Monday, 31 December 2007

Forget the MCG, bring in Viru for SCG

The big question when India left for Australia was whether Kumble and Co had it in them to pick 20 wickets. Not much was asked of India's 'famed' batting line-up. The reason was clear. A plethora of runs against Pakistan in familiar conditions gave them a false sense of security. There were no demons in the MCG pitch; nor was the home side's bowling menacing to warrant two sub-200 scores. In fact the wicket was more Indian than Australian and the bounce was true till the end. It was disheartening to see the Indians surrender meekly.

The crushing defeat in the first Test has opened the big debate again on the famous batting line-up's ability to score runs in tougher conditions. It was the bowlers who orchestrated India's Test wins in South Africa and England. The batsmen have consistently failed to deliver when taken out of their comfort zone. Notwithstanding the odd good knock, the bitter truth is there is not enough firepower in our batting to challenge sides such as Australia and South Africa.

The seeds for India's appalling show were sown in the first innings. After the bowlers had managed to keep the Aussies to a reasonable score, the batsmen failed to keep the match alive. The result was on the wall the moment India was set a target of 499. The match was lost on day two. The batsmen would have done well to get some runs on the board and minimise the margin of defeat. The shot selection of the top-order left a lot to be desired.

The approach of Dravid and Jaffer continues to puzzle me. How on earth are runs going to come in Australia if batsmen continue to defend balls that have run written all over them? Scoring areas have to be identified and every opportunity has to be seized. India's strength is scoring off boundaries but they will be tough to come by on these big grounds and against Australia's watertight fielding. They will have to create plan B.

It is important for the visitors to approach the remainder of the series with a positive frame of mind and not delve too much into this defeat. There is no harm in bringing in Virendar Sehwag. It is vital to have one player at the top of the order who can unsettle the attack. If Yuvraj has to be sacrificed it has be to done in the interest of the team. It will be harsh on the southpaw after just one match. But it is important Kumble gets the strategy right before it proves too late. I liked what the Indian skipper said after the match. He insisted the batsmen have to bat more freely and that to me will lift the gloom that seems to have descended on the team.

Patience is wearing thin with India's poor running between the wickets and fielding efforts. The attack can do with all the help they can receive from the fielders. The Aussie intensity even in the fourth innings was admirable. The Indians can take a leaf out of that. It has certainly not been the best of starts but Sydney provides a chance for India to redeem themselves.

The wicket at the SCG has always assisted spin and India should continue with two spinners. Dravid going back to his familiar number three is also important for the team's success. Bring in Sehwag at the top and force the World Champions do some thinking.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Australia prove they are light miles ahead

The distance is alarming. What looked like a classic match up between the World 50-50 champions and T20 champions is turning out to be anything but. Each of the first three games has proved beyond doubt the difference in class. Superior athleticism has only widened the gulf.

The Aussies have come here with a definite plan and a bruised ego. The strip in Kochi and the one at Hyderabad should have favoured the hosts than anyone else. Though they were not turners by any stretch of imagination there was enough for the tweakers to exploit.

The team looks jaded and disoriented. The body language is negative. The third game was a bigger disappointment. Dhoni and his band should have got a measure of the visitors by now. The bowlers are suffering for lack of discipline. They are either too full or short, the three quarter length that Stuart Clarke and Mitchell Johnson hit is ideal on these wickets and the sooner the Indians resort to that length the better.

The start in Bangalore and Kochi was wasted. The new ball did initial damage but the momentum was not to be sustained. It has a lot to do with the energy levels. The fielders don't swoop on the ball rather they wait for it come to them. Lack of urgency in the field is hitting the team dearly. With any other side in World cricket one can make up with brilliance with the bat or ball but poor running between the wickets, poor throwing and dropped catches all add up sizably against the World champs. Give an inch they end up with a mile.

Coming to the game on Friday, M.S. Dhoni might have been a trifle unlucky with the toss. The wicket looked like losing pace as the day wore. After a good start Australia was pegged back by some good bowling by Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh. The new rule that insists on the ball to be changed after the 34 th over has not been kind to the men in blue. Runs have been plundered in that phase. The best bowlers must be preserved for that phase.

The ball might be a used one that is cleaned but there is a huge difference between a sphere that is used in practice and one that is used in a match. The hardness will be pronounced and it will come on to the bat better. It is an area captains will have to start putting some thought to. From 166 for three in 34 overs Australia plundered 124 runs in the next 16 at 7.75 per over on a wicket that was getting increasingly difficult to bat on. Once the target went beyond 260 it was always going to be an uphill climb for the Indian's.

Yuvraj is doing justice to his enormous talent finally. He has always played the occasional blinder but the consistency he has brought to his game is refreshing. The team management can look up to him now for runs during crisis consistently. His shot selection has improved considerably and for a player blessed with enormous natural ability, it is only a question of getting into the right frame of mind. Yuvraj is in that 'zone' where nothing much can go wrong. Physically he did not look at his best yet played one of the best knocks in recent times.

The match further showed the importance of a solid top-order. Mathew Hayden makes the difference at the top for his side with his consistency. Matches cannot be won in the Power Play phase but one can set up a solid launch pad. 75 for three at the end of 20 overs was not the ideal start when chasing a big target. The opening overs will have to be counted. The problems are aplenty for Dhoni, The team has to start believing it can beat Australia and for that to happen they have to be more positive on the field.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Just reward for team work

Hearty congratulations to the Indian team. The indomitable spirit proved decisive in the end. Not having a reputation to live up to was the blessing in disguise. M.S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh did not meet expectations in the final yet India pulled it off, thanks to players accepting responsibility and not getting overawed by the big stage.

It was a fearless and modern approach from a bunch of youngsters in a format that is still foreign to many. Both sides played a final which, made it worthy and only a mistake as elementary as one would get to see from the usually cool and collected soul, Misbah-ul-Haq was to be the difference between a nation rejoicing and another left in despair. There was not much to choose from the two sides.

There were many positives India can draw from this campaign. The foremost being the captaincy of Dhoni who remained unruffled throughout the championship. His calming influence was the apex on which, the Indian wave rode. There was no place for individuals. Every win was constructed on the nucleus called 'team effort', it helped shatter myths. No one was indispensable. If there was one player who was unable to deliver, there were two putting their hands up to chip in.

The T20 has caught the imagination of the public and this win will herald a new era. As there were one-day specialists trying to make a mark in the early '90's, there will be a set of players who will train their thoughts and mind entirely to suit the demands of this format. One thing is certain there would be no place here for pretenders.

Dhoni winning the toss was a huge favour he did to his side. The pressure of a World Cup final and add the name of the opponents, it would be an uphill task to chase the most meager of targets for India. Gautham Gambhir who received so much flak for not coming good against quality opposition silenced his critics with a knock that gave his team a chance to fight. His shot selection was sublime and effective at the same time. Rohit Sharma was a revelation; the youngster came good whenever an opportunity presented itself.

The target was never going to be tough if Pakistan resorted to percentage cricket. Sorry that cannot be achieved in a India-Pakistan clash. The pressure gets to you at some point and the mistakes start creeping in. Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik went into a shell and handed over the match to India. Misbah is a player who takes calculated risks and believes in the theory the match is not over until the last ball. It reminded me of the great Javed Miandad who pulled the rug from under our feet on numerous occasions.

