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.
Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals in Chennai
Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 5 wickets
The Royals chose to bat first, and were single-handedly powered to a mammoth score by Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson, who scored a belligerent ton (also the first of IPL-6). He was particularly harsh on CSK’s new favorite, Jadeja, who cracked in his third over conceding 18 runs including two sixes and two big wides. Stuart Binny was the only other batsman who made a substantial contribution and Ashwin was the only bowler who ended with decent bowling figures. It left the Super Kings needing 186 to win the game.
The Super Kings were in control of the chase, right from the start. Despite Vijay’s failure (again), Hussey and Raina never let the required rate shoot up. Raina scored a much-needed half century with contained some trademark shots of his, while Hussey continued his rich vein of form to score a match-winning 88 from 51 balls which completely neutralized Watson’s century. Despite a late stutter, Bravo’s six in the final over bowled by Watson ensured that CSK would move right to the top of the points table.
It was refreshing to finally see the Super Kings break the back of a chase in the power play overs. Last time I mentioned how their strategy of keeping their push for victory too late would not work every time, and that they need to retune their strategy; it seems like they paid attention. It also helped that chasing a mammoth target meant that they would have to come out all guns blazing from the word ‘go’. For a team which boasts of an enviable depth in batting, they really should bat more confidently and more often. Hopefully, they will make this a trend.
First, the disappointments. There were two, namely Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja. Both were stars of the last Test series against Australia and both were in contrasting form in this IPL, up to the start of this game. Except for a run-a-ball fifty against KXIP, Vijay has had a shoddy time with the bat, and moreover he doesn’t project an air of self-confidence either. Honestly, I don’t see how he can survive the axe for the next game. Baba Aparjith can be given a chance, considering his allround skills.
As for Jadeja, this game was bound to happen sooner than later. He was tonked mercilessly by Watson and he seemed to crack from the pressure bowling two huge wides in his third over. With the bat, he lasted for a mere two deliveries before getting his stumps knocked out of the ground. If he was floating in the air after all the “Sir” jokes and mass adulation, he would have come back to earth with a thud after this game.
We also got our first look at Jason Holder, the tall West Indian bowler. Nothing special about his performance though; unless he picks wickets by the bunch in the next couple of games, I don’t see him getting picked over Nannes, Laughlin or Hilfenhaus in the future.
It was great to see Raina back in fine form; he is one of the finest T20 players around, and the Super Kings would have heaved a sigh of relief when they saw his meaty blows to the fence. Undoubtedly, the real hero for CSK this year has been Michael Hussey. Free of national commitments, Mr Cricket has narrowed his focus to performing for CSK with all the zeal and determination of a player trying to make his mark among the big boys. With his third fifty this year, he has zoomed to the top of the run charts and established himself as CSK’s most prized wicket; and that’s saying something considering the rich array of batsmen that the men in yellow possess.
Preview of next game:
Hyderabad Sunrisers in Chennai. Without Perera and Sangakarra, the team will be considerably weakened; but the likes of Mishra , Steyn, White and Vihari, with the possible inclusion of World Cup winning skipper Darren Sammy, will ensure a tough contest for the Super Kings. The Sunrisers are third in the points table and they will itching to show just why.
Match: Kolkata Knight Riders vs Chennai Super Kings in Kolkata
Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 4 wickets
Kolkata Knight Riders batted first and Gambhir opened with a new partner in Yusuf Pathan. The move seemed to have worked as KKR raced to 46 in 6 overs, as they take full toll of Albie Morkel in particular. It took a Hussey special at third man to trigger a slide, as Gambhir was the first one to get dismissed. Two balls later, a direct hit from Badri sent Kallis on his way without facing a delivery; Morgan and Pathan followed quickly, and just like that KKR had lost 4 wickets for 9 runs in the space of 13 deliveries. Tiwary and Das staged a mini fight-back, but once Ashwin scalped both of them in consecutive overs, Jadeja picked three other lower order wickets as KKR stalled to 119/9 from their allotted overs.
