harbhajan singh

ICYMI – February Flashback

 

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

RETIRING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

The day was coming, you would think. Given the increasing relevance of social media in cricket today, it was about time some player used Twitter or Facebook for something other than copy-pasting philosophical quotes and informing us what food they “smashed” recently. Kiwi batsman and pioneer freelance cricketer Lou Vincent drew curtains on a very unfulfilled career by  tweeting the ‘only’ useful stats us cricket fans are interested in and informed his followers about his decision. While scoring a century on debut in Perth against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warner will remain as the highlight of his career, using all of his allotted 140 characters to tweet his retirement is no less feat.

“This is the face of ruthlessness. Fear me.”

FROM KING OF SPAIN TO RUTHLESS COACH OF ENGLAND  

England’s newest cricket coach, albeit only in the limited-overs version, Ashley Giles has made a promise to maintain a stiff upper lip while it comes to choosing the right combination of players for the Champions Trophy in June. With the success of their new star Joe Root, England are in a dilemma as to which player to leave out of their top order – KP, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Root. This is complicated by the fact that Trott and Bell are former team-mates of Giles at Warwickshire. My advice to Giles would be to ask himself the question – ‘What Would Dhoni Do’. Then go ahead and pick a combination that no expert will be able to understand. Also pick more Warwickshire players in the squad.

“Ineffective? Gulity as charged. You got me!”

THE CONTRASTING FORTUNES OF SINGH AND SUPER KINGS

MS Dhoni had a dream test at his second home, as India packed off the Aussies in the first test. He scored a double century and his spinners sealed the fate of Clarke and company. Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja rose to the occasion at a ground they should be knowing very well by now. On the other hand, Harbhajan Singh returned to the venue where he sealed a famous win against the same opponents 12 years ago, only to highlight his declining effectiveness, even on a helpful track against inexperienced batsmen. Harbhajan is now the Ashwin of two months ago, and Ashwin is now the Harbhajan of twelve years ago.

“I got the wicket of Harbhajan…that counts, right??”

CAN MOISES LEAD THE AUSSIES ACROSS THE INDIAN WILDERNESS?

Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and now Moises Henriques. If it is an Australian tour of India, you can rest assured that it will kick-start an Aussie cricketer’s career, or at least rejuvenate it as in the case of Hayden. While Clarke was always the known threat for the Indian bowlers, they wouldn’t have expected resistance from a 26 year old Portuguese born  cricketer playing his first test ever, let alone his first on the subcontinent. 280 balls faced, 149 runs scored, 11 fours and 2 sixes later, the Australian top order excepting Clarke might have just found a template on how to tackle spin for the remainder of the series. And no, you cannot request to “re-debut” against the Indians now.

“This international cricket is easy-peasy…yawn…”

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ABBOTT-ABAD

It is not even funny anymore. As if facing Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not bad enough as a batsman, there is a new South African pacer on the block. Kyle Abbott, all of 25 years and 38 first class games old, made a stunning debut against Pakistan, picking up 9/68 at the Centurion test.  Granted, it was against a brittle Pakistani line-up and his pace hovers in the mid-130s kph; but his modus operandi is very much similar to Philander, and look where the Vern is now. If there is any cheer for the opposition, they can breathe easy as Abbot is only the sixth choice bowler for the Saffers. Yup, with the likes of Steyn and Philander to terrorize you, why worry about him? Yet?

“You mistake me…I eat only the red ones!”

THE RETURN OF AFRIDI: THE SEQUEL TO THE TRILOGY

I don’t know which is funnier – that Shahid Afridi is making his umpteenth comeback or the words of chief selector Iqbal Qasim, “this is Afridi’s last chance and he has to perform”.

“Vaas” my name? It’s Chaminda

SRI LANKA IS “GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” 

Sanath Jayasuriya is chief selector, Chaminda Vaas is bowling coach and Muttiah Muralitharan is a special adviser. Hey Sri Lanka, the late 90s called and they wished you best of luck. After all, these are exciting times for the island nation, as they start afresh under new captains, and who better to show pointers than a bunch of cricketers who were responsible for their golden era?

“This knock should help….urm….uh….my team to win!”

