India vs England

No Pain, No Gain

courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

At the time of writing, India are getting quite a beating from Cook’s men at the Oval. The rapid disintegration of the players in the last three tests has been painful to watch; actually, scratch that…I have stayed off from watching most of the days’ play since the Ageas Bowl test. As Devanshu pointed out in a brilliant article recently, the emotional toll that my team’s performance exacts on me can be draining in defeat as exhilarating as it is in victory. After all, I still have not fully recovered from the 0-8 memories of 2011.

Talking about 2011, going from the highs of a home World Cup win to the nadir of whitewashes in England and Australia really tested my loyalty and support for the team. The only other performance that brought me similar grief was the 1999 whitewash down under. At least, then it was expected by all and sundry, as a weak team (barring SRT) wilted under the dominance of the mighty Aussies. The 2011 England tour, on the other hand, consisted of a phalanx of experienced veterans who were supposed to defend the number 1 ranking in style. Instead, the team went down with a flurry of injuries and contagious loss of form, as England steamrolled the tourists. As crushing as it was, I consoled myself saying that it was all bad luck. Then came the tour down under.

The Aussies seemed ripe for the taking; yet a fully fit Indian team continued it’s disastrous run overseas. That tour signaled the end of Rahul Dravid and further down the road, VVS Laxman. India were forced into the transitional period, kicking and screaming.

Fast forward to now. The Indian team picked for the England series did not boast of many high profile names like the previous tour; but given the travails of the English team and the promising performances in the previous two overseas tours, there was reason for cautious optimism. Indeed, the Lord’s test raised hopes that a corner had been turned with regards to tactics, skill and guts. Instead, the following three tests has been a sobering reminder, that there is a long way to go for this team to mature into a strong test side capable of challenging the best sides on a consistent basis.

That brings me to the point of the article; there is hope. Yes, the manner of the defeats in the last few games has been very dispiriting, to put it mildly; but as @srinivyasan pointed out, this team is on the upward curve of their careers. Players like Pujara, Kohli and Rahane will only get better. The likes of Bhuvneshwar, Ishant (yes!) and Aaron promise good signs for the future. Vijay has shown that he has the discipline to succeed overseas. While there is a question mark on the likes of Dhawan, Jadeja and Ashwin, they have age on their side. Short-term pain might have to be tolerated before the long-term gain comes to fruit.

The captain likes to talk about the importance of process over results. So far, neither the process nor the results has gone India’s way; but Dhoni himself has offered a template (courtesy, his bat) on how to keep fighting and trusting on one’s own strengths. If his players can imbibe those qualities, these present-day shambles might just kickstart a revival for this team.

 

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11 Thoughts on Cricket from January

The first month of 2013 is almost over, and already it has shown signs of what to expect in the coming months. Here are 11 stray thoughts on the month that is (not quite) gone by:

1. NEW ZEALAND IS THE NEW WEST INDIES 

"If that is true, we will win the next T20 World Cup...huzzah!"

“If that is true, we will win the next T20 World Cup…huzzah!”

Get bowled out for scores of 45 and 121 en route to a crushing Test series loss to the Saffers before turning the tables on the hosts during the ODI series, which included a 1 wicket heist in the opener (from 105/7 while chasing 209) and a match winning ton from future great Kane Williamson in the second game. Only a last ball six from McLaren in the third game prevented a series whitewash. The average Kiwi supporter must have gone through the full range of emotions possible, in the past month.

2. MIKE HESSON IS THE NEW JOHN BUCHANAN

"That is a low blow, Mr Bullet"

“That is a low blow, Mr Bullet”

Problems with team’s star player and favorite punching bag for all? Check. It makes perfect sense that the former Australia coach is responsible for Hesson’s appointment as New Zealand coach.