R.P. Singh delivered when it mattered and so did Irfan Pathan with his canny slow cutters. The entire pace and power had to be generated by the batsmen as Joginder, and the Pathan siblings provided them with nothing. It was a tactical ploy that worked on a wicket that slowed down a touch towards the end of the Pakistan innings.

A week from now no single player will be remembered, while the whole team would be. The most defining moment would yet be the brutal assault of Yuvraj on a hapless Stuart Broad. The knock made the team believe it can test the best, and it was great to see the team carry the momentum from there. It was no fluke as the best in the business were left on the wayside.

The transition has started. It is up to the selectors to try and help players from this team make a seamless change to the ODI squad. The win has ushered in a new era. Looking back the team was only a stroke away from defeat but they held their nerves. Pakistan threw away an opportunity. Misbah was better off hitting the ball straight and the shot he tried was never going to come off against the pace of Joginder. The man who took them to the doorsteps of glory muffed it with a piece of poor cricket thinking. The pressure of India-Pakistan cricket has made a Mickey out of the best and it was no surprise it even had a cool head thinking otherwise.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Batsmen put India on top

Indian batting displayed its true strengths and potential on the second day at the oval as they piled 348 more runs in addition to their overnight score of 316 runs. Indian first innings ended at a mammoth 664 all out but not before the cricket fans were treated to a feast of batting.

In Test cricket, half the match is won if the team batting first piles up a big enough total in the first innings and aims for an overwhelming result of an innings victory over the opposition. The Australians have perfected this art and hence they are the number one side in the world now. It is very special to see the Indians getting into this act and executing it in conditions away from home. Cricket is a funny game and we have seen sides squander, given the best of batting conditions.
Nothing of that sort happened today and the Indians made the best use of the pitch and started from where they left on day 1.

England bowling was found much in wanting and their quality was exposed a great deal by a superlative Indian batting. A tally of over 50 in the extras, wickets for part-timers like Collingwood and Pietersen, and the absence of Sidebottom for a significant part of the day, made the English bowling look pedestrian and ineffective; full marks to the Indian team for taking full advantage of the wayward English bowling and putting up a total that reflected a complete team effort.

Cricket is a team game and it takes all members of a side to contribute one way or the other for writing a success story. Today, the Indian batting was no less than a spotless team effort, with almost all batsmen contributing significantly with the willow, which made the mammoth 600 plus score a reality.

Tendulkar and Laxman started the day's proceedings and the latter's innings had class stamped all over it -studded with 10 glorious hits to the fence. When the best of batsmen in world cricket today is willing to wait and spend a good time in the crease, it is ominous for the opposition. Laxman and Tendulkar built 78 for the fifth wicket before Laxman was dismissed. Tendulkar's hard-working innings was once again left unrewarded as he was dismissed caught in the slips for a well-made 82.

417/6 could have easily become 450 – 460 all out, with the tail-enders meekly surrendering their wickets, but that was not to be. The determination of the lower order to contribute runs to the team’s kitty is what separates a normal team from a great team.

The Indian lower order showed grit and confidence in scoring runs. The final four wickets fell to a substantial addition of 247 runs, but there was more to it than mere statistics. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in his usual belligerent mood, smashing a quick-fire 92 of just 81 deliveries and his innings was studded with 9 fours and four sixes.

The baton of run scoring changed from the belligerent Dhoni to a determined Kumble. A batsman, after getting a body blow, can easily develop mental block and fade away. It takes a strong character to show determination to fight it out in the middle, and Anil Kumble is not new to this as he had shown us in the West Indies in 2002, when he was hit in the chin while batting and still came back to bowl and claim Brian Lara's wicket. This time it was his batting that made all the difference, for a change!! He has the earned the distinction of being the first Indian to score a century in this series. This knock is perfectly befitting a man who has won many a matches for India in his glorious career, and perhaps, in his final Test in England. Kumble's unbeaten 110 was studded with as many as 16 hits to the fence and one over the ropes as well. Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan and RP Singh also chipped in with decent contributions to help Kumble reach his century and take India to a commanding position in this Test match.

England have only themselves to blame for some bad bowling, ordinary fielding and mediocre behind-the-stumps effort, with byes accounting 33 of the total 54 extras, much to the dismay of Matt Prior. Wicket-keepers in cricket are best judged by the number of byes they concede and England seems to be lacking in that area as well.
Lots to cheer for India on their on-field exploits today and lots to think for the England team management at the end of the second day's play at the Oval. With Kumble scoring a 100, one would fancy his bowling to come good for India. If it does happen, this test might well be remembered for Kumble’s exploits and greatness as a tough cricketer.

Coming to the English batting, if the Indian bowlers can get Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pieterson out early, it will be half the match won. I am looking forward to more positive cricket from the Indians, as do the millions of you fans of Indian cricket out there.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Team India, stay positive and the series is yours

It is imperative for Team India to keep the momentum going. A closer look at history reveals that India almost immediately hand over the advantage after taking the lead in an away Test series. The latest example was the tour to South Africa where the cricket became suddenly unimaginative after the win in Johannesburg.

The focus should be on continuing the good work. A win can make a team to take it a bit easy, and Rahul Dravid and his men would do well to continue with the positive ways and not get caught in a negative mindset. Sourav Ganguly proved his detractors wrong and there should be no doubt that the visitors will play the same team in the final Test.

Runs are available aplenty at the Oval. The first morning might have something in it for the bowlers but from day two it should become a perfect batting strip. It would take a gutsy captain to bat first on this wicket. Batting second would be a safer option and batting last at the Oval is not a tedious job. I would expect Dravid to take field if he is to win the toss. With the lead already in hand India has a good chance of batting England out of the series.

The form of V.V.S. Laxman and Sourav has provided the cutting edge. It is always important for the middle order to fire at the Old Blighty. Once the second new ball is on life can be difficult even for the batsman who is well settled. Chris Tremelet with his bounce and lift proved what he is capable of and the Indian's should have chalked out a plan for him by now.

The difference between victory and defeat even for the mighty Aussies hinged on Adam Gilchrist's success at seven in the last two tours. In 2001 he had the English bowling at his mercy but in 2005 he was not half his own self and that tilted the balance in the hosts favour. It is important for Dhoni to contribute with Sourav and Laxman. One bad session and things can turn upside down.

The bowling department looked no good on paper but it has exceeded expectations. Zaheer Khan has taken the burden of spearheading the attack brilliantly. Add Sreesanth's inability to deliver Zaheer's work stands taller. The success of Zaheer has a lot to do with the attention he has started to pay at what is happening at the other end. He has learnt to deal differently with each batsman.

Bowling is two-way traffic. There will phases in a match where a bowler will have to get to run-control mode but that is not getting defensive it is just a part of a ploy to get to the batsmen. Zaheer has done just that and add Anil Kumble's ability to mop the tail quickly the duo has more than made up for the lack of consistency on Sreesanth's part.

R.P. Singh has been the surprise element. His deceptive pace and his strong wrist is tailor made for English conditions and his ability to move the ball both ways has left even the best a confused lot. With the top three performing brilliantly, the only change that could possibly happen is R. Bose coming in place

The visitors should approach the game as they would to any other. It has happened in the past, the team has tried defensive ploys when they are trying to defend a hard earned lead. It has cost them dear and this resurgent side that has shown great mental fortitude and losing the grip after gaining the lead could be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Resurgent India deserved to win Test

There may have been a bit of a stutter at the end. The rest of the Test was one smooth flow for Team India. Not for a moment did Rahul Dravid and his boys look like the side that was saved by the elements when defeat looked inevitable in the opener at Lord's. The opening partnership between Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik in the first innings swung the game so much in the visitor's favour that it never gave England a chance in the match.

