michael clarke

The Four who brought us Four Nil

The memories are still raw. India had been handed their second consecutive drubbing on overseas tours, and while the disastrous England tour could be blamed on the pitches and unfortunately timed injuries, it was much harder to find excuses for the thrashing down under. In the end, the 2011/12 Indian tour of Australia ensured the exits of two stalwarts and left a bad taste in the mouths of Indian fans.

When February 2013 came, there was still a bit of trepidation among Indian fans as the Australian team arrived for the return series. Harbhajan Singh proclaimed, to much derision, that India would win the series 4-0. At that point, scarred by a home series loss to England, most fans would have taken even a 1-0 win. One month later, Bhajji’s words have come true; and the only object of derision is the Australian team, who have unraveled spectacularly in the last few weeks.

Home series wins are nothing new for the Indian team; but in the context of performances over the past two years, and given the influx of inexperienced players in the squad, the 4-0 battering of the Australian team has come as balm to many fans who have weathered some horrible months recently. While there has been talk of ‘transition’ for a while now, this series has truly been the ‘turning point’ for the team, as they learned to win without major contributions from Sehwag and Harbhajan, and in the absence of Gambhir and Zaheer. The likes of Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer might have played their last Tests, and another legend from Mumbai may be on his way out shortly. In fact, this series was won by four youngsters, who entered this series with contrasting reputations and differing routes to the team, but have now firmly entrenched themselves as the foundation around which the Indian team can chart new paths and create a new blueprint for success.

RETURN OF THE MONK

When Murali Vijay was retained in the squad for the Australian series, his pick was met with a a mixture of outrage and skepticism. Apart from bright performances in the two Irani games book-ending the Ranji season, his records for the year didn’t indicate that he deserved his spot. Sure enough, his dismissals in the series opener at Chennai increased the chorus of murmurs against him. What followed was an exercise in self-restraint and determination as big tons in Hyderabad and Mohali, followed by a gritty half century in Delhi proved that he has it in him to excel at the highest level.   He showed a willingness to curb his attacking instincts and do the job of a traditional opener – See off the new ball, settle down and then unfurl the full range of shots . There were times when Dhawan and Pujara got going, that he could have been tempted to accelerate as well. Instead he showcased his new-found maturity by providing able support and never relinquishing the initiatives to the the Aussies. He won neither the Man of the Series or any of the Man of the Match awards, but he ended up as the highest run-getter on either side and showed pessimistic fans that there is life beyond the famed Delhi opening combination.

CHEVOLUTION TIME

They said that it is not easy to replace a mountain of experience or tons and tons of runs in Test cricket overnight. Well, I present to you Cheteshwar Pujara. In a span of three consecutive Test series, he has proved more than an adequate replacement for one Rahul Dravid. He reeled off a double century in Hyderabad to establish complete dominance over the Aussies, but his finest innings was the authoritative 82 he scored on a tricky pitch in Delhi as an opener to take India to an unprecedented 4-0 nil whitewash of the opposition.  Bigger and tougher challenges await, but I suspect that India have found the perfect man for all occasions.

ROCKSTAR 2 – THE SIR ARISES

I will put my hand up and admit that I was one of many who was shocked with Ravindra Jadeja’s elevation to the Test squad in the series against England. He seemed to be a perfect limited overs player. He could add some valuable runs with the bat, pick a few quick wickets with the ball and field brilliantly; but he was definitely not Test material. Or so many thought. Instead, he ended the series with 24 wickets, making the finest Australian batsman his bunny and produced several acts of fielding brilliance, which the Indian Test team has lacked for years. With the bat, he didn’t score any big knocks but he calmed Indian nerves with a couple of lusty blows in Mohali and got a very valuable 40 in the first innings in Delhi. For the long run, he provides Dhoni with a lot of options when it comes to team balance. He could yet turn out to be the all rounder India desperately craves for in Tests.

SHABAASH ASH!

Ravichandran Ashwin came into this series with a bit of pressure on him. Two poor series against Australia and England, coupled with the rising Ojha and returning Harbhajan meant that the mantle of leading spinner was at stake. He had been working with his bowling coach prior to the start of the series and it showed in his first over of the series. He bamboozled the Aussie openers for a while before cutting through the top order. From there, he never let off. Shelving his infamous variations and bringing it out liberally, Ashwin deceived the batsmen with traditional off spin and ended up as the leading wicket taker and bagged the Man of the Series award for the third time in five series. With this performance, he may have effectively quelled the career of Harbhajan Singh and re-established himself as Dhoni’s leading strike bowler.

