test cricket

Dhawan: Do I stay, or do I go?

Testing times….

Did we crown him the new Sehwag, too soon?

Shikhar Dhawan has all the flair and strokes that the Nawab of Najafgarh has; and after a dazzling debut innings much like Viru’s, hopes were high. A Man of the Series performance at the Champions trophy later, it was settled. Shikhar Dhawan was the new batting star.

Alas, reality has come crashing down.

Dhawan looks terribly out of sorts. If he fails in the remainder of this series, should Dhawan be persisted with? Would it mean the return of Gambhir? Or does India need to look to blood newbies? Jiwanjot Singh? Vijay Zol?

Personal opinion: Dhawan needs to be persisted with. At least for another series. He has the class and the ability. Take the case of Murali Vijay. Who would have thought at the onset of the South African tour that he would be the most reliable opener of the two? Give Dhawan the opportunity to redeem himself. If he still fails after enough chances, it might be time to look elsewhere.

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The Four who brought us Four Nil

The memories are still raw. India had been handed their second consecutive drubbing on overseas tours, and while the disastrous England tour could be blamed on the pitches and unfortunately timed injuries, it was much harder to find excuses for the thrashing down under. In the end, the 2011/12 Indian tour of Australia ensured the exits of two stalwarts and left a bad taste in the mouths of Indian fans.

When February 2013 came, there was still a bit of trepidation among Indian fans as the Australian team arrived for the return series. Harbhajan Singh proclaimed, to much derision, that India would win the series 4-0. At that point, scarred by a home series loss to England, most fans would have taken even a 1-0 win. One month later, Bhajji’s words have come true; and the only object of derision is the Australian team, who have unraveled spectacularly in the last few weeks.

Home series wins are nothing new for the Indian team; but in the context of performances over the past two years, and given the influx of inexperienced players in the squad, the 4-0 battering of the Australian team has come as balm to many fans who have weathered some horrible months recently. While there has been talk of ‘transition’ for a while now, this series has truly been the ‘turning point’ for the team, as they learned to win without major contributions from Sehwag and Harbhajan, and in the absence of Gambhir and Zaheer. The likes of Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer might have played their last Tests, and another legend from Mumbai may be on his way out shortly. In fact, this series was won by four youngsters, who entered this series with contrasting reputations and differing routes to the team, but have now firmly entrenched themselves as the foundation around which the Indian team can chart new paths and create a new blueprint for success.

RETURN OF THE MONK

When Murali Vijay was retained in the squad for the Australian series, his pick was met with a a mixture of outrage and skepticism. Apart from bright performances in the two Irani games book-ending the Ranji season, his records for the year didn’t indicate that he deserved his spot. Sure enough, his dismissals in the series opener at Chennai increased the chorus of murmurs against him. What followed was an exercise in self-restraint and determination as big tons in Hyderabad and Mohali, followed by a gritty half century in Delhi proved that he has it in him to excel at the highest level.   He showed a willingness to curb his attacking instincts and do the job of a traditional opener – See off the new ball, settle down and then unfurl the full range of shots . There were times when Dhawan and Pujara got going, that he could have been tempted to accelerate as well. Instead he showcased his new-found maturity by providing able support and never relinquishing the initiatives to the the Aussies. He won neither the Man of the Series or any of the Man of the Match awards, but he ended up as the highest run-getter on either side and showed pessimistic fans that there is life beyond the famed Delhi opening combination.

CHEVOLUTION TIME

They said that it is not easy to replace a mountain of experience or tons and tons of runs in Test cricket overnight. Well, I present to you Cheteshwar Pujara. In a span of three consecutive Test series, he has proved more than an adequate replacement for one Rahul Dravid. He reeled off a double century in Hyderabad to establish complete dominance over the Aussies, but his finest innings was the authoritative 82 he scored on a tricky pitch in Delhi as an opener to take India to an unprecedented 4-0 nil whitewash of the opposition.  Bigger and tougher challenges await, but I suspect that India have found the perfect man for all occasions.

ROCKSTAR 2 – THE SIR ARISES

I will put my hand up and admit that I was one of many who was shocked with Ravindra Jadeja’s elevation to the Test squad in the series against England. He seemed to be a perfect limited overs player. He could add some valuable runs with the bat, pick a few quick wickets with the ball and field brilliantly; but he was definitely not Test material. Or so many thought. Instead, he ended the series with 24 wickets, making the finest Australian batsman his bunny and produced several acts of fielding brilliance, which the Indian Test team has lacked for years. With the bat, he didn’t score any big knocks but he calmed Indian nerves with a couple of lusty blows in Mohali and got a very valuable 40 in the first innings in Delhi. For the long run, he provides Dhoni with a lot of options when it comes to team balance. He could yet turn out to be the all rounder India desperately craves for in Tests.