A handy first innings did the hosts in. As it happened at Lord's, it is difficult for a side to wriggle out of a tight corner once the momentum goes to the other side. With a lead of 283, all India needed was one good session with the ball on the fourth day to warp up the Test.

It was good toss to win for Dravid and his spearhead Zaheer Khan responded well. The conditions were loaded in favour of the bowlers but it must be said that it was intelligent bowling that helped to keep England to below 200. The best part of Zaheer's performance was his ability to keep a high percentage of his deliveries in the good length area. With the wicket helping the ball to seam, it was important for the bowlers to bowl in the right areas.

While Sreesanth seemed to get lost in his act of the comedic villain, the emergence of R.P. Singh as a strike force came as a breather. Rahul could ill afford two of his bowlers to be off the radar in the same game. R.P. Singh who is generally taken lightly can be deceptively sharp. His strong and straight wrist that helps the fingers to follow the seam all the way through in his action is his biggest ally. His high arm action helps him generate bounce and also to skid the ball off the surface when he bowls a fullish length.

Both Zaheer and Singh were tough to negotiate as they moved the ball either way. It is not easy for the batsmen when it moves both ways and it leads to doubts creeping in. The conditions were better for batting in the second innings as the wicket had eased out. It needed a strong will and self-belief in the bowlers. They succeeded with style and panache.

Anil Kumble played his usual role of mopping up the tail quickly and his contribution with the bat and his half-century association with V.V.S. Laxman were vital to the plot. It was a win where almost everyone played his part to perfection. What I enjoyed most was the ruthlessness of the Indians. They did not give a chance for England to come back in to the game.

The innings by Michael Vaughan was a class act. It did not get its due as the media trained its thoughts on the Indian win. Until the English skipper was in, there was a good chance of the game to end in a draw. To
India's credit, their shoulders did not droop while Paul Collingwood and Vaughan were making merry. A bit of luck was required on this shirtfront and it arrived in the form of Vaughan's wicket. Once that partnership was broken it was only a matter of time.

As I had said before, the team needed the top guns to click collectively. The top-order contributed handsomely. It was the sixth highest Test match total without a single hundred. Sourav Ganguly came up with a classy knock and proved his detractors, including yours truly, wrong. The seniors in the team whose very presence in the team was being questioned came to the party and the youngsters complemented their efforts well. It was a resurgent side that deserved every inch of this famous win.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

No place really for Ganguly

This Test series will be the litmus test for Team India that left for the United Kingdom sown with self-doubts and still emerged with a degree of respectability after the wins in Ireland. The scenario could have been slightly different had Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff been fit for the Test. With the duo missing out on account of injury, the sides look equal, at least on paper.

With the second half of the summer promising a run feast only Harmison and Flintoff could have troubled the Indian top-order with their disconcerting bounce. If the newfound successful pair of Dinesh Karthik-Wasim Jaffer see off the new ball there should not be too many demands on the seasoned middle order.

The bigger question is about the capability of the Indian attack to take 20 wickets. Zaheer Khan looks to have regained his touch and if there is something in the conditions Sreesanth should also come into play. The third seamer slot looks a bit open but R.P. Singh with his high arm action and straight wrist could well win the race. He has developed the one that comes into the right-hander and looks the best bet to go on to play on hallowed turf.

Anil Kumble will have to bear a bigger burden this time around. Unless the think tank decides to go in with five specialist batsmen, he would be the only spinner and for him to wheel his arm over relentlessly would not be easy on a shoulder that is not getting any younger. A confident start by the bowlers would be handy and there is no reason for them to think they can't get 20 wickets as some pundits have been suggesting.

Not many gave us a chance when we toured England in 1986. It was the persistent line by our seamers that paved the way to fantastic results. It is a question of getting the basics right. All that I have said might look like the most mundane statement by an ex-cricketer. But, believe me, nowhere else in the world is a player rewarded as in England for sticking to the basics.

The reason for India drawing the series in 2002 was the might of the batting. The effort of Sanjay Bangar and Rahul Dravid on the first morning in Leeds was worth its weight in gold and the team started believing they could punch well above their weight. With Sachin Tendulkar among the runs and Dravid always dependable, the task ahead of England bowlers does not look too rosy either. Sachin has not got going in Lord's and that should be motivation enough for him when he goes out to bat, probably for the last time in a Test match there.

Going by tour reports, Yuvraj should be sitting this Test out. My heart goes out to the youngster who is in good form. Personally I would have gone in with Yuvraj ahead of Sourav Ganguly but given the latter's ability with the ball and his record and experience in England, things might have gone in his favour.

It looks as if we have some exciting cricket in front of us and the side that starts better would have the definite advantage. Given the way England batted against West Indies in the recent Test series, they might have their nose in front, but only just.

My XI: Dinesh Karthik, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, V.V.S. Laxman, M.S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth and R.P. Singh

Friday, 29 June 2007

India has a tough job on hands

Time has arrived for some serious introspection. With hardly any worthwhile victory in the last few months, Team India takes on South Africa in a must win game. The second match of the summer series will throw further light into where this side is heading. There has been too much talk and very little action and it is time for the side to redeem itself.

The batting that has been India’s saviour on more occasions and its base strength has to look at momentum right from the word go rather than wait for too long as it happened in the first match against Kallis’ men.

Batting against South Africa after one gets his eye in is not a tough task as the attack is one-dimensional. There is not too much of variation and the biggest problem for the batsmen might come against their tight fielding. This is the area where India’s task is cut out. The running between wickets must be hard and the middle overs should be busy. Rotation of strike is of paramount importance and these areas were not concentrated upon.

A target of 243 if the fielding was a little sharper might have made things difficult for Kallis and company but Team India was found short on that account too. The only area where the Indian’s came out with their head held high was the spin bowling department.

Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar bowled with craft and assurance. They bought India back with a sustained effort and they were also largely helped by a set of batsmen who refused to use their feet. India should continue with the two slow men, whatever might be the confidence. Their confidence and rhythm should not be fiddled with.

Zaheer Khan and R.P. Singh seem to the only new ball pair Dravid has at his disposal at the moment and might be forced to continue with them. As far the changes or change in the team is concerned I can see M.S. Dhoni coming in for Gautham Gambhir. Dravid should bat at three.

The new members who have been rushed to join the team need not be rushed into the playing XI as it would be expecting to much from them straightaway, they can get acclimatized and probably play the third game. There must be a spring in the step and the ground fielding that was slack should pick itself up then India might have a good chance of making the third game worthy.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Indian's did not show enough spirit

I was curious to know what was going through Yuvraj Singh's mind when only 12 runs were required of three overs. The first ball he bowled in the 47 th over was swept by Kallis and Zaheer Khan made the most athletic of saves. Yuvraj applauded the effort and broke into an unexplainable giggle. The defeat was clear on the wall yet the Indian's did not seem to mind. Unless this side starts hating to lose it is never going to win.

The body language was negative to say the least and there was an air of 'so what' attitude especially during the business end of the South African innings. The bowling lacked the zip but the target did not offer the bowlers much scope but the intensity was clearly lacking.

Kallis played a knock that one would normally associate with him. Calm, focused and unruffled even when wickets were tumbling around him, it was a captain's knock in every sense of the word. The first two wickets adding close to 100 runs was crucial as it paved easy passage for a target that was made tricky more by the slowness of the wicket rather than any venom in the attack.