 

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Three Points Everyone – How Homeworkgate could have been avoided

Yesterday morning, I was wondering how slowly time passes by while one waits for the next cricket match featuring the Indian team. Then without warning, the cricket universe erupted in furor over the axing of four Australian cricketers from the Mohali game. Reason? The four players had failed to turn over an assignment to the coach within the imposed deadline. Task? Give at least three pointers about what the team had learnt from their drubbing in the first two tests and how they could improve over the remainder of the series. Predictably, Twitter and Facbook had a field day mercilessly mocking Mickey Arthur and the Aussie team. It seemed like an over-reaction from a frazzled team management in the middle of an important series gone terribly wrong.

A day later, mockery has given way to a more pragmatic understanding of the situation. The punishment may have been harsh, but it does seem like a reasonable request from the coach and captain to provide one’s input on how things can change for the better. After all, how hard is it to come up with a minimum of three pointers on how to improve the Australian performance? Especially, since they had five days to come up with it! Here are some of my suggestions, if the four players had the foresight to outsource their assignment to social media.

  1. Ask for bouncy pitches
  2. Get laughed at
  3. Tell the opposition we’ll seem them in Australia

 

  1. Bowl in the right areas
  2. Execute our skills
  3. Listen less to Ravi Shastri’s commentary

 

  1. Bat better
  2. Bowl better
  3. Field better

 

  1. Ask Pujara what he has for breakfast
  2. Ask the Indian spinners for tips on how to play them
  3. Ask Jadeja for fielding tips

 

  1. Eat
  2. Pray
  3. Love

 

  1. Get a better coach
  2. Haha..I was kidding. I meant “coach” as in bus
  3. Pack my bags

 

  1. Less presentations
  2. More net practice
  3. Pack my bags

 

  1. Bat like Clarke
  2. Bowl like Pattinson
  3. Field like Warner

 

  1. Don’t bat like Hughes
  2. Don’t bowl like Maxwell
  3. Don’t field like Cowan

 

  1. Import batsmen from South Africa
  2. Import spinners from Pakistan
  3. Import coach from Zimbabwe
  4. (bonus) Pack my bags.

“Sigh. I hope I can still carry drinks.”

 

 

11 newbies to watch in IPL 2012

It’s IPL time, boss.

The time for colorful razzmatazz, dancing cheerleaders, local celeb spotting and pithy commentary is here –  and yes, you get to watch some high octane cricket too.

The fifth edition of IPL is bound to be more tightly contested than the previous edition, for the simple reason being that the Indian cricketers couldn’t have had a more contrasting build-up to this year’s IPL. Last year, they entered the tournament fatigued and emotionally spent after the World Cup win while this year, they will be itching to prove themselves after a couple of disappointing months on the international stage.  The favorites are the usual suspects: Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders. CSK will be looking for an unprecedented 3rd straight title, while the other three are still searching for their maiden triumphs. The other teams have a lesser shot, but can take hope from the campaigns of Rajasthan Royals in IPL1 and Deccan Chargers in IPL2, which showed that if you grab the opportune moments, glory is not impossible.

This year, there are quite a few international players who will be making their IPL debuts, and most of them are match-winners in their own right. While the likes of Pollard, Gayle, Kohli, Raina, Sehwag etc are proven IPL performers, it will be interesting to see if these players can make a name for themselves in the biggest domestic T20 tournament in the world. I present to you, the  Newbie XI to watch in IPL 2012:

Richard Levi

Country: South Africa

IPL team: Mumbai Indians

Role: Opening batsman

T20 stats: HS – 117, Avg – 30.87, SR – 149.69

As if the Mumbai Indians were not bursting at the seams with batting talent, they have added a new explosive batsman to the team. Levi is one of the most dangerous players in the South African domestic T20s and within 2 games of his international T20 debut, he made the world sit up and notice with a blistering 117 against the Kiwis when the Saffers were chasing 174. A player who is built and strikes like Pollard, is just one more headache for the opposition bowlers. Will he be the new star in IPL 2012?

Tamim Iqbal

Country: Bangladesh

IPL team: Pune Warriors

Role: Opening batsman

T20 stats: HS – 91, Avg – 19.57, SR – 107.15

Its really surprising that a man known for his audacious hitting and rapid fire starts has a modest record in T20s. All that could change, given his recent form and new found consistency. With the likes of Ganguly and Graeme Smith to mentor him, Iqbal would be learning from the best, and will be aiming to make his captain and his countrymen very proud.

Dinesh Chandimal

Country: Sri Lanka

IPL team: Rajasthan Royals

Role: Wicketkeeper-batsman

T20 stats: HS – 88, Avg – 33.89, SR – 126.18

Sri Lanka’s newest batting star is heading north as the Rajasthan Royals search for their second IPL triumph. A stylish batsman who has shown impressive consistency and maturity in his brief international career so far, he could be trusted to double up as a wicket-keeper as well. He has already shown his appetite for Indian bowling, and considering that he will be facing a lot of that in the next two months, it is safe to assume that he will relish the opportunities.