3. ENTER THE FAF

"Move over Jacques, there is a new rock in town"

“Move over Jacques, there is a new rock in town”

In the span of three months, Faf du Plessis has gone from being a replacement in the Test squad and a fringe player in LOIs, to a certainty in all formats of the game. It culminated in him becoming captain of the ODI side in their series against New Zealand after de Villiers copped a ban for slow over rate in the first game. Despite the loss, he is already being talked of as future captain in all three formats. This proves that good things happen to those who play for Chennai Super Kings.

4. DE KOCK WILL GIVE ‘RISE’ TO NEVER ENDING PUNS

"The name is de Kock. The 'de' is silent"

“The name is de Kock. The ‘de’ is silent”

South Africa’s newest member and interestingly named Quinton de Kock is a talented and hard-hitting batsman, who is capable of keeping the momentum flowing at the top of the order. As a keeper, his soft hands and ability to let the balls come to him instead of grabbing at it make him a valuable addition to the team. Any puns detected in the previous sentences were intended.

5. MAHELA IS THE PAST, ANGELO IS THE PRESENT AND PERERA IS THE FUTURE

"Bad boys..bad boys..what you gonna do? what you gonna do? when they come for you......"

“Bad boys..bad boys..what you gonna do? what you gonna do? when they come for you……”

Dilshan, Sangakarra and Jayawardene are on their way out; but Lankan fans need not despair as the next generation take over. In Angelo Mathews and Thissera Perera, they have their next stars who seem destined for great things. Nerveless batting, attacking bowling and electric fielding – they are the new age cricketers, as it was always meant to be.

6. TO ROTATE OR NOT TO ROTATE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

"Psst...Mickey...don't look now...but the KFC sponsor guy is coming over and he doesn't look happy"

“Psst…Mickey…don’t look now…but the KFC sponsor guy is coming over and he doesn’t look happy”

If it’s Australia and January, it is ‘talk about rotation policy’ time. Last year, India took the heat for theirs, and now it is the turn of Clarke’s men…or Bailey’s. Their one day series against Sri Lanka ignited a fresh debate over the polarizing topic, throwing up references to A-teams and B-teams and free publicity for McDonalds after a bizarre put-down of George Bailey by the Channel 9 chief. Lost in all this hullabaloo was Phil Hughes’ impressive start to his ODI career, Kulasekara’s deadly bowling and a farcical abandonment of the 4th ODI. At the end of it all, the debate over rotation continues to rage.

7. THE WORST BEST DEATH BOWLER IN ONE DAY INTERNATIONALS

"The Girl with the Ridiculous Tattoos"

“The Girl with the Ridiculous Tattoos”

He is supposedly the death overs specialist for the number one ODI team in the world (before the conclusion of the series against India). Like Shakira’s hips, statistics don’t lie though: In 22 ODIs, Jade Dernbach has 30 wickets at an economy rate of 6.28, which is the highest for any international bowler who has bowled over a thousand deliveries; and this is the same man, Nasser Hussain said that India would desire to have in their side. No thanks, Nass. We already have Sreesanth.

8. JOE ROOT IS THE REAL DEAL

"Size doesn't matter"

“Size doesn’t matter”

After playing a supporting role in England’s historic Test series win in India last year, Root took the center stage for the English in the ODI leg of the tour. He emerged as the find of the series for them as his reliable batting and disciplined bowling was all they could take away at the end of it all. Unlike a few others in the side, he seems grounded and is set for greater things ahead.

9. ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

"Next stop...Test cricket!"

“Next stop…Test cricket!”

Positives: India won an ODI series against previously top-ranked side after a disappointing loss to Pakistan earlier, and in the process found quality seamers in Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed, while reiterating Suresh Raina’s value to the team.

Not-so positives: Gambhir continues to throw away starts, Kohli’s purple patch is over, Rahane and Yuvraj appear clueless against pace and spin respectively, Rohit booked his place for the next year after a solitary fifty while Pujara warms the bench till Tiwary returns.

