Blog Archive


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

India start favorites but they need to be a bit wary

India start firm favorites against the Aussies in the first T20 International at Brisbane on Wednesday having won 13 of their 16 T20 International encounters in 2018. That's a win percentage of more than 81%. Reminds me of the Ponting era eh! But this is Virat's Champion side. More than anything else, it would be a test of his captaincy. Taming Australia is no mean feat, albeit a weaker under performing Australia.

The last time the two sides met for the shortest format duel in Australia in 2016, Team India was by far the superior side winning everything that came their way. But India need to be a bit wary. These are not home conditions, the pace of the wicket will be different and with an over reliance on the top 3 to deliver, Team India should stay guarded to say the least. I expect a watchful start from the likes of Rohit and Shikhar. The Aussie bowling is their stronger suit and could be very potent on bouncy pitches with long square boundaries at Brisbane. The likes of Coulter-Nile, Billy Stanlake and the wily Andrew Tye could be more than handy in home conditions. On the other hand it would be interesting to see how the Indian pace bowling unit uses these conditions. Khaleel gets bounce and could be the X-factor. In recent times he has shown glimpses of edge of the seat form. India will miss Hardik Pandya though the elder Pandya might be just as vital to the team's fortunes. 

Then, Aaron Finch is due for a big one. He can deflate any bowling unit single-handedly. India may give the ball to Krunal Pandya early to negate that threat. 

Also, Australia have not seen a Chinaman bowler since Brad Hogg, and it would be interesting to see how the Aussies fare against Kuldeep Yadav. Expect Kuldeep, Chahal and Krunal to make an impact. The Aussie middle and lower middle batting order has faltered of late and their big guns have fired but not seen them home on most occasions. The likes of Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, D'arcy Short will have to make it count if Aussies want to compete with this stylish Indian batting unit. Chris Lynn has especially been disappointing with the bat in 2018 in T20 Internationals with just 163 runs at an average of just over 18. Virat Kohli hasnt played too many matches either this year and his tally of 146 runs from 7 outings is quite unbelievable given his form and the kind of run aggregates we have all come to expect of him. Surprisingly and quietly Manish Pandey in 2018, has 299 runs with a stupendous average of 75 and strike rate of 121 making a serious case for the playing XI. He may have fallen behind in the pecking order, but did well the last time Team India were here in Australia. Remember the famous hundred in a winning chase. Remains one of the best innings from an Indian middle order batsman in recent memory. But that was 50 over arena. This is T20 and at the moment KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant will both play ahead of him, assuming Karthik is the default keeper batsman given his exploits with KKR have not yet been forgotten. So sadly for Manish, all the three potential keepers in the squad will play.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

All eyes on Prithvi Shaw

All eyes will be on the 18 year old debutant Prithvi Shaw for the 1st Test at Rajkot starting from tommorrow. He got a three figure score on his Ranji debut, and it would be a fairy tale start if he gets one in Rajkot during the weekend. So what is so special about Prithvi Shaw. First, he is only 18 years old and I can not remember India going with a younger Test opener in so many years. His reputation precedes him and cricket aficionados want to see him bat at the highest level, albeit in home conditions. He may not draw the crowds yet, but the selectors will surely be watching him closely in pursuit of a long term solution in absence of a waning Murali Vijay. Vijay, for all the runs he is scoring now in England playing for Essex, might well be back for the Australia tour, but the selectors will like to pick an understudy. Between Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal, i.e. if he gets a chance. There is KL Rahul too, eager to impress, and Shikhar Dhawan has experience, and against short pitched bowling in Australia could be very handy. The race for the Test Opener's slot is getting hotter.

Coming back to the present, what is so special about Prithvi Shaw. The world came to know about a young 13 year old Prithvi Shaw the opener, when he scored 546 off only 330 balls for Rizvi Springfield school in 2013. Remember, Mumbai school cricket is very competitive and if you score that many runs anywhere on earth, you are bound to grab eyeballs and media eulogy. Immediate comparison was with Sachin Tendulkar, and the famous 664 run partnership Sachin had with another prodigy Vinod Kambli. That was also school cricket, and Sachin was 16 then. Prithvi was selected to play Ranji for Mumbai at the age of 16, and debuted in the semi finals against Tamilnadu, scoring a hard fought but fluent century and winning the match. At 17, he broke Sachin's record again, this time by scoring a debut in Duleep Trophy by becoming the youngest to do so. India later won the Under-19 World Cup under his captaincy earlier this year in February, and although Manjot Kalra's century  (101*) overshadowed every one else's contributions in the Finals against the Aussie-19 side, Prithvi Shaw had a good tournament with the bat with an average in excess of 65 and a tally of 261 runs. Then came the IPL contract for Delhi Daredevils, where he started playing only when Delhi had started to slid from contention. Nevertheless, he was noticed even in the premier 20-20 tournament. 

What impresses me most is his strokeplay on the off side, a la Tendulkarish at times, but his compact technique would impress the textbook Sanjay Manjrekar as well. I am guessing, he might open his Test career with a century, the likelihood is very strong. Getting caught behind is something he needs to watch out for against the likes of Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder. Seeing the new ball is crucial. He might have nerves, but I can imagine KL Rahul would score briskly, as he usually does and will take the pressure off the young debutant. Rajkot should be a benign batting pitch. I would be surprised if it is anything else than that (maybe drier from the 3rd day). Perfect recipe for the downfall of visiting Test sides. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

India are the favourites for the title but they need to be wary of Bangladesh

India will be massive favourites to lift the Asia Cup later today, but they need to be wary of a resurgent Bangladeshi side. The recipe for recent domination for Team India in limited overs cricket has had three ingredients. 

Firstly, red hot smoking form of the Top 3 - Rohit, Shikhar (or Rahul) and Virat. Even without Kohli, Team India has managed to shield the middle order, so much so that the middle order has been largely untested. Secondly, the wicket taking ability of Bumrah and Bhuvi at the top of the opposition innings, which takes the steam out of the batting effort. And, thirdly the rise and rise of Kul-Cha, KULdeep Yadav and Yuzvendra CHAhal. After Bhuvi and Bhumrah have done the damage in the initial overs, Kul-Cha have been effective in taking wickets in the middle overs further denting the chances of a revival and a strong finish towards the end for the opposition. I am pretty sure, that in conditions like in the UAE, any top side would have struggled against Team India. 

So Bangladesh need to attack these three ingredients to be able to hope to beat Team India. They will need to hold back Mushrafe Mortaza and Mustafizur for the middle overs. If they strike during these middle overs then it means they have less to get when batting or less to defend. Start the bowling with spinners on both sides, Mehidi  Hasan and another tweaker or maybe Mustafizur when he is fresh. If they get both Rohit and Shikhar very early, they might open up the untested Indian middle order. For their own batting, they need to push up Imrul Kayes and open the batting with him; he is looking in good touch. So Soumya Sarkar and Imrul Kayes at the top, and start in traditional ODI style batting seeing off the first 12-15 overs in a sedate fashion. Then hope, Mushfiqur and Mithun hold the fort in the middle and provide a platform for the strokeplayers like Mahmudullah, Mosaddek  and others later on. Even after this if they end up losing, they might reconcile that they lost to a world class ODI side. No shame !

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

India had a perfect game. TICKS galore.

Team India had a perfect game after the side had an ordinary outing yesterday against a second tier side like Hong Kong. They ticked all the boxes. Bhuvi started the day picking up both the openers, while being clinically miserly. TICK. He bowled 35 dot balls in a spell of 7 overs, i.e. 35 dots out of 42 balls. Phenomenal !

Bumrah complemented Bhuvi well too. TICK. Followed by Kul-Cha (Kuldeep and Chahal) who although their figures suggest did not do as much, but they kept things under control. TICK. Kedar Jadhav once again picked up wickets in the middle overs while not giving away too many runs, (giving away under 3 runs per over) and his spell meant Hardik Pandya was not missed. TICK. India fielded well. TICK. Then Rohit came out all guns blazing. TICK. Shikhar Dhawan played some delightful shots. TICK. He was timing the ball so well !! Indian openers negated Hasan Ali, not allowing Pakistan to get back into the game. TICK. Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik batted sensibly taking calculated risks. The Middle order did not open up. TICK. Ticks Galore !! 

India will be worried about the injury to Hardik Pandya. He has been playing non stop in the last 12 months, and while he may not be batting that much, but staying on the field and bowling takes a toll on your body eventually. Hopefully it turns out to be a manageable back spasm and he plays on Sunday in a rematch with Pakistan, the next time not being a dead rubber like today.

Expect Pakistan to come back strongly, knowing very well that the next match is not inconsequential. You can count on the Top 3 of Pakistan, who have been the reason for Pakistan's resurgence in limited overs cricket. Pakistan have done well whenever their batting has been solid. Imam ul Haq, Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam are the men to watch out for. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

MS Dhoni needs to play a pivotal role in Asia Cup

Well before India begin their campaign to defend their Asia Cup title, all the focus has been on the batting slots around MS Dhoni, i.e. for No 4 and 6. This is as per the layman assumption that MS Dhoni will come out to bat at No 5., though I would like him to bat higher up at No. 4. Inspite of no focus on him and his batting, his role in the middle order shall be pivotal for Team India's success irrespective how the likes of Ambati Rayudus and Dinesh Karthiks play.

For two reasons, Dhoni should bat higher up the order. His big hitting prowess is on the wane, and going by what Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik can manage with their ability to hit the ball long and cheeky, for sure Dhoni should come ahead of the trio. Also, if the big ticket wickets of Rohit and Dhawan fall early (Pakistan's bowling attack is quite ominous), a mid innings revival is most suited to Dhoni's style of batting these days. He still is the best runner on the 22 yard strip, loves to rotate the strike, and will lend stability to the innings not giving the likes of Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan or even Rashid Khan the opportunity to run through the less tested middle order. I know Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik maybe auditioning for the No. 4 slot, but there is a tournament going on and these are no practice matches !. And, despite what critics might think of Dhoni or Rahane both have been very consistent. Look at the numbers for 2017 and 2018. I picked these numbers from Cricinfo. Apologise for the shabby graphics ;)

ODI Batting Statistics (2017/ YTD 2018): MS Dhoni stands out beyond the Top 3

While the top 3 (Kohli, Rohit and Dhawan) are way ahead of the rest, amongst the others Dhoni has been the most consistent. In the absence of Ajinkya Rahane or Yuvraj Singh (not bad numbers either, except that the columns for 50s leaves much to be desired), it would be a good ploy to send Dhoni at 4, and keep Ambati Rayudu at 3. Maybe audition Kedar, Manish and Karthik for 5 and 6. 

I feel as the tournament progresses, the wicket will get slower and the spinners of all opposition sides will be very handy. You may not get your big shots after all, and it is here that Dhoni's strike rotating abilities will come handy. Whether he bats at 4 or 5, his quick run a ball, no fireworks innings will still be worth in gold ! Ofcourse, we wont mind the odd big tonk, especially over the long on boundary ! Best of luck to him !

Saturday, September 15, 2018

India will look to solve the middle order conundrum

The Asia Cup is here, and more than anything else it is an opportunity for all the sides to look at the players who would be part of their World Cup sides. For India, they would like to see the claimants to the middle order spots do well. And, in absence of Virat Kohli who has done the bulk of scoring in any form of cricket for Team India in the last few years, the middle order might get exposed more often than not. 

A lot of words have been written about the No 4. position, but it seems the entire middle order has been looking less than optimum in the run up to the World Cup next year. So, the Team Management needs to hope that some or all of Ambati Rayudu, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav and even MSD and Hardik Pandya be amongst runs ensuring Virat Kohli is not missed. But the focus will be on the No.4 spot and Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and DK are likely to be thrust into that role (assuming KL Rahul is used at No.3)

Contenders for the No 4. spot

Ambati Rayudu has been the most consistent out of the three, whenever he has got a chance to play, and his impressive ODIs average of 50.23 screams for attention. He had a good IPL earlier in the year playing for Chennai Super Kings, and his game is well suited to the No. 4 slot. But can he play the moving ball in England next year?

Manish Pandey deserved a look-in on the back of a rich vein of form for India-A scoring 233 runs without being dismissed. He could not have timed his prolific run better. What goes in favour for Manish Pandey is his better strike rate of more than 93 compared to Rayudu (76) or DK (73). He rotates the strike very well and could be a perfect folly for MSD.

DK had an unbelievable IPL this year, the memories of which are fading now. His bat has been silent ever since and although nobody doubts his talent, he will need to improve his career average of just 25.00 and produce some match-winning knocks in the Asia Cup to remain in the scheme of things after an ordinary Test series in England. 

Whether or not Rohit Sharma makes tactical moves to win individual matches in the tournament, it is imperative that he makes good use of Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik. Conditions in UAE shall be hot and humid but nevertheless with good batting surfaces, and to win matches Team India will have to bat deep and not depend too much on the Top 3 to deliver all the time. If you ask me, it was time to blood Rishabh Pant instead of Dinesh Karthik. Time is running out for DK !

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Report Card - India England Test series

Well everybody seems to have an opinion about the recent under performance of Team India in the tests series. Atleast the scoreline says so. 4-1 seems to suggest that India were outplayed in the tournament. But the fact is that England played well when it mattered. Session by session. India lost those key moments. They got rid of the top half, but allowed the lower middle order to script an escape. They batted well in patches, but fell just when England were losing the plot. It is all a story of missed chances. For the Indians, the report card wears a mixed look.

Virat Kohli 

Nobody can dare to give him less than a 9 for the series. He batted like he really wanted to make amends for the 2014 flop show. He played like an earnest champion and was the brightest star of Team India. His captaincy and team selection has been criticised, but then you can not blame him entirely. Remove Kohli, and you remove 40-50% weight from the side. He is that precious a wicket nowadays in any format of the game. Scored 593 runs with 2 tons and 3 half centuries at an average of 59.30, what more do you want from a batsman. 

Ishant Sharma

Ishant came of age, and believed he was the leader of the bowling unit. He got those elusive edges this time, and despite bowling a lot of overs managed to stay injury free bowling a consistent line troubling the English top order and more often than not being amongst wickets. He finished with 18 wickets, second only to Anderson's haul of 24 wickets. 

Jasprit Bumrah
Jasprit inspite of having not featured in the first two tests, left an indelible mark in the test series. He bowled at a good pace, and was perhaps the fastest bowler from both sides bowling consistently in excess of 85 mph. He has done his reputation no harm, and batsmen around the world have started taking him very seriously.

Rishabh Pant
I rate him highly here because he has been arguably the find of the series for India. He has shown that he has talent and could be the long term option Team India has been searching for after the departure of MSD. His keeping is a work in progress, and Saha should walk into the squad based on his superior keeping skills.

Ravindra Jadeja
Sir Jadeja impressed me during his lone outing in the last test, especially  with his batting. He has not batted like this for a very long time, so much so that his critics stopped calling him an allrounder. If he bats like the way he did during the 86* he made in the last test, he might be able to displace Ashwin from the playing eleven in Australia. His fielding is a bonus and I would like to see more wickets from him. He has the talent to stay long at the crease, and he needs to watch out for the tendency to throw away his wicket with low percentage shots.

Hanuma Vihari
Again, a rank outsider and nobody would have dreamt that he would make the playing XI before the start of the series, especially with India preferring the services of Hardik Pandya and with the original choice of Karun Nair being in the squad already. But then they say it is destiny. He got a 50 on debut and in difficult circumstances. Full marks for his calm and unperturbed stay at the crease. But his batting spot is keenly contested. His bowling proved useful and was able to make 3 breakthroughs for Team India. In short, he justified his selection and adjusted to the conditions well having joined the squad late.

Mohammad Shami
Shami looked out of sorts in patches and although he was not as much amongst wickets as he would have liked to, he did bowl with a lot of venom in helpful conditions. He was a tad unlucky to not get too many wickets, and I feel his inability to polish the tail inadvertently led to lower order revivals from England. Nevertheless, he remains potent and should be a great asset in Australia.

KL Rahul
Now you might argue that I am being harsh, especially after he was the only other batsman to get a century apart from Kohli, Pujara and Pant. But a lot was expected of him and despite showing what he is capable for in the last test with that wonderful 149, he needs to get more consistent. To me, he played like the quintessential No 6 batsman rather than a regular opener. He needs to watch out for the incoming deliveries which has been his undoing in this series. I am left a little disappointed after the series, especially his contributions in the tests Team India lost.

Cheteshwar Pujara
I am glad, and perhaps more than me he would be glad with himself, having found some semblance of form in trying conditions. Pujara looked a lot more assured of himself after the face saving 132* he made in the 4th Test and India ended up making 273 in the first innings after being left teetering at 195-8. Pujara leaves the English shores more relieved than when he arrived after a not so successful County stint, and KL Rahul taking his place in the first test. With limited overs cricket eluding him and no IPL contract, he needed to put up a good show here in the only form of cricket he plays for India. He is a candidate to make those big daddy hundreds and double hundreds, and his best is yet to come.

Hardik Pandya
I rate him a tad better than you would expect, as in my view he did bowl better than expected. His bowling was a real plus and his 5 wicket haul in no time was a real shot in the arm in the Nottingham test, which Team India eventually won. He is an impact player, but is better suited to bat at 7, and leave the No 6 spot to the specialist wicketkeeper-batsmen in Pant, Saha or DK whoever is in the playing XI that day. He is an interesting package and there are not many who can displace him from the side on a like to like basis.

Ajinkya Rahane
A quiet tour for Jinx, and although he looked determined but did not make much of an impact on the tour. His form has not been in top gear, and I sensed this even during the IPL. Rahane in my view is also suited to play at No.3; for one he would be faster off the blocks than Pujara, and two it would mean being able to adjust a Rohit Sharma or a Karun Nair in the side. He finished with two half centuries, but is that all he was expected to do?

Ravi Ashwin
Another superstar who disappointed his fans, but for a change let us give him space. He was carrying an injury, and whether or not it affected his batting or not, it definitely affected his bowling. He needs to be rested for the short Windies Test series and taken care of properly. He feels he needs to reinvent himself for every tour, but he needs to realise that he needs to keep things simple and batsmen will make mistakes. Test cricket is a game of patience. Even Murali had bad days, and so did Bhajji and Kumble. Like Rahane, the arrowhead had a quiet and forgettable tour.

Shikhar Dhawan
Although his scores would suggest he had a wretched tour, he actually batted quite well for the brief periods he was at the crease. Brief, albeit by test standards. He is a versatile batsman like Rahul, but he needs to make it count once he is set. The inability of the openers to make it count cost Team India the series. I wrote in a previous post about the contribution and importance of Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan in  Team India's ascendancy in Test arena, and the runs from their bats were sorely missed. Hope he is able to regain form sooner than later and is not dumped in a knee jerk reaction from the selectors.

Umesh Yadav
It is difficult to see him play should Bhuvi, Shami, Ishant and Bumrah be fit. He has been wayward in the past, but has improved in the last 1.5 year or so. He played only the first Test match where he did pick important wickets of Jamie Bairstow and Sam Curran but did not leave a big impact and was left under-bowled in the second innings.

Kuldeep Yadav
The Team was eager to play him and they did play him ahead of Jadeja and defying logic according to some. But, he was bowling so well during the limited overs leg of the tour and had that aura of intrigue around him that playing him seemed irresistible. He went wicketless on a pitch where England were mindful of him, and it was good thinking that he was sent back home to play for India-A to get valuable match practice ahead of the upcoming Asia Cup.

Murali Vijay
A disappointing tour for Murali Vijay, with his reputation taking serious damage. From being the default Test opener for Team India before the start of the series, to being dropped and now being perhaps on the brink of being relegated to being 4th or 5th choice. Remember Prithvi Shaw is knocking at the door, and so is Mayank Agarwal. In a previous post on openers, I eulogized his ability to leave the ball outside the off stump, a facet of his batting that has kept him safe on foreign pitches and he needs to get his concentration back. He did not score twice out of the 4 innings he played and ensured Team India was on the back foot right from the word go.

Dinesh Karthik
Had a poor tour with the bat, but his keeping was never a question mark. He broke into the Test side in absence of Saha, and a superlative performance for KKR as a batsman. But after the tour, it is clear his days are numbered and Team India might be looking at other options like Rishabh Pant or even KS Bharat should Wriddhiman Saha hang up his boots. He might be in the frame for the limited overs cricket, but his test career is virtually over.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sir Jadeja awakens..

This is so heartening to see. The beloved Sir Jadeja rising to the occasion, and how !! The last few years he has played in the shadows of  Ashwin, and while Ashwin was in imperious form with the ball and bat in Test cricket, honestly Jadeja never got the credit despite decent performances with the ball. What is heartening perhaps for the Team management is his batting this time. He handed the same pill to the England Team which Sam Curran has been irritatingly giving all throughout the tour to Team India. Jadeja was no mean mug with the bat ever, and more often than not threw his wicket to a rash or an expansive low percentage shot. This time he batted like he should have all these years, maybe it was the situation this time. It has been so long Jadeja produced a batting gem of an innings like the one he produced yesterday, and all in quick time, that he himself acknowledged it was too long coming, and while celebrating for the half century he swung his bat like a sword in his hand and gestured to removing dust from it !! 

India will be heaving a sigh of relief for they were hoping the lower and middle order produce some runs in absence of Hardik Pandya and Ravi Ashwin. Ashwin has been a former opener and his batting style is suited to Test cricket. Needless to say he has been quite prolific batting from where he bats, with a career batting average of 29.72. Compare that to the lifetime batting average of the legendary Kapil Dev which was 31.05, and Ashwin is not far off. Jadeja is at 29.17, so not too far behind despite having not produced a meaty innings for a very long time. Jadeja's test batting average is better than Suresh Raina (18 matches, Average: 26.48) or Dinesh Karthik (26 matches, Average: 25) and even his yesteryear namesake Ajay Jadeja (15 matches, Average: 26.18). He has a triple hundred in domestic first class cricket, so the ability to bat long is certainly there. His first class average is 44+ with 8 hundreds and 23 half centuries, to suggest he may be allowed to slot in the top 6 in any side. He has always been there, but seldom proved to be an effective lower order batsman, perhaps the perfect No. 7 India need. With this innings, Jadeja has in my view booked a seat for the tour of Australia later this year in December and perhaps relegated Kuldeep Yadav to the third spinner spot. But then Kuldeep is a different animal altogether. 'Sir' Jadeja has awakened, and will be one of the few in the Indian contingent who would leave English shores with his head held high, and his reputation (and expectations) enhanced !!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

India need to squeeze positives out of whats left of the England tour

So much disappointment in the air after the poignant end to the 4th Test at Southampton. It was a 'test' in which indeed Team India failed, and dare we say that the better team won. It was a classic case of 'so near yet to so far'. The team which lost was truly on top at crucial junctures of the game, and also on the last day of the test till Kohli was at the crease with that, or what could have been a series deciding partnership with Rahane. Kohli's exit meant England had a definite sniff at getting back into the game and target victory. Not taking anything from Moeen Ali and the English bowlers, but India could have shown more mettle. Especially Hardik Pandya and the lower order batsmen, who could have taken a cue out of the English lower order batsmen. Eventually, Team India lost by a not so far 60 odd runs. 

Image result for team india lost 4th test

If you check the scorecards, the top order from both teams have failed. Barring Virat Kohli, none of the Top 4 from either team was amongst runs consistently in the series. The No 6, 7 and 8 have done bulk of the scoring for England. For India, once Virat Kohli was back in the pavillion, the batting wilted under pressure of good conditions for seam and swing bowling. Did we miss Rohit Sharma at 6? I guess not! We probably had a worthy option in Karun Nair and now Hanuma Vihari as well. India will do no harm by blooding Hanuma Vihari or Karun Nair. It is their batting that needs attention. I would still not axe either of KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan. Rahul has been excellent in the slips, and Shikhar has looked good during his brief stays at the crease. Prithvi Shaw is young and perhaps can wait. India would also do well to ask for more reassuring runs from both Hardik Pandya and Ravi Ashwin (i.e. if he plays in the next match). Hardik Himanshu Pandya in particular has not batted like a middle order batsman. The weight of expectations may mean we ask too much of him. His First Class Average is under 30, his ODI average is 29.13 and so his Test average of 31+ means he has done well for himself in the recent past (albeit in home conditions, 18 innings in all, majority of which were in Indian conditions)

But to be counted as a real Test level batsman, you have to stand up and deliver in overseas conditions like these, build partnerships, forget about the booming sixes and put a price on your wicket. He is talented for sure, but he needs to remind everyone of his talent once in a while atleast. I sense he would be edgy for a good performance with the bat in the 5th Test. His bowling has impressed one and all. He is only 24 though and this series will have an indellible effect to his learning process as a Test cricketer.

England's narrow escape also had a casualty: Alastair Cook. The run machine from England retires a tad early in his career much like the prolific Marcus Trescothik in limited overs cricket albeit for entirely different reasons. England would like to believe they have a Rory Burns ready and in-line to replace him immediately, but it is the other opener they should be more worried about. I am not an expert in English cricket, but Bairstow looks like a good option to open in all formats. The fact is that England need someone prolific at the top, and someone who is technically sound if not a specialist. They will struggle against quality bowling attacks, and I see more and more pressure on Root and the middle order in the upcoming tours. England at the moment are relying too much on their allrounders !!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

India might sorely miss Virat Kohli in Asia Cup

Well although the side chosen by MSK Prasad and Co. for the Asia Cup later this month is on expected lines, and while Virat Kohli was predictably and quite rightly rested, Team India is heavily dependent on the Mr Consistent. Kohli the Captain may not be missed, as Rohit has some captaincy experience and is an impeccable reader of the game with canny match awareness (something he showcased while leading Mumbai Indians to the IPL title), but Team India will surely miss Virat Kohli the run machine. India missed a point by not selecting Mayank Agarwal who could have been an interesting choice for Virat's replacement, while also tamely rewarding Mayank's recent form.

The only logic for not selecting Mayank Agarwal and perhaps even Suresh Raina could be because the Team Management has already some blueprint ready for next years World Cup, and perhaps both Mayank and Raina may be out of the scheme of things. 

It is key that players like Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey find their groove sooner than later, which solves the middle order jigsaw for good. With no Kohli around, the middle order would be exposed more often than not, and a couple of players will have to put their hands up. The selectors would be mindful of this aspect of the team selection, and hence the slots of 4 and 5 is still up for grabs between a KL Rahul (also in the race when Kohli comes back to his No 3 slot, otherwise expect him to bat at 3 in the Asia Cup), Manish Pandey (he has been in prolific form in the quadrangular tournament in August against A-sides of South Africa etc), Ambati Rayudu (he missed the bus to England owing to failure to clear the infamous Yo-Yo test, which he has cleared now), Dinesh Karthik (still riding the imperial IPL form effect, time may be running out for him as the memories of IPL 2018 performances have started fading away; if he gets his chance he needs to nail it for good) and finally Kedar Jadhav. Kedar can bowl as well, and in the past got vital breakthroughs thanks to a deceptive looping bowling action and a clever mind. The next World Cup will be played in England (with small grounds) and India needs to bat deep and bat well to win matches. Not too much can be expected of bowling units in England. That means the big hitting Raina and perhaps even Shreyas Iyer may well still be in contention should the Manish Pandeys and Karthiks fail to deliver. It is going to be a close finish, I guess. Curiously, UAE suits the slower bowlers and so will the better player of spin in UAE conditions form the basis for eventual selection for the World Cup? We will have to wait and watch. 

On the other hand, the Indian bowling unit is in good hands and perhaps there is not much concern there, except that they lack the services of a left arm seamer which is even more evident after the retirement of the evergreen Nehra ji. India liked to believe for a better part of last 2 years that Jaydev Unadkat was perhaps an answer. Barinder Sran was tried as well. This time around they have given a chance to rookie Khaleel Ahmed, another player rewarded for his exploits in the India-A outfit. He has grown under the watchful eyes of Rahul Dravid during his U-19 days, and although his stint with Sunrisers Hyderabad went unnoticed, his recent wicket-taking form has grabbed the eye balls of the people who matter. But, can he be picked ahead of the other seam bowlers who may not be left armers but are ahead in the pecking order?...It would be interesting to see if he gets a game or not, knowing the nature of pitches in UAE.

So much talk about the allrounder's slot and it looked like Krunal Pandya might finally get the nod after several impressive performances in the IPL for Mumbai Indians. If he would have been selected, his Captain would again have been Rohit Sharma, and perhaps Rohit knows best how to use him. Nothing against Axar Patel, who is perhaps the better bowler, but with Dhoni switching-on the accumulator mode in recent times, it would have been a good ploy to have Krunal's slam bang skills in the squad. But, then you would say, there is the other Pandya brother, Hardik, to do the same job who has an even bigger penchant for the booming sixes he has come to be known for. India will not miss Krunal so much as Virat Kohli, which is what worries me. The middle order is going to be tested by Srilanka and Pakistan and maybe even Bangladesh.

Virat ...come back fresh for the Australian tour to India, while we keep our fingers crossed and hope Pakistan does not inflict a loss upon Team India in UAE, which has been a favourite hunting ground for them over the years.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

It is Advantage Team India

Well, Team India is 2-1 down, but the dominant mood is that they possess the upper hand at the moment, or have the momentum as the experts would say! But Team India needs to be cautious and would know that England would come back hard at them. After all it is their backyard, and a lot of pride is attached to playing infront of your own crowds; well almost.. many in the field are actually supporting Team India in large numbers, thanks to the large Indian diaspora in England.

This test match will be a closely fought one, and neither side would like to relent. England would like to ensure they shut out the Indian resurgence and Team India will be hoping to emulate themselves from the last test, and the great Sir Don Bradman's Team from 1936-37. (No team has been 2-0 down in a test series against England and won it from there) I am sure that is not playing on anyone's mind from either sides though. Just a small trivia from sports columnists.

So much conjecturing about England's team composition, and whether James Vince is worthy of playing ahead of the favoured and dependable Bairstow. Well in the end, Ollie Pope made way for Moeen Ali, and Sam Curran comes in for a slightly injured Woakes. Well for that matter, Bairstow was also injured, and perhaps will only bat. 

Instead everybody is wondering what would Kohli decide, and who would the Indian Team Management pick for the 4th Test. Kohli loves tinkering with his Test side, and has made changes in each of the Tests he has been Captain. There are some interesting choices in Prithvi Shaw, Karun Nair and Hanuma Vihari. Neither might make the cut, for this test atleast. Maybe for the dead rubber (if India lose this one), but otherwise Ravi Shastri and Kohli might not experiment in here. The only scare is Ashwin, and if he cannot bowl, then Jadeja should get a look-in. I am not such a big fan of an all pace attack, although pace bowlers have bowled with a lot of skill and heart. English batsmen have always had a weakness for spin, and even Jadeja, correction..Sir Jadeja is very effective if not deadly. 

All the best to both the teams, India would like to think they are the favorites walking into the ground, but England might have a better resolve this time around in not giving away an easy victory. The No. 1 Test side will need to stand up and deliver, otherwise the horror show from the first two tests might get replayed. Team India (especially the openers) need to guard against complacency. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

James Vince could open the batting?

While we cant wait for the next Test which begins at Southampton on 30th August, England team management must be pondering changes in their lineup. I am sure Kohli would do the usual and make atleast a change if not many changes (Who knows Prithvi Shaw or a Karun Nair or even a Jadeja plays). But what about England? 

Do they drop Alastair Cook? Jennings? Bring in Moeen Ali? Play Bairstow with a broken finger only as a batsman? Bring back Sam Curran? Play Vince instead of Bairstow?

Amongst all the changes above, the key decision is whether to play Bairstow or not? Everybody knows he is carrying a finger injury, this means they would ask him: atleast you can bat, right? Josh would take the gloves from you, dont worry. But wait!  Why play someone who is not 100% fit? I would play Vince or a Moeen Ali to throw some surprise at Team India. Vince was in good form in the last tour of New Zealand as well as recent county matches. Plus, he would be hungry to cement his place in the side for the long run given this opportunity to showcase his talent against the World No. 1 Test side, and improve upon his less than optimal Test batting average of 24.90. He got three fifties already, and England would do well to expect another one and maybe even better, a three digit score. Aye, James Vince must be itching to have a go. 

Well I am a romantic and was hoping maybe Ian Bell gets a last chance at redemption. It was not to be. This is perhaps the end of the road for him. And if Cook plays the way he has, an average of less than 20 of late, then he too probably will have to make way for someone new. Hey, Vince can open as well !! He did in the limited overs internationals, I believe. But I feel he would be drafted in at No. 4. which is on expected lines. He scores most of his runs from No.3 though, including the 147 he got batting from this position the other day for Hampshire. But could he open the innings instead of Jennings? That opens up an extra slot for a batsman or allrounder. England might be able to bring in a Sam Curran (who has batted well this series) or use Buttler at 4 which is the right thing to do given his form this series; Pope at 5 and the allrounders at 6,7 and 8 between Stokes, Woakes and Hoax, nah sorry Curran / Ali. This means that even if the top order (read the Top 3) fail to put their hands up, England have a long batting line up to fall back on. Dont know the Southampton pitch, but if it is dry, Moeen could be in the frame. The key to England's better fortunes is how well the Top 3 negotiate the new ball. If they are 100-0 or 100-1, then that would mean one of the openers has done the job. This is the key. England's top 3 need (we also need more runs from the Captain, Root) to summon all their patience and grind it out. I am betting Cook might just be around the corner to a good ol' fashioned Alastair Cook classic knock !!! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

India finally played like the No. 1 Test side

So much criticism for Virat Kohli's Team India and boy did they answer their critics and naysayers. The same England side which looked invincible appeared to be completely out of sorts. What were the Indian side munching on before the 3rd Test. Dont know what wonder pill was given to Team India, a dismayed Joe Roots must be thinking. He would now need the same pill for his team before the Southampton test. The test match went so well for Team India that they ticked all the boxes all at once. The openers contributed, saw the new ball off on Day 1, which was crucial; Rishabh Pant looked like he belongs to this level of Test Cricket in difficult trying conditions not just as a batsman but also against a swinging ball behind the stumps (he took some terrific catches especially the one which he took above his head while going away from the balls' direction), Hardik Pandya bowled and batted and fielded like a worldclass allrounder and showed what potential he has; Ishant Sharma got the nicks for a times he has bowled well even in past overseas tours with not many wickets to showcase and impress...India did not miss Bhuvi, and Bumrah whilst being rusty in the beginning finished the match like a matchwinner! The whole test match was peppered with impact full performances, and barring Buttler and Stokes, England didnt have too many instances of the same.

In fact, England seem to have completely forgotten to derive inspiration and confidence from the first two test matches. A lot of wounds would have healed in the hearts of Indian fans. Team India will sleep well for the next few days, while Joe Root needs to now decide whom to pick and whom to drop. Would love to see some new faces. If they drop Cook, which would not be prudent, then suddenly they would need to seek replacement for atleast 3 slots: the two openers and Jonny Bairtstow's position in the middle order. (He fractured his finger during the 3rd Test on Day 3). There is also a murmuring in some corners for a test recall for Ian Bell (maybe he fits the bill for Bairstow's slot). If he is fit and in form, then we may see him walking straight back into the XI. 

Sam Curran did not do a thing wrong, and should be back as well. But the real worry lies in the batting unit, and if England are to win the next two, runs from Joe Root and Alastair Cook is a must. The top 3 need to contribute. Buttler should bat higher and I see him emerging as a top class batsman for England. 

Over to the next one !! 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Can we take a punt on Pant?

Before the third test at Trent Bridge, the dominating debate has been the method which Team India would adopt in countering the English, and the primary suggestions from all quarters have been to make changes to the seemingly floundering middle order. But, is that the main problem in the batting department, I beg to disagree (read my previous post). Changes are good, and Virat Kohli has tinkered with his Playing XI everytime he has walked out for a toss for a Test Match. Never in his last 38 matches as Captain has he retained his side, and chances are, may not do so going by the results in the last two matches. So who does he bring in? Is he going to take a punt on Rishabh Pant? Er..that rhymes...might turn out good eventually. England might be ill prepared for a Rishabh Pant. He might be useful, a la Dhoni in an aggressive avatar. We have missed Dhoni's service in the longest format and perhaps Pant was the logical successor after all !

Rishabh Pant has had a superlative IPL just months ago, and has struck form in the domestic circuit whenever has been able to have a go. Being a left handed batsman adds a new dimension to the middle order. Pant has a first class average of a little in excess of 54 with a strike rate of 95.24. So he is aggressive, and perhaps the perfect foil for Team India's tail. Age is also on his side, so he could be a long term option. The other options in Saha, Parthiv and Karthik are all moving towards the wrong side of 30s. The only thing that perhaps goes against him is the lack of experience! Is he ready? What if he fails? Well, as they say, if he is good enough to be in the side, why not the playing XI? I even recommend him to be picked ahead of Hardik Pandya. Pick an extra batsman in Karun Nair or retain Karthik and plant Pant at 7. Plant rhymes somewhat again !! England would be wary of Pant's aggressive overtones, and perhaps that might help the other batsmen and the team as a whole. I have not seen his wicketkeeping in this format, and even if he is a work in progress, so be it. Remember Dhoni in his early days? Those days he had more followers of his hairstyle than his keeping. Ofcourse, MSD is MSD. Wish he was still in the side to nurture a young keeper.

It would be wonderful if Rishabh Pant can replicate his first class numbers in the Trent Bridge test. He could be the answer to the perennial search for Dhoni's long term successor in the Test XI. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Where are the Openers ?? What next..

Its been a while I took to blogging something on cricket, and well its been a while India lost a Test match so badly that people and fans alike are raising eyebrows and dabbling with solutions. After all, for a Cricket crazy nation like India, everyone seems to have a solution. 

India missed a trick by not taking a rookie opener on the English tour. I see a lack of planning here. I know that before the tour Murali Vijay was the automatic choice for the first opener slot. But he is not getting younger. He is 34. Dilip Vengsarkar retired at that age !! Now, I am not saying Vijay should think of retirement..he has been our bulwark at the top for a while now. People like him and Pujara are a necessity in the test side, where the idea in overseas conditions is to survive and allow the strokeplaying batsmen to take the game away from the opposition when the bowlers are seemingly tired. They are like Insurance Policies..It is precisely this reason Sachin Tendulkar was always shielded at No 4 or No 5, and strokemakers Ganguly and Laxman batted at 5 or 6, behind a Rahul THE WIDE WALL Dravid. The problem is not the middle order where i guess there would be some changes in a Pant or Nair. We ought to have taken an understudy to Vijay to the English tour. Perhaps a Prithvi Shaw or a Mayank Agarwal or even domestic run machines like Priyank Panchal or Faiz Fazal. Maybe a keen eye for talent would have also proposed a Abhimanyu Ranganathanparmashwaran Easwaran, A Easwaran in short. I am not such a big fan of technique in English conditions, yes it is important, but I guess it requires more grit to survive. The idea of a Dhawan and Vijay combination was ticking all the boxes: Left - Right combination, Dhawan could attack and Vijay could defend for long hours. But Dhawan perhaps started defending too much and Vijay was perhaps asked to play more balls. I guess, Vijay's success in the past hinged on how well he left rather on how well he played. He is fishing more now, showing more intent on scoring, and look at his scores now. Its a paradox. The most naive suggestion I could give Vijay today is to watch the ball and leave or let it go.  There is a hungry Kohli waiting in the pavilion to make up for the lost time (i hope he is fit for the Trent Bridge Test, and decides to play)

So well you might ask, what is the solution then? The worst solution could be to shove Pujara at the top, or drop Vijay. The best solution could be to ask the Top 3 to shoulder more responsibility, and perhaps an absent Kohli due to injury might just have this side effect, that is if Kohli decides to rest himself  at Trent Bridge (owing to a back strain). 

Contrary to media commentary, I feel the team is well oiled and perhaps still left with a lot of self belief in the tank. All is not lost, bring it on...the team must be saying to themselves !! After all, India is the No. 1 Test side, and you got to have it in you to have reached there at the first place. Kohli or no Kohli, the side can still pack a mean punch. Amen !

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Focus on Rohit and Robin

Whilst we have a lot of changes happening on both sides, the entire focus of the BCCI and the nation would be on Rohit Sharma and Robin Utthappa. While Rohit hit a 111 ball 141 recently which may suggest he is raring to go, Robin has batted with a lot of ease and assurance at the top for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the Indian Premier League (IPL). 

The added role Robin plays is of being a wicketkeeper. He may not even be half as good Wriddhiman Saha or Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but is being looked at due to his stupendous run in the shortest version of the game. While we forget that Ajinkya Rahane is still in the team, only two out of Ajinkya, Rohit and Robin get to open the innings. If Robin is purely been slotted as a backup wicketkeeper batsman at 6 or 7 where Dhoni bats, then it may not be a great option. Uthappa can be more effective at the top and not in the middle order, although when he last played for India, he was batting in the middle order. Rohit Sharma too has come of age at the top of the order, although he started his India stint in the middle order. Rohit is more suited to the middle order, as he can pace his innings well like Rahane. So the middle order berth maybe a toss between Rohit and Rahane (if both play today ofcourse). It is unlikely that Uthappa does not play today. He is assuming the wicketkeeping duties for the last two One Dayers. Ambati Rayudu and Kedhar Jadhav providing backup if need be. The Indian team management would definitely be looking at these key players before the World Cup probables are announced.

Another interesting selection is of Karn Sharma. He adds to the impressive unfolding story of exciting new talents springing up from small towns and cities. Hailing from Meerut, his rise in the ranks has been steep ever since he caught attention in the IPL for the Hyderabad Sunrisers. The leggie has bowled miserly and has shown glimpses of genius in the IPL. He is zippy like Kumble and does not turn the ball square. But he can get you the breakthroughs. Remember we also had Piyush Chawla in the last World Cup, who is pretty similar to Karn. Piyush Chawla is infact a year younger than Karn, although Piyush was a teenage prodigy and entered into the international arena much earlier. Karn has however displaced another leggie and World Cup hopeful Amit Mishra. If Karn is even half as successful as he is expected to be, then the doors for Mishra are closed for ever. My reading into the recent selections for Australia and the remaining One dayers has been that the team management is focussing on younger talent which also translates into a better fielding side. So forget about the Harbhajan Singhs and Virender Sehwags. 

India still has to find that death bowler for the medium term, and one claimant to that role was Vinay Kumar. He is accurate with his slow balls and yorkers in the death and has been pretty effective for Karnataka and his IPL franchises. He needs to be given a go ahead of Dhawal Kulkarni. Vinay can rattle a rampaging batting unit with his slower ones and back of the hand stuff. The biggest upside in the quick bowling department this series has been Umesh Yadav. He has bowled with pace and bounce in this series and can pack a punch on tracks Down Under. Along with the wayward Varun Aaron, Team India for the first time perhaps will have two frontline genuine quick bowlers capable of bowling regularly in excess of 145 kmph.

For the Lankans, ofcourse it is about restoring pride and winning the remaining matches. But it is as much about finding the right combination in both batting and bowling. The return of Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal augurs well for Srilanka, although I do not understand the logic of resting Sangakkara. Mahela should bat at 3 in his absence to anchor the innings. If Mahela is allowed to open with Dilshan, then Srilanka may also try out rookie wicketkeeper (left handed) batsman Niroshan Dickwella who can bat in the middle order with Thirimanne, Chandimal and Mathews. Dickwella is a child prodigy and displaced Dinesh Chandimal into the Test Side. He may be a perfect replacement for Sanga. If he is good, why not give him more opportunities before booking his flight to Australia. The same holds true for Ajantha Mendis. If he is fit, play him and see how he responds to a batting unit which play spin very well. That would be the test of his character.

In summary, today's match would see better competition between the sides. India needs to guard against complacency. An early exit of the openers would mean a nervous time during the middle overs. Mathews would surely want a win or two under his belt for that feel good factor in the dressing room.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cricket Utopia: Srilanka need not worry

Cricket Utopia: Srilanka need not worry: The very fact that I did not blog on the last few matches has been proof that there has been nothing exciting in the past week. Srilanka h...

Srilanka need not worry

The very fact that I did not blog on the last few matches has been proof that there has been nothing exciting in the past week. Srilanka have surrendered meekly to India on all the three occasions and India have not just batted better, but stamped their authority in fielding and bowling departments. What is refreshing to watch from the Indian fan's perspective is the healthy competition between World Cup hopefuls. On the one side Varun Aaron, Ishant, Umesh Yadav and Dhawal Kulkarni battle it out for the third and fourth seamer (possibly owing to conditions relevant Down Under), while on the other side we have some tussle between Jadeja and Akshar Patel.

Akshar has impressed every one with his ability to pick wickets in the middle overs and derail the opposition's run up to the slog overs. On all the three locations, he has picked up wickets and ensured Srilanka do not run away to a score in excess of 270. This is a invaluable contribution which i hope does not go unnoticed. With the large Australian grounds, boundaries at will may be difficult and a dangerous proposition. So it would be difficult to overcome a constant loss of wickets just before the slog overs. But you can not just write off Jadeja yet. He is a class act and should be in the mix of things. 

Inspite of scathing self criticism from Angelo Mathews after tame losses which have become boringly repetitive, Angelo would know they still have about 14 ODI matches to play after this series. This series after all was a stop gap arrangement and with quite a few fringe players in the playing XI, the Lankans are merely in experimental mode than in disarray. Ofcourse, the batting looks rusty and the only players missing from the lineup are perhaps Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal. Dilshan has looked off-color and so has Upul Tharanga. Kusal Perera gets out even before he gets going. Tries too many shots at the beginning of his innings. Maybe he should take a cue from the openers from the opposing side - Rahane and Shikhar. Both are circumspect in the first 5 overs, perhaps the only time Srilanka look to be in control of things. Srilanka need to get some runs from their openers, fluent runs. Dilshan is 36, and Tharanga is not in his twenties anymore. Are there backups? For the Indians it looks nice and cosy with Rahane and Shikhar looking good and feeling confident after runs under their belt and a raring Rohit Sharma to join the ranks.
The biggest takeaway from the series for the Indians till now is the invaluable century from Ambati Rayudu. He was the only weak link in the batting contingent (given the amount of runs he has had and the roles he has played to win matches). With him amongst runs thanks to the selfless promotion by stand-in (and most likely future Captain) Captain Virat Kohli, the batting looks enviable. It however remains to be seen how we negotiate the bouncy Australian tracks and the humongous outfields.We will need good outfielders with quick legs and strong throwing arms.

With so many matches to go for the Lankans, it will be a matter of time before the old guns and the newbies like Perera start clicking together. Ofcourse Srilanka will need a lot of Malinga and Rangana Herath to move ahead in the World Cup. Without both these world class bowlers, Srilanka look half the bowling side they are. A Malinga over in the death, can actually cause death for the opposition !! lol.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Old Opponents

After the unfortunate departure of the Windies, Team India faces a new challenger before embarking on the tour Down Under. Both sides would be looking to give important match practice to some of their vital cogs, while India has also decided to rest their Captain. It means Virat Kohli leads the side, and Wriddhiman Saha comes as the gloveman in the side. Wriddiman being rewarded for his recent form especially in the IPL. But it would have been interesting to give a chance to Robin Uthappa who can keep wickets, something he has been doing for the Kolkata Knight Riders of late with reasonable success. His presence in the side would have meant no room for Murali Vijay, who has been a passenger in the last few series. With Rohit most likely to come back to reoccupy the opening slot vacated by him and partnering Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay looks likely to continue cooling his heels for some time.

For the Indians, its also the right time to check the fitness and form of the quicker bowlers like Varun Aaron. Varun can be an asset if he can keep up the energy and the accuracy, especially the latter which has been often lacking. He is the quickest bowler in the side, but speed is not enough to rattle international batsmen these days. You need nagging accuracy and the guile to out think the man with the willow standing on the other end of the 22 yards.

The Lankans are on a surprise tour, more or less, and would be under prepared. They would take the tour as a preparation for the larger goal. To reach the finals of another world event. The Lankans have been in more finals than most other sides since 2012 and they would know what it takes to be there. The old warhorses in the batting unit are still worth their money in gold. Between Mahela, Sangakkara and Dilshan is a mammoth experience of 1079 One Day Internationals which has yielded 32,625 runs for Srilanka with 51 tons between them !!! That looks like Guinness Book stuff !! But their stewardship will be nullified if they do not get valuable support from the younger generation. So the Tharangas, Mathews and Pereras would have to come to the party, otherwise it is going to be a one way traffic. Especially Mathews. 2014 has been a good year for Angelo, and he has amassed 700+ runs with an average of 60.25 with 6 innings of 50 or more.

In 133 career ODI matches, he has never notched up a 3 figure score, something he must be dearly wanting to have. The Indian pitches especially the one at Cuttack is a good opportunity to convert good starts into big scores.

The match is expected to be a run fest, and both teams will have to bat out of their skins. Another 27 year old, Suresh Raina, gets to play his 200th one day game for India, becoming only the 12th Indian player to be able to do so. The last Indian to achieve that feat was Harbhajan Singh. So it is no mean feat, inspite of the number of ODIs being played nowadays. Hats off to his fitness and his ability to carve a niche for himself over the years without any known Godfathers. In 171 innings, he has more often than not batted at 5 or 6 and his ODI average of under 36 is a testimony to this fact. Raina is also expected to cross another important landmark of 5000 career ODI runs during this series. He is 44 runs away, and this means only Captain Virat Kohli has more runs to his name than him in the present squad. Having already overtaken Navjot Singh Siddhu and Kapil Dev, two great stalwarts of the limited overs game, he is inching towards becoming a future legend.

Even though matches with Srilanka do not inspire the same emotion as maybe with Pakistan, Australia or England, but the Lankans are worthy opponents. They play spin well, so the usual tactics do not stand a chance. Indian quicks could be the surprise package in this series. Every speedster in the Indian side knows this is his chance to a ticket to the World Cup !

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Even Stevens going into Dharmshala

After a brief distraction from the series due to the HudHud phenomenon and all the destruction, both the teams will like to refocus on the game ahead. The venue is the picturesque ground at Dharamshala in the lap of the Himalayas.

At 1317 meters above sea level it is bound to be windy and chilly by Indian standards during this time of the year.  This is the second One dayer being hosted here. The last one was in Jan 2013, where England got the better of India by 7 wickets, thanks to an unbeaten Ian Bell hundred.
India would remember that match and would keep in their mind to prepare for this match. They could only put a below par total (less than 230) on board which was easily overhauled by England.

India lost the No 1 Ranking to the Aussies, thanks to the last match being called off in this series. They played like a No 1 ranked team in Delhi prior to that and it was an inspired leadership from Captain Dhoni to help India claw back into the game from a hopeless situation. The teams have added interesting options to the squad. India have added Akshar Patel to the squad and Miller gets added to the Windies side. Both seem unlikely to play at Dharamshala, which should favour the seamers though; Unless Ambati Rayudu is rested and Akshar plays as an allrounder. Rayudu has been decent with the bat, but has not pulled his weight around. To cement his place he needs to get a big innings sooner than later. The Team Management is grooming him for the No 4 position at the moment. But is he up for the task? If Akshar plays, then he might also replace Amit Mishra as the second spinner. Akshar is a better bat than Amit Mishra but it all depends on what future role both are earmarked to play for Team India. If Akshar plays, it would be a spectacular rise for the Gujarat boy, who was an unheard commodity till as late as a couple of IPL seasons back. In his last two IPL stints he has been not only impressive but compelling with his rare confidence and bravado.
India now has a Kuldeep Yadav and Akshar Patel in the squad. If both do not play in the tournament, then why select them? Is India searching for a third spinner in the squad for the tour Down Under? Is that what MSD is mulling?

West Indies have looked surprisingly settled despite the embarassing loss at Delhi. Inspite of the absence of a Gayle (and a Lendl Simmons), the batting unit should look unchanged. What they are missing in Indian conditions is Sunil Narine. He is miserly with the ball and it is always nice to have a wicket taking bowler who is shown respect by the best of batsman in World Cricket today. Besides, you could use him intelligently at the death and he could be the difference between the sides in the end. I hope he is able to clear his bowling action before the World Cup. What Murali was to Srilanka, Narine is to the Windies today. Also, Marlon Samuels should not have batted so low in the order in Delhi. A man who got you a victory in the last match with a hundred, must be allowed to bat at his favourite position. He should be batting at 3 or 4. I sense he was disappointed with the way he got out, or the situation in which he got out. He would have definitely liked to come at 4 in place of Pollard. Not that Pollard did not justify his promotion, but you need to ensure some continuity.

India look likely to tame the Windies again, unless ofcourse if the Windies get to bowl first and pack off the Top 4 cheaply. In these conditions Taylor, Sammy and even Andre Russell might be potent in the first 15 overs. Would love to see how India handle the bowling. This will show how we are going to fare in seaming and swinging conditions later in the year and early next year.