virat kohli

Champion of Champions – India prove their number 1 status

On a wet Sunday evening in Birmingham, the last (supposedly) Champions Trophy game ever came down to the final ball. James Tredwell had to only smite a six to bring glory on himself and the English team. On the other hand, Ravichandran Ashwin had to stop that from happening to complete a stunning come-back for the Indians. Ashwin bowled, Tredwell missed and Dhoni danced. England missed yet another opportunity to grab their first ICC trophy in ODIs while MS Dhoni collected the last trophy that had been missing in his collection. Funny that it had to take a Twenty over game to prove which team is the best in the fifty over format.

To read the rest of this article, head on to The Cricket Magazine.

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Views of a Chennai Super Fan – Another day in the life of Jadeja

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai

Result: CSK win by four wickets

Narrative:

MS Dhoni won the toss, chose to field first and was almost immediately vindicated as Chris Gayle perished in the second over. If the CSK skipper thought that was half the battle won, Kohli and later, de Villiers showed there is more to RCB than the muscular West Indian. Kohli reclaimed the Orange Cap with another effective knock but it was de Villiers’ manic unbeaten 64 which pushed the Royal Challengers to 165, a total that looked just about par. In reply, the men in yellow got to a poor start losing both their openers quickly to stumble to 10/2 in 4 overs. After that, Badrinath and Raina consolidated for a while before Dhoni gave the thrust in the latter part of the innings; but when Dhoni departed in the 18th over, the Super Kings were still looking at a stiff 29 runs from 11 deliveries to win. The equation soon changed to 16 needed from the final over, when RP Singh was given the ball. A fortuitous edge and a mighty swing over long on later, Jadeja had reduced it to 6 needed from 4 balls. In the end, with 2 runs needed off one ball, RP Singh induced an upper cut from Jadeja which nestled in third man’s hands, only for the umpire to signal a no-ball. Impossibly, CSK performed a heist against RCB. Again.

Analysis:

Phew. What a game. In the end, all the ‘Sir’ jokes about Jadeja came true as he stole an incredible win for the men in yellow, with a lot of help from the hapless RP Singh. This was a game that could have gone either way, but some timely hits and a lot of luck saw CSK through. CSK seemed to have got the strangle hold on RCB with the dismissal of Gayle, but when two world class batsmen like Kohli and de Villiers get going like they did, there is nothing much the opposition can do. In fact, given the way de Villiers was blitzing towards the end, RCB will feel like they landed at least 15 runs short.

The waiting game worked so well for Hussey-Vijay against Kings XI, but it came a cropper against RCB and put a lot of pressure on the middle order. Luckily, CSK have just the right men for the situation in Raina and Badri. The pair kept the runs ticking and most importantly didn’t lose their wickets too early. After that it was all Dhoni and Jadeja. When Dhoni got out, it looked for a while that the game was heading for a finish similar to the one against the Mumbai Indians. So, it was good to see Jadeja and Bravo strike timely hits to keep the team in the contest. For CSK to be consistently good, they will need more performances like this from the all-rounders who follow the captain.

What can be said about the RP Singh no-ball? He had a really poor game; he had dropped a sitter and bowled a big no-ball earlier in the game as well. While there were a lot of murmurs about ‘fixing’ on the social media, I would think it was just a case of an experienced bowler having an off day.

Preview of next game:

In two days, the Super Kings are taking on the Pune Warriors who are not having the greatest of seasons. While they seemed to have turned a corner in the game against the Rajasthan Royals, their performance against the Mumbai Indians betrayed old habits. They will also miss their regular captain Angelo Mathews as this game is being held in Chennai, and it will be interesting to see who the stand-in skipper will be. Either way, the Super Kings will do well not to take them lightly. It is important to grab these crucial wins against the lesser teams; as the game against RCB showed, the battle between the top tier teams can swing any way, any time.