10. WHAT IS ASHWIN?

"Pictured: Highly intelligent player who talks a good talk. Not pictured: An Indian spinner the opposition dread to face"

“Pictured: Highly intelligent player who talks a good talk.
Not pictured: An Indian spinner the opposition dread to face”

When Ashwin came on to the scene, most Indian fans breathed a sigh of relief that an alternative to Harbhajan Singh was found. After disciplined performances in LOIs, he made a stunning entry into Test cricket by decimating the West Indians and Kiwis at home. That was as good as it got. Against England on the subcontinent, he has failed in Tests, T20s and now ODIs to pose a threat to an opposition ripe for the picking, as he has been comfortably out-bowled by ordinary bowlers like Tredwell and Root. It’s a matter of time before the Indian selectors and management decide if they want to persist with Ashwin in their plans – as a batsman who can bowl part time spin. In that case, the Turbanator can confidently say, “I’ll be back”.

11. MOVE OVER SHIV, TAG IS IT

"The cricketing world waits with bated breath to see if the gene for the crab stance has carried over"

“The cricketing world waits with bated breath to see if the gene for the crab stance has carried over”

From the maker of countless bore-athon knocks apart from the odd whirlwind ton in Tests, comes “Chanderpaul 2: Tagenerine”. Junior is said to be a carbon copy of his illustrious father, and as he makes his first class debut for Guyana at the tender age of 16, the WICB will hope that he turns into a future star capable of saving many Test matches for the team.

 

 

Skyfall for an Indian Cricket Fan

Testing times

Boy, even by usual standards, there have been a lot of articles written in the last week over the state of Indian cricket. Apart from cricket journos, ex-players, former selectors, bloggers – all have weighed in, on what is ailing Dhoni’s men. Here is what I have learnt from the sum total of all these articles:

1. Gautam Gambhir – Out of form for too long and hasn’t scored a century in nearly two years. He did score a fighting fifty in Mumbai, but batted selfishly by not shielding the tailenders and caring more for his batting average. Not in sync with the captain or the rest of the team. Drop him.

2. Virender Sehwag – Scored a big hundred in the opening Test but has been off the boil overall. Keeps wasting good starts. Needs to value his wicket more. Drop him.

3. Sachin Tendulkar – Experience highly needed at the moment. Let him stay; but his knocks are painful to watch and age has clearly caught up with him. Drop him.

4. Virat Kohli – After a promising start to the home season, he has faded away. Place him on notice. Oh wait, it will make him complacent. Drop him.

5. MS Dhoni – Can’t bat. Can’t keep. Can’t captain. In Tests. Drop him.

6. R Ashwin – India’s best batsman over the last year, but is in the team for his bowling. Which has been disappointing. Drop him.

7. Ishant Sharma – How does he keep getting picked? Drop him.

8. Duncan Fletcher – ROFL. Sack him.

9. Che Pujara and Pragyan Ojha – Please. Don’t drop them. Ever.

 

PS: On a serious note, it is time to accept that this is what Indian fans will have to put up with, for the foreseeable future. The Indian team is clearly not one of the top sides in Test cricket anymore, and are facing a shortage of world class Test performers, who can take them back to the number 1 ranking. Then again, it was just over a decade ago that England were at the bottom of the pile; and look where they are now. The road to the top is actually a wheel of fortune. The BCCI and team management will have to make some smart decisions in the coming months, irrespective of the result of the Nagpur Test. It is too much to expect of course, but there is always hope – the eternal companion of a cricket tragic; nay, an Indian cricket tragic.

The No Spin Zone

After weeks of slow build-up, the much awaited Test series between India and England is finally here. It’s been a relatively silent prelude to the series, considering the hype generated before the previous series between these two teams. There hasn’t been the usual verbal spars or snarky newspaper articles this time around, apart from an occasional reference to the 4-0 English whitewash in the previous series; then again, both teams have their own issues to sort out in-house. England have been busy dealing with the ‘re-integration’ of Pietersen and managing fitness concerns of their bowlers; India are worried about Zaheer’s fitness and the iffy form of their top order.