In response, Dhoni surprised everyone by sending Ashwin to open the innings with Hussey. The move didn’t totally work out as Narine broke the opening partnership in the fifth over. Soon, errors of judgment accounted for both Vijay and Raina, and CSK were staring at a familiar top order failure. It turned into dire straits when Dhoni was dismissed with the target still 66 runs away and 51 deliveries remaining. Hussey stood solid at one end, but his slow scoring seemed to hurt CSK as the required rate kept creeping up. The arrival of Jadeja at the fall of Badri’s wicket changed all that. Twenty too balls later, Jadeja stood tall with an unbeaten 36 from 14 deliveries as he stole another win for CSK.
First of all, let me just state for the record that sometimes it can be frustrating to be a fan of the men in yellow. They always seem to push themselves into a situation where they need a minor miracle to win a game. Despite the target being a paltry 120, the batsmen batted themselves into a situation where they needed 50 from the last five overs. That they won is another matter; it is high-risk tactic for CSK despite their depth in batting, and it might not come off in a given crucial encounter.
A few words of praise for the fielding. In a tournament which has seen a dramatic improvement in fielding standards from last year’s edition, it is good to see that the Super Kings are one of the finest exponents of it. Hussey’s well judged catch, Badri’s direct hit when he had one stump to aim at, Bravo’s fielding and throw for run out (off his own bowling) – all this would make the fielding coach Steve Rixon a proud man.
The bowling seems to be fine-tuned with the exception of one specialist bowler. Nannes’ injury had opened the way for Morkel, who has not really inspired confidence; even the rookie Mohit Sharma is bowling better than him. Apart from that, the consistency of Morris and the spinners is reassuring.
Murali Vijay and Suresh Raina continue to be a source of concern for Fleming and Dhoni. Their attacking style is supposed to bookend the likes of Hussey and Badrinath, who play more of a stabilizing role in the side. Their failures have been the cause of the batting stutters so far in this tournament, and it has required Dhoni and Jadeja to bail them out often. It is highly likely that one of them will be missing from the playing XI for next game.
Ravindra Jadeja is turning out to be CSK’s most valuable player this season. With the ball, he is miserly and keeps picking up wickets. On the field, he is a live-wire, saving precious runs. And now, he has taken over from Dhoni, as the team’s savior with the bat for the second time in a week. In a team full of stars, the Rockstar is the man dragging the team to the top of the table.
Preview of next game:
Next up, CSK take on the Rajasthan Royals aka Dravid’s men in Chennai. The Royals have been one of the consistent teams this year, despite the lack of big stars in their line-up. What they do have is a bunch of performers who combine well enough to win most games; Watson, Rahane, Dravid and Hodge with the bat; and Cooper/Tait, Trivedi, Sreesanth and Chandila with the ball – CSK will do well to re-jig their strategy accordingly.
Tweet of the game:
Hahahaha Jadeja ended that interview by saying "Thank you sir". Thanking himself. Legend.
Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai
Result: CSK win by four wickets
MS Dhoni won the toss, chose to field first and was almost immediately vindicated as Chris Gayle perished in the second over. If the CSK skipper thought that was half the battle won, Kohli and later, de Villiers showed there is more to RCB than the muscular West Indian. Kohli reclaimed the Orange Cap with another effective knock but it was de Villiers’ manic unbeaten 64 which pushed the Royal Challengers to 165, a total that looked just about par. In reply, the men in yellow got to a poor start losing both their openers quickly to stumble to 10/2 in 4 overs. After that, Badrinath and Raina consolidated for a while before Dhoni gave the thrust in the latter part of the innings; but when Dhoni departed in the 18th over, the Super Kings were still looking at a stiff 29 runs from 11 deliveries to win. The equation soon changed to 16 needed from the final over, when RP Singh was given the ball. A fortuitous edge and a mighty swing over long on later, Jadeja had reduced it to 6 needed from 4 balls. In the end, with 2 runs needed off one ball, RP Singh induced an upper cut from Jadeja which nestled in third man’s hands, only for the umpire to signal a no-ball. Impossibly, CSK performed a heist against RCB. Again.