Michael Clarke

Country: Australia

IPL team: Pune Warriors

Role: Middle order batsman

T20 stats: HS – 67, Avg – 22.03, SR – 108.85

The Aussie Test captain is a late addition to IPL 5, thanks mainly due to Ganguly’s admiration over Clarke’s exploits over the summer. Clarke already has an interesting history with IPL despite not having played in it at any time, thanks to Lalit Modi who did not share the Aussie’s estimation that he was worth 2 million dollars. Times have changed; Modi is out and Clarke is in. In the recent ODI series down under, he showcased a new aggressive side to his batting; and with his sharp fielding and ability to bowl some tight overs, he could well end up making Saurav Ganguly a very happy skipper.

Marlon Samuels

Country: West Indies

IPL team: Pune Warriors

Role: Middle order bat/part-time spin

T20 stats: HS – 102, Avg – 32.88, SR – 120.81, BBI – 2/14, ER – 7.08

Samuels belongs to the Gayle school of cricket. Cool and casual on the outside; give him a bat and see him explode. A man with a colorful history which saw him banned for a short while, he could be the X-factor for the Warriors in the absence of Yuvraj Singh. Like Gayle, he can bowl some handy offspin as well.

Luke Wright

Country: England

IPL team: Pune Warriors

Role: All-rounder

T20 stats: HS – 117,  Avg – 25.05, SR – 146.22, BBI – 3/17, ER – 8.27

For a player who doesn’t feature prominently in England’s plans at the moment, Wright happens to be one of the rare Englishmen playing in this year’s IPL. He’s had somewhat of a hot streak in T20s right now, on the back of an impressive time at the BBL, where he was one of two centurions. He might be a poor man’s Shane Watson, but in the current form he is in, he could well turn out to be one of the crucial players for the Warriors.

Doug Bracewell

Country: New Zealand

IPL team: Delhi Daredevils

Role: All-rounder

T20 stats: HS – 37, Avg – 27.60, SR -139.39. BBI – 3/21, ER – 8.29

Bracewell comes from an illustrious cricketing family, and his talent was there for all to see, when he decimated the Australians in their last Test series. A muscular batsman who can also be a tough bowler to face, it will be interesting to see how he performs in front of raucous crowds and soaring temperatures, but given his impressive track record, he could well be one of the surprise stars of the tournament.

Andre Russell

Country: West Indies

IPL team: Delhi Daredevils

Role: Bowler/occasional batsman

T20 stats: HS – 58, Avg – 19.31, SR – 148.58, BBI – 4/35, ER – 8.04

West Indies are currently on a resurgent path, and Andre Russell is one of the players at the forefront of it. A typically athletic Caribbean player, he can be irresistible on his day, with bat or ball. Indian fans will not forget his heroics against them in the recent past, and the Daredevils will he hoping that he can maintain his fondness for Indian opposition for another two months atleast.

Stuart Broad

Country: England

IPL team: Kings XI Punjab

Role: Fast bowler

T20 stats: BBI – 3/13, ER – 6.68

Broad will be making his IPL debut a year after he was signed up by the Kings XI, as he missed IPL 4 due to injury. Being one of the few English players in the tournament, the England T20I captain will be eager to prove his mettle in subcontinental pitches, before the World T20 Championship in September. He might be forever remembered by Indian fans as the hapless bowler who Yuvraj tonked around for six 6s in an over, but Broad still remains as one of the best T20 bowlers in the world. Along with Ryan Harris and Praveen Kumar, he could form a pretty impressive pace attack for the Kings XI.

Sunil Narine

Country: West Indies

IPL team: Kolkata Knight Riders

Role: Off-spinner

T20 stats: BBI – 4/9, ER – 4.73

Sunil Narine has the potential to be the breakout star of IPL 5. He caught the eye of many during the last Champions League, where he befuddled many batsmen and almost single-handedly knocked out CSK from the tournament. Now, he has transferred that form to the international arena, where he has been bamboozling the Aussies recently. As the economy rate shows, he is not too generous with conceding runs and along with Iqbal Abdullah and Shakib al Hasan could form the most dangerous troika of spin in the IPL.

Marchant de Lange

Country: South Africa

IPL team: Kolkata Knight Riders

Role: Fast bowler

T20 stats: BBI – 2/36, ER – 9.75 (in 3 games)

Vernon Philander is the South African pace bowler who is hogging all the headlines right now, and with good reason; but lest it be forgotten, de Lange made an equally impressive entry when he grabbed a 5-fer on Test debut. A young strapping fast bowler built like a bull, he is capable of sending thunderbolts and can hurry up the batsmen with brute pace. Of course, as the IPL has shown, speed alone is not sufficient to impress, and it will be a big test for de Lange to show that he has got the brain to go along with the brawn.

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.