Four years ago, the Indian cricket team landed on the Australian shores led by one of the finest gentlemen in the game, with a world class bunch of batsmen and bowlers (Ok, thats stretching it a bit!) with one single mission on their minds: beat the hosts and win a series down under for the first time in their history.
Despite possessing the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan (albeit, for one Test), the mission remained unfulfilled. The tour descended into acrimony, even as the visitors could only manage a solitary win at Perth. Many feared (Ok, just the Indians) that with the next Australian tour a good four years away, the Indian stalwarts would have retired, and the best chance of defeating Australia in their own backyard had just been screwed up.
Well, here we are four years on. How things have changed and yet remained so same! Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are still here (like old creaking terminators, as Dravid put it), while the Aussie team is barely recognizable from that tour. It is safe to say that with all of the current problems plaguing the hosts, THIS could turn out to be the best chance for India to secure a historic series victory down under.
Yes, India has an aging middle order which will have to contend with a fiery combo of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Yes, they have a largely inexperienced bunch of bowlers consisting of one fragile world class seamer and an assortment of medium pacers who don’t trouble too many batsmen at domestic level either. Yes, they have two exciting spinners who will be playing on seam friendly tracks, far from the comforts of home-made turners against weaker opposition. And yes, for all of Australia’s troubles, they still are a bunch of tough nuts to crack, with the likes of Warner, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Siddle, Pattinson and Lyon around.
Still, as a famous man once said (in a completely different context), “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”.
For, I have a dream.
I have a dream, that for the first time this year, Gautam Gambhir will score an international century.
I have a dream, that Virender Sehwag will carry forward good memories of his last test match at Melbourne; not to forget, his recent barn-storming innings against West Indies in the ODI series.
I have a dream that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will have one last victorious hurrah in a land, that at various stages in their careers, made them the batsmen they are now.
I have a dream that this series will be confirmation that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma can take over when the big guns retire.
I have a dream that this series will be MS Dhoni’s proudest win as test skipper.
I have a dream that Ojha and Ashwin will continue to enhance their reputations in a country which hasn’t always been favorable to spinners; also, that they will make up for the supposedly missing ‘fire-in-belly’ due to Harbhajan Singh’s absence.
I have a dream that Zaheer Khan will last atleast two consecutive matches; and win the games for his country, while doing so.
Ditto for Ishant Sharma.
I have a dream that Umesh Yadav can match James Pattinson for pace and guile; and that Vinay Kumar and Mithun will be ready when another pace bowler eventually breaks down.
Most of all, I dream that it will be a fascinating contest between bat and ball, adorned with thrilling performances by seasoned veterans and passionate youngsters; After all, these are #testing times.
This is my hope, and my faith.
The ODI series between India and West Indies concluded recently with a predictable result in favor of the Indian team. It was an auspicious start for Team India’s new coach Duncan Fletcher, and was Suresh Raina’s first series win as skipper. For West Indies, the major positives were the progression of Andre Russell and Anthony Martin to match winners, while Lendl Simmons and Marlon Samuels shone at various times. Still, old problems remain; the batsmen don’t inspire confidence against spinners and the team as a whole freeze at the sight of victory. Meanwhile, India without their senior players, still managed to win the key moments and closed out the series despite the less number of players who enhanced their case in this series. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra were three players who did everything that was expected of them, while the likes of Subramaniam Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary and Yusuf Pathan will rue the missed opportunities. Here’s a look at what I learnt from watching the series:
- Subcontinental fans might be the most passionate in the game, but no one can celebrate like the Caribbean fans.
- Chris Gayle might not have played in the series, but he remained the hottest topic of discussion during the series; He did attend some of the games though, where his afro during the final game was a show stealer.
- West Indian umpires have proved that they can be even worse than their Indian counterparts.
- Throughout the series, the only Indian commentator I heard was Sunil Gavaskar. Small mercies.
- Lendl Simmons can bat. Its just that he has not learned to bat as long as possible. One of two batsmen in the West Indian team who can boast of good consistency.
- Ramnaresh Sarwan might not be the same batsman he once was, but there is no doubting that he still retains the same fighting spirit.
- Marlon Samuels is not a batsman most Indian fans would forget in a hurry, after all the thumpings he administered to the Indian team in the early 2000s; He is still slowly getting into his groove, which is not a good sign for opposition bowlers.
- It has been drummed over our heads that Darren Bravo bats like Brian Lara; in the final game of the series, he added some substance to the style to give the Caribbean something to cheer about.
- Kieron Pollard still needs to convince many that he can perform against top teams, despite handy contributions towards the end of the series.
- Like his Indian counterpart, Carlton Baugh is short and handy with the bat; unlike his Indian counterpart, he is reliable behind the stumps, showcasing his skills in the 4th game.
- Darren Sammy might never be accepted as a deserving member of the team, let alone its captain. Still, he showed a lot of heart with decent performances at the start of the series, even as his team-mates floundered around him.
- Andre Russell is starting to become the new poster boy of West Indies cricket. With the ball, he is quick and has a precious knack of taking wickets at crucial junctures; with the bat, he is feisty and as he showed in the 4th game, he can give the ball quite a thump. Now all West Indies needs to do is protect him from a few IPL franchise owners.