CHRIS GAYLE TWITTER STAR

Gone are the good old days when Gayle garnered sympathy for his stand-off with the WICB. Now that he is back, he is expected to exhibit that annoying trait expected of any cricketer worth their salt – “consistency”. After a disastrous run over the last two series against Bangladesh and Australia, the Jamaican Hulk decided that he had enough, skipping the one day series against Zimbabwe to take a break. If you thought that Gayle takes this break to spend some quiet time with family or work on his game, you obviously don’t follow his Twitter account. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps ship and becomes a Reality TV star.

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 28, 2013]

Advertisements

One angry man leaves, another returns – the contrasting fortunes of Gambhir and Harbhajan

The Indian squad for the first two tests against Australia has been announced and apart from a couple of surprises, it was pretty much along expected lines. After a prolonged lean patch, Gautam Gambhir has been replaced with his Delhi team-mate Shikhar Dhawan, Ravi Jadeja has been retained ahead of Suresh Raina, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar earns a call-up and Harbhajan Singh returns after a one Test hiatus. Apart from Wasim Jaffer, no other player needs to feel aggrieved over his non-selection. This is possibly one of the better squads assembled by the Indian selection committee in recent times. Here are my thoughts on the selected 15:

The openers

Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan

It came as a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to hear that Gautam Gambhir had been dropped from the Test side. This was long overdue and it’s hard to see this kind of decision being taken by the previous selection committee. Gambhir has trotted out all kinds of excuses and reasons as to why he should open for India in the long form, but his luck has finally run out. Without a century in nearly three years and with plenty of alternatives turning up, dropping him was the right choice. Hopefully, he will make a strong case for a return when he captains India A in their practice game against the Aussies.

Seeing the fate of his friend, Sehwag cannot rest easy. This should be motivation enough for him to raise his game. The message has been sent loud and clear by the selectors: Reputation doesn’t matter. Perform or perish.

Murali Vijay can be considered lucky to retain his place in the team, considering his poor Ranji season. Then again, his ability to come up with the big scores when the spotlight is turned on him, suggests that he has it in him to become a big-match player. This is an ideal opportunity to silence his detractors and prove that he belongs to this level.

Shikhar Dhawan is one of the consensus picks, in that I doubt his selection would have merited too much of a debate. He had a good season and it is time to see if he has what it takes to succeed at this level.

The middle order batsmen

Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni

Despite Kohli’s indifferent form of late, he is a certainty in the middle order along with Pujara and Tendulkar (who has warmed up nicely with a ton in the Irani trophy). That leaves the perennial battle for the number 6 slot between Rahane and Jadeja. Rahane is one of the best batsmen in the domestic circuit and has shown the capacity to rack up huge scores, but he is pitted against Jadeja, who himself is capable of compiling marathon knocks with the added bonus of bowling left arm spin (and we all know Dhoni’s favorite kind of player). Added to the fact that Rahane fits the mold of a top order player, coupled with his poor run against high quality bowling in the ODIs against England, we might just see Jadeja get another shot at Test cricket.

The spinners

Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh

Ashwin and Ojha were always set to retain their place; but it was interesting to see that the selectors walked back their policy of having variety in spin options by dumping the leg spinner and opting for a second offie in Harbhajan. By this decision, they have opted to play their three best spinners; and it a fairly good choice. Harbhajan has shown glimpses of old in the Irani trophy and the sight of his favorite opponents might just awaken the “wicket-taker” in him.

The fast bowlers

Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar

Given the lack of options due to injury concerns to the first choice pacers, this is the best alternative. Ishant will lead the attack, but will have a debutant to share the new ball. Dinda has been on the sidelines for a while, and Kumar has enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, thanks to consistent performances in the limited over games. So who should partner Ishant? Its a tough choice but I see both of them get a game each before the next selection takes place.

My first choice XI:

Vijay, Sehwag, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Jadeja, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Bhuvneshwar, Ojha, Ishant

A Game of Thrones in Mumbai

The Mumbai Indians’ quest for IPL glory has led to the latest development in their camp: Sachin Tendulkar taking a ‘break’ from captaincy and Harbhajan Singh taking over the reins.

