India’s opening conundrum in Tests

When Virat Kohli ahead of the first Test of Oh-my-yet-another-Test-series-against-SL said the following,

a few outrages are expected but is the Indian skipper wrong? Is he backing his supposed to-be-friend over a technically correct batsman? Let’s find out.

Since the start of 2016, if I told you that the averages of the two opening batsmen for India are 35.66 and 51.40, you would be inclined to think that the higher average would be that of Murali Vijay and not Shikhar Dhawan – but that’s not the case and therein lies the answer to the Murali Vijay’s woes in Test cricket. He began really well as he normally does in any series, against England but tapered towards the end. A decent Australia series was followed by a wrist injury that ruled him out of the series against Sri Lanka and ironically, opened the door for Dhawan.

When you do hard work away from home, it is when you are returning to your soil that you would be expecting to cash in and make the most of batting in favourable conditions but it’s something that has deserted Murali Vijay. Since the start of 2016, all three openers for India, Rahul, Vijay and Dhawan have scored over 300 runs in a series. What sets them apart is the manner of their scoring. While Rahul and Vijay’s runs came against Australia and England, it can’t be put against Dhawan for scoring runs vs SL. Dhawan’s runs came at an average of 89.50 striking at 104.67 which compared to that for Murali Vijay stand at an average of 46 and strike rate of 43.96. As Kohli said, it is what Dhawan brings to the table for India that.

Vijay has got a consistent run yet hasn’t taken off like Shikhar. Murali takes his time to get in but has somehow not managed to score the big runs. It is what Dhawan does though. When presented with an opportunity, he is known to make it count with a stellar show. It is a double-edged sword though. Shikhar can enjoy the comeback games but it is living up to the expectations of his impact knocks that will tell whether he will have a long run or not. What makes a difference is an opposition and what is the requirement of the side. Against Sri Lanka, India may not need the defence and time game from Vijay but will Dhawan be well-equipped with his technique to survive on the South African tracks?

There are times when things are not black and white. It is not right or wrong for India to prefer one skill over the other. The only thing Vijay can complain about is his failure to convert the starts that he has got. Knowing Dhawan and his flashy game, Vijay’s time may not be far away but it is about time he nailed the spot with both time and runs to back his solid game.

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India’s bowling steps up post Champions Trophy debacle

For years, India has been blessed with many good batsmen and a few good bowlers. Since the advent of the IPL that has changed a touch with more bowlers coming through the ranks but the quality hasn’t been as good as it was expected to be. Yet India picked and nurtured a battery of pacers before they started to fall away. Some reduced pace, some discipline and some just vanished from the cricketing scene. India persisted with the ones they tried for a considerable period of time since 2015.

They won a lot at home but struggled on good batting surfaces. The good run in Champions Trophy was halted by a rookie mistake by a bowler and a once-in-a-lifetime innings by Fakhar Zaman. That game was probably the first time India were outplayed rather comprehensively and it was no surprise that the side went for an overhaul straightaway. Interestingly, it weren’t the batsmen, but the bowlers who bore the brunt. India have since then won 14 out of the 18 ODIs played, losing just three of them. So what’s changed so dramatically? Who’s winning games for India, or rather, who’s setting them up for India?

India have always been a side which depended heavily on their opening bursts – be it with the bat or ball. When the openers do well, they find a way to manage the innings better, when the new-ball bowlers take a wicket or two, the spinners step in and take care of the rest. But that wasn’t the case leading to the Champions Trophy. India were not getting the early wickets they required and the spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin were now short of ideas to strike back. Let’s look at some numbers to prove this.

Virat Kohli took up full-time captaincy at the start of 2017 and he seemingly went in with the tried and tested bowling arsenal and the results will surprise you to no end. The bowling lacked penetration.

