Monday, January 31, 2011


The concept of Powerplays had come into existence prior to the World Cup 2007 in West Indies, but the upcoming World Cup 2011 in the sub-continent will be the first time that 'Batting Powerplays' will feature in a World Cup.

The use and misuse of the Batting Powerplay has given birth to a lot of opinions as to how they should be used. Fans of particular teams have devised, in their heads, strategies fit for that particular team in respect of optimal use of the Batting Powerplay.

We have seen in the past that Batting Powerplay is a double-edged sword. As much as it can destroy the bowling team if the batsmen get it right, it has also had the effect of completely annihilating the batting team also. It's weird then to think that it was brought into play to help the batting teams.

Batting powerplays were introduced to bring a bit of excitement in the middle overs of an ODI game, which sometimes tend to just drift along. However, they have been used, more often than not, towards the end overs of the batting team's innings. So the purpose for which they were introduced has not really been served. But irrespective of that fact, most people would agree that it has brought a different kind of excitement into the game.

Personally, I eagerly look forward to the batting powerplay every time in an ODI just to see how will the batting team use it. It is a potent weapon... of mass destruction as well as self destruction!

I searched a lot on Cricinfo and other cricket related websites, but I couldn't find a good database of Batting Powerplay scores till date. Batting Powerplays were first introduced in October 2008, and since then more than 250 ODIs have been contested. Even if we were to consider "non - no result" ODIs played between the top-8 sides only, there are still 171 ODIs to be considered. I really couldn't afford to create a database of my own for 171 matches!

So what I have done in order to analyse the Batting Powerplay is picked a few innings that I can remember at random. I know it is not a scientific method, but from memory, I have picked a four cases each of mass destruction and self destruction during the Batting Powerplay.

Click on the table to get an enlarged view
In three of the first four cases, India took the batting powerplay well before the 40th over. And in three of the last four cases, India (twice) and England (once) opted for it after or at the start of the 40th over. Though this does not prove anything, but I have often felt that the closer a team takes the batting powerplay to the close of the innings, the greater are their chances of causing self destruction.

There is another reason why I think that batting powerplay is better off taken before the 'slog overs' commence. If it is taken during the slog overs, the batting team is enabling the main of bowlers of the bowling team to bowl in the batting powerplay as well as the slog overs. When it is taken earlier, the main bowlers will be forced to come into the attack earlier and as a result, they will have lesser number of overs available to bowl at the death. So even if the batting team manages just about 35 - 40 runs during the batting powerplay taken at the mandatory ball change but keep their wickets intact, they are giving themselves a chance to attack the lesser bowlers when they come on to bowl later.

Moving on, I think it would be right to recognise Case A and Case H as exceptions. In respect of Case A, Albie Morkel is a rare talent... and that was a rare innings at the MCG even in respect of a rare talent! As for Case H, choking is a complex phenomenon to explain... and that particular night, South Africa redefined the word 'inexplicable'!

Here is another piece of observation... the average strike rate of batsmen in the first four cases is 109.28, while the average strike rate of batsmen in the last four cases is 70.38. Again this does not prove anything... but it does strengthen a belief that I have held for long. I have been of an opinion that where the batsmen have been consolidating an innings, they should play a few shots and gain a bit of momentum before opting for the batting powerplay. I believe that batting powerplay should not be looked at as a tool of completely changing the game's momentum... rather, it should be considered a tool of increasing the momentum that the team has already gained!

In each of the cases B, C and D, the batsmen at crease have hit a combined total of more than 10 boundary shots at least (19. 14 and 17 respectively) in their innings up until then. Whereas in cases E, F and G, these figures stand at 4, 4 and 2. This reiterates my opinion that a bit of momentum should be in hand before one goes for a batting powerplay.

Some may say that this is not a question of momentum, but a question of being set at the crease. But I believe that even a set batsman can get out during the batting powerplay if he goes for something too drastic. Just as warm up exercises are necessary before a strenuous workout, the same principle applies in respect of gathering a bit of momentum before going for a blast.

A lot of times we have seen batsmen going at run rates of 4 or 5 (Cases F, G, H) before they take batting powerplay. Suddenly then they look to score 40 - 50 runs in their next 5 overs by playing a few airy hits. If they don't come off, they get out or the ball ends up being a dot. Somehow, dot balls in batting powerplay overs put more pressure on batsmen than dot balls in regular overs. And once the pressure is built, there is bound to be an explosion - one way or the other!

It would be interesting to get you opinions in this regard, because batting powerplays make for an interesting case study. Please do comment about your conclusion, opinions, other matches and incidents that you may recall and if you have any statistics, please do let me know from where can I get them. If I have a good statistical database of batting powerplay data, then I might be able to do a more detailed study and analysis of this concept in future.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


The World Cup is back to a 14-team format from the 16-team format tried out in the previous edition. The format for 2011 is similar to the one used for 1996 edition, except that only 12 teams played back then. The concept of Quarter Finals will be used only for the 2nd time in cricket World Cups after 1996.

I am one of those people who like to see minnows in action. I know that ICC is of the opinion that minnows shall be given exposure against the top teams in the Twenty20 format... but I like to see them play top teams in ODIs too. The reason why I feel that they should get more ODI games against top teams is that ODIs are closer to Test cricket than Twenty20s.

In future, I would love to see an expanded Test pool. I would love to see the smaller teams like Ireland, Netherlands and Kenya be a part of Test cricket. I was absolutely delighted when the news had surfaced some time back that the Irish cricket has ambitions of breaking into Test cricket arena. I would love to see it happen sooner rather than later. And that's why I believe that ODI experiences will help them more in this regard than Twenty20s.

That is why I was happy to see 16 teams competing in 2007, even though I did not really approve of the format. Even this time round, even before the first ball is bowled, there are complains about the format and how it will be a drag towards the latter half of the first round.

There were 51 matches in 2007 and there will be 49 matches in 2011. The format that I have in mind have more matches than these - a total of 57 matches with 16 teams. But it will have lesser number of meaningless matches than these two formats.

Here's my format:

16 teams in four groups - A, B, C, D.

Stage 1 is a Double Round Robin, where each team plays the rest in its group twice (like it happened in 1983 and 1987). This stage will thus stage 48 matches (16 teams playing 6 matches each).

The teams that finish top-2 in each group shall advance ahead. The team that finishes 3rd will not advance, but will have automatically qualified to be a part of the next World Cup. The team that finishes 4th will have to play a qualifying round to be eligible to feature in the next World Cup.

Stage 2 is slightly different (inspired by the IPL format this year). Here are the matches in this stage:

Match 1: Pre Quarter Final 1 - A2 v. B2
Match 2: Pre Quarter Final 2 - C2 v. D2

Match 3: Quarter Final 1 - A1 v. B1
Match 4: Quarter Final 2 - C1 v. D1

Match 5: Quarter Final 3 - Winner of PQF 1 v. Loser of QF 1
Match 6: Quarter Final 4 - Winner of PQF 2 v. Loser of QF 2

This will be followed by Semi - finals and the Finals.

Well, this is my format consisting of 57 matches (48 + 6 + 2 + 1). Here are what I see as advantages in this format:

1. It obviously allows a chance to the smaller teams to compete against the bigger teams, and twice at least against each big team in their group. This will give them a chance to improve on their mistakes that they made in the first match, and see if they make any progress in the second "revenge" match, as it used to be called in 1983 and 1987.

