Dhoni’s Delhi Belly

First off, let me clarify that this post is based on hypothesis. I don’t know for sure if there is a rift in the Indian camp. Reports of Sehwag and Gambhir being unhappy with Dhoni is just rumors at this point. All that we have are reports like these. Though comments from certain players indicate that all is not well, without hard facts, it is hard to know for sure.

Having said that, this post is about whose side I would be on, assuming that the Delhi boys have a problem with the skipper.

Based on the media reports through the tournament, MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are the three major players in this story.

Gambhir got tongues wagging, when he subtly criticized Dhoni for taking the game till the last over, the same one in which Dhoni got the team over the winning line. Recently, Sehwag feigned ignorance of Dhoni’s reasoning for rotation of the senior batsmen and maintained that the skipper had given them different reasons. Some other soundbites from the same presser indicate some sort of frostiness between the two. Read it and judge for yourself.

The usually unflappable Dhoni himself has started to show signs of frustration, with the finger wagging at the umpires in the Australia game coming as a rare sight. Poor performances on the field are nothing new for him, so this could hint at some tough times off the field as well. Now, with Sehwag’s comments he might feel as if the Delhi boys are ganging upon him.

Anytime a player or a group of players rise up in mutiny against the incumbent skipper, that too during the middle of a tough tour, I’m always going to support the incumbent skipper. Whatever issues one may have, and there are a few legitimate issues to be sorted out regarding the captain’s recent decisions, public signs of dissension are never a good idea. For two experienced international cricketers, they have not been very bright about how this might be interpreted outside the team circle. Team loyalty has been thrown out the window, and this team is increasingly starting to resemble the Pakistan team of the 90s with all their infighting.

Gambhir is one of the finest batsmen in the Indian team and he has a big role to play in the coming years to guide the side when the Big Three leave the arena; but that doesn’t mean he has to let his ego get in the way of the team’s greater good. If he had a problem with Dhoni’s tactics, it should be discussed behind closed doors, not in the public forum. He might be a prickly character to the opposition, but we don’t need that to be displayed against his own team-mates. This is where he differs from Virat Kohli, another Delhi batsman with an aggressive outlook. Can you see Kohli making the same comments Gambhir did, even if he had felt the same? That is why, I would rather see Kohli being groomed as the next captain. He might have attitude problems, but you know that he will never cast aspersions on his own team-mates.

Virender Sehwag. For the last 10 years, everyone is comfortable with the explanation, “Thats the way he bats, and thats the way he talks’. Why not? His records speak for themselves, and his quips have made many a press conference and post-game more livelier. Nowadays, it can be grating. Sure, he has taken a couple of good catches this summer, but with the bat, he has been a major disappointment, mostly getting out to poor deliveries. Now, with his recent comments, he has made the dressing room environment more tense. Reports of a rift between the two have been around for a long time. If I’m not mistaken, there was a similar issue during the last Champions Trophy or something. While he and Dhoni may display overt signs of camaraderie on the field, it doesn’t matter if Sehwag can’t back it off the field. Like Gambhir, if he had any doubts with Dhoni’s explanation for the rotation policy, he should have clarified with the skipper before making any statements to the press. What this all does is create a suspicious environment around the team; something they don’t need at this point in the tournament, or for that matter, at this point as a team in transition.

Dhoni’s captaincy has been disappointing this summer and some of his decisions on the field are plain baffling; but he is the captain of the side, and the players have to respect that. This is not the time to harbor captaincy ambitions of their own, but to ensure that the team does better in the remainder of the tournament. Beyond this tour, the players, the coach and the board have to band together to work out a way the team can get better. Hopefully, whatever differences there may be between players, saner heads will prevail. A team with Dhoni, Gambhir and Sehwag all working on the same page, can be the best news for a team which is crying out for  a strong and unified leadership.


See ball, Hit ball, Repeat

Everywhere around the cricket world, in schools and gullies, in club cricket and in first class cricket – you can always find one player who is intent on hitting the cover off every ball he faces. More often than not, he will score a quick 30 or 40 before getting out. Once in a while, he may score big; but everyone would agree that he will never be as good as his team-mate, who is less flashy but more consistent.

Then there is Virender Sehwag.

Now I'll proceed to show you what 'Kolaveri' actually is....

When Sehwag started playing first class cricket, no doubt he would have heard countless words of advice – tighten your technique, respect the good deliveries, don’t take unnecessary risks. To his credit, Sehwag kept true to his natural game and followed a simple mantra.

See ball. Hit ball.

Some days, it would result in a catch to the keeper or slip cordon. Critics would pile on him for being irresponsible and careless. It didn’t matter to Sehwag; because most days, those same shots would get him runs. It takes a brave man to shut out the dissenting noises and just channel his incredible self belief in playing the way he does; and his records speak for themselves.