Team

Players Mat Inns Mdns Wickets Ave Econ SR 4 5
England 17 15 91 29 115 32.57 5.61 34.8 8

1

South Africa

16 16 93 30 111 31.17 5.21 35.8 5 0
New Zealand 23 14 83 14 98 32.88 5.37 36.6 0

2

Afghanistan

21 13 67 21 94 22.31 4.55 29.3 5 2
Pakistan 21 13 80 17 93 35.75 5.4 39.6 0

2

Australia

21 10 60 14 80 30.73 5.3 34.7 3 1
Ireland 16 13 75 15 80 38.87 5.49 42.4 1

1

Zimbabwe

13 7 41 19 59 23.81 4.53 31.4 0 1

Bangladesh

15 11 64 12 57 42.24 5.44 46.5 2

0

U.A.E. 13 7 42 14 57 24.12 4.31 33.5 2

2

Sri Lanka

25 11 66 9 52 52.86 6.03 52.5 1 0
West Indies 17 9 51 14 48 41.39 5.24 47.3 2

0

India

14 8 48 10 45 49.91 5.96 50.2 0 0
P.N.G. 14 3 20 5 21 35.14 4.99 42.1 0

0

Scotland

15 4 25 12 21 38.8 4.94 47 0 1
Hong Kong 11 2 12 5 13 28.69 4.29 40 1

0

India took only 45 wickets in 14 games with both the average and strike rate touching 50. India took 0 four or five-wicket hauls. India went with the same attack to England and did reasonably well but failed on the big day. Not too different from what transpired in the 2015 World Cup but it was important to learn from that mistake and Virat Kohli did. Compare that to the bowling performance after the Champions Trophy final, the numbers are in stark contrast.

Team

Players Mat Inns Mdns Wickets Ave Econ SR 4 5

India

21 18 97 31 132 29 4.9 35.4 3 2
Sri Lanka 29 15 96 19 75 45.97 5.6 49.2 3

1

Pakistan

14 5 32 10 43 20 3.97 30.1 0 2
West Indies 18 10 55 9 41 55.68 6.08 54.9 0

2

Australia

15 5 31 4 30 45.6 5.68 48.1 0 0
England 15 5 23 5 29 37.37 5.98 37.4 0

1

South Africa

15 3 17 6 27 25.37 4.94 30.7 2 0

Zimbabwe

14 5 32 4 24 52.62 5.55 56.8 0

0

New Zealand 11 3 18 3 18 46.5 5.73 48.6 1

0

P.N.G.

12 2 13 4 15 32 4.83 39.7 0

0

Scotland

12 2 13 5 14 26.64 4.07 39.2 0

0

Bangladesh 14 3 21 0 11 90.81 6.99 77.9 1

0

India since 19 June 2017 have taken 132 wickets in 21 games with a superb average and economy rate as well. The numbers tell you the story for a change, how going for bowlers who take wickets first have changed the landscape of Indian cricket. The likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav have been able to take wickets in the middle overs something that Jadeja, Ashwin could not.

Those numbers make an even better reading if you check for the bowling performance of the spinners.

Matches Maidens Wickets Average Economy SR
Pre CT 17 8 0 15 61.8 6.01 73.3
Post CT 17 10 7 28 39.78 4.6 51.7

While it was a call that India should have taken a lot earlier, under Virat Kohli, India seem to be making the right decisions with respect to the bowlers. Now, that there is an issue with the batting order, Indian cricket fans will hope that the same results follow when they tinker their batting combination. And for once, we can say, it’s India’s bowling which is winning them more games than before for sure.

MS Dhoni and T20Is – The Known Story!

It has been talked about a lot already, is Dhoni’s power hitting on the decline? Has Dhoni done enough to be playing T20Is without his place being questioned. While victories don’t escalate that, losses, especially like the ones in the second T20I against New Zealand, make it harder for everyone. So why has Dhoni not got going in this format of the game? Here’s a look at his numbers over the years.

If you go by pure numbers, Dhoni averages 35.58 in T20Is but with a SR of just 123.41. On an average he gets to face 15 balls per innings, which if you go by his scoring pattern, are never going to be enough for him, unless he comes in with a platform set. 2016 was easily his best year in T20Is, with an average of 47.60 and a SR of 149.68. So what was happening then, that is not happening now?