The more I see young Piyush Chawla the more I am impressed. Here is a young Turk who does not mind inviting the batsman forward. His googly needs improvement but with experience should learn the craft. These tough games should serve the UP lad well and there is a good chance he can fill into the big boots left vacant by Anil Kumble in the shorter version. Ramesh Powar continues to get better but only early wickets could have done the trick for India and sadly they were unable to do it. The last over finish was only surreal and it was not exactly a close match.

The Indian batting was once again found short of tempo. My mind raced back to a line from a well known cricket writer who said 'ban Sachin when on 90'. His knock might have been based on circumstances but having spent that amount of time he should have accelerated earlier and in hindsight it was clear that the difference between winning and losing was 20 runs.

Rahul Dravid played a typical Rahul Dravid knock, the only difference being the point of acceleration arrived a little early. I am still certain that the skipper should go in at three and continue there for some time. Gambhir does have this knack of pounding lesser attacks and coming a cropper against better sides and it only continued.

The difference also lay in the extra zip the South African seamers were able to extract out of a helpful pitch. Andrew Nel with his height and strong wrist action created the doubt in the batsmen's mind and mixed his length well, using the short ball to good effect.
In the end the superior fielding and agility carried the day carried the day for the Africans but more importantly their rock of Gibraltar was there to see it till the very end. If India were to come back from here to win the series it would be truly odd-defying.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Host's lack of application was appalling

The gulf in class was clearly evident. And with every passing over it only became apparent that Bangladesh lacked in many parts to make a good Test side. The win even though it came against a weak side would do a world of good to the Indian side's confidence after it found itself at it's lowest ebb after the mauling in the World Cup.

The batsmen found their bearings and it is only good that they had this series before they go on to take tougher opponents in the near future. Dinesh Karthik to me was the biggest discovery. Regular or not he has taken to the task of opening in Test cricket like duck to water. With Wasim Jaffer for company Karthik should establish a fine opening pair.

The top-order will definitely not be short on confidence when they go on take England shortly. There is nothing like runs in the bag that counts. The run rate achieved in the second Test was another huge positive for the side.

With the seamers taking time out regularly with different injuries the mantle of spearheading the attack has fallen on the shoulders of Zaheer Khan. The left armer to his credit looks fit to carry the good job and more importantly has the wickets under his belt for him to look at the ensuing season with optimism. To have returned with a bagful of wickets on a bone dry wicket in oppressive conditions required a big heart and he displayed just that.

R.P. Singh and Anil Kumble as ever played the percentages well and struck to their task. RP was consistent and with his high arm and straight wrist has developed the uncanny knack of making the ball rear off the surface. He should continue in the same vein for his own good.

Ishanth Sharma, was a bit of a let down, I am surprised he did not try the bouncer enough. As to any youngster he could have been overawed by the stage but the youngster with proper guidance should move up the ladder quickly.

Finally the lack of application on part of the hosts was appalling. There was no intent to occupy the crease for a longer duration. The very essence of Test cricket was killed. The second innings is usually where teams try and eradicate the mistakes done in the first but there was no sense of learning on part of the host's.

Barring Mohammed Ashraful, no one else looked like taking the match to the opponents. Ashraful built in the Sehwag mould goes after the bowling from the word go and he did his job to perfection , only if the others had grinded the Indian attack for a longer duration then they would have at least saved some embarrassment.

The match was dead and gone for Bangladesh the moment they asked India to make first use of the track. Dav Whatmore seen as a master tactician was more intent on pleasing the men who count with Indian cricket rather than concentrating with his job on hand.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Team would be served better with Laxman

It was happy to note a few cricket reporters come to the defence of V.V.S. Laxman and the travails the stylish Hyderabadi has faced in his career. To enjoy one of the better overseas records and averaging better in Test cricket other than Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid from the present squad, Laxman has his reasons to be miffed.

Laxman always had to be the first name to be chopped if the team composition underwent a change. When the team is up against faster and bouncier conditions they always look up to Laxman to deliver while the others feast on the easier wickets. The team management has not treated him fairly and in my opinion he is the third best batsman in the side and should take his rightful place in the playing eleven.

There are far too many problems in the team at the moment. Lack of force with the ball is first on the list. Take Anil Kumble away from this attack, there are hardly any signs India can get 20 wickets against a good side. Rahul and his men could emerge with a win in Dhaka but problems when up against a better batting side is bound to surface.

The first Test proved the inadequacies of the Indian attack beyond doubt. And this is going to be the team's biggest problem. With half the pace attack nursing injuries, it is time we went back to our strength, spin at least when conditions afford Dravid the luxury of playing more than one spinner.

Lack of all rounders has also hit the team hard. The five-bowler theory has its side effects on a lively surface. If the batting crumbles, it could act on the reverse. If Anil is fully fit I would approach the game only with four bowlers as Sourav and Sachin can fill in 12-14 overs per day as part timers. Anyway the fifth bowler is only under bowled and if the team can pack in one more batsman, it can lead to quicker scoring and a more positive approach at the crease.

A series victory is paramount to win the confidence and respect of the fans back home. The team is in short supply of that commodity too and a win would be a shot in the arm. A win over Bangladesh might not be a Herculean achievement but in terms of getting things back on track, there is nothing better than a few wins to have under your belt.

As far as the team composition is concerned I would draft Laxman in place of a bowler, preferably V.R.V. Singh, even if it means the playing XI would have two left arm seamers. The batting order would only undergo a minor change, as I would put Laxman ahead of Sourav.

Whatever be the final team nothing less than a win is acceptable, unless weather intervenes. India should take this one comfortably but whether that would indicate the right standing of the team's form remains to be seen.

My XI (in batting order): Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, M.S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, R.P. Singh.

Friday, 18 May 2007

India should wrap it up, weather permitting

As the focus shifts to the longer version, India's problems with their team composition begin. With only one specialist opener in the squad the think tank is back with their perennial problem of whom to make Wasim Jaffer's partner. In an ideal situation Dinesh Karthik should have walked out with Jaffer, but the claims of both V.V.S. Laxman and Yuvraj Singh cannot be discounted.

Given this scenario, unless Rahul Dravid or M.S. Dhoni open the innings the team will have to be content with four bowlers. It is a catch 22 situation no doubt. Senior members cannot be dumped and at the same time it is clearly a case of one step forward and two steps back.

The attack will revolve in the hands of Anil Kumble, Ramesh Powar and the seamers Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel. This is the best combination the team could afford given Sreesanth's injury and it does seem to posses to have the ammunition at least on paper to bag 20 wickets provided a minimum of four days of cricket is permitted by the weather gods.

The climatic conditions in these parts of the World can get cruel to the average cricket buff. When it rains in Bangladesh, it pours and given the grounds poor drain facilities, it would be impossible to get the wicket and the area near by in condition for play quickly. The series itself has not really evoked any interest to be honest and as followers we can only hope at least Test series throws up some good cricket.

Bangladesh have always trained their thoughts on the shorter version and have never really tested the big guns in the traditional format - Except once when they came close to get the better of Pakistan before a resurgent Inzamam-ul-Haq guided his team home.

The Bangladesh batsmen don't posses the temperament for Test cricket - to play out sessions in Test cricket is the key to set up games - and unfortunately they don’t have batsmen who have the technical wisdom to attain that. The bowlers too have been found wanting and an attack that consists primarily of flat left arm spin can never buy 20 wickets in Test cricket.

