ms dhoni

Champion of Champions – India prove their number 1 status

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.

To read the rest of this article, head on to The Cricket Magazine.

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Views of a Chennai Super Fan – No Dares From the Double D

Match: Delhi Daredevils vs Chennai Super Kings

Result: Chennai Super Kings win by 86 runs

Narrative:

MS Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat first in CSK’s 100th game; Nannes missed out due to injury paving way for the return of rookie Mohit Sharma and Mike Hussey came back in place of Srikkanth. Despite Vijay’s dismissal after a rapid start, Hussey and Raina stabilized the ship taking the score to 60/1 after 10 overs. When Raina got out in the 13th over, the skipper walked and immediately took control. A frenetic 44 from 23 balls meshed perfectly with Hussey’s unbeaten 65 to take the Super Kings to 169.

In reply, the Daredevils got off to the worst start, trudging to 32/4 in the power play; Little known Haryana medium pacer Mohit Sharma snared the wickets of Warner, Juneja and Sehwag while Chris Morris got the big fish – Jayawardene. Despite Kedhar Jadav’s resistance, the Super Kings put the brakes on the scoring and kept picking wickets regularly. Ultimately, the Daredevils were bowled out for 83; Along with the lowest score of the IPL this year, DD crashed to their sixth straight loss of the tournament. Meanwhile, CSK jumped to the fourth position in the points table.

Analysis:

This was just about the perfect game for the Super Kings. Their batting finally shook off the blues; Vijay was looking good for much more when he got out and Raina got some runs under his belt. The batting relies heavily on acceleration in the second half of the innings and it came off perfectly, as Raina, Hussey and Dhoni helped add 109 runs in the final 10 overs. With the ball, their punt on rookie Sharma paid off handsomely as he gave the team a perfect start with the ball. Then the spinners took over to strangle the opposition with combined figures of 3/39 from 8 overs. The end result was a massive win for the men in yellow.

Mike Hussey showed why he is such an invaluable member of the side. He might be no Chris Gayle, but he can be much more consistent and reliable. He paced his innings just right, till the end. Despite du Plessis’ return to the side, it is highly unlikely that the Aussie will be the one to make way for him. Vijay and Raina are still not racking up the big scores, but they show signs of good touch. As for Dhoni, it is good to see that the skipper is in ‘smashing’ form. More often than not, he has struggled in T20s over the years with regards to pacing his knock. This year, there is a refreshingly simple approach to his batting and he is more trusting of his natural game.

Nannes’ injury proved to be a blessing in disguise as it made the Super Kings take another look at their local fast bowling resources. Mohit Sharma had a good game, but it would be wise to wait a few games before judging him; tougher opponents await. I’m also liking the look of Chris Morris so far; while his batting exploits are to be seen yet, his bowling has largely been disciplined and he seems to have the knack of picking wickets at crucial junctures. He would have every reason to think that he has sealed one overseas spot for himself, for the rest of the season. No surprises when it comes to the spinners; they are CSK’s strength and the team management will be pleased that they are maintaining their good record.

Preview of next game:

Next up is the encounter against defending champions KKR in their den. Gambhir’s men are a lowly 7th in the points table and their performances are more reminiscent of the KKR seen in the first two seasons; still it would be unwise to take them lightly. Gambhir and Morgan are in good touch, while Narine has been consistently troubling the opposition. CSK would do well to bring their A-game against a side which derailed their plans of a 3rd consecutive title last year.

Tweets of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – “Dhon’t” leave it too late!

Over the coming weeks, I will be offering my analysis of CSK’s games from a fan’s perspective. Here is the first of the lot:

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians in Chennai

Result: Mumbai Indians win by 9 runs.

Narrative: Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to bat. Promptly, MI were in trouble as they lost Tendulkar and Ponting to the seasoned Nannes and rookie Rajpoot. Dinesh Karthik continued from where he left off against RCB, but the wickets continued to fall as MI stumbled to 83/6 at the end of the 12th over. From there on, it was a Pollard show, as he played a typical belligerent innings to help MI to 148 with the help of Harbhajan Singh. In reply, CSK never really got going as they struggled to 97 in the 16th over when Jadeja lost his wicket. MSD took it as his cue to play his trademark back-to-the-wall innings, as a flurry of four and sixes came off his bat in the final overs, but it was that man Pollard again, whose spectacular catch on the boundary in the final over, who sealed CSK’s fate and with that the game for MI.

Analysis: A very disappointing loss, considering that CSK had reduced MI to 83/6 at one stage. Still, chasing 149 in home conditions against a side without its Lankan spearhead should have been comfortable enough. Yet, that old failing of CSK – unable to get going in the powerplay – came to the fore as the top order just allowed the required rate to shoot up, leaving too much for the middle and lower order to do. MS Dhoni can only do so much, and with a little help from the other batsmen could have still won the game. Starting the season unconvincingly is nothing new for CSK, and invariably they end strongly; but Fleming and Dhoni will have to seriously work on the issues with the top order. It’s worrying that Hussey-Vijay-Raina-Badri-Bravo are unable to give good starts consistently. Hopefully, the arrival of Albie Morkel in the coming week will help with the blues.

 

5 Unforgettable Moments for a Chennai Super Kings Fan

The IPL is here, and once more it is time to set aside national loyalties and pick a city-based franchise to cheer this season. As a loyal CSK fan ever since the league’s inception, I will be egging on Dhoni’s (yellow) men to shrug off last season’s heartbreaking loss in the final and come up trumps this time to claim the championship for the third time in six seasons. Here, in no particular order, are my top five moments as a CSK fan over the years:

1. Balaji’s hat-trick (vs Kings XI in 2008)

In the context of the game, the hat-trick may not have mattered much; three wickets remained and the batsmen were going for their shots anyway. Still, to see a local lad (and one of my favorites) pick the first hat-trick was a sure sign of things to come: for the team to do well, the local players had to step up. And how they did.

2. The Monk tees off (vs Rajasthan Royals in 2010)

CSK’s strength is the quality of big hitting batsmen in their side. Over the years, they have had Hayden, Flintoff, Dhoni, Raina, Morkel and Bravo – all players who could step in to top gear at a moment’s notice. While these players were largely known quantities, one player who chose the IPL to announce himself to the world in grand style was Murali Vijay. Just watch the quality of shots in the embedded video clip….

3. The Skipper leading from the front (vs Kings XI in 2010)

Think Dharamsala and you would associate it with serenity and beauty; but in one night, the usually calm and collected MS Dhoni exploded to viscerally demolish Irfan Pathan in the final over of the game to give CSK a much needed win. The team was having an average run up to that point, but when Dhoni punched his helmet to celebrate the victory, it signaled the onset of a turn-around in fortunes.

4. Pollard gets out to a plan (vs Mumbai Indians in 2010)

CSK were cruising to their first IPL title in the final when big Kieron Pollard walked in. MI had made a strategic error by sending Pollard in too late, but it didn’t seem to matter as the ‘other KP’ smashed 22 runs off a Bollinger over to raise MI hopes of a last-minute heist. This is where the calm and calculating Dhoni sealed the game, as he positioned CSK’s own big man Matthew Hayden at a straightish mid-off and waited for Pollard to hit one straight to the fielder. He duly obliged in the final ball of the penultimate over as CSK sealed the game in their favor.

5. Albie ‘Morkels’ Kohli (vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2012)

This was one of the highlights of IPL 2012 and it will not be easily forgotten by those who were following the match. CSK needed 43 runs to win from 12 balls when Dhoni got out. In comes Albie Morkel with a clear set of instructions: hit the ball as hard as you can. As luck would have it for the men in yellow, he had to tee off against Virat Kohli, not really the bowler you would want to throw up against a fearsome hitter of the ball. What followed was carnage, as 28 runs came off the penultimate over, and CSK stole an improbable victory off the last ball of the game. In a season which ultimately ended in disappointment for the team, Albie Morkel’s assault was one of the bright spots to cherish.

Another season, another opportunity for the Super Kings to shine. What do they have in store this year?

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.

 

If I were N Srinivasan

“Hmm….go on…”

These days, the most hated person in the cricket world is not a non-performing cricketer or a bumbling umpire; that privilege goes to a soft spoken, bespectacled business man from Chennai. Narayanaswami Srinivasan, or N Srinivasan (or, Srini mama as “affectionately” known throughout the social networks) is the current BCCI chief, which in turn makes him the overlord of all international cricket bodies (allegedly). It takes a special kind of talent (sorry, Rohit) to be universally disdained by anyone related to cricket. Indian fans hate him for reasons pertaining to IPL, DRS and an autocratic approach to governing the Board. Non-Indian fans hate him for reasons pertaining to IPL, DRS and an autocratic approach which influences the governing of other national cricket boards. It is nice to know that in a cricket world divided by misplaced nationalistic fervor, we can all agree that the BCCI chief is a tool. And that Jade Dernbach’s tattoos make Mitchell Johnson’s look like a work of Picasso. Don’t even get me started on that.

“Cool story, bro….now get to your point!”

Anyway, I was thinking about it and it led me to wonder what I would do if I was the BCCI chief. If Twitter and Facebook is to be believed (and when are they ever wrong?), Srinivasan has unlimited powers through which he can fix IPL games in a way that the Chennai Super Kings make it to the final every year, bully other boards into selecting/dropping certain players, ensure that Dhoni remains the unquestioned ‘Super King’ of Indian cricket and fit in enough time to destroy the game of cricket as we know and love. If all that is there to it, I think Srini mama is selling himself short. Here is what I would do if I was the former Honorary Sheriff of Madras (see, you learnt something new today!):

  • First step – through brow beating, arm twisting and using Navjot Sidhu to make prank calls every day to each board chief, grab control of the ICC presidency (officially). Welcome to the era of Srini.

“Change you BETTER believe in”

  • Make MS Dhoni the Vice President. Well of course.

“Together we shall rule the world!”

  • Make some changes to the ICC constitution (if they have one!) and give myself unlimited powers to affect the internal functioning of all member boards. All with their “permission” of course.
  • Let’s turn to the Black Caps. Who is this Hesson fellow? Remove him and appoint Stephen Fleming as coach. Also, ask “Where the heck is Daniel Vettori?” More importantly, arrange for two series every year between India and New Zealand. There is bound to be some morale boosting wins. For one of them.
  • Australia. This John Inverarity makes Srikkanth look like a genius. Sack him and appoint Warne as chief selector. Give Elizabeth Hurley a role – perhaps fashion consultant? Most importantly, make sure to “rest” Michael Clarke from series against India.

“For Mitchell Johnson, I’m thinking….plastic surgery would be a good choice”

  • Next, Sri Lanka. They have already done their part by selecting a politician as their chief selector. What could go wrong? Go one step further, and ask the Lankan president to be the honorary coach of the team. Also, offer the post of fielding coach to the Sports minister. That is one way of bringing the Lankan fielding to Indian standards.
  • Moving on to South Africa. I love Dale Steyn. He is the future of fast bowling. Heck, he is the future of bowling. A legend of his quality needs to be preserved well. It is important to balance his workload and he should get rest from time to time. Ensure that his rest coincides with India’s tour to South Africa. Also, appoint Faf du Plessis as captain in all formats.

“psst…want to join the Super Kings?”

  • England has troubled us for too long. Time to bring them down a notch. Make Kevin Pietersen the captain again. Remove Andy Flower and bring back Peter Moores as coach and appoint Nick Knight as assistant coach. Make sure that Bopara and Dernbach get to play in every game. Also, give Alastair Cook mandatory rest during series against India and grant Indian citizenship to Monty Panesar.
  • Allow Pakistani players to feature in the IPL. Sign up Junaid Khan, Hafeez and Ajmal for the Super Kings. Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal will go to the team that annoys me the most. Shah Rukh, I’m looking at you.

“Ok…these impromptu dance performances SRK keeps asking us to do, is too much now!”

  • There are no entertainers like the West Indies cricket team. Allow them to feature as the 10th team in the IPL.
  • MS Dhoni will not only be captain, but will also be the chief selector of the Indian team. Say hello to RP Singh again! Make India Cements the official team sponsor. Grant Suresh Raina the “honorary” number 6 spot in Tests and assign R Ashwin as the “honorary” first choice spinner in all formats; no to forget, the official spokesperson of the team after every defeat. Also, replace Fletcher with John Wright.

An overjoyed Fletcher, on hearing the news

  • For my dear CSK, appoint Mike Hussey as the coach and ensure that they get to play all their games on slow tracks, be it home or away. Make a special allowance for the team, so that they get to play 6 foreign players in the XI. Rule of thumb: Chennai Super Kings shall always win the IPL.
  • Remove the DRS and institute “SRS” – any time a player wants a decision reviewed, the umpire shall call a special number through which the calls are routed to my private phone and I get to take the final decision depending on my careful analysis as to how the dismissal would affect Indian cricket. Even if the game does not feature India.

“but, Sir…we can only give one batsman out at a time!”

  • Appoint personnel to follow Twitter and Facebook for any unfavorable mentions of me; any culprits found besmirching my name will be spammed to eternal banishment from the World Wide Web.
  • After I’m done enjoying the fruits of my “labor” for a few years, I will go on Oprah’s talk show to confess that I had taken all the previously mentioned actions under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs (I foresee a drop in sales of my “What Would Srini Do” wrist bracelets). I will leave the public eye gracefully; but in one final act of defiance, I will ensure that Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar become the new ICC and BCCI chiefs respectively!

“You get a Shastri…you get a Sunny G….everybody gets a one-eyed BCCI puppet free!”

PS: Mr Srinivasan, if you’re reading this by any chance……I kid, I kid! I’m a big fan, sir. Please don’t banish me from the World Wide Web!  

“I’m watching you…”

MS Dhoni’s 2012 diary

The year is over….Hurray!!

January 28, 2012

Dear diary,

We got whitewashed 4 nil. Again.  This time, against Australia and their ruthless captain, who actually seems like a pleasant chap. Hard to find any positives, but I will try. Virat and Umesh enhanced their reputations, Zak didn’t break down during the series, nobody called any of the opposition players a monkey and Gauti and Ishant were very polite in inviting the Aussies over to India; but I don’t know if Sachin, Rahul and VVS have anything left to offer this team. Apparently, nobody is retiring anytime soon; which is fine, I guess. Anyway, we play only home tests for the next two years. So everything will be fine. At least, that’s what Duncan tells us. He is smart. I can trust him. Right?

February 28, 1012

Dear diary,

This Virat is the only reason my hair has not completely turned white. Haha. Especially with all this ‘rift’ drama surrounding me, Viru Paa and Gauti. Today, he played one of the best ODI knocks I have ever seen. We needed to chase 321 in less than 40 overs to have a chance of reaching the final of the Commonwealth Bank series, and what does he do? He scores 133 from 86 balls to reach the target in the 37th over! His dismantling of Malinga was something. I’m very excited for him.

March 8, 2012

Dear diary,

Rahul bhai has decided to retire. I’m very sad now. Suddenly, I’m starting to feel nervous about the home season. Duncan says I worry too much. Maybe he is right….

March 16, 2012

Dear diary,

Sachin paaji finally scored his 100th international hundred. Phew, what a relief! No more of those annoying questions from the media. Anyway, this is a proud moment for all Indians. Paaji is really great! Also, we lost to Bangladesh.

August 4, 2012

Dear diary,

Finally, some good news. We won the ODI series against Sri Lanka. I know, I know…it’s only Sri Lanka, our most frequent opponents; but at this stage, a win is a win. A great way to start the season. Also, I don’t understand why Rohit is not making use of his talent. Duncan says that he will eventually come through. Everyone says Duncan is wise; I guess he’s right then.

August 18, 2012

Dear diary,

VVS has also retired now. In his press conference, he said that he was unable to reach me and inform me about it beforehand. Well, I thought that if I did not return his calls, he will not retire. So wrong I was. Anyways, that feeling when Rahul bhai stepped down is back. I keep saying to myself, “All iz well”. Saakshi is getting concerned about me.

September 3, 2012

Dear diary,

The home series against the Kiwis is over and I am so happy to be proved wrong! We may not have Dravid or VVS anymore, but Pujara and Kohli are the future. I don’t know why I was so worried. Even the bowlers have started to take wickets again. Ok, it was mainly Ash and Ozzie; but I am only going to focus on the positives. No more negative thoughts for me for the rest of the year!

October 2, 2012

Dear diary,

We got knocked out of the ICC world T20s. I am so disappointed; we won 4 out of 5 games, bowled out every opposition except Australia, and still we couldn’t make it to the semifinals. What stupid format, yaar!

November 19, 2012

Dear diary,

We gave England a taste of what they can expect for the remaining games, after the thumping we gave them in Ahmedabad. Che is batting like a dream, Viru Paa scored a ton and Ozzie is causing all sorts of trouble for the batsmen; but I’m still not satisfied with the pitch I got. I have asked for a proper turner at Mumbai. Duncan says we have to be ruthless now. I’m glad that Duncan is happy, though I have to say that his smile is a little scary.

December 17, 2012

Dear diary,

We lost the Test series to England. I cannot explain it, though. People are calling for me to step down as captain; but I’m a fighter. I will not give up. There are better times ahead. I just know it. Even Duncan agrees; and you know he’s right. Surely, it cannot get worse from here.

December 23, 2012

Dear diary,

Sachin paaji has retired from ODIs. Duncan said that it’s a good decision. I told Duncan to shut the F@$& up.

Hoping for a better 2013!

“I will go and sit in that corner, and think about what I have done…”

Skyfall for an Indian Cricket Fan

Testing times

Boy, even by usual standards, there have been a lot of articles written in the last week over the state of Indian cricket. Apart from cricket journos, ex-players, former selectors, bloggers – all have weighed in, on what is ailing Dhoni’s men. Here is what I have learnt from the sum total of all these articles:

1. Gautam Gambhir – Out of form for too long and hasn’t scored a century in nearly two years. He did score a fighting fifty in Mumbai, but batted selfishly by not shielding the tailenders and caring more for his batting average. Not in sync with the captain or the rest of the team. Drop him.

2. Virender Sehwag – Scored a big hundred in the opening Test but has been off the boil overall. Keeps wasting good starts. Needs to value his wicket more. Drop him.

3. Sachin Tendulkar – Experience highly needed at the moment. Let him stay; but his knocks are painful to watch and age has clearly caught up with him. Drop him.

4. Virat Kohli – After a promising start to the home season, he has faded away. Place him on notice. Oh wait, it will make him complacent. Drop him.

5. MS Dhoni – Can’t bat. Can’t keep. Can’t captain. In Tests. Drop him.

6. R Ashwin – India’s best batsman over the last year, but is in the team for his bowling. Which has been disappointing. Drop him.

7. Ishant Sharma – How does he keep getting picked? Drop him.

8. Duncan Fletcher – ROFL. Sack him.

9. Che Pujara and Pragyan Ojha – Please. Don’t drop them. Ever.

 

PS: On a serious note, it is time to accept that this is what Indian fans will have to put up with, for the foreseeable future. The Indian team is clearly not one of the top sides in Test cricket anymore, and are facing a shortage of world class Test performers, who can take them back to the number 1 ranking. Then again, it was just over a decade ago that England were at the bottom of the pile; and look where they are now. The road to the top is actually a wheel of fortune. The BCCI and team management will have to make some smart decisions in the coming months, irrespective of the result of the Nagpur Test. It is too much to expect of course, but there is always hope – the eternal companion of a cricket tragic; nay, an Indian cricket tragic.

Indian Cricket on the Road to Somewhere

0-8. Never forget.

Over the course of two tours, to England and Australia, Indian fans were treated to soul crushing and legend shattering performances from the team, as the number 1 ranking was surrendered, and then the retirements of long-time servants of Indian cricket were hastened. Indian cricket was well and truly forced into the transitional phase, which it kept talking about for years, but never really took any steps towards it.

That is why, the series against New Zealand raised a lot of interest and expectations towards how India is going to plan ahead. With tough home series against England and Australia, and an overseas assignment against the current number 1 team to follow, the situation called for some bold and visionary thinking from the selectors to pick a squad keeping the future in mind.

Well, if you know anything about Indian cricket and its selectors, you know what was always the most likely thing to happen. Kris Srikkanth and gang opted for the safe route and picked pretty much the same squad which had been failing overseas, but could be trusted to deliver in home conditions. Retirements forced the hand of the selectors, allowing come-back opportunities for Che Pujara and Suresh Raina, but there seemed to be no tangible measures taken in response to the drubbing in two consecutive overseas tours.

On the basis of the two Tests against the Kiwis, most of the issues remain un-resolved. I’m going to take a look at some of them and give my ideas about how to tackle it.

The opening conundrum

When Gambhir and Sehwag notched a 50 run partnership in the second innings of the Bangalore test, it was their first in 12 innings. It is hard to believe that this is the same pair, who just a couple of years back, formed one of the best opening pairs in international cricket. They were instrumental in India’s rise to the top of the rankings, and it is not a surprise that India’s fall coincides with a decline in their performances. Of late, Gambhir seems to be more assured in the shorter formats than in Tests, and his dismissals mirror that fact. He keeps edging deliveries to the slip cordon while trying to run the ball down to third man, and for an opener that kind of misjudgment is career suicide. All the qualities which made him one of the best openers in Indian cricket history, seem to be in short supply and it doesn’t help that his partner is going through a similar crisis himself.

Sehwag has never been a conventional opener and his success to date has defied belief. He averages over 50, has two triple tons apart from several other big centuries, and gives rapid fire starts just about every time he gets into a groove – all this despite a very unorthodox batting style bordering on the very definition of risk. Most of the time, he gets out to a poor shot and immediately is excused, saying “that’s the way he plays”. Unfortunately, nowadays we are treated to short cameo knocks from Sehwag before he gifts his wicket away, and coupled with Gambhir’s inconsistency, his inability to play the big innings he is famous for, is starting to cause headaches for India at the top.

So what is the solution? Can we afford to drop either or both Gambhir and Sehwag? Should India stick with them, trusting and hoping, that the proven performers will shine against England and Australia?

Personally, if there was any time to drop either opener and blood new batsmen, it was the series against a low profile team like New Zealand. With England dropping in soon, it is unreasonable to expect a replacement to perform immediately against quality opposition, when under a lot of pressure. The next best step is to give the pair another go, against England and hope they regain their appetite for huge knocks. If it doesn’t work, it is time for the team to take a leap of faith and try new players, regardless of reputation. Pujara and Kohli are good examples of youngsters who have grabbed their opportunities to replace batsmen who were considered irreplaceable till recently, and there is no reason why the likes of Rahane or Mukund can’t do the same.

The middle-order blues

While two batsmen established themselves firmly in the plans for the upcoming contests, Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina had a forgettable series against the Kiwis, despite looking good in patches. Tendulkar is the last of the old guard and while he may resist any overtures, his time is drawing to a close. It is a just a matter of, how he is going to leave the game – in a blaze of glorious run-scoring or a series of painful torturous innings. On the other hand, Raina is still trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone that he can handle Test cricket. These are two batsmen at different stages of their careers, but at a time when the team is going through a metamorphosis, the management has to decide whether they figure in their long term plans.