Batting at No. 4, he scored 49 in 24 balls; at 5, 54 in just 28 balls, which when compared to his numbers at 6, 113 runs in 98 balls, tell you the picture. The SR goes down considerably for him when he comes lower down the order. With less balls to face, he struggles, it is almost documented so what is the reason for India to keep playing him down the order?

Experimentation!

India has been a top heavy team for years now and it continues to be the pattern. Every time Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan come off well, India always find a way to manage their resources well but it is also a reason why they are struggling with the middle order. They have tried 11 players in ODIs at that position but the spot still seems jinxed. Yes, the position debate is out-dated as it is only about the roles and that is where India are messing around far too much. India are trying to find players who can do the role that Dhoni did for them years back but have been found wanting. KL Rahul didn’t look comfortable, Manish Pandey got a few starts and Kedar Jadhav has had far too many soft dismissals which saw him being out of the T20I squad. Shreyas Iyer was now tried and he got his chance in the second T20I.

Chasing 197, India lost their openers early and Shreyas Iyer got an opportunity to showcase his skills. He began with a flash, scoring 19 in 8 balls but when he got out, the score read 23(21). Iyer had played out 13 balls for 4 runs playing a boundary shot almost every ball. Twice in the game, India tried to experiment; giving the new guys a go but it backfired. (Earlier, Siraj bowling with the new ball didn’t set it up well and one wonders if Jasprit Bumrah opening the bowling would have done better?) Chasing a tall total if your top 4 wickets are scoring 30 in 47 balls, you are doomed. When Dhoni walked in the RR was already 11.81. With only Axar Patel to follow, the case was as good as done and would have needed a Virat Kohli masterclass. Kohli perished as the rate kept mounting, the hosts had left themselves too much to do even against a line-up which had a bowler short.

It is here where India need to decide what they need to do with MS Dhoni. Having grafted a conservative approach which has worked wonders in ODIs, it has always cost him and India a game here and there in this format of the game. Cue to the game against West Indies in Florida, with 2 needed in 1 ball, Dwayne Bravo having played a lot of cricket with Dhoni, was aware that Dhoni is not going to try and hit a boundary and will look for a safe shot which gets the job done. Well, it is a thin line between being brave and cautious. Bravo had closed out the leg side for Dhoni’s favorite dink-nudge and bowled a slower one wide outside off. Dhoni looked to guide it away but found the fielder.

Dhoni’s often talked about taking it deep to make it one on one but the bowlers are now stepping up to him and he is now having more off days. Spinners are bowling flat into his body, tucking him for any room with a mid-wicket in place which means he can’t just nudge and get away. The pacers are going short and into his body as well. While Dhoni has responded with a trigger movement, it is still not allowing him the breathing space as he not quite finding the gaps early in the innings. In the second T20I, India would have loved a higher SR start from him and therein lies the question, why would you now want Dhoni to do a role you know he is no longer good at?

The experiments in the middle order mean Dhoni gets shunned down at No. 6. The recent trend of batting Pandya over Dhoni will always look weirder when the RR is high. Contrary to the belief, Dhoni might actually pull off the role of an anchor better. When India lose early wickets, that of the top order alone, he can come in, hold an end up and let the guy at the other end do the scoring. It is what he has done since the Champions Trophy 2017. In Sri Lanka, West Indies, the promotions to Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav have not worked and hence it somehow boils down to him but in ODIs, you can still take your time not  in T20Is. That Pandya can hit out spinners has been seen but twice in two games, he has been worked over and made to look pedestrian by Ish Sodhi. Dhoni has talked about being able to express freely and when batting higher up the order, he can actually do justice to it more. Adaptability is not a worry here, it is a question of having roles defined with chances of them coming off, far more greater than just backing names and reputations. Teams have found ways to kept Dhoni quiet and his batting role does not help his cause either. Can India not try out Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik instead of MS in this format? It is a question which has an obvious answer but might difficult one to address. Dhoni’s not someone who will hang around without contributing but if India keep pushing him down the order, they risk losing more games than winning.

Saath7 Cricket Mahotsav 2.0 up and running!