Still, it is pretty clear, from the evidence of the last few weeks, what the most important factor is going to be in this series. England have played three warm-up games since they landed, against opposition of varied strength, and the defining feature of the practice games has been the paucity of spin practice for the English. While the first game had no genuine spinner in the India A squad, the second and third games had spinners who barely feature in the first choice XI for their sides. In fact, despite having Amit Mishra in their XI, Haryana didn’t even bowl him in the second innings of the third practice game. The message from the Indian camp to the English is very clear: No spin for you, lads.

So, when England come out to bat in the first test at Ahmedabad, they will face the highly effective pair of Ashwin and Ojha,  after having the advantage of landing in India early nullified by the lack of generosity from the BCCI. After their travails against Ajmal in UAE and Herath in Sri Lanka, the signs are pointing to another ‘death by spin’ exhibition of batting by the English.

Now, the rights and wrongs of the ‘no spin’ move by the BCCI is debatable and a matter of  individual opinion. Some may call it ungracious and unsportsmanlike to invite a team early, and not provide them with the best preparation possible. Others point out to similar tactics by teams like England and Australia who provide under-strength opposition and pitches unlike the ones used in the Tests, during the warm up games in their home series. Fact of the matter is, both sides have valid points, and ultimately the final decision lies with the home cricket board, as to what teams and grounds they choose for the warm-up phase of the series.

Personally, I started out being fully supportive of the move to restrict useful spin practice for the English; Now, it doesn’t look so great. Yes, it could backfire – the touring batsmen might have just played themselves into form and high confidence after facing weak oppositions. This could also have been a useful time for the likes of the maligned Harbhajan to regain confidence, or a junior spinner like Harmeet to try his wares against quality batsmen.

So, all said and done, the upcoming series will prove if this was the right move or not. An English capitulation to spin could pave the way for similar moves against other touring opposition as well. Either way, this has given an edge to the series which was lacking in antagonism between the two sides.

 

India Shining, England Whining

"...and a happy Diwali to you too!"

At the onset of this series, most of the Indian fans labelled this as a “payback/revenge” series (conveniently forgetting that winning a series against a 5th ranked side does not compensate for losing the Test crown in a humiliating manner), whereas most English fans dismissed this as a pointless ODI series (how would one determine that, I would love to know). The truth lies somewhere in between; that India would win the series was almost a foregone conclusion, but more than anything else, they needed to experience the winning feeling again. Not to forget, they had a bunch of youngsters to groom for the future. For England, this was a chance for the new ODI skipper and young players to test themselves in unforgiving conditions. In the end, the final scoreline was a just reflection of the gulf between the two sides when it comes to ODIs on the subcontinent, despite the absence of a few star players from the Indian side. Here are a few other thoughts from the series:

  • The continued absence of Tendulkar and Sehwag meant that there was yet another opportunity for Parthiv Patel and Ajinkya Rahane to press their cases for permanent inclusion. While Patel flattered to deceive, Rahane’s solidity was reassuring to watch, though the tendency to throw away starts was a bit infuriating. Either way, a Test call-up is not too far away for the Mumbai youngster.
  • Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli were the bulwarks of the middle order. In particular, Kohli continues to rise and rise. He had a good Champions League prior to this series, and his purple patch refused to stop. Despite a poor Test tour of West Indies, his maturity and form warrants him another shot in the longer format.
  • What is left unsaid about MS Dhoni? Calm, cool, unflappable, the man with a plan….and by the end of the series, he was invincible too, as England just couldn’t out him at all. Experts are falling over themselves to anoint him as the best finisher in ODI history, and few would disagree.
  • Ever since his debut, I was never too enamored with Ravi Jadeja; but with impressive back-to-back series, he has won me over. While his batting is not as destructive as a certain Yusuf Pathan, he is more consistent, and he is a much smarter bowler. Also, along with Kohli, Raina and Rahane, he has lifted the Indian fielding by several notches. Deserves a prolonged run in the team.
  • With Harbhajan Singh getting dropped from the side after a long time, there was no small amount of pressure on the shoulders of Ravi Ashwin to perform. To his credit, he didn’t disappoint, with his maturity standing out. While calls for a place in the Test team is a bit premature, he should have cemented his place in the ODI team with this performance.
  • Praveen Kumar was steady, Vinay Kumar was consistent, Umesh Yadav was lacklustre – but the one pace bowler to stand out from the Indian camp was the young Varun Aaron. He had pace, but more importantly he hit the right lengths too. He has four wickets as of now, all of them coming through knocking the stumps down. Now, if only he does not get ‘Munna-fied’, India might actually possess a ‘fast’ bowler.
  • To see India put up such a commanding performance in the absence of stars like Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Zaheer was a reassuring sight for Indian fans. With the likes of Rahane, Kohli, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin and Aaron still in their 20s, the future looks bright for the Indian ODI team.
  • It was a baptism by fire for Alastair Cook, for whom it was the first ODI series outside England as official skipper. He book-ended the series with a couple of 60s and failed in between. As a captain, he was outsmarted by Dhoni, while his failure to exert any authority over his team-mates during a fractious series was disappointing. Looking on the bright side, it can only get better from here.
  • Craig Kieswetter might as well be called Kies-dropper. In a series where the opposition keeper shone with the bat and barely made any mistake with the glove, Kieswetter had a shocking series, even by his own standards. As an opener, he could never convert his starts, and with the gloves (barring a couple of sensational catches), he was unusually sloppy, none more damning than the fluffed run-out of Jadeja in the fourth game. With the likes of Bairstow, Buttler and Davies jostling for places, it is hard to see if Kieswetter will get to keep his place for the next OI assignment.

Behind every successful batsman, there is Kieswetter

  • Jonathan Trott might be wondering what he has to do to get some love from the fans. Despite being the most successful ODI batsman of the year, there are calls for Bell to replace him in the playing XI (this despite Trott possessing a far superior average and strike rate compared to Bell). In a side consisting of batsmen who looked completely out of their comfort zone, Trott was perhaps the only player who seemed to have a measure of how to play the spinners. Whether the English accept it or not, Trott is the only batsman who warrants his place in the side, based on current form.
  • While I have never been convinced that Bopara is one of the top 6 batsman England have, his performance in the series was utterly non-descript and has done enough to justify his future exclusion from the team. The real disappointment was Kevin Pietersen. Despite one good innings, it is alarming how his batting has fallen away in ODIs. For a player who was once the most exciting batsman in the game, it has been a steep decline, and one hopes that he still has it in him to resurrect his brilliance.
  • A lot was expected from Samit Patel and Jonny Bairstow in this series. While Patel had one good match with the bat and a mixed series with the ball, Bairstow found out for himself how much different the subcontinent is, compared to England. Ashwin and Jadeja toyed with him and by the end of the series, Bairstow’s inexperience was clearly exposed. This will be a valuable tour for him though, and he can only get better for the experience.
  • Graeme Swann came into this series with the reputation of being the world’s best spinner. In the end, he was outbowled by his own team-mate and will be remembered for his unflattering figures, churlish outbursts against team-mates, dropped catches and a poorly timed autobiography.
  • In the absence of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, Tim Bresnan was the leader of the pace attack; but the real hero was Steven Finn. Easily, the biggest positive to come out of this series for England; While his boorish behaviour and misplaced aggro can be put down to his age, his bowling was the only thing which kept most of the games competitive. Like most of the youngsters in the team, this experience will be invaluable down the road.
  • Jade Dernbach has been hyped for a long time now, but over the course of three games, his ‘variations’ were dismissed to all parts of the ground and sometimes over it. In the end, all he showed was poor discipline on and off the field.
  • Overall, the English team was completely different to the one which defeated India in the rain-affected home series a month ago. They were clueless against spin and the batting always seemed one wicket away from a collapse. A lack of support for Finn meant that the bowling was never going to contain a rejuvenated Indian line-up. The biggest shock of all, was their huge drop in fielding standards, as the Indian side outperformed them in the department by a mile (Donkey jibes, anyone?). When they were not busy getting into verbal battles with the Indians, they occupied themselves berating their own team-mates. Normally, this would point to a side in decline; but in Andy Flower they have one of the top coaches in the world, who is capable of turning the fortunes around. While it has been yet another whitewash in the subcontinent for them, the players will be wiser for the experience and hopefully, it will lead to wiser team selections in the future.
All in all, it was a great Diwali gift from the Indian side to their fans. While it will not erase the memories of the Test series humiliation, it has gone a long way in applying balm over the wounds.
Cheers!