The Indian's would be itching to get off to a good start and begin the repair work post the World Cup that already received a shot in the arm with the ODI series win. It should be a continuation of the good work, weather permitting.
My XI for the first Test: Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Team India Has A Lucky Escape

What should been an easy path was made treacherous by a top-order that is yet to shed rustiness. The failure of Sehwag and Gambhir to carry on after getting their eye in almost fuelled in another disaster, but the methodical effort of Dhoni and Karthik saved India a defeat that would have plunged the team into greater self-doubts.

The manner in which Dhoni and Karthik rotated the strike was gleaming. The secret in run chases lies in the ability of the batsmen not to let go of the singles and twos and still ensure the loose balls don't go unpunished. The duo got the act right embedding boundaries in between and looking busy with singles that not only helped rotate the strike but also ensured the bowlers did not get enough at a stretch to a certain batsman.

Dhoni coming in at three was a refreshing change, I have always vouched for Dhoni to bat higher and so many names made the rounds for the number three slot it was a bit of a surprise that his name never did the rounds. Technically Dhoni may not possess all the ingredients to bat higher, but one-day cricket is hardly going to probe the batsman enough. Dhoni has cut the frills and shown in the recent past that he can handle tight situations with composure and it was good to see him guide the team home in Karthik's company in spite of being down with a hamstring pull.

With Karthik improving as a fielder with every game, India's long search for a stable middle-order bat to compliment Yuvraj looks finally over. There is an air of assurance with the way he bats and never looks lost even in a tight situation. His running between the wickets and shot selection were both impressive. The hunger was evident in his eye and that augurs well for Indian cricket.

Though India registered a win, no praise would be less for the manner in which, Bangladesh fought. Their confidence is on a high after their exploits in the World Cup and they set foot believing they can win. If they have done it once there is no reason why they cant do it again and they backed themselves to the hilt and almost pulled off another upset.

Bangladesh's decision to bat on a rain-affected wicket was a brave move and the batsmen played to plan, keeping wickets intact for a late surge. Team India after all the talk of a rejunavated show still moved at a pace that had more questions attached. There was no resolve and the body language of some of the players left a lot to be desired.

It might be a touch early to expect results from the fielding and bowling coach but there was hardly anything on offer as starters. Quickness is going to be an integral part of the one-day game and there are place for slouches. India might have escaped further embarrassment with this five-wicket win but there was not much to give them confidence. The team is not moving with an assurance an aspect one would expect at least against a team like Bangladesh.

The scorecard might not be really reflecting what happened on the field, most of the other internationals teams would have made Team India pay dearly for their lapses.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Grander The Stage, Bigger The Performance

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Rain was the last thing the organizers of the World Cup would have wanted. But the sparkle that the big broad blade of Adam Gilchrist provided took away the gloom of the gun-metal skies that descended as a pale of gloom over the Kensington Oval.

The demolition act from Gilly was the best ever seen on the big stage, even eclipsing the likes of Clive Lloyd (1975), Viv Richards (1979),and Aravinda de Silva 1996). It was a brutal onslaught with a touch of science. The Lankans, I thought, missed out on devising a plan for Gilchrist, who had a quiet World Cup until the summit clash.

The Islanders did well against Hayden, Ponting and Clarke, but missed out on Gilchrist who just had an extra special day in the office. It was clean hitting, and that most of the runs came straight down the ground was testimony to the batsmen's supreme skill sets. The catch Fernando dropped proved too costly in the final analysis. If 30 runs had been chopped of the final tally, things could have been scripted differently.

The chase was always going to look tough for Sri Lanka who had a mountain to climb from ball one. Add the rain, bad light, interruptions and some sustained bowling made it almost impossible for them to get near the target.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara kept their side alive with some imaginative batting but the enormity of the task was always going to get to them at some time, and it’s a pity it happened against some fairly innocuous bowling.

The West Indies bowling in the 80's was so tight that Larry Gomes and Viv always got a few when batsmen went after them thinking a few easy runs were on the anvil. Same with Hogg and Clarke here. The mind set of the batsmen was such they wanted to make up for lost time against them and fell.

The last two finals have been something of a damp squib. They were both dull one-sided affairs. But it was heartening to note the third block of the Asian front throwing up a spunky fight that made the final worthwhile to watch, after all.

Gilchrist richly deserved to leave the World Cup stage with a knock that will be remembered for long. He was in the 'zone' that happens to batsmen once in a few seasons. It happened on the World Cup final, sorrily for Sri Lanka: Gilly had to find that 'zone' on Saturday.

It was a match to remember for Glenn McGrath, who quit the stage with this famous win. He might have not been at his miserly best but finished things in style and deserved every encomium showered on him.

The Cup has gone to the team that had covered every aspect of the game well. No one must grudge the fact they have made the World Cup their own.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Toss could prove vital

After an elongated rehearsal, the stage for the summit is set. It was not beyond cricket wisdom to predict a Sri Lanka versus Australia final. The former had their game tailor-made for conditions in the Caribbean while the latter, irrespective of the conditions, had the ammunition and wherewithal to steamroll everything that stood in front.

Let all doubts be put to rest, the two best sides from this World Cup have made it to the final and let us hope that the final on Saturday provides the sparks the last two finals sorely failed to provide.

One need not tear one’s hair in picking a choice for the match. World champions Australia start as hands-on favourites, but there are a few things to be considered. The Aussies have this strange habit of going after the bowling even if a few wickets have fallen, this ploy looks great when it comes off but when it fails it can look outrageously shabby.

Sri Lanka must bat first to improve their chances, with Vaas and Murali in their ranks and a slowing wicket on offer, a target in the region of 245-265 will be very competitive and anything above 270 and the odds would certainly shorten on the Lankans. If Ponting has the luck with the coin, the matter could well be over as the combined strength of the Aussies could become too much for Jayawardene's men.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga would do their team a great service if they are able to see off the first ten overs without getting separated. If the Lankans have enough wickets in hand the middle overs can become really productive. The bowling of Hogg and Symonds is no great shakes but the problem is the new ball that does the damage and sets it up nicely for bowler No. 4 & 5 to push the overs through quickly.

The mantra for Lanka would be to keep the wickets intact and launch the attack after the first ten overs where the ball loses its sting and shine.

In Vaas and Murali Lanka has the experience with the ball but the others too must be wary of the advantage the likes of Gilchrist and Hayden take when offered the width. The more the bowlers bowl into the body the lesser the chances of boundaries during power play. Tuck the Aussies for space outside the off stump and there are chances of them doing something silly.

All said and done, Australia look the better bet and it would take a special effort from the Islanders and a relatively off-day in the office for the Aussies to stop their hat-trick bid. Remember the toss is very vital, if Lanka win and bat they stay with a chance otherwise the whole of Australia could well start their celebrations a little early.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Stuff Of Dreams

A phone call with an old mate was just about to end, right alongside Australia's annihilation of South Africa. Just before hanging up my friend quipped: Is this Australian side the greatest ever? To which, I said it could be the best Australian team in terms of success rate but by a far stretch the West Indies side of the late 70's and 80's was the best. Remember, I was having only one-day cricket in mind, bring Test cricket also into the picture and all arguments would be a waste of time. Lloyd's men were the greatest to set foot on turf.

