dhoni

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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The emotional journey of the Indian fan during the WT20 – through GIFs

India came into the World T20, after a dispiriting few months where they just about lost every series, regardless of the format, since November last year. So, when it was time for the World T20 to begin and we realized that we were grouped with Pakistan, West Indies and Australia…..

 

The campaign started on a perfect note though, with a clinical win over Pakistan, but the heart refused to accept that the team would fare better in the remaining games…..

 

Then India beat defending champions West Indies in similarly convincing style. Suddenly, the expectations were kindled….

 

India rolled over Bangladesh and became the first team to enter the semifinals, which was a pleasant surprise

 

By the time Australia were brushed aside ruthlessly, confidence was sky-high

 

India faced South Africa in the semifinal, and were faced with their first challenging target of the tournament. Kohli was all like…

 

India entered the WT20 final for the second time since 2007 and anticipation was building, when it was realized that they were going to play Sri Lanka in the final.

 

Still, it was an opportunity for India to hold all three major ICC trophies at the same time…

 

India batted first. Kohli stuck some lusty blows and at the half way point, it looked like a good platform was set for the finish. Then Yuvraj happened.

 

The game was effectively over by the time Dhoni and Kohli returned to the dejected dugout. Sri Lanka duly completed the chase with Sangakkara leading the team to a memorable triumph in his last T20 international. For the India fan,

 

Then we remembered that the IPL is round the corner….

Not sufficiently excited about the Mohali clash?

A World Cup semi final featuring India and Pakistan. It will be the mother of all cricket matches. War sans the weapons. A battle for pride and honor. A blood feud between two warring neighbors.

Yawn.

In truth, it will be a high pressure match between two very talented teams, who will play the game like their lives depend on it (in some cases, their lives do depend on it!). There has been a lot of hype as usual, with politicians and movie stars wanting a piece of the action and the security and secret service are being kept on their toes, but the real pressure will be on the players, who dutifully have to maintain that they feel no pressure at all, in front of the cameras. For the agnostic who wonders what the fuss is all about and who feels left out, take a look below, as to why you should get excited about the Mohali clash:

1. Miandad sets a template for things to come…

2. ‘More’ Miandad (see what I did there?)…

3. Prasad and Sohail share the love in 1996…

4. Kanitkar’s moment in the sun (floodlight!)…

5. Will we see a contest between these two for the final time on Wednesday?

6. Afridi does what he used to do best…

7. Dhoni returns the favor…

8. Its a tie!

9. Misbah gives birth to IPL…

10. Yuvraj and Gul…will we see Act 2 in Mohali?

11. Gambhir and Afridi…all they want is some space..

12. Gambhir’s comments on Akmal’s keeping skills gets him riled up..

13. The last time they met each other…

 

I rest my case.

(If anyone has a problem with my selection of clips, stop whining and let me know which ‘moments’ should make the cut; and I will be gracious enough to add it here….)

Lessons from Centurion – 1st Test India vs South Africa

  • Gambhir and Sehwag seemed to have learned their lessons, in the second innings; but I won’t be too sure unless I see them again on another day of tough conditions.
  • Dravid is in the same stage as Ponting is. Some days, he will score big centuries, but most of the time, he is going to score painstaking 30s and 40s. A sad final phase of a glorious career.
  • Tendulkar created a new record. Yawn.

  • Laxman had a rare twin failure; but Raina’s continuing dip in form and confidence might warrant trying Pujara for the next test.
  • It’s good to see the return of the original Dhoni when batting. This is the kind of batting that suits him, and he needs to play his natural game every time.

  • As expected, Harbhajan barely had any effect. Will be surprised, if that changes anytime soon.
  • Sreesanth and Sharma were huge disappointments. Looks like Zaheer is turning out to be the ‘Tendulkar of 90s’ for the bowlers. Without him, the pace attack is very unreliable.
  • Unadkat seems to be a decent prospect, but there is no doubt, that he is too raw right now.
  • Smith, Amla and de Villiers – all played characteristic innings. It is hard to envision India getting through these bats easily, for the rest of the series.
  • It is one of the strangest piece of stats, that Kallis scored his first double century in his 242nd innings. Even Jason Gilliespie got a double before him!

  • Tsotsobe and Harris were the supporting acts, and they played their parts to perfection.
  • Steyn and Morkel – they have won the first round. Can the Indians tame them, next time around?

India vs South Africa – Clash of the Titans

Finally, the much awaited non-Ashes test series of the year, is upon us. The No. 1 side takes on the No. 2 side, in a 3 test series, which will confirm if India has finally learned to crack the code in hostile environs. They are led by the capable MS Dhoni, under whom they have not lost a test series in two years, and are packed with world class batsmen and competitive bowlers. Their ground fielding is way behind some of the other teams, but importantly, they don’t drop too many catches. One of the biggest advantages they have going into the series, is the presence of Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons. Their local experience coupled with the extensive preparation they have put in, in the lead-up to the series, could prove to be the tipping point for India. Add to this, the fact that, this is the best Indian team to tour South Africa, ever. If they cannot win the series this time, they might as well forget winning here again for a while, considering that their big three (Sachin, Dravid, Laxman) would be playing in their last tour here.

As for South Africa, they will be having the odds on their side, given their balance and knowledge of the conditions. Any team, which has Steyn and Morkel marking their run-ups at the start of the opposition’s innings, will consider themselves favorites on fast, bouncy pitches. Their spin option is not threatening, but on these grounds, against Indian batsmen, they wouldn’t matter anyway. They have a powerful batting line-up, which can rival India, in terms of racking up big scores. Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers are in no way inferior to Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. One area, where they are miles ahead of India, is their fielding; and in a tight contest, it could tilt the series in their favor.

Without further ado, here is player-by-player look:

INDIA (best XI)

Gautam Gambhir: Its been a long time, since India have toured South Africa, with a stable opening combination; This time around, they have, perhaps the best Indian openers since Gavaskar. It might be Gambhir’s first test tour of South Africa; but he is a driven cricketer, who has just returned to form, and his partnership with Sehwag will be an interesting plot-line in this series.

Virender Sehwag: He burst into the test scene, with a dazzling debut ton at Bloemfontein in 2001, against the likes of Pollock, Hayward and Ntini. Since then, his average in South Africa is a measly 26.44, compared to an ‘away’ average of 50.67. Needless to say, he will be bursting to set some records straight. He forms one half of the world’s most feared opening partnership, but his wicket will be the most cherished in a class line-up. Recently, he has combined an important trait to his run-away stroke-play: patience. His contest with Steyn and Morkel will be a treat to savor.

Rahul Dravid: He might be not be the same batsman he was four years ago; but, when India tour abroad, there is no better player to turn to. Like other batsmen in the illustrious line-up, his record in South Africa is a glaring inconsistency with the remainder of his ‘away’ stats. He struck a semblance of form in the recent series against New Zealand, but no doubt, Steyn and co, will try to re-inject some old misgivings. All said and done, this is his last opportunity to play a defining role in what could turn out to be India’s finest series win in years.

Sachin Tendulkar: He is playing so well this year, that, when he failed to register a century in the series against the Kiwis, it was a shock to all. He is one ton away, from a record setting 50 centuries in tests, but his mind will be on bigger things. He leads one of the strongest batting line-ups in recent memory and he will know that there is no better chance to beat South Africa in their own den. He averages a respectable 39.76 in SA from 12 matches, with an unforgettable 169 as his highest score. If he can improve on these stats, expect India to be dominant in the batting stakes, Steyn or no Steyn.

VVS Laxman: He has been needed a lot in the last few series, and he has not disappointed. One of the most under-rated batsmen of his generation, he will relish the challenge SA will throw at him. Even if India experience some top order blues, they know that they can rely on Laxman to bail them out. The biggest task for South Africa will be to ensure that he does not mistake them for Australia.

Suresh Raina: Possibly the only weak link in the batting, it is a no-brainer that the Saffers will target him with plenty of bouncers. After a dream start to his test career, his form has tapered off, and SA will consider him ripe for the picking; but there is no doubt, that he is the most talented of the young bunch. Kirsten has worked with him a lot on his batting, and it remains to be seen, if he has learnt his lessons. For inspiration, he needs not look further than fellow southpaw, Alastair Cook, who is changing notions about his batting, in Australia.

MS Dhoni: Captain Extraordinaire. He has a brilliant opportunity to go into the record books, as the first Indian skipper to lead his team to a victory in South Africa. While his keeping has always been steady, his batting form is iffy. He did score an important 98 in his most recent innings, but India will need more of that, to back up Laxman and lead the lower order, if the situation arises. Many critics have pointed out, that Dhoni’s good record is more due to luck, than anything else; but as the man himself said, if his luck is helping India win, then so be it.

Harbhajan Singh: Of late, he has come up with an interesting idea. If he can’t help India with the ball, he will try to win games with his bat. It is all well and endearing, but the focus will be rightly on his bowling. In a land renowned for its spinners, he is the leading tweaker, who hasn’t really managed to penetrate line-ups recently. While talk over his bowling form riles him up, he needs to calm down and realize that India needs him to be at his best against a powerful set of batsmen. Expect the likes of Kallis and De Villiers to target him and disrupt his rhythm. How he responds, will be crucial to Indian hopes of containing any severe damage.

Zaheer Khan: India’s most important bowler is under a fitness cloud right now. It would be an understatement to say, that in his absence, India will find getting 20 SA wickets, that much harder. So, expect the physios to be putting some extra time with him. At the least, India will hope that he can play, so that he can target his favorite bunny’s wrists.

Ishant Sharma: Will be a player worth watching this series. While South Africa has faced him before, it will be a different matter, when they come up against him, on their own pitches. If they prepare bouncy tracks for the benefit of Steyn and Morkel, they better be prepared for some roughing up by Sharma. After months of toiling on subcontinental pitches, he will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling on lively pitches. If he can maintain control and reduce his no-balls, he will turn out to be a match winner for India.

S Sreesanth: Sreesanth and South Africa will always be remembered for his famous antics after hitting Nel for a six in India’s last tour here. While those might or might not be repeated, India will hope that his bowling in that series will be reprised this time as well. There were some promising signs in the recent series against New Zealand, and if he along with Sharma, can support Zaheer Khan ably, expect South Africa to reconsider their pitch preparations.

SOUTH AFRICA (Best XI)

Graeme Smith: One of the best openers in international cricket, Smith (fitness permitting) will be a tough nut to dislodge once he gets going. Interestingly, he has never scored a century against India in 10 matches, falling to Zaheer and Sreesanth 4 times each. What better chance to set the record straight, than in a contest between the top two teams in international cricket, at home.

Alviro Petersen: After scoring a debut century against India at Eden gardens, Petersen has had a steady career. While there are no immediate concerns, this is an ideal opportunity for him to establish his position in the team. India have been known to be generous to batsmen seeking to make it big on the international stage, and Petersen will be hoping that he will be the beneficiary of India’s largesse.

Hashim Amla: It remains to be seen, how much Amla’s arm injury will affect his form. Just as well – A fully fit and firing Amla will be one of the biggest threats to India’s fortunes. Blessed with the calmness and patience of a monk, he has reeled off several hundreds in the past year. Only time will tell, if he will become a great; but for now, he is doing a damn impressive job and the Saffers will be hoping that he will continue to display the run-scoring appetite he did, in their last series against India.

J Kallis: South Africa’s own Tendulkar. When was the last time this man was out of form, anyway? Along with Amla and De Villiers, he forms one of the most strongest middle orders in the game. His duel with Harbhajan will be worth watching, and expect a lot of words to be exchanged between the two. Add to this, his catching at slips and breakthroughs with the ball – as always, he could prove to be India’s nemesis.

AB De Villiers: The next big superstar of international cricket. Expect him to be breaking a few records this series. He is fresh off a mammoth unbeaten 278 against Pakistan; and at home against the likes of Harbhajan and Sreesanth, he will fancy his chances. If India don’t get him out early, they will be chasing the leather on most days of this tour.

Ashwell Prince: A man whose career mirrors Laxman in more ways than one. Perennially, on the verge of being dropped, it is easy to forget that he is a former skipper of the national team. He tried his hand at opening, to stay in the team, but has rightfully returned to the middle order. He faces competition from Duminy for his spot, and only consistent big scores will make the number 6 slot, his own. Despite having a poor record against India overall, his average shoots up to 61 against India at home. So, he has atleast one thing going for him.

Mark Boucher: His best days might be behind him, but Boucher is the man you need, when you’re in a scrap with the best team. He will relish the challenge of leading the lower order, and his safe keeping will be a source of comfort to the bowlers. Expect his palms to take a lot of pounding, this series.

Paul Harris: While it is easy to rubbish Harris’ performances at the top level, one look at the current state of Australian spin bowling, will show how much worth he is to the SA side. He runs into a line-up, which has demolished better spinners, and his average of almost 50 against them, confirms the non-existence of a threat. He will be expected to perform a containing role, allowing the lines of Steyn and Morkel to run amok.

Dale Steyn: India’s biggest threat to a landmark series win. There is a reason, why there is a lot of talk of Steyn in the lead-up to the series. While his overall bowling average is 23.77 with a SR of 40.4, against India, it drops to 20 and 36.3 respectively. India will not forget his devastating spell at Nagpur in a hurry and their preparations so far, mirror the respect they have for Steyn’s capabilities. His contest with Sehwag will prove to be the biggest of all mini-clashes in this series.

Morne Morkel: If Sehwag and Gambhir form the toughest opening partnership in international cricket, Steyn and Morkel form the most lethal new ball pair going around. While his bowling stats against India are not very impressive, sheer pace and bounce (that old nemesis of Indian batting) will prove to be a handful on home pitches.

L Tsotsobe: He will be the most inexperienced bowler among the two teams, and India will hope they can get some respite from Steyn and Morkel through him. Don’t take him lightly though. With good left arm swing, complementing the fiery pace of the new ball bowlers, he could yet prove to a wild card. Afridi and Pakistan found out the hard way.

All in all, it promises to be a riveting series. At least, it will prove to be more of a contest than the one taking place down under!