This is not payback

Over the last two weeks, there has been an inundation of reports on how the on-going series between India and England is a payback series, for India to extract some revenge over their savage manhandling in the recent Test series in England. Given the way the series has gone so far, the tag is being gleefully justified by most of the media outlets, even the English ones.

What a load of rubbish.

Welcome to India, laddie!

Winning an ODI series at home against a 5th ranked side (4th at the start of the series) is in no way the perfect riposte to the humiliating whitewash in a Test series in the opposition’s backyard, which by the way resulted in conceding the Number 1 crown as well. Sure, the victories in the first two ODIs of this series has somewhat made Indian supporters cheerful again; but we always knew that England were generally rubbish in the 50 over version. The ODI series in England would have been tighter if it wasn’t for old friends Duckworth and Lewis, who had to poke their noses in just about every game of that series. So, defeating England in this series, even in the absence of so many regulars, is not payback enough.

The chance for a real payback comes next year when, apparently, England tour India for a Test series. England used their home advantage well to inflict heavy defeat on an under-prepared Indian side in the last series; therefore, it only makes sense that India churn out some ‘turners’ to test the adaptability of this English side. If and only if India whitewash England then, I will accept it as payback. Till then, will just have to do with tossing them around in ODIs. Sigh.

PS: This has nothing to do with the rest of this article, but had to address this –

Trott’s record in ODIs is better than Bell’s, both in terms of average and strike rate. So get over his inclusion already!

Why is everyone piling on poor Trott, bru?

When Harbhajan made it too large

So, Harbhajan Singh is droppable after all. Who knew?

On a day the Indian selectors showed a middle finger to the off spinner, who arrogantly announced himself ready for the England and West Indies series, they also brought in a fresh faced leg spinner whose route to the national team was on the basis of ONE impressive IPL season, and selected three rookie fast bowlers to face a rising English team on flat tracks.

The umpire does a bhangra after hearing the news of Harbhajan's drop from the team

 

Despite Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Rohit Sharma still nursing their injuries, the batting still retains a solid look. With Parthiv, Rahane, Raina, Kohli, Dhoni and Jadeja all enjoying decent form with the bat, India will not be too bothered about the absentees. It is another matter when it comes to the bowling.

Praveen Kumar is the only comforting pick among the ‘pace’ bowlers. Umesh Yadav has not shown any promise in the brief opportunities he has received and Vinay Kumar is Praveen Kumar without the guile or angry scowls. Hopefully, Varun Aaron and S Aravind get enough chances to impress.

That brings us to the spin department. It was about time Bhajji was dropped. It has been a long time since he was a match winner for the team, with the ball. It is interesting that someone like Harbhajan Singh gets more chances than Rahul Dravid has in ODIs in the last few years. Hopefully, the selectors will not bring him back for the remainder of the series, and he will work on his bowling with trusted and well meaning coaches.

While the selections of Ashwin and Jadeja makes sense, it is unfair that someone like Rahul Sharma gets a place in the team, based on an impressive IPL season. Whether he grabs his chance and shines in his debut series is another matter. It is disappointing for bowlers like Pragyan Ojha and Iqbal Abdullah who do whatever is required of them in domestic cricket and the IPL for the last few seasons now.

