tendulkar

Not sufficiently excited about the Mohali clash?

A World Cup semi final featuring India and Pakistan. It will be the mother of all cricket matches. War sans the weapons. A battle for pride and honor. A blood feud between two warring neighbors.

Yawn.

In truth, it will be a high pressure match between two very talented teams, who will play the game like their lives depend on it (in some cases, their lives do depend on it!). There has been a lot of hype as usual, with politicians and movie stars wanting a piece of the action and the security and secret service are being kept on their toes, but the real pressure will be on the players, who dutifully have to maintain that they feel no pressure at all, in front of the cameras. For the agnostic who wonders what the fuss is all about and who feels left out, take a look below, as to why you should get excited about the Mohali clash:

1. Miandad sets a template for things to come…

2. ‘More’ Miandad (see what I did there?)…

3. Prasad and Sohail share the love in 1996…

4. Kanitkar’s moment in the sun (floodlight!)…

5. Will we see a contest between these two for the final time on Wednesday?

6. Afridi does what he used to do best…

7. Dhoni returns the favor…

8. Its a tie!

9. Misbah gives birth to IPL…

10. Yuvraj and Gul…will we see Act 2 in Mohali?

11. Gambhir and Afridi…all they want is some space..

12. Gambhir’s comments on Akmal’s keeping skills gets him riled up..

13. The last time they met each other…

 

I rest my case.

(If anyone has a problem with my selection of clips, stop whining and let me know which ‘moments’ should make the cut; and I will be gracious enough to add it here….)

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The Ahmedabad Redemption for Ponting and Yuvraj

As Yuvraj crashed the fourth ball of the 48th over to the boundary and sank to his knees in wild jubilation, 8 years of heartbreak and disappointment over the missed opportunity in the 2003 World Cup final came crashing down. For the millions of people whose dreams were crushed that day, the exit of Australia from the World Cup despite Ponting’s century would have been sweet revenge. It was not exactly a thriller to match the England-India game at Bangalore, but it had its shares of nail biting moments, thanks to some trademark Aussie grit and suicidal running by Gambhir; in the end, though, lack of quality spinners and disciplined fast bowlers cost the Aussies and India have set up a dream clash with Pakistan at Mohali next Wednesday.

There were a lot of key performers from both sides; Brad Haddin was the first to up the ante, while David Hussey gave the finishing touches in the Aussie innings. As for India, Zaheer Khan was at his usual best, giving his side timely breakthroughs. Ashwin took perhaps the most important wicket of all, when he castled Watson early, and was also surprisingly sharp on the field. Tendulkar was all class and Gambhir was steady throughout his innings except for the final moments extending to his dismissal. Raina’s selection ahead of Pathan proved to be a master stroke, as he repayed the faith in him, by hastening the Indian victory. Ultimately though, this game was about two men, who entered the tournament in desperate search of redemption and found it in the quarterfinal; albeit, with differing emotions at the end of the day.

Ricky Ponting is a tough nut. He has always been, and he will continue to be till the day he retires. He has had a rough couple of years, with poor form coinciding with a downward curve in the team’s fortunes. He entered the World Cup on the back of conceding the Ashes at home, and questions swirling around a possible retirement. No sooner had the Cup began, he got into the controversy over a damaged TV set after a dismissal against Zimbabwe, fell to old failings against Canada, displayed a shabby reaction after a misunderstanding with Steven Smith over a catch, and even managed to find himself in the middle of the eternal ‘walking’ debate. All this while rubbishing retirement talk every other day. A lesser man would have thrown his hands up in exasperation and grumbled over the injustice of it all. Instead, he kept stressing that a good innings was around the corner, and eventually knuckled down in the first knockout game of the World Cup for Australia and produced an innings of restraint and skill, which would have been enough on most days, if it was not for the lack of contributions from his team mates. Ponting might yet play for a while longer, and his innings showed that while he may not be the master of old, he still has the fire and hunger to go out on his own terms. A true champion deserves nothing less.

 

Which brings us to the biggest individual success story of the 2011 World Cup. A man who has been pilloried for the last few years over his weight, lack of fitness, attitude issues, and most importantly, poor form. Dropped from the Test team and temporarily removed from the ODI team, Yuvraj faced a crisis of confidence from where only he could redeem himself. After making an equally baffling return to the ODI side, he didn’t show any signs of what was to come till the tournament began. At the outset of the Cup, he was identified as the primary 5th bowler, even as there were grumblings over whether he even merited a place in the playing XI. After a silent game against the Bangladesh, he warmed up with a now forgotten 50 in the game against England. Then, he got into his stride, with both bat and ball against the lesser teams in the group. This was sandwiched by a failure in the game against South Africa, which raised murmurs that he could only raise his game against weaker opponents. That is what makes his performance against Australia that much more creditable. With the ball, he never really let the batsmen get away picking up the wickets of Haddin and Clarke in the process; but his defining moment came with the bat. He walked into a relative position of strength at 143/3 in the 29th over and saw it stumble to 187/5 after nine overs. With a batsman who was short on practice and confidence for company, he was tasked with shepherding his side to victory and a semifinal clash with their neighbors. The pressure was immense and the possibility of another choke very realistic; but this version of Yuvraj has a certain kind of steel, which has imbued all that the world can throw at him, and transforms him into some sort of venged warrior. He responded in thrilling fashion taking boundaries of Tait and Lee and inspiring Raina to play a blinder of his own. When he hit the winning runs, he let out a roar which was as much a release of all the years of pent up frustration as it was for the cherished victory over a mortal opposition. Redemption is rarely sweeter.