Kapil Dev was stationed at mid on but he ran all the way to almost the square leg fence to take the catch to dismiss the great Viv Richards to create an opportunity for India to have a chance to win their first ever World Cup title. It is seizing moments like these that separate the men from the boys. What happened next was history. Kapil Dev was the man who inspired a generation to take up cricket and when you learn that he is now in association with the Saath7 Cricket Mahotsav, you can only be happy since he has once again given an opportunity to cricket lovers around the nation to love the game of cricket once more.

Here is what the director of Wonder Cement, Mr. Vivek Patni had to say about the campaign, “The entire aim is to bring unity and pride through the medium of sports and cricket being the favorite of all, there is nothing more we could ask for. It is a wonder in itself. The entire tournament is a festival from 1st November to 24th December hence we call it a Mahotsav. It is not about winning or losing, it is about the spirit.”

It is a wonderful initiative by Wonder Cement to reach the masses by providing them a platform to show their talent. What better than a game of cricket. What started as a social experiment to promote cricket at grass root level in 2015, is now gearing up for its second edition. It was the success in Rajasthan in the inaugural season that convinced the ones who matter to this time go for the fully monty. This time around, Saath7 Cricket Mahotsav will have its wing spread across three states – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and its birth place – Rajasthan.

Time to look at some numbers that matter about the tournament.

The tourney will have over 48,000 participants which in itself will be a record.

It will be a 7-over game, with 7 players, with one women in each team holding a bonus of 7 runs.

The finale will be held in the beautiful city of Udaipur. 16 shortlisted teams will battle it out to face the Team of Tehsil. That team will then converge at the District level and face each other to select the District teams. They will then compete for the Zonal level which will eventually meet in the playoffs at Udaipur.

Mr. Tarun Singh Chauhan, the Management Advisor further stressed on the importance of the event, he said, “This tournament was initiated keeping the consumer in mind and to involve people from all over the 3 states. The best way to do so was through cricket and we have been able to draw in people from all walks of life, something that is truly remarkable.”

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more” said Tony Robbins and with the help of cricket Wonder Cement is ensuring everyone who deserves, gets a chance to display their skills. Mr. Kapil Dev said at the launch of the event, “It is a proud moment to be associated with the Cricket Mahotsav. This event brings out the hidden talents within the country and gives people from different walks of life an exhibit to their talent.” Imagine if a tournament like this, gives India their next MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli or even Zaheer Khan? The entire nation will be delighted, won’t it? Let’s wait and watch how this wonderful initiative shapes futures of those involved.

India’s key to success in Sri Lanka’s tour

The last time India toured Sri Lanka in 2015, they won the series 2-1 after a shock loss in the very Test at Galle. The team is very much the same but the individuals have had a lot more Test match experience as a unit. While the batsman Virat Kohli has been at the top of his powers, his captaincy in the series against England and Australia at home will stand him in good stead. Ajinkya Rahane made the choice of playing Kuldeep Yadav and the spinner since then has been an integral part of India’s set-up. Kohli will do well to acknowledge that at times, he has get better with his tactics and team selection. In his pre-match press conference, he has hinted at a debut for Hardik Pandya – an all-rounder India’s long wanted in their side. The balance of the team is such that he can try out anything but there are three particular aspects of the context on the cards that should decide the course of the series.

India’s new ball bowling: On the last tour to Sri Lanka, India’s new ball bowlers didn’t quite have the best of times. While Ishant Sharma did set up the last Test with his 8/86, but if you remove that he and Umesh combined to take 10 wickets in 10 innings which does not make an impressive reading. While the wickets didn’t have much to offer but the tourists showed that they could work batsmen over in the home series against England and Australia. This time around, with a lot more enterprising batting line-up for the hosts, Kohli will need his bowlers to strike with the new nut.

Handling Rangana Herath: If Sri Lanka cricket could be named, it could be Rangana Herath at the moment. He alone has been the face of them. They have been on the downslide but he has managed to keep them alive holding them with a thin string of hope. Against Zimbabwe as well, it was him alone who looked threatening enough and got due rewards. India fared him well after handing him a five-for in the first Test at Galle, they didn’t allow him to take more than 4 wickets in a Test in the remaining two games. It is a key to handling Herath that you do not allow him to bowl to you. Once he settles down in his area, he seldom gives you loose balls. India were proactive and used their feet to him. The same should be the case this time around. The presence of strokemakers in the side also tells you that India won’t shy away from doing that. If Hardik Pandya indeed gets a game, there will be no doubt what will be the instructions to him against the spinners – in the arc, out of the park!