Double hundreds and triple hundreds in Test cricket; and now, a double hundred in ODIs.

Here’s what he had to say after the incredible 219 against West Indies in Indore:

“Never dreamt of it. I told Gauti if we showed a little patience we could a big one. But I was never expecting a double century. It’s a true time, you can play all your shots. When I decided I wanted to hit a six, I went and did it with a straight bat. I know people expected me to score a double-century, so thanks to them. And thanks to my family. I had said earlier that the top order was not contributing, and it was my job. Never changed my batting through this innings. I just told my self that I needed to bat through the Batting Powerplay, and I would get the double hundred. When Sammy dropped my chance, I knew God was with me. I am tired, yes, I am an old man now.”

He may be getting old, but Virender Sehwag doesn’t look like he is going to adjust his game anytime soon; and for that an entire cricket world is grateful.

India vs South Africa – Clash of the Titans

Finally, the much awaited non-Ashes test series of the year, is upon us. The No. 1 side takes on the No. 2 side, in a 3 test series, which will confirm if India has finally learned to crack the code in hostile environs. They are led by the capable MS Dhoni, under whom they have not lost a test series in two years, and are packed with world class batsmen and competitive bowlers. Their ground fielding is way behind some of the other teams, but importantly, they don’t drop too many catches. One of the biggest advantages they have going into the series, is the presence of Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons. Their local experience coupled with the extensive preparation they have put in, in the lead-up to the series, could prove to be the tipping point for India. Add to this, the fact that, this is the best Indian team to tour South Africa, ever. If they cannot win the series this time, they might as well forget winning here again for a while, considering that their big three (Sachin, Dravid, Laxman) would be playing in their last tour here.

As for South Africa, they will be having the odds on their side, given their balance and knowledge of the conditions. Any team, which has Steyn and Morkel marking their run-ups at the start of the opposition’s innings, will consider themselves favorites on fast, bouncy pitches. Their spin option is not threatening, but on these grounds, against Indian batsmen, they wouldn’t matter anyway. They have a powerful batting line-up, which can rival India, in terms of racking up big scores. Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers are in no way inferior to Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. One area, where they are miles ahead of India, is their fielding; and in a tight contest, it could tilt the series in their favor.

Without further ado, here is player-by-player look:

INDIA (best XI)

Gautam Gambhir: Its been a long time, since India have toured South Africa, with a stable opening combination; This time around, they have, perhaps the best Indian openers since Gavaskar. It might be Gambhir’s first test tour of South Africa; but he is a driven cricketer, who has just returned to form, and his partnership with Sehwag will be an interesting plot-line in this series.

Virender Sehwag: He burst into the test scene, with a dazzling debut ton at Bloemfontein in 2001, against the likes of Pollock, Hayward and Ntini. Since then, his average in South Africa is a measly 26.44, compared to an ‘away’ average of 50.67. Needless to say, he will be bursting to set some records straight. He forms one half of the world’s most feared opening partnership, but his wicket will be the most cherished in a class line-up. Recently, he has combined an important trait to his run-away stroke-play: patience. His contest with Steyn and Morkel will be a treat to savor.

Rahul Dravid: He might be not be the same batsman he was four years ago; but, when India tour abroad, there is no better player to turn to. Like other batsmen in the illustrious line-up, his record in South Africa is a glaring inconsistency with the remainder of his ‘away’ stats. He struck a semblance of form in the recent series against New Zealand, but no doubt, Steyn and co, will try to re-inject some old misgivings. All said and done, this is his last opportunity to play a defining role in what could turn out to be India’s finest series win in years.

Sachin Tendulkar: He is playing so well this year, that, when he failed to register a century in the series against the Kiwis, it was a shock to all. He is one ton away, from a record setting 50 centuries in tests, but his mind will be on bigger things. He leads one of the strongest batting line-ups in recent memory and he will know that there is no better chance to beat South Africa in their own den. He averages a respectable 39.76 in SA from 12 matches, with an unforgettable 169 as his highest score. If he can improve on these stats, expect India to be dominant in the batting stakes, Steyn or no Steyn.

VVS Laxman: He has been needed a lot in the last few series, and he has not disappointed. One of the most under-rated batsmen of his generation, he will relish the challenge SA will throw at him. Even if India experience some top order blues, they know that they can rely on Laxman to bail them out. The biggest task for South Africa will be to ensure that he does not mistake them for Australia.