Man to man, the Windies then would have probably won 8-3 against this Aussie side. Let us start with batting. The pair of Hayden and Gilchrist are good but the Barbadian pair of Greenidge and Haynes were far superior. Ponting versus Viv Richards, do I need to say who wins that round? The middle order is one area where this Aussie side might compare well with the Windies.

The fielding standards of all world-beating sides has always been special. But where the West Indians scored was they had specialists for each position. Viv and Clive were omnipresent at the slips and nothing would pass through them, while Gordon and Harper were stunning in the gully region - add the strong arm of the pacemen from the deep; easy runs were only in opponents’ dreams.

The Aussies are an athletic lot, and are also blessed with a fine wicket keeper. Although Dujon to me was technically more compact than Gilchrist behind the stumps, he was not so by much. So, after we have seen the batting and fielding strengths, the West Indians only have a slight edge. The one department that takes them past any side of any era was their bowling prowess. They could simply blow away any opposition, and more importantly, in any conditions.

The pace attack instilled fear in the bravest of hearts. Sometimes, statistics may not provide a true reflector, but having played the pacemen at their peak, I know first hand they were one very tough lot to negate and get away with, leave alone scoring against.

So every connoisseur's fantasy would be a match up between the present Australian side and the West Indies side of the 80's. A dream date it would be, but only in fantasy. If it ever did happen, though, my money would be squarely on the marauding Windies

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Some Interesting Views From Amongst You

As some of you might already know, I'm judging Google's Cricket blogging competition. Here are some interesting entries we have recieved so far:

From The Match Referee:

What are fast and lively wickets going to achieve? They will result in fast bowlers who get results handed to them on a platter, batsman might get slightly better and the breed of twirlers will be fast driven to extinction. Spinners have been our traditional strength and now is not the time to ditch them.

From Dharmagraha:

Successful teams can be classified into two types. One, that win on technical perfection; examples are South Africa under Hansie Cronje and Clive Lloyd’s invincible team. Two, that win on an emotional high supported by excellent individual skills; examples are Dada’s Indian team supported by excellent individual performances by Sachin and you, Imran’s Pakistani team supported by geniuses of Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, Ranatunga’s Sri Lankan team with Sanath Jayasuriya and Arvinda De Silva. There is also a third variety which has a dangerous combination of both at the highest. That is Australia, both under Steve Waugh and under Ricky Ponting. Logically, a coach should have sat down to classify what is the temperament of the team, find its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and approached you accordingly. I don’t say that Greg Chappell has not done that, but I say, it just doesn’t show.

From Best Of World Cup:

If a game starts taking lives, there is something sickeningly wrong with it. But this is not really about Woolmer. We didn't need someone to die to awaken us to a problem. The signs have always been there, it's just that most of us have found it expedient to ignore them. Commodification has been chipping away at the soul of cricket for years, and now the game is the danger of losing its head.

From Srikchin:

We started preparing the team for World cup 24 months ago, and by the time it kicks of none of the team probables could make it. Those who managed to crawl are down with injuries. Round the clock cricket & rudimentary domestic circuit. Slow pitches, weak opponents and back to back series crowns. Too much of money, too many strategies, too many expectations, too loud applauds and hence too embarrassing desolation.

Bigger The Stage, Bigger The Game

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The line that divides aggression and desperation is a fine one, and it was in full view when South Africa batted their first ten overs. Going into a needle clash without a proper plan cost the Proteas dear. Winning the toss on this wicket was a godsend and South Africa have only themselves to blame for not utilizing the opportunity to bat the World champions out of the game.

Bowlers like McGrath always have a scheme for different batsmen. Kallis and Prince were the two batsmen who should have played the anchor role. Smith left early - falling to adventurism against someone who has seen it all and is a master at varying the length subtlety to set a batsman to a false shot.

Shaun Tait might have ended with more wickets in his kitty, but to McGrath should go the greater credit for strangulating the batsmen and instilling the early pressure from which the South Africans never recovered. The fall of wickets at regular intervals never allowed the South Africans to get to a run rate of any meaning. And having posted only 149 on the board, even the die-hard South African supporters would not have envisaged a win.

With a mere three runs per over to chase, Australia were in no discomfort and the thumping win will have carried them to the final in the right frame of mind. Sri Lanka have also entered the final with a clinical display but the way the Aussies won on Wednesday it would have certainly put the fear of god among the Islanders.

It was pleasure to see the Aussie dressing room, a bunch of confident players who thoroughly know what their job is, much like the West Indian dressing room of the 80’s. South Africa resembled a team wrecked by a storm and resembled a bunch of jokers, moreso even than chokers, on the big stage.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Toss proved vital

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Once Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat, the result was a foregone conclusion. What made it a miserable semifinal was the inability of the Kiwis to challenge the Lankans and the resigned look on Stephen Fleming’s face after the spin of the coin.

New Zealand almost accepted defeat once Lanka made first use of the wicket. The last 15 overs were gift wrapped for the Islanders to run amok with. The body language of the Kiwis left a lot to be desired. The medium pacers lacked the fire-and-air speed on a slow wicket. The Shane Bond phenomenon was brutally exposed. A bowler is expected to have his off days at the office but that Bond failed to fire on D-day put Fleming's plan in disarray. A team cannot afford to go into a crunch game with one strike bowler.

Mahela Jayawardene's knock was an education, and proved yet again that one need not resort to the power game to be successful in the shorter version. He took his time in building his innings and nearly took 40 balls to reach double figures but thereafter paced his innings brilliantly to make up for lost time. He led from the front and the team took pace along with him. What stood out in the innings was his placement and timing. Sanath Jayasuriya's failure was made up by Upul Tharanga who was due for a big one against a strong side. Once the duo of Tharanga and Mahela helped the total go past the 250-run mark the result was hardly in doubt.

With nearly a run to be taken of every ball, the Kiwis needed a strong start but they were hardly given the luxury to free their arms against some tight and imaginative bowling by Malinga and Vaas.

With a steeply increasing asking rate to contend with, the top-order had its task cut out, but Muralitharan coming in after the initial overs had plugged the run flow. It was always going to be a tough ask and the questions he posed was too much for the middle order. The win will give a lot of confidence to the Lankans going in to the final where if they have the luck with the coin, who knows there could be title No. 2 waiting for them.

For many followers, the real final might be today, where the top two sides in the world lock horns. Australia will definitely start as favourites. South Africa, on the other hand, would love to shed off the 'choker' tag. If the Proteas can restrict the Australians to a sub-300 total, we have a great match on our hands.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Sri Lanka Look The Better Side

Two finely balanced sides lock horns in what is widely expected to be a closely fought encounter. New Zealand and Sri Lanka are two sides that play the percentages well and, more importantly, know their strength and stick their guns to it.

It would need the nerve of a gambler to predict a winner straight out. There is nothing much to choose from between the two sides, but personally I would give the Islanders a few inches more than the Kiwis, and I have my reasons for it.

Both sides were drubbed by Australia, but to their solace, they rested their two key bowlers who could have made a difference, hence the defeat might not have really dented their confidence. But the Lankans go into the match with a better all-round attack, that has more options to throw.

The Sabina Park track has slowed down a fair bit in the last few years and will play lower as the game progresses. And if Sri Lanka were to set a target they would enjoy a definite advantage. The Kiwis will have to display nerves of steel if they are to go through a tough chase.