Tweets of the game:

5 Unforgettable Moments for a Chennai Super Kings Fan

The IPL is here, and once more it is time to set aside national loyalties and pick a city-based franchise to cheer this season. As a loyal CSK fan ever since the league’s inception, I will be egging on Dhoni’s (yellow) men to shrug off last season’s heartbreaking loss in the final and come up trumps this time to claim the championship for the third time in six seasons. Here, in no particular order, are my top five moments as a CSK fan over the years:

1. Balaji’s hat-trick (vs Kings XI in 2008)

In the context of the game, the hat-trick may not have mattered much; three wickets remained and the batsmen were going for their shots anyway. Still, to see a local lad (and one of my favorites) pick the first hat-trick was a sure sign of things to come: for the team to do well, the local players had to step up. And how they did.

2. The Monk tees off (vs Rajasthan Royals in 2010)

CSK’s strength is the quality of big hitting batsmen in their side. Over the years, they have had Hayden, Flintoff, Dhoni, Raina, Morkel and Bravo – all players who could step in to top gear at a moment’s notice. While these players were largely known quantities, one player who chose the IPL to announce himself to the world in grand style was Murali Vijay. Just watch the quality of shots in the embedded video clip….

3. The Skipper leading from the front (vs Kings XI in 2010)

Think Dharamsala and you would associate it with serenity and beauty; but in one night, the usually calm and collected MS Dhoni exploded to viscerally demolish Irfan Pathan in the final over of the game to give CSK a much needed win. The team was having an average run up to that point, but when Dhoni punched his helmet to celebrate the victory, it signaled the onset of a turn-around in fortunes.

4. Pollard gets out to a plan (vs Mumbai Indians in 2010)

CSK were cruising to their first IPL title in the final when big Kieron Pollard walked in. MI had made a strategic error by sending Pollard in too late, but it didn’t seem to matter as the ‘other KP’ smashed 22 runs off a Bollinger over to raise MI hopes of a last-minute heist. This is where the calm and calculating Dhoni sealed the game, as he positioned CSK’s own big man Matthew Hayden at a straightish mid-off and waited for Pollard to hit one straight to the fielder. He duly obliged in the final ball of the penultimate over as CSK sealed the game in their favor.

5. Albie ‘Morkels’ Kohli (vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2012)

This was one of the highlights of IPL 2012 and it will not be easily forgotten by those who were following the match. CSK needed 43 runs to win from 12 balls when Dhoni got out. In comes Albie Morkel with a clear set of instructions: hit the ball as hard as you can. As luck would have it for the men in yellow, he had to tee off against Virat Kohli, not really the bowler you would want to throw up against a fearsome hitter of the ball. What followed was carnage, as 28 runs came off the penultimate over, and CSK stole an improbable victory off the last ball of the game. In a season which ultimately ended in disappointment for the team, Albie Morkel’s assault was one of the bright spots to cherish.

Another season, another opportunity for the Super Kings to shine. What do they have in store this year?

Skyfall for an Indian Cricket Fan

Testing times

Boy, even by usual standards, there have been a lot of articles written in the last week over the state of Indian cricket. Apart from cricket journos, ex-players, former selectors, bloggers – all have weighed in, on what is ailing Dhoni’s men. Here is what I have learnt from the sum total of all these articles:

1. Gautam Gambhir – Out of form for too long and hasn’t scored a century in nearly two years. He did score a fighting fifty in Mumbai, but batted selfishly by not shielding the tailenders and caring more for his batting average. Not in sync with the captain or the rest of the team. Drop him.

2. Virender Sehwag – Scored a big hundred in the opening Test but has been off the boil overall. Keeps wasting good starts. Needs to value his wicket more. Drop him.

3. Sachin Tendulkar – Experience highly needed at the moment. Let him stay; but his knocks are painful to watch and age has clearly caught up with him. Drop him.

4. Virat Kohli – After a promising start to the home season, he has faded away. Place him on notice. Oh wait, it will make him complacent. Drop him.

