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.