India’s opening woes: In the last 18 Tests, India are set to have their ninth opening combination. It is almost as if the opening slot has been jinxed like the Defence against Dark Arts post at Hogwarts, no one lasts a series without getting hurt or injured. Murali Vijay, KL Rahul have made more visits to the hospital than scorecards of the games now and it remains an important issue to tackle for the new-yet-known head coach. Shikhar Dhawan has been the destiny child of India – every time you think there is no way he can feature in a side for India, the universe conspires to get him back in the thick of things. He showed good signs in the warm-up games but that’s not a benchmark to go by. Abhinav Mukund hasn’t made the most of his chances so far and will be itching to make a mark. Rahul is out of the first Test and hence both the current openers will know that they do not have enough time to make a comeback. Sri Lanka will be itching to get through the opening pair to get into the high-scoring middle order for India. The unstability at the top also shows in the opening partnerships for India, in the last 20 Test innings, the opening pair has gone past the 50-run mark only thrice. There is a lot to catch up for them.

India can take Sri Lanka lightly at their own peril, they have shown sudden love for the teams ranked lower than them in other formats of the game. Sri Lanka might not have looked at their best against Zimbabwe, but they will forever remain the favourite underdogs for many. Hopefully we will have a riveting Test series.

Eh, Eh, Wicket lele!

We all heard and danced on Gangnam Style, time to hear that Indian Cricket version of it!

Oppa Gangnam Style
Gangnam Style

Shami, Aaron, Umesh, Jadeja
Can take wickets but fail outside Asia
Bante captain pe bojha
20 Test wickets is a fantasy
Kya is janam mein kabhi aisa hoga?

Bowling dekho, hosh ko baitho,
Hau kya koi devta unka toh bolo hey

Jab jao bahar India tab sudhorooooo?

Mat Hago Desi Style
…..

image

Op, op, op, op
Haggga Desi Style
Gangnam Style.

Op, op, op, op
Oppa Gangnam Style

Eh wicket lele
Oh oh oh,
Bowl line and length mate

Eh, wicket lele
0 0 0 0 0 0
Get those maidens bhai!

Ashwin extra shana hai
Yadav dimag se kaana hai
Tail wickets ke classes lo
Warna jeet nahi aasaan hai
Dhoni ya Kohli ka placement
Cement aur Sharma hai
Srini hai… hey

Bowling apni please improve karlo, please sudhorooooo

Itna kardo cricket pe ehsan gadhonnn…

Don’t bowl the leg line
All are not Haddin bhai

Oh, oh, oh, oh
But pakdao ek  line..
Mat jao saare offline…

Just an attempt to get the frustration of watching the Indian Test team bowl outside Asia. Yes, feel for us! All in good spirits!

Feedback appreciated!

Dear Lord, Hughes, There was still time!

On Phillip Joel Hughes – 

It’s how in our childhood that our parents kept calling us back home, when it went dark, stopping us from playing and we said,  Come on Mom, ‘There is still time!’
It seems the parent up there too cared and valued you more than us and called you and we all are left saying, ‘There was still time!’

One tucked round the corner! (Image Courtesy: Sony Six)

——

Your technique wasn’t the most pleasing to the eye, the front foot across, shuffle across off and nudge, accommodation was your forte, the acceleration could wait since you knew ‘There is still time!’

You got out on a 4-ball duck to Steyn on your Test debut, trying to slap a shortish delivery over the slip cordon, playing to your strength, you got a duck but you did not leave that shot since you knew ‘There is still time!’

You took on the best in the World, scored twin tons, at the age of just 20, against the best in the business and in their den, becoming the youngest to have twin tons in a Test, and many of us thought, this lad is something and ‘There is still time!’

