Friday, August 29, 2008

Who needs the famous five?

It's a pity Dhoni let the Sri Lankans off the hook in the last ODI after having them down on the mat six down for a little over a hundred runs. His inexplicable denial of three overs to Munaf Patel showed a lack of killer instinct that has characterised Indian sport over the years. But no matter. I think Dhoni and his young team have again shown they are - on current form - playing better than their more illustrious counterparts in the Test team in all aspects of the game. I think it is Dhoni who should lead a young Indian Test team to take on the visiting Australians later this year. More on this in an article I wrote for DNA: Now change the Test team.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dhoni da jawab nahin

Dhoni got most things right in the third ODI. First, the playing 11 was perfect, given the available resources. Although India again could not finish off the Lankans after getting them down 94-7, the bigger problem remains the batting with four out of seven failing. So I hope Dhoni ignores the exhortations of the TV commentators led by Tony Greig to play five bowlers. But, if he does induct a fifth bowler, it should be RP Singh, because Pathan has become too slow to be able to take wickets. Four pacers bowling the first 20 overs at the brittle Lankan lineup seems tempting, but whom would you drop? By rights, it should be Yuvraj, but that's too tough a call at this stage. Maybe in the fifth ODI if India lose the next one.
The second thing Dhoni almost got right was the batting lineup, with Yuvraj moving up to number three. But sending Badrinath ahead of Rohit was wrong. Rohit's just had a couple of failures. He shouldn't lose his batting position so easily, after having shown his class over the past year.
The third and most important thing was to win the toss and bat because the ball did more for both the pacers and spinners in the cool atmosphere of the evening. And he topped it up with a captain's knock to rescue the team. It's a pity he ran Raina out, though, when he was looking set for a big one.
The one area where Dhoni continues to expose his rawness in captaincy is the field placement. Munaf bowled without a slip to Mahela even though that was the last recognised batsman standing. And Bhajji had no forward short leg for Mahela even though the ball was turning and jumping. The Indians allowed the Sri Lankan captain to bat himself back to form with a 94, and he can make them pay for it in the next two ODIs.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

That's why we need referrals

"Excuse me?" exclaims Homer's blog, detailing the double standards evident in two ICC match referees' interpretations of offensive behaviour by players. While Aleem Dar let Flintoff go scot-free in an SA-England match, Chris Broad slapped Munaf Patel with a level 2 offence for a far lesser misdemeanour in the second ODI between India and Sri Lanka. Broad's harshness also rekindles the white-man-not-taking-the-brown-man's-word argument that snowballed into a crisis after the Sydney Test when Mike Proctor banned Harbhajan Singh. So, when I saw pictures of a Cuban taekwondo fighter kicking a match referee in the face after some dubious decisions at the Olympics on Saturday, I thought it isn't far-fetched to expect a similar incident in cricket one of these days if the ICC persists with arming undeserving people like Broad with so much power. And yet, there's an easy way to prevent such ugliness, and this was evident in the Test series. I mean the referral system, of course, which defuses all the rancour in the middle, just like it did for tennis. More on this in an article I wrote, titled Back to the middle ages, because that's what it feels like to watch cricket again without the referral system which has been put on the back-burner after its trial in the Tests.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More luck than pluck

It was astounding to hear Dhoni after the toss - that he really wanted to bat first but couldn't with makeshift openers filling in for the injured Sehwag and Gambhir. This despite playing on the same Dambulla pitch where they got bowled out for 146 two days back. Wonder if he still feels he should've batted first after bowling out Lanka for 142 and levelling the series? The fact is that if he had done the right thing in the first ODI in terms of the toss and team selection, India would've been 2-0 up.
Anyway, kudos to Dhoni for holding things together at the end and squeaking through to a victory. The replacement of Ojha with Praveen Kumar was also a good thing even if it was obvious, and likewise about bowling Zaheer Khan seven overs on the trot. It was also great to see Badrinath grabbing the half an opportunity he got to prove his worth. But many holes remain.
Predictably, Pathan failed as an opener. Even though Kohli got important runs, the way he got out reminded me of the IPL where he displayed this tendency to give it away even on the few occasions when he does get going. Yes, he's a youngster, he did lead India to an under-19 world cup, and we should give him a long rope - but not at the expense of more deserving players who are not in the team.
The lack of penetration in the Indian bowling was again evident when we could not finish off the Lankans even after getting their six main batsmen out cheaply. We missed a bowler with pace like Ishant. And, at Galle, we'll rue the fact that India does not select a wicket-taking bowler like Amit Mishra.