First of, there won’t be too many arguments in favor of Sachin continuing as skipper. Throughout his career, the Mumbai maestro has never mastered the art of captaincy, be it for India or the Mumbai Indians. Highlights of his captaincy includes more mis-steps than master-strokes; for instance, keeping Pollard for too late during the final of IPL-3. There is no doubt that he is a good mentor for the younger players in the squad and a good sounding board for fellow veterans; but captaining a team is something he is better off without. In that sense, relinquishing the captaincy makes sense, though I don’t understand the term ‘taking a break’. Does that mean, he will want the reins back, when he feels sufficiently rejuvenated and motivated? In that case, this move doesn’t make sense.

In contrast, Harbhajan Singh seems to be the natural successor to Tendulkar. While he may have been discarded from the Indian team for the past few months, there is no doubt that when he dons the role of captain, he brings a certain element of flair and luck to the team. In the time he has been away from the national side, he has led Mumbai Indians to a Champions League title, India Green to a shared Challenger Trophy and Punjab to the final of the domestic T20 trophy. He has put in decent performances in these games, showing that captaincy doesn’t affect his natural game (for better or worse!). He reminds me of Saurav Ganguly, a fighter who liked to lead by example and was unafraid to be expressive on the field. Perhaps, the Mumbai Indians need that extra jolt of passion from their skipper to cross the final hurdle and win the IPL for the first time.

Singh is lucky that he has a bevy of talented performers in the side, both international and domestic. While he may receive a lot of support from Tendulkar, it will be ultimately up to him to make the decisions at crunch time and keep the team unified in pursuit of a single goal. This could be the latest challenge for a person known to have a volatile temperament and it will be interesting to track his progress.

Which brings us back to the matter of Tendulkar taking a ‘break’ from captaincy; if Singh fails, does it mean Tendulkar will be back in command next time? If Harbhajan leads the team to the title, will Tendulkar accept that his days of captaincy are over? Or will Mukesh bhai and Nita bhabi have the final word in this game of thrones?

I have a dream – India’s tour of Australia

Four years ago, the Indian cricket team landed on the Australian shores led by one of the finest gentlemen in the game, with a world class bunch of batsmen and bowlers (Ok, thats stretching it a bit!) with one single mission on their minds: beat the hosts and win a series down under for the first time in their history.

Despite possessing the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan (albeit, for one Test), the mission remained unfulfilled. The tour descended into acrimony, even as the visitors could only manage a solitary win at Perth. Many feared (Ok, just the Indians) that with the next Australian tour a good four years away, the Indian stalwarts would have retired, and the best chance of defeating Australia in their own backyard had just been screwed up.

Well, here we are four years on. How things have changed and yet remained so same! Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are still here (like old creaking terminators, as Dravid put it), while the Aussie team is barely recognizable from that tour. It is safe to say that with all of the current problems plaguing the hosts, THIS could turn out to be the best chance for India to secure a historic series victory down under.

Yes, India has an aging middle order which will have to contend with a fiery combo of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Yes, they have a largely inexperienced bunch of bowlers consisting of one fragile world class seamer and an assortment of medium pacers who don’t trouble too many batsmen at domestic level either. Yes, they have two exciting spinners who will be playing on seam friendly tracks, far from the comforts of home-made turners against weaker opposition. And yes, for all of Australia’s troubles, they still are a bunch of tough nuts to crack, with the likes of Warner, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Siddle, Pattinson and Lyon around.

Still, as a famous man once said (in a completely different context), “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”.

For, I have a dream.

I have a dream, that for the first time this year, Gautam Gambhir will score an international century.

I have a dream, that Virender Sehwag will carry forward good memories of his last test match at Melbourne; not to forget, his recent barn-storming innings against West Indies in the ODI series.

I have a dream that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will have one last victorious hurrah in a land, that at various stages in their careers, made them the batsmen they are now.

I have a dream that this series will be confirmation that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma can take over when the big guns retire.

I have a dream that this series will be MS Dhoni’s proudest win as test skipper.

I have a dream that Ojha and Ashwin will continue to enhance their reputations in a country which hasn’t always been favorable to spinners; also, that they will make up for the supposedly missing ‘fire-in-belly’ due to Harbhajan Singh’s absence.

I have a dream that Zaheer Khan will last atleast two consecutive matches; and win the games for his country, while doing so.

Ditto for Ishant Sharma.

I have a dream that Umesh Yadav can match James Pattinson for pace and guile; and that Vinay Kumar and Mithun will be ready when another pace bowler eventually breaks down.