You got out in similar fashion, the short ball hurting, but you didn’t give up, you fought, came back even harder, grittier, since you knew, ‘There is still time!’

The smile that will stay in the hearts! (Image Courtesy: Twitter)
You didn’t have many admirers for your technique, style of play, but that didn’t bother you, you knew what you were doing, and you loved what you did, since you knew for proving yourself, ‘There is still time!’

You were dropped, sacked as selectors never gave you a long run, but that didn’t stop you from smiling, because you knew, ‘There is still time!

I didn’t quite admire the way you batted, reckoned you had talent but wasn’t sure if was worth touching millions, and I thought, you will come back and maybe play a gem and change my mind, since ‘There is still time!’

This Tuesday when the bouncer took you out, you were too early, not ready, we weren’t ready, and you left us all. Collapsing to tears, as we all watched your best mate, your skipper give a tribute to you, we all wished you came back, since we all assumed, ‘There is still time!’

We all will take care of Sean Abbott, we all know it was not his fault and we all will do our best to save him, since for him we know, ‘There is still time!’

When the world did #putoutyourbats, it showed that irrespective of all our fan wars, and lying under influence, the fans of the game ain’t corrupt, and gave tribute to you! The show must go on, there is a Test series to be played but we all are now saying ‘There is still time!’

RIP Hughes! As long I follow this game, by my heart, and live, you will be in my heart, prayers for I know there is nothing more pleasing in life than doing what we love and you did what you loved and left us a great inspiration, if the world is not convinced, we’ll say to ourselves, ‘There is still time!’

No, I did not plan to write this, but I can’t keep to myself, that smile is not going to disappear from my mind ever, as much as I have loved and followed this game of cricket, will always respect and remember how fragile our lives are and will work today and hope for the hard work to pay off, since ‘There is still time!’

Phil, Happy Birthday mate! I hope you are celebrating up there with Don and Lord and you can for sure tell them, ‘There was still time!’

Just what I feel on Hughes! Apologies for any mistake! Live long Hughes! #No63 #Hughesy

#TheBigTest – The Tour that matters!

Well, the last time I sat down to write preview of an important tour for India. Disaster struck twice and India lost 8-0. Though the chances are it may not repeat but then this does mark the beginning of yet another grueling Test of the team which is just starting to look on and off but in better shape than before. Also with England experimenting with careers of their players, it seems to the time for India to strike gold but we must be wary as concentrating on the weakness of the opposition often catches you off guard as England found against Australia in the Ashes. The Ashes however is my sample set to derive four things that India has to do well in England to stand a chance to compete let alone win. We’ll also keep in mind the squad that we have announced so as to assign roles better.

Sachin Tendulkar

A stern Test awaits!

Test squad for England : MS Dhoni (C), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Ishwar Pandey, Ishant Sharma, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron, Wriddhiman Saha, Pankaj Singh.

The following are the 4 point something that India needs to follow:
1. Top order wickets
2. Lower-middle order comeback
3. Put England off their plans.
4. MS Dhoni.

The fourth reason may sound weird but that for me is going to be the most important one. Let’s get started then.
1. Top order wickets.
Swing and seam is bound to make all the difference in England and India have picked a few good bowlers with the new ball and they need to shine for India to make early inroads and get into the England middle order which is not a solid one for now. The new ball wickets become key since if they don’t strike, India go back a long way in the game and with the England bowling being better, the batsmen will be up against it to make up for their bowlers. Bhuvi and Pandey/Aaron become vital for India’s chances first up. India may not have Mitchell Johnson to scare the hell out of England but the Indian bowlers will have to hunt in pairs to knock England off.

2. Lower-middle order comeback.
Often in Ashes we saw starts like 98-4, 100-5 for Australia against England, It was the lower middle order that contributed to the success of Australia. Agreed India will want their top order to fare better but in home conditions for England, it becomes necessary for Indian to have a line-up that bats deep. England did suffer by not being able to take out the tail of Australia as they played some handy knocks which made totals of 275 above 350 and that does make a lot of difference. MS Dhoni will have a task to balance out his team well. Rohit, Dhoni and Jadeja’s knocks are going to be a decisive factor given the form of the top order, they are going to have to do a lot of work and that supports the third point coming up.