In the case for Tendulkar, his experience is invaluable considering the newly re-modeled middle order is still finding its feet. While the manner of his dismissals in the series indicate a slowing of reflexes, I have seen many a Tendulkar slump before an inevitable deluge of run scoring silences the critics. He is a proud cricketer who will be hurting from the whitewashes in England and Australia, and I wouldn’t put it past him to raise his game one last time against high quality opposition.

As for Raina, he’s got to go. The likes of Rahane, Badrinath and Tiwary will wonder what else they can do to get a place ahead of him, considering his inferior record in first class cricket. Despite a scratchy fifty in the first innings of the Bangalore Test, his dismissal in the second innings confirmed the fact that he does not have the temperament to be consistent in this format. If he continues to be in the XI, England and Australia are bound to feast on him. This should perhaps be the easiest decision to take for Dhoni, when the next series starts.

The captaincy question

While many agree that MS Dhoni is one of the finest skippers in international cricket when it comes to the short forms, the opinion is more divided when it comes to Tests. The arguments are mainly ‘he is too defensive’ and ‘he doesn’t deserve a place in the XI’. They have some merit, but are they really viable at this stage?

Yes, Dhoni was captain during the two disastrous tours, but would any other captain have made a difference? If your batsmen experience a collective loss in form and your bowlers cannot maintain a consistent line and length, it wouldn’t matter if you were Mike Brearley. Apart from that, there are no quality alternatives at this stage. Gambhir and Sehwag are not in the best of form, and Kohli is too raw. Instead, it would be wise to groom Kohli for the captaincy, so that there is a smooth transition at the appropriate time, at least when it comes to leadership. At the moment, Dhoni is still our best bet as he commands respect and more importantly, with his performances in this series, no one can ask questions of his place in the team…for now.

Whither the fast bowlers?

India has never been known for producing quality speed merchants, or for that matter any pace bowler who can compete with the best in the world. Despite that, India had two decent options this series in Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. Thanks to the spinners, they didn’t really have to do much apart from taking the shine off the ball and occasionally coming on, to provide the spinners some respite after long spells. That is why it was disappointing to see their underwhelming performances, even in limited roles.

Zaheer Khan is in a steady decline at the moment. He is no more the bowler he was at his pomp, and at the moment, its his guile and experience which still warrants him a place in the side. It is up to the team management to use him wisely in the coming months, as contests against quality teams are lined up. Stop using him in ODIs and T20s; preserve him for the Tests. Use him to mentor the youngsters; and given the way, Yadav bowled in the series, he has his work cut out.

Umesh Yadav was one of the rare positives from the ill-fated tour down under, and much is expected from him. Unfortunately, his pace seems to have dropped off a little and he still has trouble with control. Given that Ishant Sharma faces the same issues and the remaining reserve of fast bowlers are even more inexperienced, there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution on hand.

This is where the role of bowling coach Joe Dawes is amplified. By this time next year, India may have to depend on a completely fresh pack of fast bowlers  and it is imperative that between now and then, the management identify who they think are going to stick around for a long time and prepare them for the long haul. If India are serious about retaining their number 1 ranking, they can ill afford to neglect their fast bowling resources.

To summarize,

  • Give Sehwag and Gambhir one more chance during the England series. If they continue to fail, bite the bullet and blood replacements for them.
  • Tendulkar’s presence is vital for the team till the South African tour to provide experience and guide the freshly re-modeled middle order. Raina has run out of chances, and it is time to try someone else.
  • MS Dhoni remains our best option when it comes to captaincy. Make Kohli the permanent vice-captain and groom him for leadership in the future.
  • Manage Zaheer wisely and build a good reserve of fast bowlers.

Indian cricket is notorious for its disregard to planning ahead and taking corrective measures. Here is hoping that there is someone in the Indian cricket hierarchy, who can look past the eye-pleasing win over New Zealand  and identify the short-comings. Then, hopefully we won’t need to experience anything as painful and harrowing as an 0-8 score line.

Never forget.