Suresh Raina: Possibly the only weak link in the batting, it is a no-brainer that the Saffers will target him with plenty of bouncers. After a dream start to his test career, his form has tapered off, and SA will consider him ripe for the picking; but there is no doubt, that he is the most talented of the young bunch. Kirsten has worked with him a lot on his batting, and it remains to be seen, if he has learnt his lessons. For inspiration, he needs not look further than fellow southpaw, Alastair Cook, who is changing notions about his batting, in Australia.

MS Dhoni: Captain Extraordinaire. He has a brilliant opportunity to go into the record books, as the first Indian skipper to lead his team to a victory in South Africa. While his keeping has always been steady, his batting form is iffy. He did score an important 98 in his most recent innings, but India will need more of that, to back up Laxman and lead the lower order, if the situation arises. Many critics have pointed out, that Dhoni’s good record is more due to luck, than anything else; but as the man himself said, if his luck is helping India win, then so be it.

Harbhajan Singh: Of late, he has come up with an interesting idea. If he can’t help India with the ball, he will try to win games with his bat. It is all well and endearing, but the focus will be rightly on his bowling. In a land renowned for its spinners, he is the leading tweaker, who hasn’t really managed to penetrate line-ups recently. While talk over his bowling form riles him up, he needs to calm down and realize that India needs him to be at his best against a powerful set of batsmen. Expect the likes of Kallis and De Villiers to target him and disrupt his rhythm. How he responds, will be crucial to Indian hopes of containing any severe damage.

Zaheer Khan: India’s most important bowler is under a fitness cloud right now. It would be an understatement to say, that in his absence, India will find getting 20 SA wickets, that much harder. So, expect the physios to be putting some extra time with him. At the least, India will hope that he can play, so that he can target his favorite bunny’s wrists.

Ishant Sharma: Will be a player worth watching this series. While South Africa has faced him before, it will be a different matter, when they come up against him, on their own pitches. If they prepare bouncy tracks for the benefit of Steyn and Morkel, they better be prepared for some roughing up by Sharma. After months of toiling on subcontinental pitches, he will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling on lively pitches. If he can maintain control and reduce his no-balls, he will turn out to be a match winner for India.

S Sreesanth: Sreesanth and South Africa will always be remembered for his famous antics after hitting Nel for a six in India’s last tour here. While those might or might not be repeated, India will hope that his bowling in that series will be reprised this time as well. There were some promising signs in the recent series against New Zealand, and if he along with Sharma, can support Zaheer Khan ably, expect South Africa to reconsider their pitch preparations.


Graeme Smith: One of the best openers in international cricket, Smith (fitness permitting) will be a tough nut to dislodge once he gets going. Interestingly, he has never scored a century against India in 10 matches, falling to Zaheer and Sreesanth 4 times each. What better chance to set the record straight, than in a contest between the top two teams in international cricket, at home.

Alviro Petersen: After scoring a debut century against India at Eden gardens, Petersen has had a steady career. While there are no immediate concerns, this is an ideal opportunity for him to establish his position in the team. India have been known to be generous to batsmen seeking to make it big on the international stage, and Petersen will be hoping that he will be the beneficiary of India’s largesse.

Hashim Amla: It remains to be seen, how much Amla’s arm injury will affect his form. Just as well – A fully fit and firing Amla will be one of the biggest threats to India’s fortunes. Blessed with the calmness and patience of a monk, he has reeled off several hundreds in the past year. Only time will tell, if he will become a great; but for now, he is doing a damn impressive job and the Saffers will be hoping that he will continue to display the run-scoring appetite he did, in their last series against India.

J Kallis: South Africa’s own Tendulkar. When was the last time this man was out of form, anyway? Along with Amla and De Villiers, he forms one of the most strongest middle orders in the game. His duel with Harbhajan will be worth watching, and expect a lot of words to be exchanged between the two. Add to this, his catching at slips and breakthroughs with the ball – as always, he could prove to be India’s nemesis.

AB De Villiers: The next big superstar of international cricket. Expect him to be breaking a few records this series. He is fresh off a mammoth unbeaten 278 against Pakistan; and at home against the likes of Harbhajan and Sreesanth, he will fancy his chances. If India don’t get him out early, they will be chasing the leather on most days of this tour.

Ashwell Prince: A man whose career mirrors Laxman in more ways than one. Perennially, on the verge of being dropped, it is easy to forget that he is a former skipper of the national team. He tried his hand at opening, to stay in the team, but has rightfully returned to the middle order. He faces competition from Duminy for his spot, and only consistent big scores will make the number 6 slot, his own. Despite having a poor record against India overall, his average shoots up to 61 against India at home. So, he has atleast one thing going for him.

Mark Boucher: His best days might be behind him, but Boucher is the man you need, when you’re in a scrap with the best team. He will relish the challenge of leading the lower order, and his safe keeping will be a source of comfort to the bowlers. Expect his palms to take a lot of pounding, this series.