3. Put England off their plans
England like India are a team that relies a lot on pre-planning. They have Plan A and Plan B off the field ready and are very rigid to improvise on the field. The hesitancy to change plans on the field makes them vulnerable and the game is gone before you know it and that is what Australia did to England. If you manage to put England off their plans by counter-attacking them, suddenly the ultra-defensive Cook comes out and spreads the field and the pressure is off you to score and get back. But to assume, England will repeat their mistakes will be risky but rest assured if India wants to dominate England, they have to bat with aggression to comeback with the bat. Kohli, Dhoni are ideal for such knocks if both hold themselves well. With the ball, think India can look emulate plans from Australia of using the short ball well against England. Both Shami and Aaron have a good bouncer at pace and must plan well to unsettle the English batsmen with the pace.

4. MS Dhoni
There is a cliche, ‘if you get the captain, you get the team’ Australia did that to England very well and Cook had one of his worst series both as a captain and a batsman as well. MS Dhoni is already behind in terms of captaincy overseas and this tour may just be the biggest Test of his Test career for he is due to take to this format. He though since the 99 in Nagpur against England has changed gears and done what he does the best. Attack! Seam and swing troubles all but it is the mindset that can change fortunes and Dhoni must back himself to attack England. Steve Smith, Brad Haddin did that to a superb effect and the result was for all of us to see. Dhoni is capable to turning the match in a session and it will not only help India post a good score but also with a handy batsman to bat with the tail. His captaincy though has to improve a lot as said in point 3, he need to improvise well in Tests overseas. Something which comes naturally to him in other formats but strangely hasn’t come through in whites. India can’t afford to have a deep point for new batsmen first ball and Dhoni turning to less prone bowlers when a partnership is starting to grow to rest his main bowlers. He needs to plan better and make better use of the resources at hand with him and the Sri Lanka series against England should help him plan better for England.

With the four points, also giving my eleven for the first Test and with reasons as well for the chopping.
My playing XI for the first Test: Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane/Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma/Ishwar Pandey, Varun Aaron.

Before you outrage on playing Dhawan, for me comes in for Vijay and since we have Gambhir, better off using him than benching. Though it makes it two lefties at top but both Vijay and Dhawan will struggle with the new ball but if Dhawan is patient enough to wait and bat long, India may be off to a ideal start as a quick cameo from Dhawan will do good for India to start positively. While the rest pick themselves, it’s upto Dhoni and co to decide to play both Rahane or Rohit or play one of them depending on the conditions. I don’t see both Ashwin and Jadeja playing and Jadeja plays since Ashwin cannot stop experimenting in a format he need not do it. Bhuvi, Shami are the obvious picks with Aaron, who provides India with a bowler with pace. Dhoni then has to decide if he wants to play Ishant, Pandey of even Binny who may not be a bad pick if he is bowling well and he also gives an option with the bat. But if he prefers Pandey, we know who to blame, the yellow ofcourse 🙂

If India manages to do half of the things right, the pain of 4-0 may just subside a bit but if they don’t India may start losing patience with this form and it may make way for changes and hard decisions sooner than expected.

I don’t know if you agree with my thoughts on the plan of action or not but these are just mine and you are free to have your own opinions, of course. Do let me know though, what you think of them! Feedback much needed and appreciated!

Ashes: Five Point Nothing!

Australia won the Ashes 5-0 and were the deserving winners; Here’s my view on the five points where England were behind and which resulted in this pounding and no these are not stats. These may be trash or whatever, but yeah a read would not cause much of an issue!

The Aussie celebrate the win!

The Aussie celebrate the win! ( Image courtesy: ESPNCricinfo)

1. Captaincy:

After winning the series 3-0 at home, Cook even in his wildest of dreams wouldn’t have thought of getting white washed in Australia. Cook like most of his former captains, has been faulty of waiting for the game. Being reactive and not proactive. Cook comes from the same old school of playing conservative cricket, which does not help him lead team well in troubled times. For that, you cannot blame him alone for being so, having played with such leaders, you’re bound to pick off them. He needs to be given the freedom to captain on his own.