2. Unlike 2007 where 16 teams featured, there is a lesser chance of big teams exiting in the first round itself since they will have 6 matches in comparison to 3 that they had back then. So even if they do suffer an upset, they should still comfortably get in to the next round.

3. There will be motivation to fight for the top spot in the group as it would mean the team is one step closer to the semis. And even if the team falters in that step, it will still get another chance to be in the semis because it finished first in the group.

4. For a change, minnows will not be playing just to make up the numbers or "for pride". They will have an added motivation to finish 3rd in the group to secure a spot in the next World Cup. Minnows usually don't get to play matches in such big events where something is at stake. This will be their big chance to play matches for a spot in a premier tournament. If they know that they have qualified to feature in the next World Cup, they can start preparing and planning a squad four years in advance.

The biggest drawback of this format, as I see it, is that it is way too lengthy. 57 matches might be a bit of a drag to many fans. And there aren't a lot of people who would like to see minnows in action in so many matches. After all, high profile matches attract the crowds, not Ireland v. Netherlands games!

However, I had to put forth this idea the moment it struck my head. Usually, such ideas strike me in my sleep and this one was no different! I would love to have your feedback on what you may deem to be other pros and cons of this format or any suggestion or improvement to this format or a completely different format altogether.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


As the 10th edition of One Day Cricket's largest event looms ever closer, here is a closer look at the Indian team, and in particular, at a man called Suresh Raina.

A few days ago, I had posted this where I had suggested that the 11-member team of India should include Raina, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan in the middle order, and leave Virat Kohli on the bench at least to start the tournament with. My thinking was this - keeping an inform player on the bench will make the out-of-form batsmen (Raina and Yuvraj) realise that they have to perform not only for India but also for their place. If they do, they are India's big match winners (bigger in impact than Virat Kohli)... and if they don't, then we can always have Kohli replacing them after a couple of matches. Since each team plays 6 matches at the league stage in this World Cup (and India has Ireland, Netherlands and Bangladesh in our group), the impact of an early loss or two can be taken care of later.

The second important reason was also that Yuvraj and Raina will provide Dhoni with part-time bowling options... something that can come in very handy in the sub-continental conditions. But one thing is clear - this selection of the middle order spots is a potential headache to MS Dhoni. Already, I have read some really diverse views everywhere about the composition of the Indian team.

Golandaaz has suggested pushing Sehwag to middle order, Vidooshak has suggested dropping Sehwag altogether, SP has suggested Sehwag in the middle and dropping Yuvraj as well as Yusuf in favour of Kohli and Chawla, Mahek is in favour of going for specialist bowlers instead of part-timers, Govind also thinks that Sehwag would be better of at No. 4 or No. 6, Mayank (Freehit) feels that if someone is to be dropped then it should be Raina, and I am sure there are a lot of other different variations being planned in the heads of Indian cricket fans.

Finally, we all know that the question of who is dropped and who is not will be finally answered by MS Dhoni in assistance with Gary Kirsten. But no one can deny that Raina's place in the squad is not a 100% certainty today... and definitely much less sure today than it was about a year ago or even two years ago.

The reason why I am writing this post about Suresh Raina is that this is the second time we are seeing pre - World Cup blues for this southpaw. Raina made his international debut in July 2005 against Sri Lanka at Dambulla and got out for a golden duck. The not-so-great debut aside, he was quite impressive in his first few performances for India and also scored 3 very good half-centuries against England when they toured India in 2006.

Till the end of that England ODI series, he had scored 406 runs for India at an average of 45.11 and a strike rate of 89.82. After that came a rough patch of form. He scored 246 runs in his next 17 ODIs at an average of 17.57 and a strike rate of 63.08 with a top score of 40. This was when he was dropped... right before the World Cup 2007.

India performed miserably in that tournament... and voices from some corners said that he should have been a part of the team despite his less-than-convincing performances. But his first chance at a World Cup for India had gone. His next chance to play for India came almost a year and a half later in June 2008 against Pakistan in Bangladesh.

Since then till the end of our Bangladesh tour in January 2010, he scored 1602 runs in 54 matches at an average of 45.77 and a strike rate of 96.62 with 3 hundreds and 12 fifties. Because of such a good display of batsmanship, he was assigned the captain of Team India for its tour of Zimbabwe in a tri-series also featuring Sri Lanka. Since then, it has again been a downhill road for Raina.

425 runs in 21 matches at an average of 25.00 and a strike rate of 91.01 with just 1 fifty has again resulted in question marks over his spot. It hasn't helped that his weaknesses against short-pitched pacy bowling have been rediscovered and that after a good debut on a very flat track, his Test performances have also been disappointing. When Pujara was given his Test spot, the ice had broken. MS Dhoni had sent out a signal that Suresh Raina is not indispensable and can be dropped.

Yet he played all the 5 ODIs on South African tour, scored 111 at an average of 22.20 and strike rate of 78.72. Now before the start of yet another World Cup, a sword is hanging over his neck. It may even fall before India faces Bangladesh in the first match of the World Cup 2011. It will be quite a tragedy if a talent like him goes wasted yet again before the Cup that Counts...


Top seeds Bryan Brothers have beaten the Indian Express pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes to win their 5th Australian Open Men's Doubles Grand Slam title and their 10th overall... just 1 away from the world record (in the Open Era) of 11 Grand Slams as a team held by the Woodies.

Lee - Hesh were searching for their first Australian Open win in Men's Doubles to complete their respective Career Grand Slams in Men's Doubles... but sadly, it was not to be! The American pairing of Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan won the finals comfortably 6-3 6-4, breaking Leander's serve in the 1st set and Mahesh's serve in the 2nd.

The match started on a very surprising note. In the first game of the match on Bob Bryan's serve, the Indian Express raced ahead to a 0-40 lead. They had 3 break points on the better server between the Bryan Brothers... and I am sure even they wouldn't have expected something like this so early in the match. But then Bob and Mike won their next 5 points to hold service... and the Indian Express must have realised (just as their fans did) that they had missed an opportunity that was unlikely to present itself again all through the match.

Sure enough, the Bryan twins faced just 1 more break point again in the match (I think it was on Mike Bryan's serve in the 2nd set), which they duly saved. The key, eventually was that they were able to convert 2 of the 4 break point chances that they were presented with... 1 in each set.

In that very first game of the match on Bob Bryan's serve, on the second point, he committed a Double Fault. That remained their only Double Fault for the entire match (the Indians had 4). But that is not the point I am trying to make! They were obviously the better servers... and everyone knew that even before the match began! The point is... after that particular Double Fault, Bob Bryan's services in the deuce court were absolutely brilliant. Some of them were down the line, some viciously wide and spinning wider... and most of them unreturnable! Mahesh Bhupathi faced the brunt of them in the 1st set and Leander Paes in the 2nd.

I am not very sure, but I think that all of Bob's aces were in the deuce court and all of Mike's were in the ad court (Bob definitely had more). The Indian pair could manage a total of just 1 ace between them. And the biggest point of difference between them tonight was a point acknowledged by Mahesh Bhupathi in the post-match presentation ceremony was the first serve percentage.

83%. That was the 1st serve percentage of the Bryan Brothers. 86% in the 1st set and 81% in the 2nd set. Lee - Hesh could manage just 64%. The match was won on the weight of this statistic alone!