5. MS Dhoni – Can’t bat. Can’t keep. Can’t captain. In Tests. Drop him.

6. R Ashwin – India’s best batsman over the last year, but is in the team for his bowling. Which has been disappointing. Drop him.

7. Ishant Sharma – How does he keep getting picked? Drop him.

8. Duncan Fletcher – ROFL. Sack him.

9. Che Pujara and Pragyan Ojha – Please. Don’t drop them. Ever.

 

PS: On a serious note, it is time to accept that this is what Indian fans will have to put up with, for the foreseeable future. The Indian team is clearly not one of the top sides in Test cricket anymore, and are facing a shortage of world class Test performers, who can take them back to the number 1 ranking. Then again, it was just over a decade ago that England were at the bottom of the pile; and look where they are now. The road to the top is actually a wheel of fortune. The BCCI and team management will have to make some smart decisions in the coming months, irrespective of the result of the Nagpur Test. It is too much to expect of course, but there is always hope – the eternal companion of a cricket tragic; nay, an Indian cricket tragic.

My thoughts on the team for Asia Cup 2012

Team for the Asia Cup:

MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virat Kohli (vice-capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Rahul Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda

Here are a few thoughts:

  • It would have been nice if Srikkanth had flat out said that Sehwag and Zaheer were dropped from the team due to poor performances, instead of falling back on the tired ‘rested’ excuse. It is only going to promote a false sense of security in the team, that however bad you play, you cannot get dropped from the team; only rested. I’m just glad that Srikkanth did not say that Parthiv Patel was ‘rested’ from the team as well; otherwise my head would have exploded.
  • Umesh Yadav being rested is something I can agree with. He is one of those rare Indian bowlers with speed, and while he lacks control and discipline at the moment, he is only going to get better with time.
  • Despite it being a short tournament, I’m surprised that they have not decided to go for a back-up keeper. At the least, they could have gone with Robin Utthappa who can double as a reserve opening bat and back up keeper.
  • Sachin’s place in the ODI team is a hot topic of debate in the country right now. My opinion, for what its worth, is that let the great man decide when he wants to leave the format, but do keep a contingency plan in place. That is why I am disappointed that they have gone for only two openers in Gambhir and Tendulkar. Rahane, Mukund, Pandey and Utthappa are all ideal options.
  • Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina have had a disappointing CB series to date, but it is wise to persist with them for now. If seniors are given so much leeway, then it is only fair that the youngsters are given fair opportunities too.
  • Hopefully, Tiwary will get a game.
  • It was not too long ago that Jadeja was being praised by all and sundry for his improved performances, and that is why one poor series should not be a reason to discard him again. Still, he is going to have stiff competition in the form of Yusuf Pathan, who will relish the subcontinental pitches.
  • Ashok Dinda has had a good season, leading Saurav Ganguly to call him the best pacer in the country (though I would take that with a pinch of salt). It is up to him now to prove himself and live up to Dada’s words.
  • Pragyan Ojha’s continued omission is a big miss, as he is perhaps the best spinner in the country right now.
  • Virat Kohli’s elevation to vice captaincy is a just reward for a fighter who has been the most impressive player on a disastrous tour. I have always felt that he should be groomed ahead of Gambhir for leadership, and hopefully this will lead on to bigger things for him.
  • All in all, it is not a great team, but a good one under the circumstances and hopefully, flat pitches and familiar opponents will help them get back to winning ways.
  • A final thought on the Srikkanth controversy: I have no problem with him snapping back at the reporter. He might have given a long winded and totally unnecessary summary of India’s performance over the last year, and he did give an unsatisfactory explanation for Sehwag’s omission from the team; still, he is only human. If the reporters keep asking you the same question in different forms, and you have given the same answer over and over again, you are bound to snap at one point. It was not an ideal response but a man who has one of the most thankless jobs in the country should be cut some slack. He will do well to learn to keep his emotions in check the next time, and hopefully, the media will learn to back off when they have to and respect the subject of their interview the next time.