So, hats off to the two champions who performed in the backdrop of another thrilling encounter between these two sides. Their paths may diverge from this point on, but for a few hours on an Ahmedabad evening, it was their day (and night)!

 

Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?

It was early 1999, on one of those hazy February days when I was stuck in class, trying to follow the score of the ongoing Test match between India and Pakistan, surreptitiously through regular text updates which my friend was receiving from a friend of his who was watching the game from home. The inaugural game of the Asian Test Championship was taking place in Kolkata, closely following that magical Test in Delhi where Kumble picked all 10 wickets in an innings. It was the second day and India were batting after having bowled out Pakistan cheaply; Ramesh and Dravid were batting, solid as ever and I was hoping that India would end the day with a comfortable lead. I was just drifting off to a lecture-induced nap, when my friend nudged me and relayed the news that Dravid and Tendulkar were dismissed off consecutive deliveries by Shoaib Akhtar. I still remember my response – “Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?”

Over the next few years, Akhtar has shown me and everyone else around the cricket world, who he is and what he is capable of. Speed demon, prima donna, scandal magnet – he was a symbol of the unpredictable nature of Pakistan cricket. Controversies were never far away for most of his career, with a list that includes doping bans, complaints of poor attitude, indiscipline, and accusations of chucking, ball tampering, feigning injury, altercations with team mates and coaches, and even the indignity of a public announcement of his genital warts condition. Still, he found time in between these tumultuous incidents to demolish batting line ups whenever he was in the mood. With a long run up in those early days, the Rawalpindi Express would steam in, for what seemed to be like an eternity to the batsman, before delivering a thunderbolt, which if on target, would almost always knock the stumps out of the ground.

He was a visceral delight for any true cricket fan. Along with the likes of Lee and Bond, he was one of the few pace bowlers who could set your heart racing. The run up, the delivery, the airplane celebrations upon taking a wicket – they were all trademarks of a special bowler, who could have been much more if not for his fitness and discipline issues. Still, that was Shoaib Akhtar as the whole package. What you saw was what you got.

There were some memorable contests over the years. The 1999 World Cup, his battles with Tendulkar and Dravid, his frequent demolitions of New Zealand, the Colombo spell against the Aussies and much more.Over the last few years, his speed may have dropped off a bit, and he seemed to be bowling on crutches; but when he gets it right, like the Jayawardene dismissal a few weeks back, there is no better fast bowler in sight.

For me, there were days I wished he was an Indian, considering the lack of genuine speedsters in India. Looking around, many other countries might feel the same way. Except for Steyn and Roach, there is no out and out speed demon out there. There is a sea of fast medium bowlers, who need helpful conditions to be threatening; but guys like Akhtar, Bond and Lee in his prime, could take the pitch out of the equation with their pace. For the sake of more thrilling spells like the ones which we used to get from this trio, I wish we can unearth more genuinely fast bowlers in International cricket; and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistan produce such a bowler again!

So, thank you for the memories, Shoaib! Best of luck for your future engagements, and whatever you do, remember to play safe!

“How many diamonds can you retrieve from one single mine; there has to be an end somewhere. I don’t see any natural fast bowler after me.”

 

Lessons from the Castle Lager Test series in South Africa

  • Gautam Gambhir: Everyone knew Gambhir has been a brilliant opener for India at home and abroad against weaker teams; but the question was how he would fare in Tests against tougher opponents in countries like England, Australia and South Africa. He took a big step towards answering that by performing creditably in the two games he played. He faced the might of Steyn and Morkel at their furious best, and survived to ensure that India would walk away with a share of the series spoils. Dravid might be out of the team soon, but in Gambhir, India has a batsman who can battle through the tough times to see them through.
  • Virender Sehwag: Possibly, the biggest disappointment of the series. There was big anticipation for the clash between him and Steyn, but there was no contest really. In conditions favorable to the bowlers and against a pumped up pace attack, Sehwag could only manage 144 runs in the series at an average of 24 and a shockingly low SR of 70.24! He will be keen to put this series behind him and come out, all guns blazing in the World Cup at home.
  • Rahul Dravid: In an earlier time, Dravid against this attack and in these conditions would have seen a couple of marathon knocks atleast. Instead, all we got was the sad sight of seeing him struggle to get 120 runs at a SR of 33 and a highest score of 43. He played his part in saving India on the last day of the series, but there is no doubt, that the end is near for a wonderful career.

  • Sachin Tendulkar: In a series featuring the two top teams in the world, it was appropriate that there was a shoot-out for the best batsman in the world today, as well. Tendulkar might not have scored the amount of runs that Kallis did, but his performance was equally awe inspiring. In the first Test, he instilled self belief in the rest of the batsmen over the course of scoring a 50th Test ton, and at Newlands he faced one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling one will ever see, and came out with an innings which made sure that India were on level terms with South Africa. After 21 years in International cricket, there is no end to his gluttonous appetite for runs.
  • VVS Laxman: In a year featuring many classics from this man, the 96 he scored in the second innings of the 2nd Test was perhaps the most important of them all. In the company of the tail, he rescued his team from a precarious situation and gave them a total to defend. In the process, he helped them secure one of their most memorable wins in Test cricket. Its time, India and the rest of the world treasure his batting skills for as long as he is around.
  • Cheteshwar Pujara: It was always expecting too much from Pujara, to face the likes of Steyn and Morkel in their own backyard and come up trumps. Still, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In the second innings at Durban, he played the most important innings of his brief career so far and weathered the bowlers for close to one and a half hours while giving Laxman valuable support. He would have learnt a lot from this tour and still remains an exciting prospect for the future.
  • MS Dhoni: He came within one wicket of securing his most famous series win yet, but Dhoni will take the eventual scoreline. After all, he has yet to lose a test series as captain. As a captain, his tactics were criticized and his handling of Sreesanth was also open to debate; but as a batsman, he did a decent job and as a keeper, he was safe without being spectacular. This series might have got away, but he can look forward to England and Australia with confidence.
  • Harbhajan Singh: It has been quite a while since he topped the bowling charts for India, and Harbhajan will be satisfied with his performance after receiving a lot of stick from fans and media alike, prior to the series. At Durban, he hastened South Africa’s demise in the first innings; and at Cape Town, he gave India its best shot at a series win. In the end it was not to be, but for once he starred with the ball, rather than with the bat.
  • Zaheer Khan: He was sorely missed at Centurion, and on return at Durban he made his presence felt. He might not have the speed of Steyn or bounce of Morkel, but he has plenty of guile and variations to make up for it. Once again, he had the wood over Graeme Smith so much that Smith asked his opening partner to take first strike against him. He faded ever so slightly on the 4th day at Cape Town, which allowed Kallis and co to take command; but overall, he led the attack very well, and will be a vital weapon for India in 2011.
  • I Sharma: While Zaheer and Sreesanth featured in the news throughout the series, Ishant had a relatively quiet series. A horror match at Centurion was followed by a modest one at Durban and he finished the series with another quiet performance at Cape Town. These were conditions tailor-made for him, but he was thwarted by some good batting and his own indiscipline. Still has problems with no-balls, and I have no idea why Eric Simons has still not found a remedy for that.

  • S Sreesanth: There’s something about South Africa that brings out the best and worst in Sreesanth. One moment, he is bowling vicious snorters to get rid of one of the best batsmen in the world; and the next, he is in trouble with the opposing captain, his own captain, the match refree and the crowd – all for his behavior. He is supposed to be an experienced bowler for India by now, but he is more of an enfant terrible at the moment. He has the talent, but can he maintain his focus in 2011?
  • Raina, Vijay and Unadkat: None of them grabbed the opportunities that came their way, and they have only themselves to blame for that.
  • Graeme Smith: A poor series with the bat, where he could not kick on to make big scores; was more in the news for his poor track record against Zaheer and clash with Sreesanth. Before the series, he made comments alluding that India cannot be considered top dog if they can’t win in South Africa. Forget India, he will do well to remember that South Africa has not won in South Africa for the last three series. By his standards, that’s not the stuff of champions either.
  • Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince: Apart from a good innings here and there, did not do much to put their detractors at bay.
  • Hashim Amla: The bearded one had a modest series by his standards. He resumed his love affair with the Indian bowling at Centurion by scoring a century, had a quiet match at Durban, and scored a rapid fire 50 at Newlands before succumbing to a self described ‘sugar rush’. Still, he was the third highest run getter in the series, and he looks in the best of touch. Yousuf might be fading away, but another bearded batting master is taking his place.

  • Jacques Kallis: In a long and distinguished career, Kallis has played some important knocks against top quality bowlers in demanding conditions; but I doubt that any of his previous innings would have given him as much satisfaction as the one he played on the 4th day at Newlands. South Africa was in trouble at 130/6, when he played a vital innings which was as painful (due to injury) as it was gutsy. This was following the century he had scored in the 1st innings to get South Africa to a challenging score. Fair to say, if it wasn’t for him, India would be toasting a historic victory now. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate run-out and a ripper of a delivery, there is no saying what the eventual result could have been. Along with Tendulkar, he proved that age doesn’t matter when you are in a purple patch for as long as anyone can remember, and ignited a debate as to who the better batsman is. Ponting can only look over, with envy. Oh, did I mention that he scored his first ever double century at Centurion?
  • AB De Villiers: Like Amla, he started brilliantly at Centurion with a bruising ton which deflated the Indians, but couldn’t sustain the form for the rest of the series. He was a surprise disappointment of the series.
  • Mark Boucher: If it wasn’t for his fighting half century in the 2nd innings at Cape Town, this could have been his last Test for South Africa. Instead, along with his long time friend and accomplice, he took the game away from India in true gritty manner. If it does prove to be his final innings, he would have signed off in typical style.
  • Paul Harris and L Tsotsobe: While Harris was ineffectual as expected, Tsotsobe was the surprise package. While they were on the look for respite from Steyn and Morkel, Tsotsobe rarely released the pressure, and only uncharacteristic dropped catches prevented him from getting more wickets. He held a phenomenal catch at Centurion to boot.
  • M Morkel: Along with Steyn, great things were expected of him before the series. While Steyn stole the headlines, Morkel did his part. After routing the Indians in the first innings at Centurion, he handed over the honors to Steyn for the rest of the series. He continued to bruise the Indians with his awkward bounce and ended up as the 2nd leading wicket taker in the series. If this was supposed to be a contest between the world’s best batsmen and the world’s best pace attack, there is no doubt who was the winner.

  • D Steyn: While two batting legends set about enhancing their reputations and breaking new ground, there was only one bowling legend in this series. If anyone had any doubts as to the greatness of Steyn, they should watch his bowling in the 3rd Test at Cape Town. Speed, swing, accuracy…he had it all. He had some of the world’s best batsmen at his mercy, and it was only his presence which forbade the Indians to entertain any hopes of chasing down 340 to win. He ended the series as the leading wicket taker with 21 wickets and an average of just above 17. He single handedly nullified the Sehwag threat, and along with Morkel established themselves as the top bowling pair in cricket, without a doubt. Now, only if he could replicate this form in the shorter formats…

Overall, for the third successive time a contest between these two sides has ended in a fair stalemate. It may not compare to the Ashes in terms of history and prestige, but for the pure joy of watching top quality, competitive cricket, this is one clash always worth looking forward to.

Best moment of the series:

Quote of the series:

We’ll need two goats to feed on this grassy pitch.

Harbhajan Singh, that delightful pitch expert, comes up with a novel idea to make the Kingsmead track more batsman-friendly

For my review of the Ashes, click here

All I want for Christmas – a cricket-related wishlist

Its Christmas time, and what better way of spending time, than watching some high quality cricket, around the clock, and from around the world. First, of course there is the Ashes, with the possibility of England retaining the Ashes well before the New Year; then there, is the India-SA clash, with both teams itching to prove that they are the better team. We also have a Pak-NZ clash down under, where two teams who have had tumultuous years will be desperate to start the new year well. Here, then, is my Christmas wish-list:

The Ashes

  • For Australia to display the same performance they did at Perth.
  • For England to show that their performance in the same match was just a matter of one bad game.
  • For Watson to finally score a century (hey, I’m in the Christmas spirit!)
  • For Ponting to display some of his old batting brilliance.
  • For Beer to play, so that we can all be subjected to some creative, and some horrible, puns.
  • For Swann to showcase a masterclass of spin.
  • For the English bowling to prove that they don’t need Broad again (wishful thinking, really)
  • Finally, for Australia to lose in a nail-biting finish.

India-South Africa

  • For the Boxing day test, to be a contest worthy of a clash between the top two teams in the world.
  • For more bowler-friendly conditions for the two teams.
  • For India to show some spunk in the batting, in tough conditions.
  • For the Indian bowlers to jog their memory, and try to remember how to take wickets.
  • For Harbhajan to forget his batting and concentrate more on his bowling.
  • For Zaheer to stay fit for the next 3 months at the least.
  • For the likes of Amla, Kallis, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to display some vintage Test batting.
  • For Paul Harris to be smashed out of the attack.
  • Finally, for India to win the Test, so that the 3rd Test will be worth watching.

Pakistan-NZ

  • For the series to go ahead without one controversy, atleast!

Merry Christmas, everybody, and have a joyful new year!!

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.

SOUTH AFRICA (Best XI)

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!

NO ‘FRANCHISES’ FOR OLD MEN – THE LATEST IPL NEWS

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?