Overall though, while watching the match, I had a feeling that Lee - Hesh were not very authoritative on their net points and volleys. I know that Bryan brothers don't allow to many free balls at the net, but even when they did have the chance, they could not hit booming winners. Most of their volleys were intercepted by the Bryans and even though the Indian pair did win a lot of their net points, it was mainly because the returns from the Bryan twins ended up being long. The winners were missing from the game of the Indian Express tonight... just 17 against the 26 by the American duo.

However, despite their loss tonight, I was very happy with the performance of Lee - Hesh over this fortnight. Their first Grand Slam together in 9 years... and they reached the finals! That is commendable stuff! As Hesh said at the end, it took the best team on the planet to pull the chain of the Indian Express train.

I was particularly happy when Hesh thanked his partner Lee and said that he looked forward to playing with Lee ahead in the season. This was their first public admission (sort of) that they will play together ahead for the rest of the season. Till now, all they had said officially was that they will play the Australian Open, and then think ahead. It would be a great pleasure to see them return together in May to the place where they have won 2 Grand Slam titles together (more than the Bryan twins, who have only 1 there)! Looking ahead to the Roland Garros...


This is coming a little late... but as they say, better late than never! When England won the Ashes and people started voicing that over the next year, India, South Africa and England will be a part of the 3-horse race to decide the best team in Tests, I did a post here looking ahead at the fixtures of these three teams over the next year.

Immediately after I had posted this blog, I realised that I had not considered a very important factor... the chance that Gary Kirsten may no longer be the coach of the Indian team over Test season of 2011. However, I put that thought at the back of my mind and put a mental note that I will reflect on it later. Then came the announcement that Kirsten will definitely not be renewing his contract with BCCI after the World Cup.

So now, that thought has come back to the front of my mind... and here I am, writing about the man who silently worked on Team India to make it reach unforeseen heights.

After the match-fixing controversy that rocked Indian cricket at the turn of the millennium, it took a partnership of Sourav Ganguly and John Wright (the first ever foreign coach of Team India) to see India through. They worked wonderfully well as a team... and were quite a contrast in their styles. Whereas the skipper Sourav Ganguly was loud and in-your-face fellow, the coach in John Wright was a quiet and behind-the-doors worker. Under their charge, India reached great heights with a number of Test wins abroad and the road to the World Cup finals in 2003.

But as it is bound to happen with every foreigner who has a job as tough as the one of coaching the Indian national cricket team, he did not renew his contract and went back to New Zealand... with his reputation enhanced. Then came the Greg Chappell era in Indian cricket.

His partnership started with Sourav Ganguly. Ganguly had reportedly sought Chappell's help to combat the rising deliveries during the 2003-04 tour of Australia... and he had had immediate effect with a fighting century in the opening Test at Gabba that set the tone for the rest of the series. So Chappell's appointment as coach with Ganguly as the captain was a news that was welcomed by most in Indian cricket.

But soon, Ganguly's form dipped, he was out of the team soon (reportedly on Chappell's suggestions to the Board) and Rahul Dravid was the captain of Team India. The Dravid - Chappell partnership was quite a contrast to the earlier Ganguly - Wright one. Here, it was a quiet and diplomatically correct captain who had paired up with a loud coach who as it later turned out, liked to use the media to get some of his work done.

Though India did see a lot of success during this time also (a world record run of ODI wins while chasing and a Test series win in West Indies), there was a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort within the team... and it was reflected in its interactions with the media. There was a feeling of insecurity in the team.

Then came the debacle called World Cup 2007 (the ODI version). India got knocked out in the opening round with a loss to Bangladesh. There were cries for senior players to retire. There were cries for the coach to be sacked. The coach himself made a few different claims that he had not gotten the team he wanted. Sachin Tendulkar spoke out against the coach for questioning the commitment of players. A few hours later, Greg Chappell tendered his resignation to the Board.

From this day (i.e. April 4, 2007), India did not have a regular coach for almost a whole year. Former cricketers like Ravi Shastri, Chandu Borde and Lalchand Rajput were given the responsibilities in this span. And India once again saw tremendous success. There was a Test series win in England, the inaugural Twenty20 World Championships and the ODI tri-series in Australia.

And then, Gary Kirsten was officially appointed as the coach of the Indian cricket team with effect from March 1, 2008... and his very first assignment was a home series against his home country South Africa. However, before that series, Kirsten had joined the Indian team on their 2007-08 tour of Australia and spent some time getting to know the individual members of the team.

Not many people know this (and amongst those who know, many may not remember this) that Gary Kirsten joined the Indian team in his capacity as a 'Future Coach' immediately after the controversial Sydney Test, which created a diplomatic furore. The tour was almost called off and one of the most silent and dignified man of Indian cricket, the captain Anil Kumble, went on to remark that only one team had played that Test in the 'true spirit of the game'.

It was in the midst of this huge storm of controversy and unrest that Gary Kirsten made his first entrance in the dressing room of the Indian cricket team, though not in any official capacity as of then. Though he may not have had any role to play in what followed immediately, but it is interesting to recall that India went on to win the next Test at Perth and then the tri-series as well. Gary Kirsten's relationship with Indian cricket had begun on a positive note and with a good omen.

In his first official Test as the coach of the team, Sehwag scored a triple hundred (319) at Chennai... and later went on to play many more unbelievable knocks under Kirsten's tutelage. After a little rough patch in Sri Lanka due to Ajantha Mendis' mysteries, Team India went ahead to play some of the most stunning cricket ever witnessed in our history. The 320-run Mohali win against Australia in 2008, the Chennai chase against England after 26/11, a series win in New Zealand, the ascendancy to No. 1 in Tests after a 2-0 drubbing of Sri Lanka with a spectacular win at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, the retention of that ranking against South Africa at Eden Gardens, a series-leveling win with a second-string pace bowling attack against Sri Lanka at Colombo, a 2-0 'whitewash' of Australia with a nail-biter at Mohali and clinical efficiency at Bangalore, and then a brilliant and extremely impressive 1-1 result in South Africa.

Gary Kirsten saw the retirements of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, the good, bad and ugly times of Yuvraj Singh as a Test cricketer, the ups and downs of Raina, the brilliance called Virender Sehwag, the sturdiness of Sachin Tendulkar, the artistry of VVS Laxman, the struggles and successes of Rahul Dravid, the new-found confidence of Gautam Gambhir, the dependence on Zaheer Khan, the capriciousness of Harbhajan Singh, the sometimes-great-sometimes-not-that-great captaincy of MS Dhoni, and the flimsiness of the rest of our bowling unit.

Together with MS Dhoni, Kirsten formed a partnership that allowed Indian team to scaled newer and greater heights, instilled a spirit of team work, inspired confidence in each other... and today, after finishing his last Test assignment on the tour of South Africa, he deserves to sit and lean back on a comfortable rocking chair and smile a smile of contentment. That's the least he deserves!

Some guys like Zaheer, Harbhajan and Sehwag have gone on record praising the methods of Kirsten and the contrast they were to the tactics of Greg Chappell. Others like Dhoni, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Dravid and Raina are content in just praising Kirsten without comparing him with anyone... an acknowledgement of the fact that he is beyond any comparison as far as the coaches of the Indian cricket teams are concerned.