Either way, this is the squad for just the first two games; and with Cheeka at the helm, it is hard to predict if they will make any changes to the team after that. Still, by the look of this squad, the selectors are hoping to stumble on to some bowling superstar. For their sake, and for the sake of the team, I hope they do.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Gautam Gambhir, Parthiv Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar, S Aravind, Rahul Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Praveen Kumar.

Dead Man Walking – the Indian cricket version

It hurts.

The last time I felt like this was when India were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the first round itself.

This time, the pain is worse. Watching your team lose its number 1 ranking is never a pleasant thing, but the manner in which they lost it is the most galling. Its hard to come on Twitter or read any news related to the on-going series because of this. A lot of people have been waiting for India’s reign to end, and now that it has happened, they are in what can only be known as ‘orgasmic’ delight.

The much vaunted batting line up has failed to fire. The bowlers have been inconsistent. The fielding has been in shambles. The players look disinterested in the field. Every other day, a player gets injured. All in all, it has been one of the most depressing and soul sapping tours for an Indian cricket fan, let alone an Indian player.

There is still some light at the end of the tunnel. When England got whitewashed in the 2006 Ashes in Australia, the ECB reviewed what went wrong and took some steps, which has ultimately resulted in their team being crowned as Number 1, 5 years down the line. Even Australia have taken some dramatic steps based on the Argus review of their disastrous Ashes performance recently. While it would be too much to expect the same from the Indian board, I hope that they keep aside their obsession with money for just a while, and take some important and necessary steps towards correcting the inherent flaws present in the system, which is preventing the Indian team from being better than they can actually be. There is no shortage of well meaning former players and other experts with intelligent suggestions; hopefully, the BCCI will take heed.

For what its worth, here are some ideas:

  • Appoint someone like Anil Kumble or any other respected former player to review what went wrong with the same team that fought better when they toured Australia and South Africa; and implement the suggestions.
  • Something which has been repeated ad nauseum – we need more practice games when we tour abroad. We just can’t afford to start slow everytime we play an away series.
  • There is no dearth of talented players in the country, and many of them seem to do well, when they play A tours or other Emerging Players tournaments; but when they make the leap to the international arena, they are being found short. Its not only about the cricketing skills; players need to be mentally ready when they make their debuts. This is where senior players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Zaheer have just vital roles to play. Their best days might be over but now it is necessary for them to train the younger generation in matters which even the IPL can’t prepare them for.
  • Players are not machines. Unless the Board realizes that, they will just have to do with the all too frequent injury breakdowns. Review the packed schedule and ensure sufficient recharging time for the players, so that the best team is always available to play when marquee series are round the corner.
  • Cricket can be a cruel game. One day you are feted as world champions, the next you are being pilloried by all and sundry for one lousy series. This team is lucky to have a level headed skipper and battle hardened coach who has seen his share of disastrous tours; but some of the players could be psychologically scarred, what with all the spate of cricketers confessing of depression during their playing days and this is where a sports psychologist is handy. Employ one on a full-time basis, so that players learn to handle depressing days like this better.
These are just some ideas, and there are more experienced people with wiser ideas out there. Hopefully, something good can come out of this right royal mess.
Meanwhile, kudos to the English team. They have played like champions and deserve top billing. All credit goes to Flower, Strauss and his band of merry men, who have the attributes necessary to stay at the top longer than India did. While they will look to win a series in India to establish indisputable credentials for the top ranking, they would do well to take note of an opposition who might be following the proceedings keenly: South Africa. With a new coach and a bunch of world class players itching to prove that they are the best, South Africa remain as their biggest threat to the top ranking. At least THAT would be a contest to savor!

Fire in Birmingham

...in more ways than one. In a city beseiged by unrest and riots, the Indian skipper shows off his fire-fighting skills

Its an innings which might ultimately prove to be futile in the end; but it is good to see the Indian skipper strike some kind of form and not surrender meekly before the inevitable passing of the crown.