The Sri Lankan spinners have the knack of pushing the middle overs through very quickly and that is the time in the game where bad habits might creep in for the batsmen, as things might not go their way. It has happened many a time in the past when Murali and Sanath, with their plethora of experience, have stifled the run rate and plotted the downfall of strong batting lineups.

The New Zealand batting has also blown hot and cold through the World Cup; none barring Scott Styris have shown the kind of consistency one would normally associate with a World Cup aspirant. On the contrary the Kiwis strength is their medium pace and would like to exploit whatever early life the wicket would provide and try and keep the target to manageable proportions.

Both sides would be strengthened immensely by the return of their strike bowlers (Bond and Oram for NZ, Murali and Vaas for SL) and would hope the rest would have done more good than harm. The contest at least on paper promises a seat edge thriller but Sri Lanka go in with a small advantage because of their balance. The Lankans have also batted the end overs slightly better.

Stephen Fleming and his boys would have to restrict their opponents to a sub-250 score otherwise it could well turn out to be another so near yet so far story for the Kiwis.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Players Should Be Given A Free Hand

Reading the morning paper, I stumbled across a few stories that were eye openers of sorts. In India there has always been a curb on cricketers talking to the press. Hence, when the players divulge information on sensitive topics, it becomes hot news. Whereas in most of the other Test playing nations there is no hold on players in expressing their opinions to the media.

Ricky Ponting, Mathew Hayden, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis have all used the last few days to play mind games with their opponents in the build up to the semi-finals. To me what is more important is what the players do while on the field of play, and everything else is immaterial. As long as there are no degrading statements, or hitting below the belt, things should be fine.

I have not really been able to see the logic in players being directed to talk or write in the media. Is it really going to help? For example, if Harbhajan wants to talk freely about an impending encounter he can’t, while a player in the opposing rank can. And as some one who has played the game at the highest level, I can assure you it can play on the mind of the players and give the others a mental edge before a crucial game.

Kallis has said the Australian all-win record does not count for anything, while Hayden has stated the Proteas fear the sight of the Aussies. I can also assure you that it helps to build an aggressive attitude. I have heard many Australian players comment freely on their colleagues, and the best part is the player commented also takes it in the right spirit. This can help strengthen the value of unity.

During the Test series in India in 2001, Glenn McGrath said the best captain he has ever played under was Mark Taylor. Remember, Steve Waugh was at the helm and was not offended by the statement. He tried, instead, to find out what he was lacking that Taylor possessed.

Players expressing their views to the press should be allowed everything in regard to the game can be discussed freely and let me assure you the team performance or mental frame is not going to go down because of that. The results in the middle are more important than a few sound bytes passed on to television crews or newspapers. Barking at the wrong tree is not going to give us the desired results, in stead let us try and locate the real problem areas.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Lara's exit has left the game poorer

Well, did the greatest modern-day entertainer need to ask that question at the end of it all?

A glittering career that spanned nearly 18 years and provided a reason for many fans to pay at the gates with glee. One of the few batsmen who put the prime requirement of the general follower in front of him rather than play the boring numbers game. The legend of Brian Charles Lara will live forever even though the pocket sized Trinidadian was part of the weakest West Indian side.

The final match for Lara was certainly not scripted by the gods. How else would one explain the heartbreak for the legend who had to endure another so close yet too far theory? The run out was always on the cards and that was fitting as no bowler deserved to break the defence of Lara. The dismissal took me back to Sydney in the early 90's when Lara scripted his first hundred. A dazzling knock of 277 (Lara's first hundred) had to terminate when he was run out and the legendary Sir Gary Sobers remarked 'that was fitting' as no bowler deserved his wicket.

The sojourn that started then continued to marvel across the globe. And to have accumulated such huge quantum of runs without for once leaving his natural style behind spoke vastly of the West Indian way of life.

Coming to the match, it was a pity that such a good contest had to be an inconsequential affair. The match provided the sparks from two sides who never came close to playing to their potential. The difference was made by the openers.

Chris Gayle came to form at last and too bad it did not happen slightly earlier. It could have made a significant difference to the host's chances. Michael Vaughan also did best and ensured he would keep the captaincy for some time to come.

All said and done both England and West Indies should have no complaints. The four sides that deserved to be in the last four have taken their rightful places and it is time for us to sit back and enjoy some of the most stirring action after two days of break

Saturday, 21 April 2007

This Selection Is Not The Way Forward

The selection committee has wasted another golden opportunity. The talk of infusing fresh blood into the team after the World Cup has not materialized into something concrete, and Indian cricket continues to tread a dangerous path. The selection of the senior team, as with so many times in the past, has been fuelled by confusion and, more, by 'compromise'.

After all the big talk on youngsters replacing the tried and tested, only Bengal lad Manoj Tiwary finds a place. What happens to other youngsters who have proved themselves in the Ranji Trophy and A tours? What more should a bowler like R. Bose of Bengal do to claim a stake?

Two batsmen who will feel extremely disappointed are S. Badrinath of Tamil Nadu and Mumbai's Rohit Sharma. Remember the chairman of the selection committee stating that the 80 made by Badri in the Zal Irani Cup was one of the best domestic knock played on a difficult wicket? And add the runs he made against the likes of Shaun Tait and Clarke on the faster and bouncier wickets in Australia. Rohit, with his recent exploits, gave enough proof that he was a decent limited overs prospect. The signals that are sent to such players are not very healthy.

When performances in the Ranji Trophy and A tours are not going to be looked at with interest, one can lose faith in the system and unless the selectors start giving preference to players who toil and perform in the domestic scene, things can go haywire.

Some of the so-called recalls are only going hamper the progress route. Dinesh Mongia and R.P. Singh have been given enough chances to cement their place in the side but they have not done that, and no one else can be faulted for that. And Ramesh Powar making it only to the Test squad was highly amusing as he had looked the best bowler in the ODI's whenever he had been given a chance.

A tour to Bangladesh was the ideal platform to groom some of the youngsters. The kids would have got a fair idea of international cricket and readied them for the tougher assignments ahead. The upcoming season is one of the toughest Team India would have in a long time and with the majority of the side ageing and on the wane, this would have been the ideal time for a shake up and for the rebuilding process to start but sadly and as always another chance to put things in the right perspective and turn a new leaf has gone a-begging. Save your prayers for Indian cricket.

With the news of the Indian selection dominating the headlines, a small matter called the World Cup was conveniently forgotten. Australia's annihilation of their Trans Tasman rivals would have filled fear in all sides. If this is what the Aussies can do to a side that was widely expected to run them close…!

The Australian batting looks too good at the moment, and the bowlers seem to be hitting the straps well and getting into a good rhythm at the right time. It would take a Herculean effort from the remaining sides to stop the Aussies from claiming their hat-trick. It would take an extremely brave heart to put the money against the reigning champions.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Lara's Magic Will Be Missed

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West Indies redeemed some of their lost pride. It was not the most clinical performance, yet effective enough to dispose of a side that has proved to be very tricky at times. With nothing in stake in terms of progress in the tournament I personally expected the hosts to be a lot more positive with their batting.

Chris Gayle's failure at the top continues to be the biggest undoing for the West Indians. Now, Brian Lara having hung up his boots for good, the onus will be on the trio of Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Gayle to take their side to the next level. If there was a singular contributor to the West Indies’ dismal performance in this World Cup it was the lack of runs from Gayle's blade.

The news obviously did not hinge around the 99-run win for Lara and his men, but the legend's decision to quit all forms of the game. It is not going to take a great cricketing brain to say the Trinidadian had at least two more seasons as a Test batsman. But this is not the time to talk about what would have happened if Lara had continued. The great batsman has left followers some rich footage to feast on.