2. Strategies:
Making plans are one thing and executing them is another thing. England had such good plans for the Australian batsmen when playing at home. Watson LBW, Rogers Spin, Clarke short ball to name a few. Where did these plans vanish when they came down under? Once the Australians started working on them, they had no answer. They took early wickets yes, but what happened every time Haddin came out to bat? Where did that aggression go? Why would you bowl to his areas of strengths? Bowl Full, outside off, no room. It’s a test match, hit that length you’ll be rewarded. Stokes showed that but the rest failed. Playing at this level, you can surely not have only one plan. You must be flexible enough to change them and for that the captain has to lead from the front.

3. Approach:
You can speak all you want if you can back it up on the field. To win matches you need to have that hunger, that willingness to prove yourself, not to the world but yourself, that you belong to the place and are lot better. England players looked down ever since Johnson took his first wicket. They played him as if they were going to be killed by him. The intimidation got into their heads, coming from the above two points, the captain failed as they had no strategies, no change in their approach, No Plan B. Australia did lose early wickets and were on the back foot when England picked their wickets, but they backed their plans and went after the bowling. They wanted to win. That eagerness to play, that approach was good for the game. Process matters as much as the result.

4. Intensity:
When Australia were on back foot which they were quite a few times, they came back, thanks to individuals who put their hands up. Haddin did not shy away from playing his natural game come Anderson, Broad, Swann. When Bailey hit Anderson for 28 runs in that over, it was so evident that the English lacked the intensity, the will to fight. When the Aussies wanted wickets, Johnson did not throw grenades, he bowled with the same cherry but with more intensity, with more intent and he was rewarded and how! England had that with Flintoff, to an extent KP as well but it looks like there are strict rules, to play one brand of cricket which has hurt the team badly.

5. Management:
Australia had an unchanged team for entire Ashes. England were searching for the team till the last Test. This blame goes straight to the “top management” of Mr. Andy Flower. You cannot drop a player for one poor match let alone a series like Ashes. You’ve got to back your own instinct/decision/lottery for the player to come good. A classic example is that of Root! They started the Ashes dropping Compton, thinking Root would be better at top. Looking at the future is good but if not respected by the present it can cost big. They dropped Compton and made Root as their opener. From one problem they now had two slots to fill. Bairstow flopped in England (as expected) and Root could not do well apart from the 180 at Lord’s. They dropped Root from opening brought in Carberry at top. Trott went back for his illness. Root came in at three. Why? When Bell was your best bet why not use common sense and play him at that position? Root flopped again batting at multiple positions. Carberry has not done much except  throwing away starts. Why was Compton dropped? What ahead now? For one player, four others had to suffer. At this level, in just two series, you can’t make such decisions and expect them to work. Give them a longer rope.

Though the above mentioned points may look same they have their own meanings and are much deeply inter-related. England will mostly drop half their side in next Ashes, import players from other countries. They may get the individuals again, but the top 5 points if not taken care of, they won’t survive long. Cricket is a game which calls for a team to perform as a team, to be flexible. And as Shane Warne ranted all along, be prepared to lose, to win! Your priorities decide your result!

A summary of what is wrong with England. You may not agree at all, and you are entitled to. Do share your views on it. Awaiting feedback!

Interview with Sachin’s Bat.

Down The Ground

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Sachin has retired. He won’t be playing cricket again. And that is sad. But before he goes away from our lives, everyone wants to have as much of him as possible. I am no different. I too want to have as much of Sachin as possible.

Like many other people, I decided to interview him as well. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t even get close to him. Sachin was busy, taking awards, collectimg mementoes, getting photos taken, delivering thank you speeches and had no time for an interview with me. Neither did his wife, his friends, his relatives, his assistant, his maid or his driver. They were all busy too.

So?

So then, in a corner of the room, away from all the hustle, I saw his bat, lying down. The little piece of wood, Sachin’s better half on the cricket pitch. Something he can’t be imagined without. Given that it was such…

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