India vs South Africa

Why out-choking South Africa was the result India needed

9 wickets for 29 runs. Pause for a moment and let that sink in. Even if the pitch was a mine field and the bowlers delivering unplayable deliveries ball after ball, there is simply no excuse for the best batting line up in the world to implode in such a spectacular manner. It was a choke of the highest order, and the South African team would have appreciated that. Then in the second innings, India did pretty well to keep them to 284 with 13 runs to get at the start of the final over. Then Dhoni threw the ball to Nehra; and I immediately expected South Africa to win with a ball to spare. As it turned out, Peterson didn’t even wait till then. I was so stressed out with the result, that I literally had a migraine attack for the next few hours!

Still, now that I have had time to calm down and think about it, this might be the best result for India at this stage. As Dileep Premachandran pointed out in a tweet during the game, a loss will be the only outcome which will force Dhoni’s hand, to make changes to the bowling line up. Why Dhoni went with three pacers against a team like South Africa who struggle against spinners, is beyond me. Having Munaf and Nehra play in the same game is a recipe for disaster and Dhoni paid for stubbornly sticking to whatever game plan he had in his head. How India would have loved to have Ashwin bowling in the batting power play, when De Villiers and co took off! The time for experimentation and improving ‘mental strength’ of players is over – Ashwin has to come in, and Nehra has to sit out. I am not a big fan of Munaf, but compared to Nehra, he has shown more discipline and skill while bowling during crucial phases of the game. Still, it was sad that while Zak was bowling his heart out with skill and precision, the other pacers couldn’t support him. Harbhajan bowled better than his figures suggest, and hopefully this result will stoke his ego and bring out the best in him for the next game.

It was a strange kind of day, where India regressed on one area of their game which is their strength and improved in an area which is their traditional weakness. Batting has always been India’s forte, and after reaching 267/1 in 39 overs, one would have expected a minimum score of 350 with the likes of Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan to come in. The events following the exits of Tendulkar and Gambhir still rankle, and I won’t dwell much on it; but Dhoni hit the nail on the head, when he suggested that the batsmen shouldn’t have played to the gallery. With the quick fall of the settled batsmen, it was a time to play safe for a few overs and then cut loose. Instead, Pathan, Yuvraj, Harbhajan all fell to glory shots, when the need of the hour was to hit and run in the presence of a brilliant bowling and fielding effort by the South Africans. Even if we had stumbled on to 320, we could have made a better fist of it. As in the case of Zaheer on the bowling front, all the good work done by Sachin and Sehwag went to nought after the poor follow up by the middle and lower order. Still, I feel that the batting is in good hands, and it is a matter of realizing now that it is never a good time to become complacent. From now on, the batsmen will do well to remember the great implosion at Nagpur when they face off against other teams in the future, and bat according to the situation.

As for the traditional weakness, if at all there is something Dhoni can be happy about, it is the fielding. It still wasn’t perfect, with a couple of dropped catches and singles allowed to be converted into twos, but overall, there was a marked improvement in the fielding. Fielders who usually love to escort the ball to the boundary, now put in dives to ensure that there wouldn’t be any freebies for the batsmen. Kohli, Sehwag, Harbhajan and even Tendulkar at some point, would have gladdened Dhoni’s heart, who might actually start to believe now that there IS a way for the fielding standards to improve. Hopefully, they can sustain the same kind of intensity in the next game as well.

A brief mention about the behavior of Bhajji. While I do not condone abuse of any kind, I think it is important to remember that not every bowler can be a Murali, who responds with a grin when he picks up a wicket. There was a lot of consternation in the twitter-sphere and Cricinfo live comm feedback section over Harbhajan’s reaction to De Villiers’ wicket; and while I belive that it is not necessary for a feisty send off to the dismissed batsman, I believe that players like Bhajji need that kind of spark to play better. It is not pretty to watch, but neither is it pretty to see that when Steyn reacts in almost a similar manner.

So there it is. I needed to get that of my chest. While India are still searching for a convincing victory in this campaign, I feel that things are slowly falling into place. I believe that we have finally stumbled on to our best combination. The only change I would bring about is the inclusion of Ashwin in place of Nehra. The bowling and fielding showed signs of improvement, while one bad day at the office will not erase the fact that the Indian batting is still the best in the business. If all these areas of India’s game comes together, India might just be glad for that loss to South Africa, which would have prompted a re-think of their strategy and emboldened their players to play better.

