhajji has played a significant role in the Indian team’s steady rise in the decade, both in LOIs and Tests and he will continue to do so as long as he plays. He will, in my mind remain the perfect example of the revamp Indian cricket and cricketers went through starting from late 90s and continuing in this decade – Gutsy, and motivated with a belief that they can win no matter what.

India vs. WI 1st ODI – Observations

So, India won the first of the four ODIs and started their very less anticipated Caribbean campaign. WI almost chased down India’s very good looking 339 Total. Some observations: 

  • Indian top order still has a problem with the Short pitched stuff. Gautam Gambhir playing what  a No. 11 would consider his trademark shot. A half hazard attempt to pull a short ball with head ducking down praying to mother earth.  Rohit Sharma fetching the ball from way outside the off stump to play a pull shot.
  • Dinesh Karthik is still eyeing that test opener slot. Solid forward defense on display in yesterday’s match. 
  • When Yuvraj Singh decides it is time for a short break, he hits it long and far and invariably out of the ground.  
  • MSD is trying to get his big hitting abilities back but is not quite there yet. Instead, he seems to have developed new abilities to get run out when ball has gone somewhere near the wicket keeper and responding any question with “Yeah, Obviously, You know…” 
  • Harbhajan Singh reads Dwayne Bravo’s slower one even before Bravo decides to bowl one.

Yet Another Postmortem!

As the postmortem continues for India’s early ouster from t20 World cup, I could not resist but add the 10000th reason why India did not perform like a champion side they were supposed to be.

India needed a reality check! That’s it. That’s how Pakistan did it. They got their fair share (and more) of reality checks earlier. They lost to India in the warm up games; they lost to the side that lost to Netherlands. That’s how Younis discovered that T20 is not just a fun game, nor is it anything like WWE. Once they saw the light, they were right on the cue.

India, on the other hand, had no reality check. The opening slot replacement for Sehwag was filled in by the illusive swashbuckling knocks of Rohit Sharma. They won the initial round of matches against, hold your breath, Ireland and Bangladesh. They did not look anywhere closer to convincing. No batsman absolutely murdered the minnows bowling nor did any bowler looked threatening. Nobody bowled the toe-crushing Yorkers or ear-ringing bouncers. They did not need to play that kind of cricket. They just had to wait for oppositions to make mistakes. And they made plenty of them. India’s reality check came too late against WI, when they discovered that Pragyan Ojha is not the solution to all their bowling problems. That he can have a rough day in the field. Had they met a tough opposition in the initial rounds, they might have known what was in the store for them (Yes including a lot of bouncers) and may have been slightly prepared for it.

The upcoming ODI series against WI will be significant in more ways than one. It will reflect whether India have learned anything from this defeat. If they are willing to accept their mistakes instead of shrugging it off as just a rough patch as they have in the past.

Do not hang Dhoni!

The Indian Media has a chance to get their revenge! How can a cricket captain be so direct (and truthful I might add) and call them irresponsible and get away with it? India’s ouster from world cup has given them the opportunity and they are not going to let go easily. TV and Print media have gone into “Demolish Dhoni” overdrive – an apology from him to the Indian fans notwithstanding.

While I agree that most of the decisions against England and his own lackluster batting were responsible for India’s exit for the most part, I refuse to jump the gun and overlook his excellent record for the past year and half. Captaining the cricket team in India, though rewarding in many aspects, is one of the toughest sports job there is. Even greats like SRT could not keep up with the burden of expectations. MS Dhoni, in the past two years at the helm, has inevitably, made a few mistakes (That delayed declaration against NZ comes to mind immediately) just like any other captain. But overall, his record is very good. IMO, his cricketing brain is better than most of his counterparts.

Back to cricketing front, it would be nice to see how these guys counter the short pitch stuff they are invariably going to get from Saffers in today’s match. It would speak a volume about their attitude towards the game, if nothing else.

The defending champions are on their way out!

I accept it. The team that can not defend 150 or chase 150 against oppositions like West Indies and England should not really be in the race.

There will be plenty of analysis of what was done wrong and what could have been done in the days to come.

However,  the image of MSD taking singles and getting Yusuf back on strike when 60 runs were required from 30 balls will be in my memory for a long time. Such a sensible batting this.

India lose the first game of super 8 round to West Indies

And I am going to stick my neck out and say it, I expected it. India did not look very convincing in either of the two games with Bangladesh and Ireland. It was apparent that any fairly good side will be competitive for them. In spite of having the famed batting line up and good spinners, Indians have not looked as good as South Africans or Srilankans apart from that one practice match against Pakistan. It has been mostly individual performances saving grace for them.

Dhoni’s insistence to play at #3 in earlier games did not give Suresh Raina essential time in the middle. It is does not take much for an in form batsman to slip out of it. Not that Dhoni has gained anything by it.  India’s bowling in death overs still looks patchy. RP Singh deserves a chance in the next match instead of Ishant Sharma. He can’t be worse than Ishant and can bowl a few Yorkers and lower full tosses in the death overs – something that Ishant is lacking. In the batting order, Gambhir still isn’t at his best, Dhoni is struggling. Ground fielding has not been upto the mark either.

Having said that, nothing can be taken away from WI the way they went about chasing the score. To use that beaten to death term ‘momentum’, WI has the momentum with them now. Even when Gayle went early, Simmons and Bravo kept attacking. They smartly attacked Ojha who has been instrumental in getting wickets for India.  While bowling they worked out Yusuf by not giving him anything pitched up. I know figures of 31 from 23 still look good, but we all know Yusuf can do a lot more damage than that.

I hope India gets a few things right, mainly their Batting order, Ground fielding and bowling in death overs in the next two games. As the situation stands right now, even England on their good day (read: Peterson scores) can beat India.