On a wet Sunday evening in Birmingham, the last (supposedly) Champions Trophy game ever came down to the final ball. James Tredwell had to only smite a six to bring glory on himself and the English team. On the other hand, Ravichandran Ashwin had to stop that from happening to complete a stunning come-back for the Indians. Ashwin bowled, Tredwell missed and Dhoni danced. England missed yet another opportunity to grab their first ICC trophy in ODIs while MS Dhoni collected the last trophy that had been missing in his collection. Funny that it had to take a Twenty over game to prove which team is the best in the fifty over format.
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.
MS Dhoni’s improved luck with winning the toss continues.
Sehwag ‘s role in the Test team has been modified to be a pinch hitter at the top, and to take the occasional sharp catch, which he can boast about to the press after the game.
Tendulkar’s strike rate in the only innings indicated that he was trying his best to ensure that the Indian team did not miss Dravid’s absence.
“…but, how did you know??”
Raina has devised a new solution to deal with his perceived weakness against short balls: – Get out to spinners.
Pujara is bringing ‘Che’ back in to pop culture.
Ravi Ashwin has been working extra hard on his fitness, apparently. When he bent down to take a sharp catch from Jeetan Patel’s blade in the first innings, the surprised expressions on the faces of his team-mates was something to behold.
Umesh Yadav and Zaheer Khan duly made up the numbers as they pretty much had to take the shine off the new ball and hand it over to the spinners.
As Yuvraj crashed the fourth ball of the 48th over to the boundary and sank to his knees in wild jubilation, 8 years of heartbreak and disappointment over the missed opportunity in the 2003 World Cup final came crashing down. For the millions of people whose dreams were crushed that day, the exit of Australia from the World Cup despite Ponting’s century would have been sweet revenge. It was not exactly a thriller to match the England-India game at Bangalore, but it had its shares of nail biting moments, thanks to some trademark Aussie grit and suicidal running by Gambhir; in the end, though, lack of quality spinners and disciplined fast bowlers cost the Aussies and India have set up a dream clash with Pakistan at Mohali next Wednesday.
There were a lot of key performers from both sides; Brad Haddin was the first to up the ante, while David Hussey gave the finishing touches in the Aussie innings. As for India, Zaheer Khan was at his usual best, giving his side timely breakthroughs. Ashwin took perhaps the most important wicket of all, when he castled Watson early, and was also surprisingly sharp on the field. Tendulkar was all class and Gambhir was steady throughout his innings except for the final moments extending to his dismissal. Raina’s selection ahead of Pathan proved to be a master stroke, as he repayed the faith in him, by hastening the Indian victory. Ultimately though, this game was about two men, who entered the tournament in desperate search of redemption and found it in the quarterfinal; albeit, with differing emotions at the end of the day.
Ricky Ponting is a tough nut. He has always been, and he will continue to be till the day he retires. He has had a rough couple of years, with poor form coinciding with a downward curve in the team’s fortunes. He entered the World Cup on the back of conceding the Ashes at home, and questions swirling around a possible retirement. No sooner had the Cup began, he got into the controversy over a damaged TV set after a dismissal against Zimbabwe, fell to old failings against Canada, displayed a shabby reaction after a misunderstanding with Steven Smith over a catch, and even managed to find himself in the middle of the eternal ‘walking’ debate. All this while rubbishing retirement talk every other day. A lesser man would have thrown his hands up in exasperation and grumbled over the injustice of it all. Instead, he kept stressing that a good innings was around the corner, and eventually knuckled down in the first knockout game of the World Cup for Australia and produced an innings of restraint and skill, which would have been enough on most days, if it was not for the lack of contributions from his team mates. Ponting might yet play for a while longer, and his innings showed that while he may not be the master of old, he still has the fire and hunger to go out on his own terms. A true champion deserves nothing less.
Which brings us to the biggest individual success story of the 2011 World Cup. A man who has been pilloried for the last few years over his weight, lack of fitness, attitude issues, and most importantly, poor form. Dropped from the Test team and temporarily removed from the ODI team, Yuvraj faced a crisis of confidence from where only he could redeem himself. After making an equally baffling return to the ODI side, he didn’t show any signs of what was to come till the tournament began. At the outset of the Cup, he was identified as the primary 5th bowler, even as there were grumblings over whether he even merited a place in the playing XI. After a silent game against the Bangladesh, he warmed up with a now forgotten 50 in the game against England. Then, he got into his stride, with both bat and ball against the lesser teams in the group. This was sandwiched by a failure in the game against South Africa, which raised murmurs that he could only raise his game against weaker opponents. That is what makes his performance against Australia that much more creditable. With the ball, he never really let the batsmen get away picking up the wickets of Haddin and Clarke in the process; but his defining moment came with the bat. He walked into a relative position of strength at 143/3 in the 29th over and saw it stumble to 187/5 after nine overs. With a batsman who was short on practice and confidence for company, he was tasked with shepherding his side to victory and a semifinal clash with their neighbors. The pressure was immense and the possibility of another choke very realistic; but this version of Yuvraj has a certain kind of steel, which has imbued all that the world can throw at him, and transforms him into some sort of venged warrior. He responded in thrilling fashion taking boundaries of Tait and Lee and inspiring Raina to play a blinder of his own. When he hit the winning runs, he let out a roar which was as much a release of all the years of pent up frustration as it was for the cherished victory over a mortal opposition. Redemption is rarely sweeter.
So, hats off to the two champions who performed in the backdrop of another thrilling encounter between these two sides. Their paths may diverge from this point on, but for a few hours on an Ahmedabad evening, it was their day (and night)!
The men entrusted to win the World Cup at home, in front of thousands of cheering fans in the stadiums and millions around the country, have been announced. They will be expected to win their first World Cup trophy since 1983, and will aspire to be the first home nation to walk away with the prize (Sri Lanka in 1996 doesn’t count).
These are the chosen 15:
Personally, I think the selectors did a good job. I agree with 14 of their choices (which is way better than the 9 I agreed with, in WC 2007). Frankly, Rohit Sharma’s omission is not surprising to me; unlike Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel, he never grabbed his opportunities to impress. The only bone of contention is the 15th spot, which went to Piyush Chawla. India might be playing at home in spin friendly conditions, but it is still one spinner too many. With Harbhajan as the first choice spinner and loads of part-timers to support him, it is hard to see a second specialist spinner getting a game. Ashwin was always my second choice, since he has always grabbed his opportunities in whatever limited chances he has got. In case of an injury to Harbhajan, he can step up as the replacement. I find it hard to believe that after all that Dhoni has said, India will play with 5 bowlers, including two spinners; and for all of Chawla’s abilities as a bowler who can bat, it wouldn’t be wise to risk playing him in the biggest tournament of all, when the last time he played for India was almost 2 years ago. So instead of carrying Chawla as a passenger, they could have had a specialist batsmen who can field well as a sub (Rohit Sharma, though I wouldn’t give him a game) or a backup keeper (Parthiv Patel, who was unfairly overlooked in favor of Dinesh Karthik for much of the last four years). Then again, this is the 15th spot we are talking about, and I doubt it is going to make a big difference. I for one, am grateful that the selectors resisted the urge to select Dinesh Karthik or Ravindra Jadeja!
PS: Watch Srikkanth’s hilarious interview on Cricinfo about the WC squad….Geoff Miller is not the only chief selector who can earn money through after dinner speeches!