Never Back Down – Virat Kohli Version

The last time I made the mistake of giving up on watching a cricket match to its finish, was way back in 2002, when India faced South Africa in a Champions Trophy game in Sri Lanka. South Africa, led by a Gibbs century, were cruising to victory at the end of 40 overs, when i switched off the TV and went to sleep dejected. Imagine my consternation (albeit, a pleasantly surprised one) when I woke up and found out that South Africa did what they do best in crunch situations and fold to a combination of mesmeric spin and electric fielding, as India stole a win by five runs.

That day, I promised myself that I would never give up on India till the last ball is bowled. By and large, I have remained true to it, and willed myself to sit through agonizing and thrilling games alike. Then, yesterday happened.

Numbed after a series of overseas losses over the last year, I gave up on the team yesterday. Halfway through the game, India had conceded 320 and generally looked listless on the field. It was as if the players had mentally completed the tour and were itching to get back to the comforts of home. As the team disintegrated on the field, I decided that enough was enough. If the players were not interested, why should fans bother? So, I switched off the stream and went to sleep frustrated with another abject performance by Dhoni’s men.

Sure enough, when I woke up and groggily checked the CricInfo app on my phone, the headlines “Kohli masterclass keeps India alive”  jolted me up. Since then, I’ve watched the highlights three times (not enough apparently!) and pored over the press reports; and yet, the exhilaration of an improbable victory has not left me yet.

 

So, thank you Virat, for a gem of an innings. Not only did you keep India alive in the series (just!), but you also gave me 133 reasons to never give up on this team again!

 

I have a dream – India’s tour of Australia

Four years ago, the Indian cricket team landed on the Australian shores led by one of the finest gentlemen in the game, with a world class bunch of batsmen and bowlers (Ok, thats stretching it a bit!) with one single mission on their minds: beat the hosts and win a series down under for the first time in their history.

Despite possessing the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan (albeit, for one Test), the mission remained unfulfilled. The tour descended into acrimony, even as the visitors could only manage a solitary win at Perth. Many feared (Ok, just the Indians) that with the next Australian tour a good four years away, the Indian stalwarts would have retired, and the best chance of defeating Australia in their own backyard had just been screwed up.

Well, here we are four years on. How things have changed and yet remained so same! Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are still here (like old creaking terminators, as Dravid put it), while the Aussie team is barely recognizable from that tour. It is safe to say that with all of the current problems plaguing the hosts, THIS could turn out to be the best chance for India to secure a historic series victory down under.

Yes, India has an aging middle order which will have to contend with a fiery combo of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Yes, they have a largely inexperienced bunch of bowlers consisting of one fragile world class seamer and an assortment of medium pacers who don’t trouble too many batsmen at domestic level either. Yes, they have two exciting spinners who will be playing on seam friendly tracks, far from the comforts of home-made turners against weaker opposition. And yes, for all of Australia’s troubles, they still are a bunch of tough nuts to crack, with the likes of Warner, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Siddle, Pattinson and Lyon around.

Still, as a famous man once said (in a completely different context), “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”.

For, I have a dream.

I have a dream, that for the first time this year, Gautam Gambhir will score an international century.

I have a dream, that Virender Sehwag will carry forward good memories of his last test match at Melbourne; not to forget, his recent barn-storming innings against West Indies in the ODI series.

I have a dream that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will have one last victorious hurrah in a land, that at various stages in their careers, made them the batsmen they are now.

I have a dream that this series will be confirmation that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma can take over when the big guns retire.

I have a dream that this series will be MS Dhoni’s proudest win as test skipper.

I have a dream that Ojha and Ashwin will continue to enhance their reputations in a country which hasn’t always been favorable to spinners; also, that they will make up for the supposedly missing ‘fire-in-belly’ due to Harbhajan Singh’s absence.

I have a dream that Zaheer Khan will last atleast two consecutive matches; and win the games for his country, while doing so.

Ditto for Ishant Sharma.