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Lessons from the India-South Africa ODI series

South Africa were the well deserved winners of the tightly contested ODI series with India. This is because in Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe, they had three bowlers who were on top of their game and dominated the Indian batsmen barring the likes of Kohli and Pathan. In the batting department, Amla and Duminy got the runs when it mattered, and the fielding was better than the opposition’s (as expected). On the other hand, India relied on Kohli to put runs on the board, and if it wasn’t for two scorching Pathan knocks, the scoreline could have looked even worse. The bowling ranged from disciplined to non-threatening, and ultimately the home team managed to put the touring side away, destroying any Indian hopes of a historic series win.

  • Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma justified their non-selections for the World Cup with their continued non performances, despite umpteen opportunities. They are a select band of cricketers, who seem to do well only in the IPL and will be pleased that the 4th edition is coming on the heels of the World Cup.
  • On the other hand, Parthiv Patel continues to impress in the limited opportunities that he gets, despite not making any substantial scores. He deserves to be India’s 2nd choice keeper.
  • Sachin Tendulkar figured in all of two ODIs and looked stable without threatening to make a big score. Calm before the storm, perhaps?

  • Along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli will be expected to form the backbone of the Indian middle order in the years to come, given his proclivity for standing tall amidst the ruins of batting collapses. Before the series, it was a question of whether Kohli can be accommodated in a line-up of big hitters during the World Cup; now, the question is as to which batting position he should hold.
  • Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni were big disappointments, failing to muster even hundred runs in the series. India can only imagine the state of the series, if they had fired. If they maintain this kind of form over the next two months, India can kiss their chances of winning a World Cup at home, goodbye.
  • While Kohli played himself into the WC playing XI, Suresh Raina has played himself out of it. Once, he was considered the trump card for the tournament, but with the emergence of Pathan and a dip in form and confidence, it is hard to see him being picked ahead of the other contenders.

  • Yusuf Pathan was India’s biggest positive of the series. Despite scoring a thrilling century against New Zealand in the last ODI series, it remained to be seen whether he could reprise these kind of performances against tougher oppositions and in foreign conditions. In a series where he scored two violent innings taking India to victory once and nearly there in the other one, he cleared all doubts and looks set for a big tournament at home.
  • As is the case most often these days, Harbhajan Singh didn’t end the series with a bucket-load of wickets; but he did exert a modicum of control over the batsmen, who seemed hesitant to attack him. If he can transfer this aggressive bowling to the World Cup, India’s chances are much brighter. Finest moment in the series, was helping India to a win at Cape Town – with the bat.
  • Once again, Zaheer Khan was India’s finest bowler in the series. He led the attack well and his mental hold over Grame Smith is as amusing as it is predictable. Along with Pathan, he gave India hope at Centurion. Might have a handy role with the bat at the WC, as well.
  • India’s leading wicket taker was, surprisingly Munaf Patel. With 11 wickets at an average of 18.72, he might just have booked his slot in the playing XI at the WC. Discipline, accuracy and a knack of picking wickets at crucial moments are all valuable assets in pressure situations; and he might yet star in the next two months.
  • After a stellar 2010, Ashish Nehra has been off-color in ODIs since the NZ series. Like Harbhajan, his finest moment came with the bat in Cape Town, but it is his bowling which is under scrutiny. With the good performance of Munaf and Dhoni’s reliance on Praveen Kumar as an ODI specialist, Nehra faces a stiff contest to figure in the playing XI in the WC.
  • An interesting choice for the 15th spot in the WC squad, Piyush Chawla did nothing to justify or rubbish his selection.
  • What is it about Zaheer Khan that Graeme Smith cannot understand? Whatever it is, South Africa will hope that he sorts it out before their clash against India in the World Cup. Otherwise, he had a middling series with just one fifty and will hope to sign off as captain, in glory at the WC.
  • He might be of Indian origin, but Hashim Amla has no qualms about scoring plenty against them as he rounded off another ODI series as the leading run-getter. Going into the World Cup, he will be one of South Africa’s main weapons and it will be a delight to follow him over the next two months.
  • Colin Ingram and David Miller were two players I was looking forward to following more closely, but they couldn’t even last till the end after disappointing in the first half of the series. In Miller’s case, he was not even selected for the World Cup, while Ingram might have just lost his slot in the playing XI to Du Plessis. Still, I believe that Ingram will be one of the players for the future.
  • Morne van Wyk had just two games to make a name for himself, and he grabbed his opportunity with a valuable fifty in the decider, which might see him slot in to the playing XI next month. He is what Ravi Shastri would call a ‘busy’ cricketer with aggressive strokes while batting and lots of bustling on the field. He could become a critical component of South Africa’s World Cup campaign.
  • AB de Villiers capped off a disappointing summer against the Indians with an average of just over 22 in the ODIs. I still maintain that he is going to be one of the players to watch in the World Cup, but he sure does have to regain his mojo fast.
  • Faf du Plessis made a bright entry in international cricket with a fine looking fifty, but after that didn’t really bother the scorers much. With the ball, he looked decent enough without being threatening; but it is a safe bet that he will figure in the starting XI next month.
  • He might have lost his spot in the Test XI but JP Duminy is still going strong in the ODIs. Apart from Amla, he has been the most consistent bat for the Saffers, and his off-spin is a valuable asset to have in subcontinental conditions.
  • The almost-million dollar man for the Rajasthan Royals and the ODI skipper in waiting for South Africa, Johan Botha batted at one position too high for him (at no. 7) and still managed to get some crucial runs particularly at Port Elizabeth. With the ball, he was not extraordinary; then again, it is not expected from him. His finest moment – getting Tendulkar out bowled; forgettable moments – getting the violent treatment from his IPL team-mate Pathan, at Cape Town and Centurion.
  • Wayne Parnell and Robin Peterson didn’t impact in any major way, though Parnell definitely made the series memorable by choking at Jo’burg.