Paul Harris: While it is easy to rubbish Harris’ performances at the top level, one look at the current state of Australian spin bowling, will show how much worth he is to the SA side. He runs into a line-up, which has demolished better spinners, and his average of almost 50 against them, confirms the non-existence of a threat. He will be expected to perform a containing role, allowing the lines of Steyn and Morkel to run amok.

Dale Steyn: India’s biggest threat to a landmark series win. There is a reason, why there is a lot of talk of Steyn in the lead-up to the series. While his overall bowling average is 23.77 with a SR of 40.4, against India, it drops to 20 and 36.3 respectively. India will not forget his devastating spell at Nagpur in a hurry and their preparations so far, mirror the respect they have for Steyn’s capabilities. His contest with Sehwag will prove to be the biggest of all mini-clashes in this series.

Morne Morkel: If Sehwag and Gambhir form the toughest opening partnership in international cricket, Steyn and Morkel form the most lethal new ball pair going around. While his bowling stats against India are not very impressive, sheer pace and bounce (that old nemesis of Indian batting) will prove to be a handful on home pitches.

L Tsotsobe: He will be the most inexperienced bowler among the two teams, and India will hope they can get some respite from Steyn and Morkel through him. Don’t take him lightly though. With good left arm swing, complementing the fiery pace of the new ball bowlers, he could yet prove to a wild card. Afridi and Pakistan found out the hard way.

All in all, it promises to be a riveting series. At least, it will prove to be more of a contest than the one taking place down under!


Finally, there are some interesting developments in the IPL. The latest headlines are regarding the player retentions, and there are a few interesting decisions made by the franchises:

Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni, Albie Morkel and Suresh Raina were shoo-ins; but I am surprised with the choice of the other  player. Murali Vijay is a great striker of the ball, and was instrumental in CSK’s good performances in IPL 3 and the Champions League; but they would have been better served if they had retained Ashwin, as CSK is already light in the bowling department, and he was one bowler the team could always rely on, to take wickets or bring down the run rate.

Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar was a predictable retention; and it must have a close call between Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. What confuses me, is the retention of two foreign players. If I’m not mistaken, only one foreign player could be retained. Anyway, MI went with the right picks, choosing their most destructive foreign imports: Pollard and Malinga.

Rajasthan Royals: Putting aside their legal troubles, RR has retained their two foreign star players, the two Shanes: Watson and Warne. They owe a lot to Warne, and have rightly retained him; and Watson is a very handy player in T20s. What is surprising, is the non-retention of Yusuf Pathan. After all, Warne was so enamored with his batting, calling Pathan’s century in the IPL as the best innings he had ever witnessed (poor long term memory, for sure!). Anyway, given his destructive performace in the recent ODI against NZ, Rajasthan’s loss will be another team’s gain.

Delhi Daredevils: While Virender Sehwag was a certain pick, the exclusions of Gambhir, De Villiers, Warner, Dilshan and Vettori are interesting. They had perhaps the most destructive batting line-up in the IPL, and they could have at least afforded to pick one foreign player. It does look like they are aiming for a fresh start, centering around Sehwag.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: It is hard to believe that in a team which boasted the likes of Kumble, Dravid, Pietersen, Kallis, Steyn, White and Morgan, RCB has decided to retain just one player: the young Virat Kohli. Granted, he has been in tremendous nick, but if at all, you wanted to retain just one player, wouldn’t you have preferred a tried and tested player? Kumble and Kallis were two very instrumental figures in the recent emergence of RCB as a force to contend with in both the IPL and the Champions League, and their non retention could only mean that the RCB is looking for long-term options. It is an interesting decision, and only time will tell if they made the right choice.

Kolkata Knight Riders: One of three teams, which has decided not to retain any players; not a major surprise, considering their poor performances in all three IPLs so far. What is interesting though, is the non retention of Ganguly. A few days back, he had stated his desire to play for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy to prepare for the IPL; so for KKR to drop him, is a bold move. After all, he is their most identifiable player. I wonder how Kolkata itself, will rally around a team which would not include their Dada.

Kings XI Punjab: A team which is not even sure of its participation in the next tournament, they have decided to do away with the whole rabble. Players like Yuvraj, Sangakarra, Irfan Pathan were not really worth investing in.

Deccan Chargers: A team which plays well due to the sum of its parts, more than relying on individual performances; there is no Gilchrist or Symonds to prop them up this time. It will be interesting to see their strategy during the auctions. Will they go the MI way, and pick up big players, or will they go the RR way and pick one big player, and lesser cricketers revolving around that one person? Brian Lara, anyone?