I have a dream that Umesh Yadav can match James Pattinson for pace and guile; and that Vinay Kumar and Mithun will be ready when another pace bowler eventually breaks down.

Most of all, I dream that it will be a fascinating contest between bat and ball, adorned with thrilling performances by seasoned veterans and passionate youngsters; After all, these are #testing times.

This is my hope, and my faith.

Belated wishes to….me!

It was yesterday I realized that it has just been over a year since I started this blog. Lately, the frequency of new posts have reduced, but I have always enjoyed writing about cricket whenever I get the time; and so, I intend to keep putting up new posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year of blogging, and I hope that most of you have too. Here are six of my favorite posts over the last year:

Who will write about the writers? – regarding my favorite cricket writers

My 2011 wishlist for international cricket – one of which came partially true!

Tendulkar vs Steyn – Immovable object meets irresistible force – one of the finest batsman vs bowler contests I had seen in a while

A date with destiny at Mumbai – India are World Champions – need I say more?

From Waterboy to Superman – One of my most satisfying posts, regarding Yuvraj Singh’s amazing performance in the World Cup

Future Indian Captain – Raina or Kohli – to date, remains as the most read post on the blog

Cheers!

 

India Shining, England Whining

"...and a happy Diwali to you too!"

At the onset of this series, most of the Indian fans labelled this as a “payback/revenge” series (conveniently forgetting that winning a series against a 5th ranked side does not compensate for losing the Test crown in a humiliating manner), whereas most English fans dismissed this as a pointless ODI series (how would one determine that, I would love to know). The truth lies somewhere in between; that India would win the series was almost a foregone conclusion, but more than anything else, they needed to experience the winning feeling again. Not to forget, they had a bunch of youngsters to groom for the future. For England, this was a chance for the new ODI skipper and young players to test themselves in unforgiving conditions. In the end, the final scoreline was a just reflection of the gulf between the two sides when it comes to ODIs on the subcontinent, despite the absence of a few star players from the Indian side. Here are a few other thoughts from the series:

  • The continued absence of Tendulkar and Sehwag meant that there was yet another opportunity for Parthiv Patel and Ajinkya Rahane to press their cases for permanent inclusion. While Patel flattered to deceive, Rahane’s solidity was reassuring to watch, though the tendency to throw away starts was a bit infuriating. Either way, a Test call-up is not too far away for the Mumbai youngster.
  • Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli were the bulwarks of the middle order. In particular, Kohli continues to rise and rise. He had a good Champions League prior to this series, and his purple patch refused to stop. Despite a poor Test tour of West Indies, his maturity and form warrants him another shot in the longer format.
  • What is left unsaid about MS Dhoni? Calm, cool, unflappable, the man with a plan….and by the end of the series, he was invincible too, as England just couldn’t out him at all. Experts are falling over themselves to anoint him as the best finisher in ODI history, and few would disagree.
  • Ever since his debut, I was never too enamored with Ravi Jadeja; but with impressive back-to-back series, he has won me over. While his batting is not as destructive as a certain Yusuf Pathan, he is more consistent, and he is a much smarter bowler. Also, along with Kohli, Raina and Rahane, he has lifted the Indian fielding by several notches. Deserves a prolonged run in the team.
  • With Harbhajan Singh getting dropped from the side after a long time, there was no small amount of pressure on the shoulders of Ravi Ashwin to perform. To his credit, he didn’t disappoint, with his maturity standing out. While calls for a place in the Test team is a bit premature, he should have cemented his place in the ODI team with this performance.
  • Praveen Kumar was steady, Vinay Kumar was consistent, Umesh Yadav was lacklustre – but the one pace bowler to stand out from the Indian camp was the young Varun Aaron. He had pace, but more importantly he hit the right lengths too. He has four wickets as of now, all of them coming through knocking the stumps down. Now, if only he does not get ‘Munna-fied’, India might actually possess a ‘fast’ bowler.
  • To see India put up such a commanding performance in the absence of stars like Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Zaheer was a reassuring sight for Indian fans. With the likes of Rahane, Kohli, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin and Aaron still in their 20s, the future looks bright for the Indian ODI team.
  • It was a baptism by fire for Alastair Cook, for whom it was the first ODI series outside England as official skipper. He book-ended the series with a couple of 60s and failed in between. As a captain, he was outsmarted by Dhoni, while his failure to exert any authority over his team-mates during a fractious series was disappointing. Looking on the bright side, it can only get better from here.
  • Craig Kieswetter might as well be called Kies-dropper. In a series where the opposition keeper shone with the bat and barely made any mistake with the glove, Kieswetter had a shocking series, even by his own standards. As an opener, he could never convert his starts, and with the gloves (barring a couple of sensational catches), he was unusually sloppy, none more damning than the fluffed run-out of Jadeja in the fourth game. With the likes of Bairstow, Buttler and Davies jostling for places, it is hard to see if Kieswetter will get to keep his place for the next OI assignment.