SHABAASH ASH!

Ravichandran Ashwin came into this series with a bit of pressure on him. Two poor series against Australia and England, coupled with the rising Ojha and returning Harbhajan meant that the mantle of leading spinner was at stake. He had been working with his bowling coach prior to the start of the series and it showed in his first over of the series. He bamboozled the Aussie openers for a while before cutting through the top order. From there, he never let off. Shelving his infamous variations and bringing it out liberally, Ashwin deceived the batsmen with traditional off spin and ended up as the leading wicket taker and bagged the Man of the Series award for the third time in five series. With this performance, he may have effectively quelled the career of Harbhajan Singh and re-established himself as Dhoni’s leading strike bowler.

 

Two Days at Chepauk

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Slightly nervous mixed with barely controlled excitement. That’s how most international debutants feel; and it was no different for my Test match debut as a spectator at the stadium. I watched the first two days of the Chennai test between Australia and India from the stands in Chepauk and was not disappointed as Ashwin, Clarke and Tendulkar made it a very memorable experience. I’m still kicking myself over missing Dhoni’s double ton on the third day, but that story is for another time. Here is a brief recount of the highlights of my two days at Chepauk.

  • My trepidation about attending a match at the stadium had to do with the assumption that I would not be able to appreciate the minor details as much as I would have if I watched the game on TV. Instead, I realized that the trade-offs go the other way too; the joys of watching quality spin and pace bowling (Ashwin and Pattinson), masterful batting (Clarke and Tendulkar) and stunning ground fielding (Warner) at the ground does not really give a fair contest to a TV experience. Also, the ebb and flow of a hotly contested Test match really sucks you in as a spectator. There are no distractions; just an absorbing contest between a bowler and a batsman. I left the stadium with a much deeper appreciation of Test cricket. 

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  • The ‘Knowledgeable Cricket Crowd’ title for Chennai fans is quite appropriate. At so many points in the match, I overheard interesting stats and anecdotes from fans sitting around me. Another impressive factor was their recognition of lesser known players. It’s one thing to recognize an Indian  reserve player, and it is another matter to realize that the Australian player walking along the boundary ropes in front of you is Jackson Bird. The Aussie players would be pleasantly surprised whenever someone would call out their name and start cheering. The same applied to players on the field. Michael Clarke and David Warner were big crowd favorites on Day 2, when their names were being chanted (this, at a time when Sachin and Pujara were at the crease!). Both obliged crowd requests by doing mini-jigs, thereby getting a lot of love from the stands. And there was something else that I never would have imagined I would see in a Test match: mexican waves. Young, old, men, women – all joined in and had a gala time doing it. All of this made for a fun two days of watching cricket at the stadium.

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  • Indian players getting cheered at the stadium is no big deal. Still, it was an experience in itself whenever Tendulkar came into play. If the ball went to him when he was fielding, there was a loud cheer. If he defended a ball for no run, there was a loud cheer. The big screen at the stadium had to just show him sitting in the pavilion, and a loud cheer would resonate around the ground. There was this ridiculous instance in the first session of Day 2, when the Aussie tailenders were resisting; Sachin was off the field for a short while and the crowd was getting restless. Out of nowhere, someone started a “Sachin, Sachin” chant, which immediately got picked up in the stands. All this for a player who was not even on the field of play! It’s just mind boggling to think how he handles this game after game, in different stadiums in different countries, decade after decade.
  • It was not all perfect, of course. Entry into the stadium was not nearly as smooth as I would have liked; fans were asked to switch off their phones (in my case, I was asked to “remove the battery” of my iPhone!), those who were wearing black t-shirts were turned away (fearing some political disturbance) and there was no re-entry allowed for fans who wished to leave in between and come back later in the day. As for the big screen, it was annoying to see the action replays being cut off midway and replaced with a random ad, which always resulted in loud groans from the stands. All these amounted to minor quibbles over the two days. 

Overall, I had a great time watching the game from the stands. I understand that experiences may vary in other stadiums within the country and outside it, but I would highly recommend watching an international game at the ground for any fan who hasn’t done so till now. Watching a well contested game between two quality sides in the company of thousands of cricket lovers, making new friends and meeting up with friends you only knew in the online world till then; all of it made for a memorable international debut…..for me.