India has a tough year in Test cricket in 2011. There is a tour to West Indies immediately after the World Cup. Then 10 days after the end of the last test on that tour, the first Test against England in England is scheduled to begin. Then India will be hosting England before embarking on a tour of Australia in December. All this while, India will have to be without Gary Kirsten.

I just hope that the work done by Kirsten continues showing its fruits for a long time to come!

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have won their semi-finals match at the Australian Open 2011... and will be up against the World No. 1 pair of the Bryan brothers on Saturday in the finals.

The Australian Open Men's Doubles title is the only one eluding both Lee and Hesh... and the expression on Hesh's face after the win in the semis and the hug that he received from Lee after that went quite an extent in showing how much both these men want this particular title.

However, I have spotted a little something and I don't know whether I am reading too much into it. A sequence of events occurred... and as a result, here I am writing this blog.

Event 1: While watching the replay of their semis encounter against the 2nd-seeded pair of Mirnyi - Nestor, I noticed Bhupathi reaching down towards one of his legs (I think it could have been the hamstring) as if trying to stretch it a little bit. This occurred towards the end of the match... when Lee-Hesh were close to wrapping up a win. During his last service game when Bhupathi served out for the match, I felt that he did a few extra hops and skips before unleashing his serves.

Event 2: After watching the replay of the match, I was flipping the news channels on the television. One of the channels had their reporter talking over the telephone to the father of Mahesh Bhupathi. He mentioned that Bhupathi felt a bit of an injury strain during the semi-finals match and hoped that he would recover and be fine for the finals against Mike Bryan - Bob Bryan. He even went on to predict that if Bhupathi could recover fully before the finals, they would go on to beat the American duo and win the Australian Open 2011.

Event 3: Next, I went online and was checking the official website of Australian Open to see the other results of the day. I wanted to see, in particular, the result of the Mixed Doubles Quarter Final match that Bhupathi was supposed to be a part of (after his Men's Doubles semi-finals) - Anastasia Rodionova (Aus) and Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) v. 2nd-seeds Katarina Srebotnik (Slo) and Daniel Nestor (Can). And what I saw there worried me. The 2nd-seeded pair had won the match courtesy of a 'Walkover'.

Now even though I have not read or heard any news in this regard, I think I would be right in assuming that Bhupathi had decided to forfeit this match because of his injury and give himself the best chance of recovery for the Men's Doubles finals against the best team in the business.

Luckily for Lee-Hesh, they are scheduled to play their finals late on Saturday night after the Women's Singles finals between Chinese Li Na and Belgian Kim Clijsters is contested. So, Bhupathi has the maximum amount of time he could have hoped for in order to facilitate his recovery. And I do hope that he recovers well enough and Lee-Hesh go on to win the title, the Australian Open 2011, and complete their Career Grand Slams in Men's Doubles! I do have more hopes from this duo, but that is for later...


3rd seed Serbian Novak Djokovic has won his semi-final match against the defending champion and 2nd-seeded Swiss Roger Federer 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-4 to book his place in the finals of the Australian Open 2011 Tennis Grand Slam Event.

The last time (and the only time) that Djokovic had beaten Federer in straight sets was the semi-finals of the Australian Open 2008... the Grand Slam that Djokovic went on to win! He will be desperately hoping to repeat that performance this time and win his 2nd Grand Slam title at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park.

This defeat for Federer, coupled with Nadal's injury-ridden loss to compatriot David Ferrer in the Quarter-finals yesterday, means that this Grand Slam final will not feature either Federer or Nadal. The last time a Men's Singles Grand Slam final was contested without these two champions was also the Australian Open 2008 (Djokovic will be delighted with the good omen)... and before that such a final was held during the Australian Open 2005. So after, 2005, 2008 and now 2011, I guess Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro, Soderling and others will be hoping that they don't have to wait till the Australian Open 2014 for another such final!

Djokovic's opponent for Sunday's final match will be decided tomorrow in the match between 5th seed Britain's Andy Murray and 7th seed Spaniard David Ferrer. Though Murray will be the clear favourite to win this semi-final and pose a stiff challenge to Djokovic in the finals, it must not be forgotten that David Ferrer is so far undefeated in 2011... having already won a title at the Auckland Open.

But if Djokovic can play tennis as good as he did today on Sunday as well, then it would take something out-of-the-world from whoever his opponent may be to stop him!


News is just coming in that ICC has ruled against Kolkata's Eden Gardens hosting the India v England match on February 27 during the World Cup.

As a cricket fan from India, it is a huge disappointment to see India's highest-capacity and most iconic ground being robbed of its only chance of hosting a match involving India at a 'home' World Cup. Obviously I wouldn't have been traveling to Kolkata to watch the match... but just watching on television a match hosted by Eden Gardens is an experience in itself.

The last international match hosted by that ground was the 2nd Test between India and South Africa in February 2010... a match that India won towards the closing period of the 5th day in an extremely tense finish with quite a large crowd egging them on. Kolkata has also hosted some of the most memorable matches to have been played in India.

However, as much as it is a disappointment, I believe ICC must be applauded for its decisive step here. Had ICC given Eden Gardens the go-ahead signal right now, there might have been two possibilities... either the Cricket Association of Bengal would have goofed up their preparations badly and do a bad job of hosting the match OR they might have pulled off a good match at the last minute after some hasty eleventh hour patch ups. I do not foresee, even for a moment, a scenario where the CAB could have completed their preparations sufficient period in advance and have everything go off smoothly on the match day.

This scenario could have gone on to unfold very much like the events in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games hosted by New Delhi last year. There was mud-slinging and complete embarrassment for India... and despite the fact that eventually the Games went off well, the bad taste in the mouth was there to linger. We really did not want a similar scenario here.

By stripping Kolkata's status as the host of the India-England match, the ICC has taken a bold and a strong step to ensure that the media speculations and the pre-CWG like events are kept to a minimum. The alternate venue will have a good whole month to prepare for this match... and I am sure if ICC remains this decisive, all the other venues will pull off a good show.

But here's the catch... ICC MUST REMAIN STRONG AND DECISIVE ENOUGH to ensure that this decision is not challenged without sufficient and reasonable cause. The CAB has not shown any promptness or urgency... and has now missed more than one deadline. Any cause favouring Kolkata's reinstatement as the host of that match shall have to be a very strong one. I just hope that politics is not used to add muscle to their cause, because it would be a shame to see ICC take a strong decision and then buckle down under the political and monetary pressure that may be exerted by India to save face.

So as much as it is a tremendous disappointment to see one of my favourite grounds lost its right to host one of India's big matches during the World Cup, I must again applaud the ICC and urge it to remain strong enough to back itself and its decisions.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I have been prompted into writing this by watching Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi team up together once again in Men's Doubles Tennis and recreate a bit of their old magic on the courts of Melbourne in the Australian Open Grand Slam event after winning their year-opener at the Chennai Open.

First, lets have a look at a few numbers...

Leander Paes has won 12 Grand Slam titles - 6 Men's Doubles and 6 Mixed Doubles.
Mahesh Bhupathi has won 11 Grand Slam titles - 4 Men's Doubles and 7 Mixed Doubles.

In the Open Era, Leander's 6 titles ties him with 4 others at the 11th place for the maximum number of Grand Slam Men's Doubles titles. In the Open Era, Bhupathi is tied at the 20th place with 8 others for the same.