  • It is an amazing transformation by Morne Morkel to become a fearsome operator in the shorter formats, which he sucked at for a long time. With a bowling average of just over 11 and economy rate of less than 4, it is safe to say that he dominated the Indian batsmen so much so that they never really got off to a flyer in any of the five games. Only Pathan seemed to know how to handle him, and even he treated Morkel with more respect than he did with other bowlers. It will be interesting, though to see how he will fare in the subcontinent.

  • Like Munaf Patel, L Tsotsobe (aka Lopsy) was the surprise leading wicket taker for his side, and for the whole series with 13 scalps at 13.53. Over the course of this summer, he has earned a lot of respect from his opposition and a lot of love from the home supporters. He could turn out to be a game changer at the WC if he can adjust to the subcontinental pitches quickly.
  • Dale Steyn was outshone by Morkel and Tsotsobe in this series, but by no means was he inferior to them. His economy rate of under 4 shows a man who is in control of his skill, and it was clear that he had a mental hold over the Indian batsmen. He will still remain as the speedster to watch, at World Cup 2011 and how he fares could determine how far South Africa will progress in the tourney.

As you can see, this series was all about how the two teams were shaping up for the big one – World Cup 2011. India might have lost the series, but as Dhoni said, the emergence of Pathan as a reliable allrounder and the disciplined bowling at the death were the two major positives, keeping the World Cup in mind. I wouldn’t be too worried about the batting – the return of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir will inspire confidence in the middle order, who in any case will regain their form upon setting their sights on familiar pitches. As for South Africa, I’m not too convinced about their middle and lower order. Botha is batting way too high and du Plessis/van Wyk will have tougher tests against better bowling attacks. The inconsistent form of Smith and de Villiers will also be a worry. What will give them a lot of confidence is the way the bowlers and Amla/Duminy are shaping up. All in all, I still consider them to be one of the favorites for the Cup. After all, they did win two deciding ODIs against Pakistan and India and might have just laid the dreaded C word to rest!

Munaf and Watson – cometh the hour, cometh the men

Cricket can be so infuriating sometimes. Just when you think you know it all, and how a game is going to pan out – thats when it bites you in the ass. Yesterday, I switched off from the India – South Africa game, when SA were 106/3; fully confident that South Africa would easily win the game considering the way Smith was playing. Of course, I conveniently forgot another India – South Africa clash which took place in 2002, a semifinal match in the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo. South Africa were cruising to victory chasing 262, with Gibbs and Kallis leading the way, when I switched off the telly at 180/1. The next morning, I woke up to the news that India had won the game by 10 runs due to a combination of uncharacteristic Indian fielding and characteristic South African choking. That day, I made a vow to myself, that I would never consider any result as a foregone conclusion, based on halfway scorelines. Instead, I fell into old habits, and voila, 24 hours later when I decided to check the latest cricket news – ‘Munaf stars in stunning one-run win’.

After frantically searching for highlights, I managed to watch how the game was won (and lost by South Africa). There will be a lot of critics throwing out the ‘C’ word, but how else can you describe this, other than saying that the Saffers choked big time. The pitch was slow alright, but with Smith playing the way he was, and the presence of legitimate batsmen like Duminy and Miller for support, there is no way that they should have lost the game. The Indian bowling was disciplined but not threatening, and they were more generous with the bad deliveries unlike the South African bowling. With the World Cup around the corner, they will face more pitches like these in the subcontinent, and it is time they think about a deeper batting line up. Botha and Parnell can get you runs now and then, but you cannot expect them to score all the time, and against tougher bowling attacks.

On the other hand, when India needed a player to step up to the moment, Munaf Patel came forward. I don’t think he was unplayable, but he did his part to the best of his abilities. First up, he took out the big wicket of Amla and that was invaluable considering the form he is in. Then, he returned to trigger the slide, with the wicket of the skipper; and hammered the final nail in the coffin with the wickets of Morkel and Parnell. The thing about Munaf is, that like the South African Tsotsobe, he is not express pace like Steyn and does not generate bounce like Morkel; but when the mood strikes him, he can bowl with unerring discipline and accuracy, which is a potent mix in ODIs. With the World Cup team selection next week, Munaf grabbed his chance to impress the selectors, and in the process brought about a morale boosting win for the Indians.

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Since I had switched off from the cricket for 24 hours, I missed another classic game between cricket’s oldest traditional rivals. In the first of a marathon ODI series, England had set Australia  a target of 295, which was duly chased down with Shane Watson leading the way. I haven’t yet seen any highlights of the game, but from what I read, he played one of the finest one-day knocks ever seen, and even without seeing any of it, I can agree with that.

Throughout a horrendous summer for the Aussies, Watson has scored umpteen fifties, without ever carrying on to make a big one; and it has hurt the team, as he is one of the few batsmen in good nick. On a Melbourne Sunday, that changed, as he led the way with a fine unbeaten 161. As I cannot judge his innings without having seen it, I can appreciate the context in which he has scored it. Having lost the Ashes at home and tied the T20s, Australia would have been desperate for some good news, anything to divert their minds from the devastating floods. Watson himself had so much to worry about, with the floods having caused havoc in his hometown of Ipswich. Additionally, he had the burden of leading the batting forward in the absence of support from his fellow top order bats. A loss in the first match of the series, could have plunged the team into serious doubt over their own abilities as a winning side and adversely affected their mindset for the impending World Cup; but as they say, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and Watson was the man for Australia. I was never really a fan of Watto, but he has won me over. In the face of doubts, criticisms, ridicules and severe strife, he played a defining knock to cheer his country and give his team hope. For that, I can get behind him, and even make an honest effort to like him. Here’s to an actual contest between England and Australia!

 

Chris is the new Shane; Kohli is the old Tendulkar

Once upon a time, only in the Australian team could a debutant just walk in and win a game for his side; its a sign of the times, that the baton has been passed down to the English team. Kudos to coach Flower for pushing Woakes ahead of Swann. It pays to have a coach who follows the domestic scene and has an idea of the capabilities of players.

Meanwhile in South Africa, there is another changing of the guard. In the 90s, it was the sole preserve of Tendulkar to score consistently while all around him collapsed, despite the team winning or not. Now, he follows the ‘all or none’ principle by either scoring big centuries or nothing at all; and India has managed to find a way to win without him in the ODIs. Instead, it is the young Kohli who has taken on the responsibility of scoring while all around him perish. He has a pretty good average for someone who has always had to play second fiddle to the likes of Gambir and Yuvraj. It is just a matter of time before he breaks into the Test side, and takes on Tendulkar’s role once he retires; and once again do the rescue acts, which will be inevitable once Dravid and Laxman leave as well.