Phew. What a game. In the end, all the ‘Sir’ jokes about Jadeja came true as he stole an incredible win for the men in yellow, with a lot of help from the hapless RP Singh. This was a game that could have gone either way, but some timely hits and a lot of luck saw CSK through. CSK seemed to have got the strangle hold on RCB with the dismissal of Gayle, but when two world class batsmen like Kohli and de Villiers get going like they did, there is nothing much the opposition can do. In fact, given the way de Villiers was blitzing towards the end, RCB will feel like they landed at least 15 runs short.
The waiting game worked so well for Hussey-Vijay against Kings XI, but it came a cropper against RCB and put a lot of pressure on the middle order. Luckily, CSK have just the right men for the situation in Raina and Badri. The pair kept the runs ticking and most importantly didn’t lose their wickets too early. After that it was all Dhoni and Jadeja. When Dhoni got out, it looked for a while that the game was heading for a finish similar to the one against the Mumbai Indians. So, it was good to see Jadeja and Bravo strike timely hits to keep the team in the contest. For CSK to be consistently good, they will need more performances like this from the all-rounders who follow the captain.
What can be said about the RP Singh no-ball? He had a really poor game; he had dropped a sitter and bowled a big no-ball earlier in the game as well. While there were a lot of murmurs about ‘fixing’ on the social media, I would think it was just a case of an experienced bowler having an off day.
Preview of next game:
In two days, the Super Kings are taking on the Pune Warriors who are not having the greatest of seasons. While they seemed to have turned a corner in the game against the Rajasthan Royals, their performance against the Mumbai Indians betrayed old habits. They will also miss their regular captain Angelo Mathews as this game is being held in Chennai, and it will be interesting to see who the stand-in skipper will be. Either way, the Super Kings will do well not to take them lightly. It is important to grab these crucial wins against the lesser teams; as the game against RCB showed, the battle between the top tier teams can swing any way, any time.
Tweets of the game:
It doesn't matter if you have a purple cap or an Orange cap. To lift the IPL trophy, you need the Yellow cap
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
At the onset of this series, most of the Indian fans labelled this as a “payback/revenge” series (conveniently forgetting that winning a series against a 5th ranked side does not compensate for losing the Test crown in a humiliating manner), whereas most English fans dismissed this as a pointless ODI series (how would one determine that, I would love to know). The truth lies somewhere in between; that India would win the series was almost a foregone conclusion, but more than anything else, they needed to experience the winning feeling again. Not to forget, they had a bunch of youngsters to groom for the future. For England, this was a chance for the new ODI skipper and young players to test themselves in unforgiving conditions. In the end, the final scoreline was a just reflection of the gulf between the two sides when it comes to ODIs on the subcontinent, despite the absence of a few star players from the Indian side. Here are a few other thoughts from the series:
The continued absence of Tendulkar and Sehwag meant that there was yet another opportunity for Parthiv Patel and Ajinkya Rahane to press their cases for permanent inclusion. While Patel flattered to deceive, Rahane’s solidity was reassuring to watch, though the tendency to throw away starts was a bit infuriating. Either way, a Test call-up is not too far away for the Mumbai youngster.
Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli were the bulwarks of the middle order. In particular, Kohli continues to rise and rise. He had a good Champions League prior to this series, and his purple patch refused to stop. Despite a poor Test tour of West Indies, his maturity and form warrants him another shot in the longer format.
What is left unsaid about MS Dhoni? Calm, cool, unflappable, the man with a plan….and by the end of the series, he was invincible too, as England just couldn’t out him at all. Experts are falling over themselves to anoint him as the best finisher in ODI history, and few would disagree.
Ever since his debut, I was never too enamored with Ravi Jadeja; but with impressive back-to-back series, he has won me over. While his batting is not as destructive as a certain Yusuf Pathan, he is more consistent, and he is a much smarter bowler. Also, along with Kohli, Raina and Rahane, he has lifted the Indian fielding by several notches. Deserves a prolonged run in the team.
With Harbhajan Singh getting dropped from the side after a long time, there was no small amount of pressure on the shoulders of Ravi Ashwin to perform. To his credit, he didn’t disappoint, with his maturity standing out. While calls for a place in the Test team is a bit premature, he should have cemented his place in the ODI team with this performance.