Behind every successful batsman, there is Kieswetter

  • Jonathan Trott might be wondering what he has to do to get some love from the fans. Despite being the most successful ODI batsman of the year, there are calls for Bell to replace him in the playing XI (this despite Trott possessing a far superior average and strike rate compared to Bell). In a side consisting of batsmen who looked completely out of their comfort zone, Trott was perhaps the only player who seemed to have a measure of how to play the spinners. Whether the English accept it or not, Trott is the only batsman who warrants his place in the side, based on current form.
  • While I have never been convinced that Bopara is one of the top 6 batsman England have, his performance in the series was utterly non-descript and has done enough to justify his future exclusion from the team. The real disappointment was Kevin Pietersen. Despite one good innings, it is alarming how his batting has fallen away in ODIs. For a player who was once the most exciting batsman in the game, it has been a steep decline, and one hopes that he still has it in him to resurrect his brilliance.
  • A lot was expected from Samit Patel and Jonny Bairstow in this series. While Patel had one good match with the bat and a mixed series with the ball, Bairstow found out for himself how much different the subcontinent is, compared to England. Ashwin and Jadeja toyed with him and by the end of the series, Bairstow’s inexperience was clearly exposed. This will be a valuable tour for him though, and he can only get better for the experience.
  • Graeme Swann came into this series with the reputation of being the world’s best spinner. In the end, he was outbowled by his own team-mate and will be remembered for his unflattering figures, churlish outbursts against team-mates, dropped catches and a poorly timed autobiography.
  • In the absence of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, Tim Bresnan was the leader of the pace attack; but the real hero was Steven Finn. Easily, the biggest positive to come out of this series for England; While his boorish behaviour and misplaced aggro can be put down to his age, his bowling was the only thing which kept most of the games competitive. Like most of the youngsters in the team, this experience will be invaluable down the road.
  • Jade Dernbach has been hyped for a long time now, but over the course of three games, his ‘variations’ were dismissed to all parts of the ground and sometimes over it. In the end, all he showed was poor discipline on and off the field.
  • Overall, the English team was completely different to the one which defeated India in the rain-affected home series a month ago. They were clueless against spin and the batting always seemed one wicket away from a collapse. A lack of support for Finn meant that the bowling was never going to contain a rejuvenated Indian line-up. The biggest shock of all, was their huge drop in fielding standards, as the Indian side outperformed them in the department by a mile (Donkey jibes, anyone?). When they were not busy getting into verbal battles with the Indians, they occupied themselves berating their own team-mates. Normally, this would point to a side in decline; but in Andy Flower they have one of the top coaches in the world, who is capable of turning the fortunes around. While it has been yet another whitewash in the subcontinent for them, the players will be wiser for the experience and hopefully, it will lead to wiser team selections in the future.
All in all, it was a great Diwali gift from the Indian side to their fans. While it will not erase the memories of the Test series humiliation, it has gone a long way in applying balm over the wounds.
Cheers!