Thursday, October 30, 2008

Will Bowden do a Bucknor?

Billy Bowden has cooked India's goose in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if he does it again, although umpires may be a little more wary after what happened to Steve Bucknor. In the last Indo-Oz series in India, Bowden should be credited as much as Kasprowicz for the Aussie victory in Bangalore. There's no chance of an Aussie win, of course, this time, but if Bowden keeps turning down plumb LBW shouts like that of Amit Mishra in the last hour of the second day, then the Aussies can escape with a draw in Delhi, and who knows how the newly laid pitch in Nagpur will behave. Let's keep a close eye on Bowden tomorrow. It would be a pity if there's biased umpiring, because otherwise it's a mouth-watering contest between Mishra and the Aussies on a pitch that is still playing easy and true.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Here's to a Kumble swan song

On the eve of the Test, it looks like Bhajji's toe is Mishra's only hope of getting to play in spite of bowling out half the Australian side in the first innings of the Mohali Test. Kumble wants to give Bhajji time until the morning of the Test to see if he can "declare himself fit". One can only hope his desperation to have Bhajji in the eleven is prompted by the need for balance in the side, as he says, rather than a reluctance to compete against Mishra on the same pitch. Having said all that, I do expect Kumble to get among the wickets at the Kotla even if he is only half fit, although he claims to be 100 per cent. This is the only pitch which is rough enough for him to turn the ball past the bat. That, combined with uneven bounce on a hard surface, means he will be difficult to handle if his shoulder allows him bowl at something like the speed at which he usually does. But so what? On every other pitch, Kumble will continue to struggle to get wickets because his in-dipper is old hat, and nobody gets trapped LBW to that any more. For his sake, I hope he bowls India to a series win in Delhi, and immediately announces his retirement.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No place for Kumble in this team

Debutant Amit Mishra got 7 of the 20 Australian wickets in Mohali, 5 of them in the first innings which really set up the victory for India. This against the top team in the world, and on a flat, easy batting wicket. But he didn't get the man-of-the-match award. Worse, he can't even be sure of being included in the team for the next Test in Delhi. Instead, a bowler who has averaged 46 runs per wicket in the last 11 Test matches, and bowled 50 wicketless overs in the first Test, is "raring to go" as he puts it himself in his signed column. This is the problem with Indian cricket. We're stuck with players who can walk into the team on the basis of past records, rather than current form and fitness. Is it more important to squeeze a few more games out of a 38-year-old bowler who has already got 18 years of international cricket under his belt, or to encourage a bowler who has shown the potential to serve Indian cricket for the next 10 years? Don't you think India might have won the Bangalore Test or even the series in Sri Lanka if Mishra had played instead of Kumble?
Even if Mishra gets to play in Delhi, I suspect he will be forced to play third fiddle to the KumBha mela, and that can only be to the advantage of the Australians, who clearly have no clue to his googly. And if Laxman is dropped to accommodate Kumble, that might be just the opening the Aussies need to come back in this series because it would weaken the Indian batting. Is it more important to figure out how Kumble can be accommodated, or to decide what is the best way to ensure India wins the series? Why are the interests of an individual taking precedence over those of the team? If you factor in the captaincy, where Dhoni is clearly way ahead of Kumble, the answer my friend is blowing in the wind.
More on this in an article I wrote a couple of days back: India's Diwali gift to Ponting

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Match the Aussies in pace

It was clear in the first Test that India's pace bowlers Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were on par with, if not better than, the Aussie speedsters. But they were outnumbered. Two pacers can't compete against four. The captain tends to use them in long spells, rather than in shorter, attacking bursts. And they run out of steam.
It was also clear in the first Test that Kumble was even less effective than the rookie Cameron White, who at least ensured Sachin Tendulkar takes yet another Test to reach his milestone of highest run-getter in Tests. And Bhajji was not any more dangerous than part-timer Michael Clarke.
So, why not go into the Mohali Test with four pace bowlers? Or pick Amit Mishra as the lone spinner for variety. Of course, I know that's not going to happen, given the track record of this Test team's leadership to keep newcomers benched. Nor will they even consider something radical like a Caribbean-style pace battery, with Sehwag playing the foil like Viv Richards. But, why not day-dream?
Everyone knows the Mohali pitch either favours pace early on and then settles down to a sleeping beauty, or it's flat from the outset. Either way, the pacers are more likely to do damage, and India can fight firepower with firepower, as in Perth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A captain in denial