Lessons from the Castle Lager Test series in South Africa

  • Gautam Gambhir: Everyone knew Gambhir has been a brilliant opener for India at home and abroad against weaker teams; but the question was how he would fare in Tests against tougher opponents in countries like England, Australia and South Africa. He took a big step towards answering that by performing creditably in the two games he played. He faced the might of Steyn and Morkel at their furious best, and survived to ensure that India would walk away with a share of the series spoils. Dravid might be out of the team soon, but in Gambhir, India has a batsman who can battle through the tough times to see them through.
  • Virender Sehwag: Possibly, the biggest disappointment of the series. There was big anticipation for the clash between him and Steyn, but there was no contest really. In conditions favorable to the bowlers and against a pumped up pace attack, Sehwag could only manage 144 runs in the series at an average of 24 and a shockingly low SR of 70.24! He will be keen to put this series behind him and come out, all guns blazing in the World Cup at home.
  • Rahul Dravid: In an earlier time, Dravid against this attack and in these conditions would have seen a couple of marathon knocks atleast. Instead, all we got was the sad sight of seeing him struggle to get 120 runs at a SR of 33 and a highest score of 43. He played his part in saving India on the last day of the series, but there is no doubt, that the end is near for a wonderful career.

  • Sachin Tendulkar: In a series featuring the two top teams in the world, it was appropriate that there was a shoot-out for the best batsman in the world today, as well. Tendulkar might not have scored the amount of runs that Kallis did, but his performance was equally awe inspiring. In the first Test, he instilled self belief in the rest of the batsmen over the course of scoring a 50th Test ton, and at Newlands he faced one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling one will ever see, and came out with an innings which made sure that India were on level terms with South Africa. After 21 years in International cricket, there is no end to his gluttonous appetite for runs.
  • VVS Laxman: In a year featuring many classics from this man, the 96 he scored in the second innings of the 2nd Test was perhaps the most important of them all. In the company of the tail, he rescued his team from a precarious situation and gave them a total to defend. In the process, he helped them secure one of their most memorable wins in Test cricket. Its time, India and the rest of the world treasure his batting skills for as long as he is around.
  • Cheteshwar Pujara: It was always expecting too much from Pujara, to face the likes of Steyn and Morkel in their own backyard and come up trumps. Still, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In the second innings at Durban, he played the most important innings of his brief career so far and weathered the bowlers for close to one and a half hours while giving Laxman valuable support. He would have learnt a lot from this tour and still remains an exciting prospect for the future.
  • MS Dhoni: He came within one wicket of securing his most famous series win yet, but Dhoni will take the eventual scoreline. After all, he has yet to lose a test series as captain. As a captain, his tactics were criticized and his handling of Sreesanth was also open to debate; but as a batsman, he did a decent job and as a keeper, he was safe without being spectacular. This series might have got away, but he can look forward to England and Australia with confidence.
  • Harbhajan Singh: It has been quite a while since he topped the bowling charts for India, and Harbhajan will be satisfied with his performance after receiving a lot of stick from fans and media alike, prior to the series. At Durban, he hastened South Africa’s demise in the first innings; and at Cape Town, he gave India its best shot at a series win. In the end it was not to be, but for once he starred with the ball, rather than with the bat.
  • Zaheer Khan: He was sorely missed at Centurion, and on return at Durban he made his presence felt. He might not have the speed of Steyn or bounce of Morkel, but he has plenty of guile and variations to make up for it. Once again, he had the wood over Graeme Smith so much that Smith asked his opening partner to take first strike against him. He faded ever so slightly on the 4th day at Cape Town, which allowed Kallis and co to take command; but overall, he led the attack very well, and will be a vital weapon for India in 2011.
  • I Sharma: While Zaheer and Sreesanth featured in the news throughout the series, Ishant had a relatively quiet series. A horror match at Centurion was followed by a modest one at Durban and he finished the series with another quiet performance at Cape Town. These were conditions tailor-made for him, but he was thwarted by some good batting and his own indiscipline. Still has problems with no-balls, and I have no idea why Eric Simons has still not found a remedy for that.

