piyush chawla

Ashwin, Chawla and the spin conundrum

R Ashwin and P Chawla. These are two cricketers who are under the spotlight as India head towards the decisive phase of the tournament.

Chawla was a surprise pick in the World Cup squad, and was widely believed (at least, by me!) that he would remain a passenger for the duration of the tournament; but one match winning spell against Australia in the warm up game convinced Dhoni that he would be the 2nd choice spinner, at least for the initial phase of the tournament.

R Ashwin, on the other hand, was widely considered to be the best One Day spinner in India and there were not many murmurs when was picked in the squad. While Chawla walked away with the credits in the warm up, Ashwin himself had a good game, never letting the Aussie batsmen get away after he had scored a vital 25 runs in the Indian innings. Still, Dhoni overlooked him, and at that time I believed the reason being, that having an extra off spinner to complement Harbhajan and Pathan would be  useless anyway. Well of course, only Dhoni can come up with the interesting explanation he offers.

“You want your bowlers to be in a very good mental state in the second half of the tournament, where you play against the best teams and you will be participating in the knock-out stages – that was one of the main reasons why we picked Piyush ahead of Ashwin.”

Going by this reason, Dhoni has high opinions of Ashwin, and it is a matter of one, or two games at the most before he gets a look in. Of all people, Dhoni knows enough about Ashwin, having captained him for over three seasons in the IPL, and I believe him when he says that Ashwin has the mental strength to come in and perform straight away in a crucial game. Still, one must temper that with the knowledge that Ashwin is not Tahir or Murali, to come in and run through any line up. He is going to offer control, and let the other bowlers reap the rewards off his hard work.

This is why I fear the media hype. Right now, the experts would have you believe that Ashwin can single handedly improve the Indian bowling; but the truth is, he offers more when it comes to the Power Play and will keep the opposition batsmen honest. Chawla has gone for a lot of runs in the tournament so far, but compared to the resident spinner-in-chief, he was the most likely one to take wickets. The only spinner who has managed to find a balance between taking wickets and keeping the run rate down is the other Singh.

So, it is a tricky decision for Dhoni to make. While popular opinion swings towards Ashwin, one must realize that he can only do so much. Should Chawla play against South Africa and take a bucket load of wickets, it will change the whole dynamics again. For my penny’s worth, it wouldn’t hurt to try what South Africa did in their game against West Indies: play three specialist spinners and open the bowling with an offie (preferably, Ashwin)!

Piyush Chawla….Hmm..

One should not read too much into warm-up matches. Teams take these games as opportunities to try their reserve players, try different strategies and try to come out the game injury-free! It is not an accurate indicator of how the teams are going to perform in the main matches, but it does give an idea of which players might fare better individually.

In that context, Piyush Chawla might have silenced a few of his critics in the process of grabbing a match-winning haul against the Aussies at Bangalore. Personally, I’m a little ambivalent towards his performance. The conditions were loaded in his favor, and the Aussies didn’t really seem to have a concrete plan towards playing spin. Still, to give Chawla his due, he made the most of his opportunity and bowled really well, particularly in the second spell. On the way, he took one step ahead of Ashwin, who himself had a decent game with both bat and ball. Given the unreliability of the 3rd seamer, Dhoni might eventually go with two specialist spinners and Chawla made a good case for himself. Still, I will be convinced only after I see how he fares against better players of spin and in unfavorable conditions.

India’s squad for the World Cup 2011 – bickerings over the 15th spot

The men entrusted to win the World Cup at home, in front of thousands of cheering fans in the stadiums and millions around the country, have been announced. They will be expected to win their first World Cup trophy since 1983, and will aspire to be the first home nation to walk away with the prize (Sri Lanka in 1996 doesn’t count).

These are the chosen 15:


Sachin Tendulkar

Virender Sehwag

Gautam Gambhir

Virat Kohli

Yuvraj Singh

Suresh Raina


Yusuf Pathan


MS Dhoni

Pace attack

Zaheer Khan

Ashish Nehra

Praveen Kumar

Munaf Patel


Harbhajan Singh

Ravichandra Ashwin

Piyush Chawla


Personally, I think the selectors did a good job. I agree with 14 of their choices (which is way better than the 9 I agreed with, in WC 2007). Frankly, Rohit Sharma’s omission is not surprising to me; unlike Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel, he never grabbed his opportunities to impress. The only bone of contention is the 15th spot, which went to Piyush Chawla. India might be playing at home in spin friendly conditions, but it is still one spinner too many. With Harbhajan as the first choice spinner and loads of part-timers to support him, it is hard to see a second specialist spinner getting a game. Ashwin was always my second choice, since he has always grabbed his opportunities in whatever limited chances he has got. In case of an injury to Harbhajan, he can step up as the replacement. I find it hard to believe that after all that Dhoni has said, India will play with 5 bowlers, including two spinners; and for all of Chawla’s abilities as a bowler who can bat, it wouldn’t be wise to risk playing him in the biggest tournament of all, when the last time he played for India was almost 2 years ago. So instead of carrying Chawla as a passenger, they could have had a specialist batsmen who can field well as a sub (Rohit Sharma, though I wouldn’t give him a game) or a backup keeper (Parthiv Patel, who was unfairly overlooked in favor of Dinesh Karthik for much of the last four years). Then again, this is the 15th spot we are talking about, and I doubt it is going to make a big difference. I for one, am grateful that the selectors resisted the urge to select Dinesh Karthik or Ravindra Jadeja!

PS: Watch Srikkanth’s hilarious interview on Cricinfo about the WC squad….Geoff Miller is not the only chief selector who can earn money through after dinner speeches!

My thoughts on the IPL auctions

It’s been a while now, since the IPL auctions got over. I needed some time for the dust to settle, and understand who went where, and how the teams stack up now. Luckily, some sites have done a good job in breaking it down, and following is my personal take on the 2-day television spectacle which gripped cricket-watching people all over the world, whether they loved or hated the IPL.

First of all, when I started following the auction on day 1, I never expected it to be so gripping. It was 12:30 am here, when it started and I expected to go to bed after a couple of hours. Instead, watching the whole drama unfold live, including discussions about it in real time over Twitter and Paddlesweep, kept me awake till 7 am! Throughout those six and a half hours, my emotions varied from excitement to amusement to shock to disgust and finally a sense of resignation. One of the main reasons I stayed up for was to find out where the likes of Swann and Lara would end up, and you can imagine the anger/disappointment, when they were not snapped by any team. Eventually, there were tons of players who were not picked by any team — Ganguly, Gayle, Tamim Iqbal, Ntini, Jaysuriya among several others; and there have been several theories trying to explain them away. So, I am not going to bother trying to understand them. All I can say is, the team owners seemed to have learned their lessons from the first time around, and were building teams which stood a winning chance, instead of giving opportunities to old-timers for one last hurrah or picking players who would miss a sizable portion of the tournament. The Modi-less factor was evident, with teams looking serious and professional, and the auctioneer himself did a commendable job of hurrying the auction along and making sure everything went smoothly. All in all, it was an interesting auction on day 1 which lost a bit of steam on the 2nd day, but nevertheless it was an eyeball-grabbing extravaganza, which will please the BCCI and the Modi-less IPL. Here is the breakdown of the teams:


Batsmen: Suresh Raina (retained), M Vijay (retained), Michael Hussey ($425,000), S Badrinath ($850,000), George Bailey ($50,000)
Bowlers: Doug Bollinger ($700,000), R Ashwin ($850,000), Ben Hilfenhaus ($100,000), Joginder Sharma ($150,000), Nuwan Kulasekara ($100,000), Sudeep Tyagi ($240,000), Suraj Randiv ($80,000), Faf du Plessis ($120,000)
Allrounders: Albie Morkel (retained), Dwayne Bravo ($200,000), Scott Styris ($200,000)
Wicketkeepers: MS Dhoni (retained), Wriddhiman Saha ($100,000)

My thoughts: CSK have been my favorite team, ever since I found out that Hussey, Murali and Ntini figure in the same team in IPL-1. Since then, the team has undergone minor personnel changes, with the loss of Murali and Ntini this year; but they still remain my favorite team. They were the only side, which stayed loyal to the team it has been building for the last few years. You could sense the genuine disappointment, when they couldn’t get back the likes of Murali and Balaji. Having said that, they look one of the better and balanced sides in the tournament, with the inclusions of Styris, Bravo and Randiv. The selections of Hilfenhaus, Joginder and Tyagi are a bit baffling to me, but more surprising is the lack of an alternative opening option for Vijay and Hussey. Hopefully, they will get a good opener from the uncapped player list (I’m hoping for Mukund). All in all, Fleming and Dhoni will be happy to have got the core of the band back together, and will be one of the favorites for IPL-4.


Batsmen: Kevin Pietersen ($650,000), Cameron White ($1.1m), JP Duminy ($300,000), Shikhar Dhawan ($300,000), Michael Lumb ($85,000)
Bowlers: Ishant Sharma ($450,000), Dale Steyn ($1.2m), Pragyan Ojha ($500,000), Amit Mishra ($300,000), Manpreet Gony ($290,000), Chris Lynn ($20,000), Rusty Theron ($85,000)
Allrounders: Dan Christian ($900,000)
Wicketkeepers: Kumar Sangakkara ($700,000)

My thoughts: One of several teams, which have undergone a total revamp. There is no Gilchrist or Symonds this time; neither are Rohit Sharma, Ryan Harris or Scott Styris. Instead, they have gone for ex-RCB big players Pietersen, White, Steyn and have made a couple of smart buys in Sangakarra (who might double as their next keeper-captain), Duminy and Lumb. The Indian contingent so far, doesn’t impress me too much with the likes of Ishant, Mishra and Gony; but Ojha and Dhawan have had success at previous IPLs which will stand them in good stead. They also have a lot of money left, which might yet get them some good domestic uncapped players.


Batsmen: Virender Sehwag (retained), David Warner ($750,000), Aaron Finch ($300,000), Venugopal Rao ($700,000), Travis Birt ($20,000), Colin Ingram ($100,000)
Bowlers: Morne Morkel ($475,000), Ajit Agarkar ($210,000), Ashok Dinda ($375,000), Umesh Yadav ($750,000), Robert Frylinck ($20,000)
Allrounders: Irfan Pathan ($1.9m), James Hopes ($350,000), Roelof van der Merwe ($50,000), Andrew McDonald ($80,000)
Wicketkeepers: Naman Ojha ($270,000), Matthew Wade ($100,000)

My thoughts: I am not too sold on this team. True, they have the likes of Sehwag, Warner, Finch and Ingram who make up a devastating batting order, but their bowling lineup is too weak. They will miss the control of Vettori and the guile of Nannes. Morkel, Agarkar, Dinda will go for runs on most of the days, and Irfan Pathan is not the smartest of buys either, considering his fitness and form concerns. They better hope that they get some good uncapped players, otherwise they don’t stand much of a chance this time.


Batsmen: Shaun Marsh ($400,000), David Hussey ($140,000)
Bowlers: Stuart Broad ($400,000), Praveen Kumar ($800,000), Ryan Harris ($325,000), Piyush Chawla ($900,000), Nathan Rimmington ($20,000)
Allrounders: Abhishek Nayar ($800,000), Dimitri Mascarenhas ($100,000)
Wicketkeepers: Adam Gilchrist ($900,000), Dinesh Karthik ($900,000)

My thoughts: Looks like Gilly has to go from captaining an average team, to captaining ANOTHER average team. Despite having lots of money left in their budget, KXP didn’t seem to know what they want, and consequently didn’t pursue any player with particular intent. Their weird spending is highlighted by the equal pay to both the wicketkeepers, and the exorbitant amount spent to purchase Chawla when they could have easily got Swann for less than half that price (I know, I’m ranting again!). They have a couple of good T20 players in Hussey and Broad, but not enough to win matches consistently. Preity has to pray extra hard that she can get some top notch domestic players to fill the gaps before the tournament starts.


Batsmen: Mahela Jayawardene ($1.5m), VVS Laxman ($400,000), Brad Hodge ($425,000), Owais Shah ($200,000), Michael Klinger ($75,000)
Bowlers: Sreesanth ($900,000), RP Singh ($500,000), Muttiah Muralitharan ($1.1m), Ramesh Powar ($180,000), Vinay Kumar ($475,000), Steve O’Keefe ($20,000)
Allrounders: Ravindra Jadeja ($950,000), Steven Smith ($200,000), Thisara Perera ($80,000), John Hastings ($20,000)
Wicketkeepers: Brendon McCullum ($475,000), Parthiv Patel ($290,000)

My thoughts: Someone at Kochi didn’t think this through. Seriously, how could you value a Laxman over Ganguly in this format? They have also supplanted some expensive bowlers in RP Singh and Sreesanth (though this choice is understandable) and chosen possibly the two most maligned spinning allrounders in Smith and Jadeja. They have packed their side with foreign bowlers and allrounders, which means that they will have to rely on their Indian batsmen to get good scores; their options—Laxman, Parthiv and Jadeja. I will give them points for picking Owais Shah, Hodge, Jayawardene, McCullum and (*sob*) Murali.


Batsmen: Gautam Gambhir ($2.4m), Manoj Tiwary ($475,000), Eoin Morgan ($350,000)
Bowlers: L Balaji ($500,000), Brett Lee ($400,000), Jaidev Unadkat ($250,000), James Pattinson ($100,000)
Allrounders: Yusuf Pathan ($2.1m), Jacques Kallis ($1.1m), Shakib Al Hasan ($425,000), Ryan ten Doeschate ($150,000)
Wicketkeeper: Brad Haddin ($325,000)

My thoughts: King Khan can be pleased with the squad he has got so far. First off, they made a ballsy move by not retaining Ganguly, despite the enormous fan base he has in Bengal. Then, they made some good picks in Gambhir (possible skipper), Yusuf Pathan (born for IPL), Kallis, Shakib and Ryan Ten (three of the most valuable allrounders there is). Their bowling attack looks lite considering Balaji’s inconsistency, Unadkat’s inexperience and Lee’s fitness concerns but this should be made up for by their strong allrounders. Ofcourse, they did start the initial IPL with a similarly good team and high hopes; so they will want no repeat of their performances in the first three seasons. Under Gambhir and coach Whatmore, they have possibly the best combination to ensure that. Apart from CSK, they will be favorite team for including the likes of Morgan, Lee, Shakib and Ryan Ten.


Batsmen: Sachin Tendulkar (retained), Rohit Sharma ($2m), Aiden Blizzard ($20,000)
Bowlers: Harbhajan Singh (retained), Lasith Malinga (retained), Munaf Patel ($700,000), Clint McKay ($110,000)
Allrounders: Kieron Pollard (retained), Andrew Symonds ($850,000), James Franklin ($100,000), Moises Henriques ($50,000)
Wicketkeeper: Davy Jacobs ($190,000)

My thoughts: Imagine that you are the opposition captain when the Mumbai Indians are batting. First up, you have Sachin and Davy Jacobs opening. Then you take a look at their team compostion, and see that still to come, are Rohit Sharma, Pollard and Symonds. That is the plight which most captains will find themselves in during the course of IPL-4. They also have a good bowling attack suited for this format in Harbhajan, Malinga, McKay and Munaf. Once, they fill up their squad with uncapped players, they should be having one of the best teams in the tournament. As an aside, I do hope that Harbhajan takes out some time from playing, to teach Symonds Hindi and explain the real meaning of ‘Teri maa ki…’


Batsmen: Robin Uthappa ($2.1m), Yuvraj Singh ($1.8m), Graeme Smith ($500,000), Callum Ferguson ($300,000)
Bowlers: Ashish Nehra ($850,000), Murali Kartik ($400,000), Wayne Parnell ($160,000), Jerome Taylor ($100,000)
Allrounders: Angelo Mathews ($950,000), Mitchell Marsh ($290,000), Jesse Ryder ($150,000), Nathan McCullum ($100,000), Alfonso Thomas ($100,000)
Wicketkeeper: Time Paine ($270,000)

My thoughts: A so-so team really. They have good T20 batsmen in Utthappa, Yuvraj and Graeme Smith but I don’t expect them to fire consistently. They have a canny spinner in Murali Kartik (who went shockingly unpicked intially) but injury-prone bowlers in Nehra, Parnell and Taylor. Their allrounders and wicketkeeper consist of foreign players, who are decent, but not awe-inspiring. So, they have a lot of work ahead if they want to compete with the big boys.


Batsmen: Ross Taylor ($1m), Rahul Dravid ($500,000)
Bowlers: Shane Warne (retained), Johan Botha ($950,000), Shaun Tait ($300,000), Pankaj Singh ($95,000)
Allrounders: Shane Watson (retained), Paul Collingwood ($250,000)

My thoughts: Possibly, the unluckiest team in the fray. Their purse was cut due to some wrangling with the BCCI, which meant that they had to be smart with their buys. Instead, they spent a whopping amount on Botha alone. Maybe, they are preparing for Warne’s departure by grooming another foreign spinner/captain. Apart from that, the two Indians in the squad – Dravid and Pankaj Singh – are not going to set the world alight. Their remaining picks consist of, an inconsistent but dangerous batsman, a specialist T20 speedster prone to breakdowns, an allrounder who has had reasonable success with the team and an allrounder who has been in poor nick. Apart from CSK, they might be the only team hoping praying for a repeat of the first season!


Batsmen: Virat Kohli (retained), Saurabh Tiwary ($1.6m), Cheteshwar Pujara ($700,000), Tillakaratne Dilshan ($650,000), Mohammad Kaif ($130,000), Luke Pomersbach ($50,000), Rilee Rossouw ($20,000), Jonathan Vandiar ($20,000)
Bowlers: Zaheer Khan ($900,000), Dirk Nannes ($650,000), Abhimanyu Mithun ($260,000), Charl Langeveldt ($140,000), Nuwan Pradeep ($20,000)
Allrounders: Daniel Vettori ($550,000), Johan van der Wath ($50,000)
Wicketkeepers: AB de Villiers ($1.1m)

My thoughts: A team, whose batting will revolve around the promising trio of Kohli, Pujara and Tiwary. They also have a couple of good left arm pacers in Zaheer and Nannes, complimented by the spin of Vettori. Other notable foreign imports include de Villiers and Dilshan. Still, I feel that something is missing. I think that they had a better team last year and will have to rely a lot on their uncapped players, to progress far in the tournament. Also, it will be interesting to see their choice of captain – Dictator Dan, young Kohli or a left field pick in Zaheer Khan?

So, my picks for the semifinalists in this season’s IPL include Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians and Deccan Chargers. The bottom four will possibly be Delhi Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab, Rajasthan Royals and Team Kochi, and the middling teams – Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors. Feel free to share your thoughts!