One bad game doesn't make him a bad player, says Kumble. True. But he averages 46 per wicket in the last 11 Test matches, including three series before this one. Even part-timer bowlers in Test cricket have better averages than that. Before the Test, he had said players should not be judged by one bad series in Lanka, a similarly misleading statement. He had also said it should be performance and fitness that should matter, not age. But, performance and fitness are exactly the problems. I said at the start of the Lanka series that Kumble is a spent force, and I was right. I made the same prediction before this series, and so far it is even worse than what I thought. I don't expect him to do much better in any of the matches, except the one in Delhi. India needs a new spinner and a new captain. Although Ricky Ponting was a bit too conservative in the first Test, at least he led by example. To be led by Kumble in his current form is an embarrassment for the Indian team. I wrote about this in - A contrast between two captains.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One down, four to go

I think Sourav Ganguly made the declaration a little too late, and lost the opportunity to become a hero. Just like he lost the opportunity to win a series Down Under by not making the Aussies follow on in the last Test at Sydney.

Imagine if Ganguly had called it quits at the end of the Pakistan series in India, where he got his first century at his home ground of Eden Gardens, Kolkata, and his first double century in the next Test at Bangalore (both in drawn games played on 'patta' wickets designed to help India hold on to its one-nil lead in the series).

Now, although he deserves all the nice things that everyone inevitably says in such situations, his grand farewell has been shorn of some dignity because of his terrible current form, the talk of him being dropped for the current series, and the quid pro quo deal reportedly struck between him and the board - that he can have his last hurrah, provided he in turn announces his retirement before the series (something everyone obviously denies).

The only thing that will make it a decent exit for him would be to hit a century or at least a fifty of some consequence against the Aussies. That would be fitting for a man who took over the Indian team at a time when it had been undermined by the taint of match-fixing, who put some spine into the team to handle aggressive opponents like Steve Waugh's band of sledgers, and who backed new talent like Sehwag, Yuvraj, and Bhajji who had all been shunted by the establishment.

Now the writing is even more clearly on the wall for other current non-performers in the team, starting with Rahul Dravid. He may have a little bit of a breather because Krish Srikkanth chose to induct S Badrinath from his home state of Tamil Nadu, ignoring the claims of Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina who are more likely to do well against international bowling, simply because they have already shown that ability in other formats of the game. But eventually, the more deserving young talent will get in and the ones hanging on by dint of their past records will have to make way.

To a lesser extent, this also applies to the Australians. I'm extremely surprised at Shaun Marsh not finding a place in the eleven for instance, despite the obvious ease with which he played in Indian conditions during the IPL. For India, there is even more proven talent available to take the place of their illustrious seniors, and I think the claim that the next gen is not yet ready is hogwash. They can never be ready because the only way you can establish your Test credentials is by playing Test cricket. What were Michael Clarke's credentials when he made his debut in India during the last series which he helped to win for Australia? I have dwelt more on this in an article I wrote for DNA - There is no alternative... Really?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Srikkanth plays with a dead bat

The selection was even more conservative than I thought. All five seniors have been included. A promising strokeplayer like Rohit Sharma, who has already played some memorable knocks at the international level, has been discarded from the Test side after warming the bench in Sri Lanka. His replacement is a defensive Badrinath, who has done nothing spectacular in the few international exposures he's had. He may well deserve a place on the strength of his domestic record, but certainly not ahead of Rohit Sharma who has already earned his international spurs. The only positive is the inclusion of Amit Mishra, ahead of the claims of Piyush Chawla, who I think lacks bite, and Pragyan Ojha, who looks steady without being dangerous. But then, Mishra is unlikely to get a game barring injury to Kumble or Bhajji, and he too may find himself out of the team after hanging around with it for a while, like Sharma.