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[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 26, 2013]

One angry man leaves, another returns – the contrasting fortunes of Gambhir and Harbhajan

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:

The openers

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.

The middle order batsmen

Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni

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.

The spinners

Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh

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.

My first choice XI:

Vijay, Sehwag, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Jadeja, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Bhuvneshwar, Ojha, Ishant

Indian Cricket on the Road to Somewhere

0-8. Never forget.

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

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

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

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

The opening conundrum

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

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

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

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

The middle-order blues

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

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

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

The captaincy question

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

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

Whither the fast bowlers?

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

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

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

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

To summarize,

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

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

Never forget.

What I learned from the Hyderabad Test

  • MS Dhoni’s improved luck with winning the toss continues.
  • Sehwag ‘s role in the Test team has been modified to be a pinch hitter at the top, and to take the occasional sharp catch, which he can boast about to the press after the game.

  • Tendulkar’s strike rate in the only innings indicated that he was trying his best to ensure that the Indian team did not miss Dravid’s absence.

“…but, how did you know??”

  • Raina has devised a new solution to deal with his perceived weakness against short balls: – Get out to spinners.
  • Pujara is bringing ‘Che’ back in to pop culture.

  • Ravi Ashwin has been working extra hard on his fitness, apparently. When he bent down to take a sharp catch from Jeetan Patel’s blade in the first innings, the surprised expressions on the faces of his team-mates was something to behold.

  • Umesh Yadav and Zaheer Khan duly made up the numbers as they pretty much had to take the shine off the new ball and hand it over to the spinners.
  • Oh, and apparently all the New Zealand batsmen have been watching the ‘Learn to bat like Chris Martin’ DVD.

Nobody does ‘bowled’ like Chris Martin

Deconstructing the Gospel according to Greg

First off, let me be clear on what I have set out to do in this piece. I’m not a rabid nationalist who takes affront at every word of insult or mocking which is directed towards India or Indian cricket. I don’t pay attention to people who after reading a cricket article, have to post some incendiary comment directed towards another country or team. Some people can make their point clearly and in a mature way, while others can only post their observations in a childish or petulant way; and I understand that. This world is made up of all kinds of people, after all.

That is why, when I see articles or comments harshly criticizing the Indian team, I take it with a pinch of salt. After all, given their recent performances, they deserve the kind of lampooning and criticism that has come their way. It hurts on some level when I see gleeful opposition (plus some Indian) fans and former cricketers piling on the team, but then again, it is the nature of sport. When you’re on top, the world will sing your praises, and when you’re down, you will be mocked at.

So, when I read the recent comments made by Greg Chappell regarding Indian cricket, I was surprised by the strong reactions it elicited in me. To be fair to GC, he made some valid points which are buried under an avalanche of strong opinions on Indian cricket and Indian culture. How much of it is actually true, and how much of it is his BS? That’s what I have set out to find in this piece.

 “It was obvious from the start of the tour that the Indians weren’t really interested in Test cricket,” Chappell said. “After the Australians showed that they were going to be a formidable foe, I was very disappointed with the Indians. And having worked with many of them and having been in the dressing room with them, Test cricket was too hard for most of them. They can only make a lot of money playing 20-over cricket. Fifty-over cricket they can sort of put up with.”

This is the sort of explanation expected from a casual observer; not a former coach who knows the senior players in and out. It is hard to conceive that players of the caliber of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Laxman, Dravid and Zaheer have lost interest in Test cricket, just over a year since they last held the top ranking in Tests. If they weren’t interested, why did some of the players arrive in Australia early and take part in the practice games, when they could easily have rested?  They are experienced enough to know that while T20 brings in the money, only their Test performances will establish their legacies. A Test series win down under would have been their crowning glory after the World Cup victory and it is ridiculous to assume that their poor performance could be put down to lack of interest. I don’t remember anyone accusing England of losing interest in Test cricket after their defeat to Pakistan in UAE; neither could that be said about Australia after their Ashes defeat last year. England and Australia both have robust domestic T20 tournaments, yet they manage to put up decent performances in Tests more often than not. So why should India’s domestic T20 tournament be the reason for their disastrous performance in Tests? My dear Greg, India lost in England and Australia, not because of disinterest in Test cricket, but solely because they were not good enough and were outmatched by better prepared opponents. Your observations alone explain why you were a disaster as coach.

“Test cricket for a lot of, not only India, a lot of subcontinent teams, I think it’s pretty tough. And the challenge for Test cricket is, without the sort of grounding that we [Australians] had as kids, Test cricket is too hard. It’s very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally.”

While GC would like to think that only Australia with its ‘grounding’ in Test cricket can produce tough cricketers, some of the greatest players in cricket history have come from the subcontinent. Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble etc, made their name in Test cricket foremost and I think most would agree that they handled the mental, physical and emotional demands very well to attain the levels they did in their careers. As for the present generation, excepting the Indian series, the Aussie team haven’t had a good two years in Tests; So what happened to the ‘grounding’ there? So, while GC’s estimation of Aussie superiority in Test cricket is very patriotic, it is clearly not backed up by history.

Chappell then spoke about what was wrong with the Indian culture. “The culture is very different, it’s not a team culture,” Chappell said. “They lack leaders in the team because they are not trained to be leaders. From an early age, their parents make all the decisions, their schoolteachers make their decisions, their cricket coaches make the decisions.

“The culture of India is such that, if you put your head above the parapet someone will shoot it. Knock your head off. So they learn to keep their head down and not take responsibility. The Poms (British) taught them really well to keep their head down. For if someone was deemed to be responsible, they’d get punished. So the Indians have learned to avoid responsibility. So before taking responsibility for any decisions, they prefer not to.”

It is ridiculous to assume that a culture which ensures that children are equipped to survive in a challenging environment when they grow up, is responsible for leadership problems in Indian cricket. This is the same culture which has produced global leaders in healthcare, politics, software and business. To judge an entire culture and hold their way of raising their kids, responsible for the failure of a sports team is plain absurd, ignorant and racist.  No culture is perfect and no culture is superior to any other. That’s what makes the collection of cultures across the world, unique in their own rights. Only people like Greg Chappell would assume that there is only one way of living that works in all environments and prepares you for life.

Now, I am not casting him as total buffoon, since there are three other major points that GC made that I agree with:

(1) MS Dhoni has been worn down by the burden of captaincy in all formats and it has affected his game, particularly in Tests

(2) Virender Sehwag has fitness and attitude problems compounded by captaincy ambitions which seems to have increased lately and caused an undercurrent of tension within the team

(3) Test cricket needs a strong Indian team to survive. As evidenced by the last few years, when India were at the top of their game in Tests, there was an increased interest in the long form of the game and it brought in new fans.

So, there you have it. How can a widely respected former captain be insightful and yet so ignorant at the same time? The answer lies in the context of when he made these observations: while promoting his new book ‘Fierce Focus’. As Shoaib Akhtar memorably taught us, there is no better way to sell a cricket book than to provoke Indian cricket fans with controversial statements. In that way, Guru Greg accomplished his mission; but he just might have lost a ton of respect and goodwill he had earned over the years through a long career in cricket.

Dravid for President (ICC)

Class. Insight. Humor. Vision. Solutions.

One of the more eloquent players in international cricket today, Rahul Dravid delivered a masterclass at the Bradman Oration in Canberra, as he has done so many times with the bat for India. Following on the heels of an equally impressive speech by Kumar Sangakarra at Lord’s earlier this year, Dravid addressed all the key concerns facing the game today, and more importantly laid out solutions for them. Is it too much to expect him to rise to the top annals of ICC, after his retirement?

Full text of the speech and audio of the Bradman Oration

Analysis by CricInfo

When Cummins kept going

Thanks for Cummins!

When Pat Cummins scored the winning runs off Imran Tahir in the 2nd and final test of the series, it signaled the birth of a star cricketer. At the tender age of 18, he made his Test debut against the World no. 2 and helped his team to a series-leveling victory, with both bat and ball. There had been a lot of hype surrounding him prior to this tour, but it is altogether a different task to actually meet those expectations. The ease with which he handled pressure situations while bowling in the 2nd innings, and when he came out to bat with a few runs to win, has confirmed hopes that he can stand the test of time and become a future great of the game. These are early days yet, but there is nothing wrong in dreaming.

Australia can thank Cummins and few others for the win; namely, the much maligned Ponting, Haddin and Johnson. The victory might have just bought them an extra series, but there is no doubt that Oz need to look beyond them. There is no  shortage of options with Khawaja, Wade and Pattinson available as ready-made replacements. Ponting is an exceptionally difficult case, as the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar have shown that temporary loss in form almost always makes way for permanent class; but how long can the selectors wait? It will be an interesting next few weeks for Australian cricket.

Oh, South Africa. Four home series have gone by and still they have not won one of them. For a team fighting for the top rank in international cricket, this is a staggering statistic. They have the batsmen, fast bowlers, spinner, keeper, captain and coach to make them a formidable side; and still, that final hurdle just cannot seem to be overcome. Fortunately for them, Sri Lanka is next. They have some serious issues if they cannot put it past the troubled Lankans. Also, Philander seems to have sealed the 3rd seamer’s spot ahead of Tsotsobe. Another debutant to have a dream start to his Test career.

Lastly, a mention about the 2-test ‘series’…..while there is no doubt that the contest between two equally matched sides deserves a minimum of 3 tests to sort out the better team, it was hard to fault the logic of the two boards. After all, while the internet buzzed with rage over the short series, there were hardly any spectators in the ground to justify an extra test; in any case, the revenue is mainly made from gate collections. Of course, the cricket boards have only themselves to blame for the obvious reasons. If all cricket boards can sort out these simple issues, the crowd will come. After all, I believe that Test cricket is not dying; its just the crowds for Test cricket, that is dying.

 

Dead Man Walking – the Indian cricket version

It hurts.

The last time I felt like this was when India were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the first round itself.

This time, the pain is worse. Watching your team lose its number 1 ranking is never a pleasant thing, but the manner in which they lost it is the most galling. Its hard to come on Twitter or read any news related to the on-going series because of this. A lot of people have been waiting for India’s reign to end, and now that it has happened, they are in what can only be known as ‘orgasmic’ delight.

The much vaunted batting line up has failed to fire. The bowlers have been inconsistent. The fielding has been in shambles. The players look disinterested in the field. Every other day, a player gets injured. All in all, it has been one of the most depressing and soul sapping tours for an Indian cricket fan, let alone an Indian player.

There is still some light at the end of the tunnel. When England got whitewashed in the 2006 Ashes in Australia, the ECB reviewed what went wrong and took some steps, which has ultimately resulted in their team being crowned as Number 1, 5 years down the line. Even Australia have taken some dramatic steps based on the Argus review of their disastrous Ashes performance recently. While it would be too much to expect the same from the Indian board, I hope that they keep aside their obsession with money for just a while, and take some important and necessary steps towards correcting the inherent flaws present in the system, which is preventing the Indian team from being better than they can actually be. There is no shortage of well meaning former players and other experts with intelligent suggestions; hopefully, the BCCI will take heed.

For what its worth, here are some ideas:

  • Appoint someone like Anil Kumble or any other respected former player to review what went wrong with the same team that fought better when they toured Australia and South Africa; and implement the suggestions.
  • Something which has been repeated ad nauseum – we need more practice games when we tour abroad. We just can’t afford to start slow everytime we play an away series.
  • There is no dearth of talented players in the country, and many of them seem to do well, when they play A tours or other Emerging Players tournaments; but when they make the leap to the international arena, they are being found short. Its not only about the cricketing skills; players need to be mentally ready when they make their debuts. This is where senior players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Zaheer have just vital roles to play. Their best days might be over but now it is necessary for them to train the younger generation in matters which even the IPL can’t prepare them for.
  • Players are not machines. Unless the Board realizes that, they will just have to do with the all too frequent injury breakdowns. Review the packed schedule and ensure sufficient recharging time for the players, so that the best team is always available to play when marquee series are round the corner.
  • Cricket can be a cruel game. One day you are feted as world champions, the next you are being pilloried by all and sundry for one lousy series. This team is lucky to have a level headed skipper and battle hardened coach who has seen his share of disastrous tours; but some of the players could be psychologically scarred, what with all the spate of cricketers confessing of depression during their playing days and this is where a sports psychologist is handy. Employ one on a full-time basis, so that players learn to handle depressing days like this better.
These are just some ideas, and there are more experienced people with wiser ideas out there. Hopefully, something good can come out of this right royal mess.
Meanwhile, kudos to the English team. They have played like champions and deserve top billing. All credit goes to Flower, Strauss and his band of merry men, who have the attributes necessary to stay at the top longer than India did. While they will look to win a series in India to establish indisputable credentials for the top ranking, they would do well to take note of an opposition who might be following the proceedings keenly: South Africa. With a new coach and a bunch of world class players itching to prove that they are the best, South Africa remain as their biggest threat to the top ranking. At least THAT would be a contest to savor!