- I expected a lot from Devendra Bishoo, but it was another leg spinner who rose to prominence in this series; Anthony Martin might be a professional fire fighter, but when it comes to cricket, he is all for creating panic amongst the opposition. If handled properly, West Indies might just end up with two quality leg spinners in their ranks.
- Shikhar Dhawan and Manoj Tiwary might be two of the more promising batsmen in Indian cricket, but in this series, they looked out of their depth. Looks like more India A tours might do the trick.
- Parthiv Patel played all games in the series, depriving W Saha any chance of making an impression in the absence of MS Dhoni. He did his job as a batsman, though his keeping behind the stumps still left a lot to be desired.
- Virat Kohli has established himself as the best batsman of the younger lot. A place in the Test team beckons, and he might just leapfrog Suresh Raina in the captaincy stakes next time.
- Rohit Sharma could well turn out to be a typical West Indian cricketer; for all his talent and high praise received from peers and experts, he has rarely done any justice to his skill. This series, he took a step towards correcting that, with a couple of match winning knocks and bagging the Man of the Series award. Only time will tell if this was a break-out series for him, or just another flash in the pan.
- Subramaniam Badrinath is running out of time. The senior-most player among the second rung, he does not have age in his favor and has had to sit back and watch young guns like Sharma and Kohli steal the show. While he guided India to victory in the only T20I, he didn’t make enough use of his chances in the ODI series, thereby signalling a possibly premature end to his ODI career. He still has the Test series to prove himself; whether he gets a chance is another matter.
- Yusuf Pathan is not quite in the same boat as Badrinath, but he cannot live off two blistering centuries forever. With the ball, he was steady but non-threatening. With the bat, he didn’t quite set any pulses racing. Luckily for him, his competition did not do that either.
- Suresh Raina had a poor series. On one hand, he captained the team to his maiden series win; on the other, he combusted as a batsman, perishing to the same infuriating slog shot, over and over again. Along with Kohli and Sharma, he is a player for the future; but if he keeps performing like this, the critics will be baying for his blood soon.
- This was a series for the Indian spinners, in particular Amit Mishra. He came into the series with a lot to prove, after his omission from the World Cup squad. At the end of it, he made the selectors look foolish with his returns. R Ashwin impressed in the brief opportunities he got, though he would love to take more wickets and forget his last two overs in the final game.
- Among the seamers, Praveen Kumar impressed, ultimately earning a call up to the Test squad. Munaf was called a ‘spinner’ by a West Indian pace legend, but he still remains as one of the few quality pace bowlers in the side. Ishant Sharma and Vinay Kumar showed glimpses of their abilities, but still have a way to go before they can be considered as regulars in this format of the game.
- All in all, the 3-2 margin is a fair call; India’s second string team was marginally better than a West Indies team sans Chris Gayle. If anything, this should increase expectations for a tighter contest in the Test series.
R Ashwin and P Chawla. These are two cricketers who are under the spotlight as India head towards the decisive phase of the tournament.
Chawla was a surprise pick in the World Cup squad, and was widely believed (at least, by me!) that he would remain a passenger for the duration of the tournament; but one match winning spell against Australia in the warm up game convinced Dhoni that he would be the 2nd choice spinner, at least for the initial phase of the tournament.
R Ashwin, on the other hand, was widely considered to be the best One Day spinner in India and there were not many murmurs when was picked in the squad. While Chawla walked away with the credits in the warm up, Ashwin himself had a good game, never letting the Aussie batsmen get away after he had scored a vital 25 runs in the Indian innings. Still, Dhoni overlooked him, and at that time I believed the reason being, that having an extra off spinner to complement Harbhajan and Pathan would be useless anyway. Well of course, only Dhoni can come up with the interesting explanation he offers.
“You want your bowlers to be in a very good mental state in the second half of the tournament, where you play against the best teams and you will be participating in the knock-out stages – that was one of the main reasons why we picked Piyush ahead of Ashwin.”
Going by this reason, Dhoni has high opinions of Ashwin, and it is a matter of one, or two games at the most before he gets a look in. Of all people, Dhoni knows enough about Ashwin, having captained him for over three seasons in the IPL, and I believe him when he says that Ashwin has the mental strength to come in and perform straight away in a crucial game. Still, one must temper that with the knowledge that Ashwin is not Tahir or Murali, to come in and run through any line up. He is going to offer control, and let the other bowlers reap the rewards off his hard work.
This is why I fear the media hype. Right now, the experts would have you believe that Ashwin can single handedly improve the Indian bowling; but the truth is, he offers more when it comes to the Power Play and will keep the opposition batsmen honest. Chawla has gone for a lot of runs in the tournament so far, but compared to the resident spinner-in-chief, he was the most likely one to take wickets. The only spinner who has managed to find a balance between taking wickets and keeping the run rate down is the other Singh.
So, it is a tricky decision for Dhoni to make. While popular opinion swings towards Ashwin, one must realize that he can only do so much. Should Chawla play against South Africa and take a bucket load of wickets, it will change the whole dynamics again. For my penny’s worth, it wouldn’t hurt to try what South Africa did in their game against West Indies: play three specialist spinners and open the bowling with an offie (preferably, Ashwin)!