His contributions have been great, but to me three things stand out. The first thing that comes to my memory is the unbeaten 153 against Australia at home, where he carried the team home in the company of Ambrose, and later Walsh, in what was later described as one of the greatest Test innings ever played.

The 700-odd runs he scored in Sri Lanka against Muralitharan who was at the peak of his prowess, then; other batsmen found his magic as tough as nuclear physics. That, to me, was one of the best exhibitions of stroke play against quality spin. They way Lara used his feet to counter flight was an education.

The last, but not least, was his endurance and his engrossment with tall scores. For a man who was small-built, the time he spent at the crease was simply amazing and here is one cricketer who fully deserves all the records he holds. Engaged in constant comparison with Sachin Tendulkar throughout his career, I feel Lara stood an inch tall over the Mumbaikar because of his ability to dominate attacks.

The call to quit is probably an emotional one after former greats of West Indies cricket and the media did not take the host’s ouster from the World Cup lightly. But let us all understand he has achieved enough to call it quits on his own terms. However grainy the tapes get, Brian Charles Lara will always remain green in the mind’s eye of both the connoisseur as well as the casual follower.

Moving over to the World Cup: Australia face another challenge in the form of New Zealand today. The world champs have peaked well and playing Sri Lanka and the Kiwis at the fag end of the super eight will actually work to their advantage as they would exactly know what to do against them if they have to meet them in the summit clash.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

World Cup Becomes A Drab Affair

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Another fracas that had little or no meaning. Sri Lanka had brownie points at stake. That they won the game in an emphatic fashion underlined the seriousness with which they approached the battle, but what they gained, in the end, apart from a bloated net run rate, is anybody's guess.

Full marks to Ireland and Bangladesh for making the super eights. But they were clearly exposed when it came to sustaining their momentum. It clearly rendered many games extraneous. Take Bangladesh's win over South Africa and Ireland’s own fifteen minutes of fame against Bangladesh out of it, and the games hardly provided the thrills a mega event should throw. The World Cup has become a bit of a drag.

This particular match, which was completed in record time, had its moments to offer. Kumar Sangakkara's acrobatic one-hander after he had moved the wrong side was a rare gem, while Maharoof, who seemed incapable of putting a fingernail wrong yesterday, effected one of the most athletic run-outs in recent history. These two efforts will form the most enduring images of the ninth World Cup.

Sri Lanka were simply unbeatable. Ireland, on the last bend of their dream run, were blown away like a sapling uprooted by a tycoon. The difference was stark and it was not good advertisement for the game.

Another match today, one of but academic interest to the remainder of the tournament - Brian Lara's match No. 298 and 299 gives him opportunities to leave on a high. With the hosts out of the tourney, much interest will revolve around the impending retirement of their captain who will at least expect his team to get their act together. Well, there is nothing wrong in leaving the stage with pride.

Far away from the Caribbean islands, there is news to be noted. The Indian selectors will sit down for one of their most intriguing meetings yet to pick the squad to tour Bangladesh. I can only hope the five-member committee does not overdo the 'youth' factor. There is nothing wrong in blooding youth but there must be a right mix of youth and experience.

There will be a lot more to talk on that subject once the team is announced. Anyway, is there much more to say about the World Cup? A tournament that has no meaning till the semi-finals begin.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

England Dig Their Own Grave

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Anyone backing the English to win was going to be doing it at their own peril. Yours truly had predicted a tough run chase for either side in a high pressure game, but a target of 155 is not going to bother even the minnows, leave alone the might of the South African batting line up. More than a month after the event started we have on our hands four teams that have qualified for the knockouts and, to be honest, there should be no complaints. The teams that have progressed fully deserve their final four places.

England wasted a golden opportunity. The wicket on offer was true, and anything less than 250 was going to be a sacrilege. The copy book approach just won't work in one-day cricket; it is a waste of time in the modern era. There is nothing wrong in sticking to the basics but timely innovations are the need of the hour to survive in the shorter version. The lack of aggression was appalling and England’s over-dependence on a few batsmen only added to their misery.

Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff hold the key with the bat and Freddie's failure with the bat has upset the balance of the side hard. KP has been the bulwark of the side, and it was not his fault he failed in a crunch game. The law of averages had to catch up with him and to England's misfortune, it had to happen when they were in within striking distance of a semifinal slot. The failure of the openers and Michael Vaughan in particular spelt doom. The side lacked direction and looked wearied.

The body language of the England side left a lot to be desired. There was no aggression and coupled with it was a sense of resignation, right from the start. Unless they do something quickly about the way they approach over-specific cricket, nothing much would change. It is time they start giving importance to the shorter version too to become a force to reckon with otherwise the gulf would be for everyone to see.

Sri Lanka gets another chance to boost their NRR and the top-order will be looking at some useful batting practice when they take on Ireland today. But the manner in which the Irish have competed indicates that they should not be taken lightly. With even the semifinal pairings more or less decided, fans can watch the remaining four games in the super eights without damage to their fingernails.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Resting Key Bowlers An Ill-Advised Move

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One cannot call it complacency. But resting two of your main bowlers for a match that represents a lot more than an increase in the points table shows a lack of vision from the Sri Lankan team management. Lasith Malinga, one of their new-found hopes, was injured. His non-inclusion was mandatory. With their strike prowess already down, Lanka should have played their best bowlers in order to put some doubts in the Aussie camp.

Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas are no greenhorns. The Australian batsmen have encountered the duo in possibly every cricketing condition and themselves are no mystery to them. Why rest them? What did Sri Lanka gain by doing this? Consider this carefully - a target of 227 could have been tricky had Jayawardene been given the experienced duo.

There was a tremendous psychological advantage to be gained, had the Lankans pulled the rug from under the Aussie feet. Imagine the Indian team of 1983 upstaging the then mighty West Indies. We approached the match fully aware of the fact that if we could do it once (Manchester, in the opening game) we could repeat the act. Sri Lanka had such an opportunity (if they are to meet Australia again in the tournament) but muffed it by not playing the right men.

The tale itself did not alter much from the original script. What really stood out was the positive Aussie attitude. No, I am never going to grow tired of repeating this. They are the only side who look at the power play as a period for grabbing wickets. With some very good fielding as backup to create pressure, the wickets go down in clusters and partnerships are never allowed to prosper.

Frankly speaking, there are no great shakes about this Australian bowling. But the discipline and never say die spirit gives it a bloated look. Ponting deserves all the credit for making the team believe that there is a wicket around the corner every time. The target was never going to challenge the strong batting lineup especially with the main strike bowlers cooling their heels.

South Africa have only themselves to blame for finding themselves in this quandary. They should not have let this opportunity go to such an extent and if England are to have one good day today, it is almost certain to be pack up time for the Proteas who somehow manage to play their worst cricket during the World Cup.

Both sides are beset with similar problems. The openers have failed to get going and the skippers are not among the runs. Sides generally lift themselves when the men at the helm strike and sadly that has not been the case with Graeme Smith and Michael Vaughan. Australia run away from the rest of the sides because nine times out of ten their openers give the innings the impetus and sadly England and South Africa have been found wanting in this regard.

The team that bats first will have a definite advantage. It is a high pressure game, and the side chasing will have a lot to contend with. My instinct says the team that musters more during the power play will emerge victorious.