As for Mixed Doubles, Mahesh's 7 titles is the joint highest number won by any male player in the Open Era, while only the American legend Martina Navratilova's 10 titles exceed his achievements in this field. Interestingly, all of Mahesh's 7 Mixed Doubles Grand Slam titles have come with different partners! Leander's 6 Mixed Doubles titles ties him to 4th place amongst male players in the Open Era and 6th place if the female players are included. Additionally, Mahesh also has completed a Career Grand Slam in Mixed Doubles tennis... a feat achieved only by 4 other male and 4 other female players in the history of this sport.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have played together a lot of times. Their first Doubles title win came in an ATP 250 Series event at the Chennai Open in 1997. Following that, they went on to win 3 Grand Slam titles together (2 in France and 1 at Wimbledon). In 1999, this pair featured in the finals of all 4 Grand Slam events... winning the 2 at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. By the end of the decade, Paes and Bhupathi had won 15 Men's Doubles titles together, including the 2 Grand Slams in 1999 and 3 ATP 1000 Masters titles. For most part of 1999, this pair was ranked the World No. 1 in Men's Doubles tennis.

So dominant and aggressive were they in their game together that it prompted the legendary pair of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge (together known as the Woodies) to remark that this pair will take over their place in Men's Doubles tennis after their retirement. To put their prediction into context, Todd Woodbridge has 16 Men's Doubles Grand Slam titles and 6 Mixed Doubles Grand Slam titles, whereas Mark Woodforde has 12 and 5 respectively. Both of them have achieved a Career Grand Slam in Men's Doubles as well as Mixed Doubles events.

Over the decade of 2000s, personal differences and rifts kept Paes and Bhupathi from playing together except for the Indian cause at events like Davis Cup, Asian Games, Olympics, Commonwealth Games and for tournaments in preparation of such events. The Lee-Hesh pair, fondly known as the Indian Express, derailed more often than it was on track during this decade.

However, when they did get down to play together, they somehow always managed to get impressive results. Be it winning the Canada Masters in 2004 or being the runners-up at Ordina Open in 2008 as also the twin Gold Medals in Asian Games of Busan 2002 and Doha 2006.

Recently while watching their 2nd Round win at the Australian Open, I felt strangely nostalgic when I saw their performances... especially in the 2nd set when they played some stunning points and recreated that old magic of chest-thumping... a celebration that captured India in late 1990s and early 2000s like nothing ever seen before outside of cricket! I had almost forgotten how brilliant they could be as a pair while both of them are attacking from the net... and how fulfilling it is as their fan to see their helpless opposition looking bemused!

Watching them play today leaves a bit of a mourning inside of people who have followed their careers closely. The Woodies weren't far off the mark in their remarks and their predictions might well have been true today had the Indian Express continued playing together. When I watch the rivalry between Federer and Nadal in Men's Singles tennis, I cannot help wondering what this decade of 2000s could have been like if we would have had another similarly brilliant rivalry between the Bryan brothers and the Indian Express simmering along simultaneously!

When I watch them play together now, it feels like I am ruining the lost opportunities just as much as I am celebrating the new ones. It feels like I am despairing over the past just as much as I am anxiously waiting for the future. They may or may not eventually win this Australian Open (though I really wish that they do for it will complete the Career Grand Slam in Men's Doubles tennis for both of them)... but one thing's for sure, they will always be remembered fondly in India for bringing a non-cricket sport to the front page of newspapers and achieving feats that no other Indian ever has!


The sub-continent is getting ready to host the 10th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup from 19th February 2011... a spectacle eagerly awaited! All the 15-member squads have been announced by the respective boards of the participating teams and I am sure most of the 210 players selected to be a part of this extravaganza are aiming for glory!

This World Cup will be held in the sub-continent for the first time in 15 years. The last time that it was held in 1996, it marked the first occasion when a co-host (Sri Lanka) walked away as the winners. Will it be the same this time round?
12 teams took part in the World Cup 1996... and 11 of those return to be a part of the 2011 event. The only one to miss out from the 1996 group is the United Arab Emirates... and the 3 new teams who will be making their sub-continental World Cup debuts will be Canada, Ireland and the co-hosts Bangladesh themselves.

Interestingly, 8 of the 210 players selected for this World Cup were also a part of their teams' set-up 15 years ago in the 1996 World Cup. And amusingly, the team that has the most number of players today from the 1996 era is... Kenya! They have 2, whereas Australia, India, Netherlands, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies have 1 each

These men are:

Australia - Ricky Ponting
India - Sachin Tendulkar
Kenya - Thomas Odoyo
Kenya - Steve Tikolo
Netherlands - Bas Zuiderent
South Africa - Jacques Kallis
Sri Lanka - Muttiah Muralitharan
West Indies - Shivnarine Chanderpaul

For Odoyo, Tikolo and Zuiderent, it marked the start of their international careers. For Ponting, Kallis, Muralitharan and Chanderpaul, it marked their World Cup debuts. Tendulkar had already played in the 1992 World Cup.

Interestingly, four of these eight men figured in the semi-finals in 1996. If we were to replace Chanderpaul's West Indies with Kallis' South Africa, we might well have the semi-final line-up for 2011... though I can already hear the English cricket fans vehemently disagreeing.

The youngest of these 8 is the Dutchman Bastiaan Zuiderent, who is a little short of his 34th birthday. And if he remains fit enough and Netherlands competitive enough, he may well go on to play the 11th World Cup in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand! But unless Tendulkar continues to play till then, I will not be able to do such a blog comparing 2015 to 1992!

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Monday, January 24, 2011


A year ago, a new cricket blog appeared on blogosphere. CRIC - SIS. In a virtually unknown world, I had gotten off the mark!

The world is more familiar now, and when I look back at the time I have spent over blogosphere, it seems somewhat surreal. A year ago, I did not know most of you... in fact, I still may not know most of you... but I do know that there exists one thing in common between us... the love of a game called Cricket, and the fact that we have our own strong and passionate views about it.

Over the year, I have had many readers - family, friends, bloggers, associates, casual readers, et cetera. And I must thank each one of you for making me feel at home in the blogosphere and the support you all have shown for CRIC - SIS. Moreover, a special thank you to everyone who has had something to comment about on whatever I have managed to write... you guys deserve a special mention... so here goes (alphabetically) - Ali, Aneesh, Ankits (more than one, hence the s), Christopher, Cricsphere, Dean, Elegantstroke, Golandaaz, Govind, Greyblazer, Half Tracker, Mahek, Mayank, MWSW, Namya, Sanya, Siddharth, Sidthegnomenator, Soulberry, Straight Point, Sunny, Tracer007, Wes, and if there is any name I have missed out, please do two things - forgive me and remind me unhesitatingly because you guys deserve my gratitude!

I must also put in a word of acknowledgement for a few of my friends who have not read my blogs all that consistently (for the lack of fondness of reading or for the lack of fondness of cricket or both), but have been very encouraging about this nasty habit of mine to bore them about my latest cricket opinions and about what my next / previous blog(s) will be / were about. Thank you, everyone!

I hope I can continue boring / entertaining (take your pick) you for a long time to come and together we can always celebrate the game of CRICKET!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Well, Messrs Srikkanth and Co. are finished with their work (for now) and have given us a 15-member squad for India's campaign as co-hosts at the Cricket World Cup 2011... the 10th edition of the mega-event.