Praveen Kumar was steady, Vinay Kumar was consistent, Umesh Yadav was lacklustre – but the one pace bowler to stand out from the Indian camp was the young Varun Aaron. He had pace, but more importantly he hit the right lengths too. He has four wickets as of now, all of them coming through knocking the stumps down. Now, if only he does not get ‘Munna-fied’, India might actually possess a ‘fast’ bowler.
To see India put up such a commanding performance in the absence of stars like Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Zaheer was a reassuring sight for Indian fans. With the likes of Rahane, Kohli, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin and Aaron still in their 20s, the future looks bright for the Indian ODI team.
It was a baptism by fire for Alastair Cook, for whom it was the first ODI series outside England as official skipper. He book-ended the series with a couple of 60s and failed in between. As a captain, he was outsmarted by Dhoni, while his failure to exert any authority over his team-mates during a fractious series was disappointing. Looking on the bright side, it can only get better from here.
Craig Kieswetter might as well be called Kies-dropper. In a series where the opposition keeper shone with the bat and barely made any mistake with the glove, Kieswetter had a shocking series, even by his own standards. As an opener, he could never convert his starts, and with the gloves (barring a couple of sensational catches), he was unusually sloppy, none more damning than the fluffed run-out of Jadeja in the fourth game. With the likes of Bairstow, Buttler and Davies jostling for places, it is hard to see if Kieswetter will get to keep his place for the next OI assignment.
Behind every successful batsman, there is Kieswetter
Jonathan Trott might be wondering what he has to do to get some love from the fans. Despite being the most successful ODI batsman of the year, there are calls for Bell to replace him in the playing XI (this despite Trott possessing a far superior average and strike rate compared to Bell). In a side consisting of batsmen who looked completely out of their comfort zone, Trott was perhaps the only player who seemed to have a measure of how to play the spinners. Whether the English accept it or not, Trott is the only batsman who warrants his place in the side, based on current form.
While I have never been convinced that Bopara is one of the top 6 batsman England have, his performance in the series was utterly non-descript and has done enough to justify his future exclusion from the team. The real disappointment was Kevin Pietersen. Despite one good innings, it is alarming how his batting has fallen away in ODIs. For a player who was once the most exciting batsman in the game, it has been a steep decline, and one hopes that he still has it in him to resurrect his brilliance.
A lot was expected from Samit Patel and Jonny Bairstow in this series. While Patel had one good match with the bat and a mixed series with the ball, Bairstow found out for himself how much different the subcontinent is, compared to England. Ashwin and Jadeja toyed with him and by the end of the series, Bairstow’s inexperience was clearly exposed. This will be a valuable tour for him though, and he can only get better for the experience.
Graeme Swann came into this series with the reputation of being the world’s best spinner. In the end, he was outbowled by his own team-mate and will be remembered for his unflattering figures, churlish outbursts against team-mates, dropped catches and a poorly timed autobiography.
In the absence of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, Tim Bresnan was the leader of the pace attack; but the real hero was Steven Finn. Easily, the biggest positive to come out of this series for England; While his boorish behaviour and misplaced aggro can be put down to his age, his bowling was the only thing which kept most of the games competitive. Like most of the youngsters in the team, this experience will be invaluable down the road.
Jade Dernbach has been hyped for a long time now, but over the course of three games, his ‘variations’ were dismissed to all parts of the ground and sometimes over it. In the end, all he showed was poor discipline on and off the field.
Overall, the English team was completely different to the one which defeated India in the rain-affected home series a month ago. They were clueless against spin and the batting always seemed one wicket away from a collapse. A lack of support for Finn meant that the bowling was never going to contain a rejuvenated Indian line-up. The biggest shock of all, was their huge drop in fielding standards, as the Indian side outperformed them in the department by a mile (Donkey jibes, anyone?). When they were not busy getting into verbal battles with the Indians, they occupied themselves berating their own team-mates. Normally, this would point to a side in decline; but in Andy Flower they have one of the top coaches in the world, who is capable of turning the fortunes around. While it has been yet another whitewash in the subcontinent for them, the players will be wiser for the experience and hopefully, it will lead to wiser team selections in the future.
All in all, it was a great Diwali gift from the Indian side to their fans. While it will not erase the memories of the Test series humiliation, it has gone a long way in applying balm over the wounds.