  • S Sreesanth: There’s something about South Africa that brings out the best and worst in Sreesanth. One moment, he is bowling vicious snorters to get rid of one of the best batsmen in the world; and the next, he is in trouble with the opposing captain, his own captain, the match refree and the crowd – all for his behavior. He is supposed to be an experienced bowler for India by now, but he is more of an enfant terrible at the moment. He has the talent, but can he maintain his focus in 2011?
  • Raina, Vijay and Unadkat: None of them grabbed the opportunities that came their way, and they have only themselves to blame for that.
  • Graeme Smith: A poor series with the bat, where he could not kick on to make big scores; was more in the news for his poor track record against Zaheer and clash with Sreesanth. Before the series, he made comments alluding that India cannot be considered top dog if they can’t win in South Africa. Forget India, he will do well to remember that South Africa has not won in South Africa for the last three series. By his standards, that’s not the stuff of champions either.
  • Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince: Apart from a good innings here and there, did not do much to put their detractors at bay.
  • Hashim Amla: The bearded one had a modest series by his standards. He resumed his love affair with the Indian bowling at Centurion by scoring a century, had a quiet match at Durban, and scored a rapid fire 50 at Newlands before succumbing to a self described ‘sugar rush’. Still, he was the third highest run getter in the series, and he looks in the best of touch. Yousuf might be fading away, but another bearded batting master is taking his place.

  • Jacques Kallis: In a long and distinguished career, Kallis has played some important knocks against top quality bowlers in demanding conditions; but I doubt that any of his previous innings would have given him as much satisfaction as the one he played on the 4th day at Newlands. South Africa was in trouble at 130/6, when he played a vital innings which was as painful (due to injury) as it was gutsy. This was following the century he had scored in the 1st innings to get South Africa to a challenging score. Fair to say, if it wasn’t for him, India would be toasting a historic victory now. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate run-out and a ripper of a delivery, there is no saying what the eventual result could have been. Along with Tendulkar, he proved that age doesn’t matter when you are in a purple patch for as long as anyone can remember, and ignited a debate as to who the better batsman is. Ponting can only look over, with envy. Oh, did I mention that he scored his first ever double century at Centurion?
  • AB De Villiers: Like Amla, he started brilliantly at Centurion with a bruising ton which deflated the Indians, but couldn’t sustain the form for the rest of the series. He was a surprise disappointment of the series.
  • Mark Boucher: If it wasn’t for his fighting half century in the 2nd innings at Cape Town, this could have been his last Test for South Africa. Instead, along with his long time friend and accomplice, he took the game away from India in true gritty manner. If it does prove to be his final innings, he would have signed off in typical style.
  • Paul Harris and L Tsotsobe: While Harris was ineffectual as expected, Tsotsobe was the surprise package. While they were on the look for respite from Steyn and Morkel, Tsotsobe rarely released the pressure, and only uncharacteristic dropped catches prevented him from getting more wickets. He held a phenomenal catch at Centurion to boot.
  • M Morkel: Along with Steyn, great things were expected of him before the series. While Steyn stole the headlines, Morkel did his part. After routing the Indians in the first innings at Centurion, he handed over the honors to Steyn for the rest of the series. He continued to bruise the Indians with his awkward bounce and ended up as the 2nd leading wicket taker in the series. If this was supposed to be a contest between the world’s best batsmen and the world’s best pace attack, there is no doubt who was the winner.

  • D Steyn: While two batting legends set about enhancing their reputations and breaking new ground, there was only one bowling legend in this series. If anyone had any doubts as to the greatness of Steyn, they should watch his bowling in the 3rd Test at Cape Town. Speed, swing, accuracy…he had it all. He had some of the world’s best batsmen at his mercy, and it was only his presence which forbade the Indians to entertain any hopes of chasing down 340 to win. He ended the series as the leading wicket taker with 21 wickets and an average of just above 17. He single handedly nullified the Sehwag threat, and along with Morkel established themselves as the top bowling pair in cricket, without a doubt. Now, only if he could replicate this form in the shorter formats…

Overall, for the third successive time a contest between these two sides has ended in a fair stalemate. It may not compare to the Ashes in terms of history and prestige, but for the pure joy of watching top quality, competitive cricket, this is one clash always worth looking forward to.

Best moment of the series:

Quote of the series:

We’ll need two goats to feed on this grassy pitch.

Harbhajan Singh, that delightful pitch expert, comes up with a novel idea to make the Kingsmead track more batsman-friendly

For my review of the Ashes, click here

Tendulkar vs Steyn – Immovable Object meets Irresistible Force

 

On the same day the Australian bowlers were bowling tripe in the Ashes, a thrilling contest between the world’s best speedster and the world’s best batsman, took place at Cape Town. There is a good article on Cricinfo about it. For me, watching the passage of play when Steyn was breathing fire at Sachin, at 4am in the morning, reminds me why I love Test cricket. Steyn was too good for all batsmen bar Tendulkar. He bowled missiles after missiles, tried engaging him in a verbal joust, all to no avail. Steyn might have had the better of Tendulkar throughout the innings, but he couldn’t prevent him from marching on to yet another century and putting India at level terms with South Africa. Hopefully, part 2 of this contest will be seen in a couple of days, and the winner of that, will decide the fate of this series.

These are Tendulkar’s stats against Steyn in the 2nd innings of this test:

23 runs from 83 balls with SR of 27.71 (72 dot balls, 5 singles, 3 doubles and 3 boundaries)

 

For the first few overs of the day, when Steyn got going against Tendulkar, take a look at this clip:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kallis scores a ton; Watson scores a 40 – nothing’s changed in 2011

Admitted, it has only been two days of test cricket in two matches; but one can sense, that for some, things will never change.

In South Africa, a fascinating contest between the top two teams is taking place, where after two days, the game seems fairly even. For that, the credit should go to Kallis. The bulwark of South Africa batting for more than a decade, has once again risen to the big occasion, and given his team the best possible position to win the game. As much as I am a big fan of Tendulkar, I find it a bit condescending that some people label Kallis as the ‘Tendulkar of South Africa’. Kallis is a legend in his own right, and if there is anyone who can catch up with Sachin in terms of Test centuries, only he stands a realistic chance. He has been ridiculously consistent all across the globe, and unlike other contemporary batting superstars, I don’t recall him being in any kind of poor form over the course of his career. The only thing which can stop him right now is his age and the toll on his body every time he comes out to play.  Now, that he is unlikely to bat in the 2nd innings unless it is necessary, India will have gained some more confidence in their search for that elusive series victory in South Africa.

Across the seas, in Australia, you would be forgiven for having a sense of deja vu. Australia bat first, lose wickets at regular intervals, and concede the first day’s honors to England. The story of the series, really. There were some changes in the storyline of course; Australia had a new skipper and a new number 3 batsman, one of whom had a creditable outing. Hughes waited till he got to the 30s before giving his wicket to Tremlett; and thanks to rain, Australia were not bowled out in the first day itself. All these aside, what amuses me, is Watson’s inability to post a big score. Here is one of Australia’s in-form batsmen, who looks rarely troubled when he is at the crease, has the ability to both attack and defend capably, and has the important responsibility of setting the agenda for the game, given his batting position, form and situation of the series; but there he is, once again, looking set for a big one, before losing concentration to throw away his wicket. If North was infuriating for his wild inconsistencies, Watson is infuriating (to the Aussies!) for his  ridiculous consistency in throwing away good starts. Given that Hughes is still fighting his own personal battles with technique, it is imperative for Watson to get big scores at the top of the order, and relieve some of the pressure faced by the brittle middle order. You can have all the technique and talent in the world, but if you can’t make use of it, what is the point? He would do well to look at a fellow allrounder in South Africa for inspiration.

Finally, here is the wisest quote of this infant year, so far:

You can make something out of anything. You can say Michael Beer is the first person to stick his tongue out 24/7 to play for Australia.

Usman Khawaja on his ‘history-making heritage’

My 2011 wishlist for International Cricket

I had a terrible year...how about you guys?

 

Its the end of a fascinating year in cricket  – a year which included among many others, a maiden World T20 title for England, a thrilling end to Murali’s career, Laxman’s numerous houdini acts, the spot-fixing saga in England, Bangladesh whitewashing New Zealand in ODIs, Modi’s crash and burn, Sachin breaking barriers in ODIs and Tests, the declining fortunes of the Aussies, and of course, the Ashes retained by England. I can only hope for another year like that in 2011:

  • Khawaja scores a breath-taking ton in a losing cause against England at Sydney, as Collingwood scores a gritty double century to prolong his career.
  • Zaheer grabs a 10 wicket haul and Sehwag scores a double century to seal a historic series victory in South Africa, despite the best efforts of Amla and  Steyn.
  • Pakistan and New Zealand take part in a thrilling ODI series, at the end of which, Ijaz Butt starts off on a rant, as to how it is all a big conspiracy to defraud Pakistan cricket, when someone reminds him that Pakistan have won.
  • The World Cup final is contested between India and England, which ends in a dramatic tie, after valiant performances by the unlikely duo of Strauss and Jadeja.
  • IPL 4 is won by Ganguly-led Kochi, after a whirlwind knock by Clarke (yes, Michael!) just pushes them over the line against Lara’s Pune (Clarke vs Lara, get it?).
  • England and India take part in a run-filled Test series featuring marathon batting knocks by Cook, Trott, Dravid and Harbhajan.
  • West Indies and Pakistan take part in a Test series, which is filled with countless mentions of how Darren Bravo’s stroke-play reminds one of Brian Lara, and how Amir’s return to international cricket is a disgrace to the beautiful game (cricket, in this instance!)
  • New Zealand skipper, chief selector, part-time cricket board chief – Dan Vettori, blasts the media, after taking umbrage to the remark that he was a poor man’s Shakib Al Hasan, at the end of another whitewash against Bangladesh even as coach Wright longs for another stint with India.
  • Zimbabwe invite Sri Lanka to take part in their domestic competition, after Sangakarra is left fuming at the lack of games for his team. Sri Lanka accept the invitation and travel to Zimbabwe, upon which the entire season is washed out due to rain, leading to the skipper’s remarks that it was the “worst first class season of my life”.
  • Things move fast in South Africa where Hashim Amla takes over the reins after De Villiers decides to take a break, to spend more time developing his music career. Paul Harris is the leading wicket taker of the year, after batsmen throw their wickets away attempting to slog him, after bearing the brunt of Steyn and Morkel.
  • India’s tour of Australia is mired in controversy, after new Aussie skipper Watson accuses India of deliberately destroying Johnson’s career by smashing him all around the park with scant respect. It completely overshadows career defining performances by Pujara, Unadkat, Ferguson and Beer.
  • Finally, the leading run scorer and wicket taker of the year are, Ian Bell and some fast bowler Pakistan unearthed at the beginning of 2011.

Have a good 2011, everybody!

All I want for Christmas – a cricket-related wishlist

Its Christmas time, and what better way of spending time, than watching some high quality cricket, around the clock, and from around the world. First, of course there is the Ashes, with the possibility of England retaining the Ashes well before the New Year; then there, is the India-SA clash, with both teams itching to prove that they are the better team. We also have a Pak-NZ clash down under, where two teams who have had tumultuous years will be desperate to start the new year well. Here, then, is my Christmas wish-list:

The Ashes

  • For Australia to display the same performance they did at Perth.
  • For England to show that their performance in the same match was just a matter of one bad game.
  • For Watson to finally score a century (hey, I’m in the Christmas spirit!)
  • For Ponting to display some of his old batting brilliance.
  • For Beer to play, so that we can all be subjected to some creative, and some horrible, puns.
  • For Swann to showcase a masterclass of spin.
  • For the English bowling to prove that they don’t need Broad again (wishful thinking, really)
  • Finally, for Australia to lose in a nail-biting finish.

India-South Africa

  • For the Boxing day test, to be a contest worthy of a clash between the top two teams in the world.
  • For more bowler-friendly conditions for the two teams.
  • For India to show some spunk in the batting, in tough conditions.
  • For the Indian bowlers to jog their memory, and try to remember how to take wickets.
  • For Harbhajan to forget his batting and concentrate more on his bowling.
  • For Zaheer to stay fit for the next 3 months at the least.
  • For the likes of Amla, Kallis, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to display some vintage Test batting.
  • For Paul Harris to be smashed out of the attack.
  • Finally, for India to win the Test, so that the 3rd Test will be worth watching.

Pakistan-NZ

  • For the series to go ahead without one controversy, atleast!

Merry Christmas, everybody, and have a joyful new year!!