I have already expressed my opinions about 15-member squad and about who should not have been included and why so over here. But since I am not a member of Team India's selection committee, there is not much that can be done. So here, I am going to have a look at selecting the 11-man squad from the 15... and also possible replacements in case of injuries to any player.

Here is the team once again: MS Dhoni (c) (wk), V Sehwag (vc), S Tendulkar, G Gambhir, V Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, S Raina, Y Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, P Chawla, P Kumar, Zaheer Khan, A Nehra, M Patel.

In my previous blog, I had mentioned that my ideal first XI would be:

V Sehwag
S Tendulkar
G Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
S Raina
MS Dhoni
Y Pathan
Harbhajan Singh
P Kumar
Zaheer Khan
A Nehra

The above XI will give India an amazing batting depth to make up for not-too-great bowling resources. The team will have 7 batsmen, with Harbhajan and Praveen who can hit big consistently, and then Zaheer who can also hit big, though not that consistently. And our No. 11 man Ashish Nehra also has hit 8 sixes in international cricket (3 in Tests, 3 in ODIs, 2 in T20s).

From the batting point-of-view, the man that I have left out is Virat Kohli. As I have explained in the previous blog, it is a difficult choice, but necessary to accommodate a big-hitter-cum-tidy-wicket-to-wicket-bowler in Yusuf Pathan. I know many would not agree to dropping Virat Kohli, and Freehit has already suggested that Raina should be dropped instead. But with India going pretty weak and thin on bowling resources, I am of the opinion that atleast 3 part-time bowlers will be needed in the XI. Dropping Raina means that only 2 will be available.

(Note: I have taken the liberty to assume above that Virender Sehwag has not sufficiently overcome his shoulder troubles and thus, his off-spin will not be available to the team.)

Looking at the bowlers now...

The new ball should be shared by Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar. I do not see conditions in India over February and March ever favouring the new ball bowlers. Maybe if India reach the semi-finals (which will be played at Mohali) and have to bowl under lights to defend a target, then possibly Ashish Nehra could be given a new ball. However, late in March, I don't think Mohali will also be kind to Nehra. So, Nehra should be the first change bowler.

Govind has rightly pointed out that Nehra tends to be expensive with the new ball, but is a much better bowler at the death. This is another reason why he becomes the first change bowler for me.

I would like to see Dhoni use Praveen Kumar between overs 20 and 34. His bowling does not provide a lot of pace to the batsmen... and with the spinners in operation at the other end, he will provide a nice variety to the attack. He can be a handful when he bowls his cutters with the softer ball. And unless the batsmen opt to take the batting powerplay when the ball is changed, Dhoni should use his part-timers and spinners after 34 overs till he sees signs of the batsmen starting to attack at the death. The reason is that with the harder ball being used after 34 overs, it becomes even more essential for the fielding side to take the pace off the ball.

The role for the reserves...

The four players that I have left out from my XI are Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Piyush Chawla and Munaf Patel.

Kohli and Patel will be simple replacements for any injury or under-performance by a batter or a pacer respectively. The positive for India is that Kohli has been in tremendous form of late and Munaf's performance has also been quite up to the mark. So their presence should keep the top XI on their toes... for a couple of failures might result in being dropped (especially for Raina and Nehra).

The case of our reserve spinners is a little different. If there is an injury to Harbhajan Singh, I think Ashwin will be the ideal replacement. So then why is Chawla in the squad? I think it is obvious that Dhoni is thinking of 6 batsmen + 5 bowlers strategies also.

I think it is not too great an idea considering that we have not tried this combination in the lead up to the World Cup. So if he is indeed thinking of such a strategy, Chawla will get a game ahead of either Raina or Pathan or maybe even Yuvraj.

The problem that I see with such a combination is that Piyush Chawla's batting abilities (or should I say, hitting or slogging abilities) are quite a notch below those of Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar and some may say, even Zaheer Khan. So is it wise to sacrifice a good batsman who can bowl decently for a decent bowler who cannot bat at No. 7 or No. 8.

If someone like Ab De Villiers or Eoin Morgan (two very crafty batsmen against spinners) were to take the attack to Chawla on the dead pitches of Nagpur and Kolkata respectively, would he be able to find his bearings? I am not sure...

But while we talk of this, the good bit is that the tournament structure is such that each team will play 6 games in the group stage. And we can afford a couple of losses as we just have to be in top-4 out of 7 teams in the Group. Since 2 of those 7 are Ireland and the Netherlands and 2 others being Bangladesh and the West Indies, India should have plenty of chances to experiment in order to find the ideal combination.

Now lets just hope that this team remains injury-free, because the replacements like Rohit Sharma, S Sreesanth and Parthiv Patel do not inspire a lot of confidence.

Can't wait for the World Cup to begin...

Monday, January 17, 2011


The selectors have come up with their 15... and MS Dhoni, Gary Kirsten and the team management looks like they have had a say in the final selection. Here is what the squad of 15 looks like:

MS Dhoni (c) (wk), V Sehwag (vc), S Tendulkar, G Gambhir, V Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, S Raina, Y Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, M Patel, P Kumar, A Nehra, R Ashwin, P Chawla.

Well, for me, the first 13 names were on the expected lines. I had assumed that Ashwin and Chawla would be discussed for the 2nd spinner's role and we will have an additional pacer.

I am not at all satisfied with Chawla's selection. Here are the reasons why (I have already enumerated these by way of comments in SP's blog):

1. Piyush Chawla has never played an ODI in India. As Cricinfo pointed out, all his 21 ODIs have been away from home. So if he plays in the World Cup, he will be making his debut in India in ODIs. It may be argued that he knows the conditions well... but I still feel that bowling at international cricketers in the middle overs of an ODI is a different art from the other experiences that Chawla must have had in India.

2. Piyush Chawla has not played an ODI for India since 2008. Even if he does play the next 3 ODIs against South Africa, I wouldn't call it a selection based on performances. Plus, all those ODIs will still be outside India!

3. Chawla has been selected as a spinner, who will be bowling in the middle overs. But from what I have last seen, Ojha would be a much better bowler in the middle overs. He is more crafty and though he may not get you many wickets in Test cricket, but in ODIs in home conditions, I would select him over Chawla on the recent viewings.

4. A lot of people have opined that Chawla is handy with the bat and in the field... and thus he got a shoo in. If this is the reasoning, then why not go for Rohit Sharma? He is a better batsman, a better fielder and even though he is a part timer, he has been bowling pretty well for India in recent ODIs. And for a bowler who is handy with the bat, we already have Harbhajan and Praveen Kumar. I am not sure why we had to pick Chawla for another one!

5. This is the MOST IMPORTANT REASON. We know India will be going with a 3 pacer + 1 spinner combo and allow part timers to do the rest. So it's baffling that we have just 1 backup for our 3 pacers and 2 backups for our 1 spinner. The numbers just don't sound good. Plus given the fact that pacers are more likely to be injured than spinners, it puts an even bigger question mark over the selection.

If the extra spinners have been selected for the reason that India may go in with a different combination (maybe 3 pacers + 2 spinners and sacrifice the place of Yusuf / Kohli), then I think it is a foolish idea.

It would have been a good idea had it been tried earlier (with or without success) and then implemented at the World Cup... because we would have had some experiences to learn from. But to try something novel straight away in a World Cup is not called "planning", it's called "gambling".

But apart from Chawla's selection, I like the look of the team. I like the fact that our replacement pacer (Munaf Patel) is in good form and has got some good overs under his belt recently. If any of our first choice pacers were to underperform or get injured, our replacement should not give us too many headaches. But if two of our pacers were to underperform or injure themselves, then God help Team India!

In our batting lineup, contrary to many other opinions, I have a feeling that Yusuf Pathan will play ahead of Virat Kohli. I know Virat is in tremendous form, but the reasons why Yusuf could get in ahead are:

1. Yusuf Pathan can bowl very decent and wicket to wicket brand of off-spin during the middle overs, whereas Virat's dibbly-dobbly bowling may not work in Indian conditions.

2. Yusuf has experience batting low down the order, whereas Virat has been tried out mainly at No. 3. Since our top-3 are packed and there is little scope of coming in at 4 or 5, Virat's chances look slimmer to me.

3. Raina and Yuvraj may bowl out the 5th bowler's quota... but they may not be able to cover up for another regular bowler who has a bad day. But with Yusuf in the squad, India can give a little more comfort space for the main bowlers.

4. Yusuf's biggest drawback in recent times has been his inability to play the short balls. But in Indian conditions, this problem will be mitigated. For sure, there will be a few good short balls bowled to him when he comes in. But even the best fast bowlers will find it difficult to sustain a lengthy peppering of short balls to Pathan in India. And when the length is not short enough, those balls become long hops and we all know what Yusuf Pathan can do with those!

So here's my first XI:

Virender Sehwag
Sachin Tendulkar
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina
MS Dhoni (c) (wk)
Yusuf Pathan
Harbhajan Singh
Praveen Kumar
Zaheer Khan
Ashish Nehra

It's very reminiscent of the team India had for World Cup 2003. The same opening pair - both in batting and in bowling (assuming that Nehra opens the bowling with Zaheer). The same spinner also, and a very similar middle order. On the whole, this team is more attacking in terms of shot-making than the one we had in 2003. But the question is: CAN IT GO ONE BETTER?


It's coming a couple of weeks later than I had originally intended... but here it is. This is my 300th blog post on CRIC - SIS, and on this special occasion, I have decided to select my 10 favourite sporting moments of 2010. The 10 below are listed chronologically... because try as hard as I might, I just couldn't rank them in an order of preference.


6th January 2010

There may have been lots of questions asked about this match later... but when it happened, it was incredible. I was certain of a Pakistani win for most part of the match, but one of my friends was certain that if there is any team in the world that can throw away a match from such a position of strength, it is Pakistan. And throw away they did, as Michael Hussey scripted a century for himself and a win for his team that really couldn't be deemed possible.

2. 200* (147)

24th February 2010

This one had to be there! How could it not be there! 147 balls, 25 fours, 3 sixes... and 200 runs! Sachin Tendulkar created history (once again!) at Gwalior and accomplished a feat that no man had ever done before him... and Double Century in ODIs. Like it's said, many have scaled the peak of Mt. Everest... but no one looks beyond Sir Edmund Hillary!


11th July 2010

It happened late in the second half of extra time when Andres Iniesta finally helped Spain breach the defense of the Dutch team. And as soon as it happened, we knew it! Spain had become the Football World Champions (in addition to being the reigning European Champions) in South Africa. Spain was one of the three teams I had backed right from the start to win the tournament... and they did!


24th July 2010

Usually, when a team is bundled out for 88 on the first day of a Test match, there can be only one result possible. But with this match, no one could be quite certain. Eventually though, Pakistan managed to beat Australia at the end. This match comes in my list because of events that preceded it. Pakistan was thrashed at Lord's by Australia and Shahid Afridi resigned from captaincy. Salman Butt took over and had this amazing result straightaway. Whatever may have conspired behind the scenes, there is no doubt that at that moment, Salman Butt had won a lot of credibility for Pakistan cricket (unlike another Butt).


10th September 2010

It was written somewhere up there... this entire journey! The unheralded 16th seed pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi (alias the Indo-Pak Express) reached the finals of the last Grand Slam of the year... the US Open at Flushing Meadows. Though the scoreline might not suggest it, it was a very hard fought match with both teams throwing everything they had at each other before the better and the more experience team prevailed. The match in itself was brilliant, but what Aisam said after the match was even better. It was heart-warming to see the standing ovation that Aisam got when he finished his speech that told the world that Pakistanis are not terrorists! What a way for Aisam and Rohan to finish their campaign!

6. RAFA!

12th September 2010

Rafael Nadal became just the 7th man in history to complete a Career Grand Slam (and the youngest to get there as well) by winning the US Open at Flushing Meadows. A tremendous final, a brilliant opponent in the form of Serbian Novak Djokovic... and Rafa capped a brilliant year for himself and his country Spain!


13th October 2010

Even Houdini wouldn't have managed the escape that VVS Laxman engineered for India in the company of first Ishant Sharma and then Pragyan Ojha (and of course, Suresh Raina all the while). It was the closest Test match in India after the tied Test of 1986 between the same teams - India and Australia! There is no way this list could have been completed without this event. And yes, CRIC - SIS had it highest ever number of hits after this match... so that's another reason for the match to be there in the list.


13th October 2010

I had waited for young Cheteshwar Pujara's chance for a long time. When he did get his chance, he also got a wretched shooter third ball from Mitchell Johnson. His Test career couldn't have started with much worse luck. But he came back... given a chance to bat at No. 3 in what could have been a tricky run chase, Che impressed everyone by taking the attack to Australia and when he reached his half-century in the illustrious company of Sachin Tendulkar, we all knew that Che had arrived!


14th November 2010

The day dawned at Abu Dhabi with anticipation high in the Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber camps. Though Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were also in the race, nobody gave them much of a chance. At the end of that race, it was Vettel who sported the biggest smile as he realised that he was the World Champion... the only German other than Michael Schumacher to lay his hands on the sport's biggest prize.


29th December 2010

England managed to retain the Ashes away from home for the first time in almost a quarter of a century... so the celebration was bound to be different! And different it was... the Sprinkler dance! What a way to finish a brilliant year for England... a year where they also won their first ICC Trophy - the Twenty20 World Championship.

I do know that there are a few moments that were very close to making it to my list... but have missed out! There was Razzaq's monstrous hitting to steal a game for Pakistan, there was Afridi's monstrous hitting to almost steal a game for Pakistan... there was Chris Gayle's triple hundred, there was India's win at Durban... there was Barcelona's 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid, and there were a lot of others.

But the list end
shere... and I do hope that my readers have enjoyed my journey of 300 blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Now for the next target: Brian Lara's 400!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Everyone is saying it... South Africa had no business losing to India the way they did yesterday at Johannesburg. The dreaded C-word can be heard everywhere. So this match, and the thought of the forthcoming World Cup put together, prompted me into making a compilation of some not-so-fond-memories for South African supporters.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Mahendra Singh Dhoni celebrated the New Year by winning the toss... an occasion almost as rare as the New Year itself. Incidentally, this was just the 2nd time in Dhoni's 24-Test captaincy stint that he had inserted the opposition in after winning the toss (he's won 8 tosses, by the way).

The first time he did it was in March 2009 against New Zealand at Hamilton... and India went on to win that match by 10 wickets. That win was possible only because the Indian pace bowlers were able to dismiss the Kiwis for 279 on Day 1 itself. This time tough, things are a lot different.

Kallis is rock solid at the end of day's play with Ashwell Prince for company. Boucher is still waiting in the wings, and even though he isn't in the best form, he can still be dangerous if this partnership can add a few more and take South Africa to a position of strength. Then all that Boucher will need to do is get a few quick runs... and usually, these sort of situations are exactly what an out-of-form batsman wants in Test cricket.

Back in Hamilton, India could dismiss New Zealand cheaply mainly due to the fact that Ishant Sharma bagged 4 wickets on that day. He's bagged only 1 so far today and though the other bowlers' figures are not far ahead than his, I must say that I was extremely disappointed with Ishant Sharma's bowling today.

Here is the comparison of the pitch maps of the three Indian pacers today...

Zaheer Khan's pitch map on Day 1

S Sreesanth's pitch map on Day 1

Ishant Sharma's pitch map on Day 1

As you can see, Zaheer was extremely full... as you should be when conditions are favouring you. I know Ishant Sharma's stock delivery is when he runs in, hits the deck hard at back-of-good-length area and allows the seam movement to do its bit. But this was not a pitch and these were not the conditions for his style of bowling.

He needed to pitch the ball further up today and make the batsman play. His pitch map clearly shows that he was short of the required length and also quite some way outside off... which helped the batsman in leaving the balls. Both he and Sreesanth bowled a lot of balls that could be left alone harmlessly by the batsmen... particularly early in the day when the conditions were favourable for the bowlers. It was a waste!

Ishant got Alviro Peterson out driving to a delivery that was amongst the fullest he'd bowled all day. The fact that Ishant did not bowl full consistently after getting such a reward was very disappointing.

Sreesanth was still okay... even though he could have been a bit more fuller. I say a bit more fuller particularly because more often than not, he was getting a very good shape taking the ball away from the right hander. But when he was pitch it on good length, the batsmen were able to leave the ball trusting the shape to take it away from them (except for one occasion when De Villiers has a fatal poke at it). Had he been a little fuller, the batsmen would have been forced to play a lot more and given how close he gets to the stumps while delivering, it could have been a lot more than just 2 wickets for him today.

Zaheer operated well, from both over- and around-the-wicket... but apart from his first spell, he could not get significant movement on the ball. With the new ball available just 6 overs into the day tomorrow, he could make things very difficult for the left-handed Ashwell Prince.

Having won the toss and inserted the opposition in, Dhoni would have hoped for a lot more from his pacers. Though the day wasn't BAD for India, it wasn't satisfactory either. Tomorrow, the sun is expected to be shining brightly over Newlands, Cape Town and Dhoni will be hoping that South Africa collapse with the second new ball so that his batsmen get a chance to wield their willow in helpful conditions under the sun. They haven't had too many such chances on this tour thus far!


How many times in the past have we seen those two names in the same line on the scoresheet? It's no secret that Zaheer Khan has been troubling Graeme Smith for quite a while now and the South African skipper's troubles continued into the new year at Newlands, Cape Town.

Like in the first innings of the Durban Test, Smith faced less than 10 balls from Zaheer Khan... or should I say, 7 balls was all Zaheer Khan needed to get his bunny once again.

However, before Smith got out, there was an incident that caught my eye. On the first ball of the 5th over of the day, Graeme Smith tucked Zaheer away on the leg side and ran two. Then he was beaten by Zaheer who drew him forward into a drive to a ball that should have been left alone. The next ball was safely defended... and on the fourth ball, Smith tucked Zaheer away to the leg side once again. Though the fielder Harbhajan Singh was closer to the ball this time, there was still a clear opportunity for another couple of runs.

However, this time Smith just ambled across to the other end for a single. Harbhajan Singh deliberately slowed down his chase and even ran backwards to see whether Smith is taking a two... and I presume that this was because the entire Indian team wanted to see Smith take strike to Zaheer. That captain was being subtly taunted...

And Smith did not take the second. I don't know if it was just me that felt it... but suddenly I thought the fielders were a lot more chirpy and Smith looked a lot more subdued. There was something amiss in that man... I don't know if it was the lack of confidence in facing Zaheer or what! But to me, it looked like a public admission by Smith of the well-documented fact that he struggles to face Zaheer Khan.

Soon enough, Zaheer worked him over brilliantly in his next over and had him out plumb. When the ball hit his back pad, Smith turned around to get back into the crease without looking at the umpire. He did not want to see that finger go up. I think he did not even see that finger... he just walked off when he heard Zaheer's whooping cry of jubilation. And his slow walk back suggested that here is a man, extremely confident and assured of himself at all times, except when he is facing up to this left arm pace bowler bowling to him from the other end.

That denied second run said a lot... it was totally unexpected from a man who had walked out into the Sydney Cricket Ground just two years ago with a broken hand to save a dead Test match for his team!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


And so it's set to begin tomorrow... The hosts and 2nd ranked South Africa will take on the visiting team and top-ranked India in the deciding Third Test at Newlands, Cape Town. It has been an amazing series so far... and I hope it continues that way in the shadow of the Table Mountain from tomorrow.

Like I wrote in an earlier blog, India has not won two consecutive away Tests in the same series against a top-8 Test team for about 2 and a half decades. Now the challenge for them is to tame the No. 2 side in the world.


If India do manage to pull out a series win at Cape Town, the world will be a lot closer to acknowledging India's rank as No. 1 Test team. The English might still say that India needs to beat them later this year... and they would have a point there. England did not manage to beat South Africa last time they visited the Rainbow Nation, so India will be able to boast of a series win there... but the English will remind India that they just beat Australia in Australia... something that India has not quite managed for a number of years now. South Africa's claim to the No. 1 spot will be a lot subdued and India's tour of England might become another tussle for the No. 1 spot that India will have to win to justify the ranking.


If South Africa beat India at Newlands, be assured that they will claim themselves to be the 'unofficial' No. 1 Test team in the world. India's No. 1 ranking will then be referred to as just a piece of paper with some calculations. And then even if India beat England later in July - August, this defeat will keep on souring the taste of the No. 1 spot that they will in most likelihood maintain. With a win at Cape Town, South Africa, alongside England, will start thinking of themselves as the best in Tests... and India's tour to England will further complicate matters then. An Indian win will again make it a three-horse boasting race whereas an English win will intensify the two-horse race between South Africa and England.

(Note: No matter what South Africans would like to claim, the fact that there are a number of South African-born players in the English team shall not be considered as a point in their favour.)


Well, a draw at Newlands would keep the status quo. India will continue to call themselves as No. 1 (both officially and unofficially). South Africa will not be able to boast of the fact that they are the only team over the last 6 and a half years to have scraped through with a draw on tour of India... twice! Because a draw would mean that India has done the same. England's chants would continue and India's tour of England would be a decisive moment. If India draw the Test series with England as well, though the No. 1 ranking will still be in the bag, the team will be criticised for not being ruthless enough to finish teams off.


So if we really want an 'undisputed' No. 1 to emerge by the year end, the best we can hope for is an Indian win at Cape Town. I would certainly be hoping for that... though sadly, except for Day 1, I would not be able to follow the rest of it properly. I will have to be relying on Cricinfo commentary, SMS updates from friends and whenever possible, I will try and catch up a bit on the TV. I will be on the road for the about 10 days, which would mean that I would also miss another rendition of the 'Sprinkler Dance' (it it happens) at Sydney.

I hope that the four teams play out two cracking New Year Tests to kick of a year, which I hope will be another brilliant one for Test cricket.