Most of all, I dream that it will be a fascinating contest between bat and ball, adorned with thrilling performances by seasoned veterans and passionate youngsters; After all, these are #testing times.

This is my hope, and my faith.

No Blunders for Down Under

Back to the nets for the Turbanator

I cannot remember the last time the Indian selectors received credit from all quarters for picking the best Test squad possible. Kris Srikkanth and co deserve it rightly for ignoring the likes of Shastri, in picking players based on their form and promise instead of past exploits and ‘getting under skin” crap. Harbhajan Singh has done nothing of note in the recent past to merit inclusion, while Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have grabbed their opportunities with glee. There is no shame in it though, as Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Saurav Ganguly showed that they can come back as better players after an enforced absence from the team. It is up to Bhajji now to work his ass off and show the world that he still has got the goods for the international stage. The Indian team will be the better for it.

Apart from the spin department, there are a few minor quibbles here and there; Abhinav Mukund getting dropped after a poor tour of England, Rohit Sharma ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara, and picking two raw pacers for possibly the most demanding overseas tour for an Indian team. Still, the decisions are all justifiable. Ajinkya Rahane has impressed in the brief opportunities he has got and will have more confidence than Mukund, Pujara has just returned to full fitness and there is no need to rush him back when he have an in-form Rohit Sharma, and the pace combination is the best we have, given the lack of viable alternatives.

So, it all adds up to a pretty good team to tour Down Under. I would say that this is the best chance for an Indian team to win a series there, for the foreseeable future. Still, the Aussies won’t just roll over of course; they might be a team in transition, but with exciting players like Pat Cummins and seasoned veterans like Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey, they will still remain as tough nuts to crack. Hopefully, this series will end on a better note than the way the England tour ended.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt &wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Rohit Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Zaheer Khan (subject to fitness)

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.

A Date with Destiny at Mumbai – India are World Champions

Many years ago, a friend asked me why I spent so much time obsessing over a game which did not directly benefit me. To use his phrase, it did not ‘put food on the table’. In fact, it affected my studies, tested relationships with close ones and on a broader spectrum, decreased an entire nation’s productivity. This game had the ability to influence the mood of a country and yet, at the end of the day, apart from benefiting those involved in the game directly, it would not change the common man’s status for better or worse. So, why then care so much about this sport, or any sport for that matter?

April 2, 2011.

These are the moments why they matter….why we care….why entire nations can be lifted by sporting deeds performed by a few capable individuals. These are the moments why you can set your problems aside for a while and immerse yourself in a pastime which can give you as much joy, as it can give you heartbreak. These are the moments why sports exist.

The winning moment..

The men who won us the World Cup...

19 years...worth the wait...

 

The man behind the scenes..

The future...

The man who made it all possible...

 

Appreciation for an outgoing legend....

History making 15

A man who deserved to be in a World Cup winning team..

This is how much it matters to people on the street..

...in the streets of Delhi..

..Mumbai..

..and in Kolkata

 

Check out the final unforgettable moments…

So, there it is….moments to cherish for the Indians who were born after 1983 and never experienced the joy of winning the World Cup. For once, TV channels will stop showing clips of Amarnath’s last wicket in the 1983 final and replace it with Dhoni’s winning shot!

Once again, congratulations to Team India for a performance worthy of champions through the last few weeks; and to Sri Lanka and their magnificent cricketers for providing a tough fight. Not to forget – Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid, John Wright – who kickstarted the revival, and to Kirsten, Simons, Upton and the rest of the support staff for ensuring everything worked smoothly in the background.

Let the party continue!

Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. —Muhammad Ali

People don’t play sports because its fun. Ask any athlete, most of them hate it, but they couldn’t imagine their life with out it. Its part of them, the love/hate relationship. Its what they live for. They live for the practices, parties, cheers, long bus rides, invitationals, countless pairs of different types of shoes, water, Gatorade, & coaches you hate but appreciate. They live for the way it feels when they beat the other team, and knowing those two extra sprints they ran in practice were worth it. They live for the way they become a family with their team, they live for the countless songs they sing in their head while training all those hours. They live for the competition, they live for the friends, the practices, the memories, the pain, its who they are. It’s who we are. —Unknown

The Cup has come home!

All pictures are courtesy of Cricinfo.