Welcome new blogger

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Think outside the box, MSD

Sachin and Sehwag injured. No other opener available. So shove the newbie into the vacant slot and let's see what happens. Didn't work? Okay let's try Pathan who has a reasonable technique...
Basically, the injury to Sehwag has exposed the fact that a 16-member team has been chosen with no contingency for an opener getting injured. Now it is left to Dhoni to find a partner for Gambhir by a process of elimination and he has four more shots at it. So I thought we should give him a hand at it.
To me Kohli was the wrong choice for the team itself (as Sampath said in response to my previous post Dumbness at Dambulla), because he hasn't done enough to deserve the position ahead of others available and the selectors should've taken his IPL flops into account.
Now I think they will push Pathan in, but that would be a mistake on two counts: 1) Pathan can use his feet well to spinners, and he can be put to better use if he's asked to chance his arm against Murali and Mendis to throw them off their rhythm, 2) His bowling has become so pedestrian that it may be better to replace him with somebody with more zing, although RP Singh and Praveen Kumar have also gone off the boil.
The out-of-the-box idea would be send Yuvraj in as opener. Think about it. He's a sitting duck for Mendis and Murali, anyway, because it's unlikely he can get his feet moving overnight. He has to go back to domestic cricket and work on his technique against spin. At the same time, with Sehwag gone, there's no harder hitter than him in the team. So why not send him out as opener and give Vaasy the heebie jeebies?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dumb at Dambulla

Yes, Mendis continues to mesmerise. But the real damage was done before he came on to bowl. Four of the top five batsmen fell to the Lankan pacers, even when they're without the services of Maharoof, Malinga and Fernando. Dhoni said after the toss that the wicket had grass but would not help the pacers. Duh!? There was clearly both seam movement and bounce in the morning, and the Indian top order got bogged down and then threw their wickets away thinking they had to get quick runs before Mendis and Murali came on. It's a pity Ishant Sharma, who rattled the Lankans in the Tests, has not been made available to Dhoni. But if Dhoni is not going to give his bowlers the advantage of bowling first in helpful conditions, then I guess it makes no difference. India's homework was zero on the Dambulla pitch, which has grass imported from Australia, and has produced low scores for teams batting first recently. If only Whatmore had been our coach!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Too poor to win?

India is too poor a country to pour resources into sports. We are so liberal that we can't do what the Chinese are doing, or the East Europeans did before them... These were also the kinds of excuses that used to be trotted out to justify the 'Hindu' rate of economic growth at one time. With political will and leadership, India need not be such an under-achiever in sports, even without having to resort to draconian methods. And it's more about professional administration than resources alone. Just look at cricket, where we have by far the richest board in the world but lose to tiny Sri Lanka, anyway. I think the real problem is a lack of appreciation among those who run the country of the 'soft power' of sports. I've written about this in more detail in an article for DNA - No sports please, we're Indian.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Big blow or big relief?

MS Dhoni says the absence of Sachin Tendulkar is a big blow for India leading up to the one-day series with Lanka. Before that, he said players of the calibre of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid don't have to prove themselves.
All that these statements tell me is that Dhoni is settling in nicely to the political side of his role as captain. It's all very well to say nice things about players when you know they are not going to be in your team.
Actions speak louder than words, however. It's quite well known that it was MSD's strong opposition that kept Ganguly and Dravid out of the one-day team Down Under. As for Sachin, Dhoni must have mixed feelings.
Tendulkar did hold the innings together in the finals of the tri-series in Australia, although the main credit for those victories should have gone to the bowlers. Anyway, his form and fitness have been poor since then - a duck in the only innings he played against South Africa, a groin injury that kept him out of half the IPL, a below-par scoring rate in the IPL, an average of just 15 in his six innings of the Test series in Lanka...
But more importantly, Sachin's absence saves Dhoni from having to split India's terrific opening combo of Gambhir and Sehwag. So methinks Dhoni would be counting his blessings while lamenting the "big blow".

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Will the younger lot handle Mendis better?

Before the start of the Test series, I wrote an article about the Mendis threat - The man with the golden finger. It basically suggested two things -
1. That Mendis would prove to be a bigger threat than Murali.
2. That India's ageing batsmen would struggle despite their experience.
Now the question is if the younger one-day batsmen will fare any better. I think they will, except for Yuvraj.

Will the younger lot handle Mendis better?

Before the start of the Test series, I wrote about the Mendis threat in The man with the golden finger. It basically made two points: 1) That Mendis would prove to be a bigger threat than Murali, and 2) That India's ageing batsmen would struggle against him despite their experience. Now the question is if the younger one-day batsmen will fare any better. I think, except for Yuvraj, they will.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cricketkeeper 2.0

Hi. I'm back. Apologies for going AWOL without a word. Wanted a rethink on this blog. Conclusion: I'll be posting here regularly, and also linking to the best stuff on cricket I find on the web.
I'm also writing a web column these days, one or two a week. Here's the link: