Saturday, August 18, 2012


Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. Or Very Very Special Laxman. Whatever name you prefer!

Personally, I don't remember much of VVS Laxman before the 281. I am quite sure a lot of people don't. In fact, pre-281, I can count my memories of him on my fingertips. I do remember reading about the Sydney hundred in 2000 (first one of that love affair with the ground) in newspapers, and I remember him opening against Pakistan in 1999. Even then, I remember more of his opening partner Sadagoppan Ramesh than him from that series.

Possibly the most lasting memory for me of VVS Laxman's pre-281 career for me is that moment when he took Wasim Akram's catch to seal Anil Kumble's 10 for 74. But post that 281, it all changed. The memories are so many that it's hard to pick one out that stands mightily above the rest.

That innings of 281 itself should unquestionably rank amongst the best ever played by any batsman in the world through the history of cricket. It marked the creation of a clear transitional divide between eras in Indian cricket. From Day 4 of that Eden Gardens Test (14th March 2001) to the day India won the World Cup again (2nd April 2011) - it was 10 years and 19 days of wondrous joy for the Indian cricket followers. For sure, there were troughs too, but none would be talked of much in hindsight when this era is looked at in its entirety henceforth.

I could not watch that innings of 281 live - neither that match, nor that series. I lived in a hostel back then, and all the cricket I followed was over the All India Radio and the newspapers. And following that match on the radio was an emotional turbulence of enormous proportions. First, there was frustration over the first 2 days (though there was the brief delight late on Day 1 when Harbhajan Singh claimed a hat-trick), then resignation on the 3rd day, then the feeling of small joys as Day 4 progressed that turned into one of hope by the time it ended... and then it ended with euphoria on Day 5. All of it possible because of three men - Harbhajan Singh, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

Day 4 of that Test match was the day I learnt a new word in Hindi - 'kalai'. I heard it so many times over the day uttered by the radio commentators, that mid-way through the day, I had to ask someone what it meant, and finally understood it meant 'wrist'. That was also the day I came closest to being caught sneaking in a portable 'Walkman with Radio' inside the classroom (which I often did). Thankfully, I escaped with the help of a couple of friends who were being supplied the scores by me, and we carried on through the day as Laxman and Dravid carried on their vigil.

The first time that I remember watching VVS Laxman bat in Test cricket after that 281, was in West Indies - Port of Spain 2002. In a largely forgotten 2nd innings effort, Laxman scored 70-odd and in the company of Sourav Ganguly, ensured a 300+ target for the West Indies, which eventually proved enough. If my memory serves me right, when he got out, he had ensured a target of 300+, which could not be stretched much further as the tail collapsed.

Post 2004, there are many memories - Mumbai 2004 (vs. Australia), Johannesburg 2006, Delhi 2007 (vs. Pakistan), Sydney 2008, Perth 2008, Kolkata 2010 (vs. South Africa), Colombo 2010, Mohali 2010 (vs. Australia), Durban 2010 and Bridgetown 2011 stand out. What's more, all but two of them came in Indian wins - and both those should have been Indian wins but for bad umpiring (Sydney 2008) and bad weather (Bridgetown 2011).

But these scores are just numbers - they will be archived and brought up in future in debates and analyses. What they can never convey was the art called VVS Laxman's batting. It was wizardry of the highest levels, and could leave not just the spectators, but even his opponents mesmerised. I do not remember Azharuddin much at the peak of his career for I was very young back then, but I am sure he couldn't have been any 'wristy-er' than VVS Laxman - it just seems humanly impossible.

Those flicks to leg off balls way outside the line of off-stump aside, I will always miss those drives through the cover off spinners where the left leg moved right to the pitch of the ball and the right leg moved sideways as he completed the movement to finish the shot with a flourish. I have seen many beautiful cover drives played and will see many more in future, but whenever I see one finish with the back leg moving sideways in flourish, I am always going to remember VVS Laxman.

While Laxman did have a decent couple of years in ODI cricket, I will always imagine him as a smiling character in white who, when not batting, would be chirping away with his teammates at second slip or gully or at a catching position for a drive on either side of the pitch. While we all celebrate his batting mastery (or should I call it 'wizardry' again), I wouldn't want to overlook the fact that he was a fine catcher too. It will be an oft-overlooked fact that he has 135 catches too in Test cricket. In his youth, he fielded well at short leg and other close-in positions too, and it's only recently that he became a liability in the field.

Another one of the endearing memories would be one of Laxman always in the balcony of the dressing room, the widest smile on the face, whenever the time came to celebrate a teammate reaching a hundred or other such milestone. If he wasn't the non-striker, he would always invariably be there to salute his teammate and share that joy.

Oh VVS, thou shalt be missed dearly. But thank you! Thank you for the joy of your batting!

Friday, March 9, 2012


Rahul Dravid. The Wall. With a counting ticker of runs that will tick no more.

I have a very weird association with Rahul Sharad Dravid. I was a child when he made his debut in 1996. Over that period in late-1990s, a lot of girls became instantaneous fan of this new chocolate boy in the Indian cricket team. My sister was one of them, and she even bought a couple of posters of him to put up on the walls of our shared room. As an irksome brother, it was my moral duty to counter any action of my sister!

So I responded by cutting a large newspaper print poster of Sourav Ganguly and sticking it in my cupboard. Had my sister not been almost six years older than I was, I might well have stuck the Ganguly cut-out over the Dravid poster. For the record, I was a bigger fan of Sachin Tendulkar (back then and now), but Ganguly was the more immediate contemporary of Dravid then.

For a period of about a year during 1998-99, my sister went to the USA and allowed me the chance of watching Rahul Dravid’s cricket with a more objective eye. It also helped that it was about the time when I had started understanding cricket better and started following it more passionately. And most importantly, in that span of time, Dravid played some glorious knocks. I watched some of them live, followed some of them over print media, and gradually came to the opinion that this man is a promising cricketer – a great one in the making.

I remember that century in each innings performance at Hamilton early in 1999 against New Zealand that I had followed in the newspaper and over 7 pm Doordarshan news, when the news was about half-a-day old. It was the first time an Indian had managed such a feat since Sunil Gavaskar had done it (for the third time) late in 1978. And then I also remember that incredible run in the World Cup 1999 in England where he ended up as the highest run-scorer of all. Those two back-to-back centuries against Kenya (Bristol) and Sri Lanka (Taunton) are also remembered, despite the fact that he was not the highest run-scorer for the team in either of those two innings! He scored his top-4 ODI scores in the year 1999, and 6 of his 12 career ODI tons.

Late in 1999, he scored his only 150+ score in an ODI, only to be outscored by a teammate yet again. Some would say ‘the story of his career’! I disagree… I say it was a storyline that threatened to become his tale before he changed the script completely. He may have been outscored yet again by teammates during his 2001 knocks against Australia of 180 (Kolkata second innings) and 81 (Chennai first innings), but those contributions were recognised very well for they well worth their weight in gold. I remember listening to Hindi radio commentary about the emotional gestures that he made on reaching that hundred at Eden Gardens, and thinking that the commentator must have gone nuts!

The next time after that innings that I remember Dravid showing any emotions on the cricket field was flashing a simple smile after pulling Waqar Younis for a four to seal an Indian win over Pakistan in the World Cup 2003. But before that comes that 2002 tour of England – a tour that elevated Dravid as a member-elect of the pantheon of Indian batting legends – a membership that he confirmed with that knock of 233 (and another 72* for good measure) at Adelaide a year and a half later. During this time, he even kept wickets for India in the ODI squad and was the rock on which Ganguly built the church called Team India.

He has scored many brilliant knocks since then, including his highest Test score of 270 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004 in the Third Test of the three-Test series locked at 1-1. But for me, like many others, nothing would ever beat Leeds 2002 and Adelaide 2003.

He won the ICC Cricketer of the Year Award in its inaugural year with great performances that continued up to 2006. He even acquired the captaincy of the Indian cricket team in that period. And that was my biggest problem with the career of Rahul Dravid. He led India to Test series wins in the West Indies (2006) and England (2007), and even led over a streak of 18 consecutive ODI wins while batting second... but I never thought him to be as good a successor to Sourav Ganguly's captaincy as would have been ideal. For some explicable as well as inexplicable reasons that I don't want to venture into at the moment, I did not believe he was a very good 'captaincy material'. That is purely my opinion, and quite possibly, it is in someway influenced by India's performance in the World Cup 2007.

In respect of his captaincy alone, the words of Mark Antony said at Julius Caesar's funeral in the great Shakespearean play seem quite apt: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." So let it be with Dravid!

When his form dipped through 2007 and later years, and when his runs came only against Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (at home), I did feel that he should have retired back then. Arguably, he managed to keep his place only due to the fact that the rest of the team was able to perform well and dare I say it, 'carry' him. It allowed him a chance for one final resurgence that began in the West Indies and continued to England in 2011. Though it was not a good time for the team, Rahul Dravid batted like the Rahul Dravid of yesteryears.

The failures of the Indian team over 2011 and 2012, as well as Dravid's own failures from 2007 to 2010, will take nothing away from the fact that he is indeed amongst the best Indian batsmen that have ever played the game - and it is quite a list! As he bid farewell today and my Twitter timeline went dewy-eyed with the announcement, it was time to sit back and reflect on what has been a wonderful era for Indian cricket. Now, only two cogs remain from the giant wheel that helped roll Indian cricket forward over the last decade... and this latest cog to call it a day has well and truly deserved his name to be spoken with respect and dignity!

hank you Rahul Dravid for your contribution to Indian cricket, and wish you the very best for all your future ventures!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


What a chase we had today! India, needing a bonus point win, chased down Sri Lanka's score of 320 in just 36.4 overs, to win by 7 wickets with 80 balls to spare. This win has kept India alive in this tri-series for at least 3 more days, and increased the interest in the last round robin match between Australia and Sri Lanka.

India knew right from the beginning that the target, whatever it may be, had to be chased down in 40 overs or less. So when the first half ended and the target of 321 became clear, the hopes of an average Indian fan were not too high. But the Indian batting unit, which has not enjoyed a fruitful tour of Australia, clicked well and - riding on a magnificent ton by Virat Kohli - chased down the target in a more than convincing style!

The chase was a brilliantly constructed one. Since the required rate for a 40-over win was above 8 runs per over, it was clear that a fast start would be of utmost importance. Sehwag and Tendulkar provided that with some audacious batting. When the mandatory powerplay ended, India had scored 97 runs for the loss of the two openers.

When Tendulkar got out lbw to Malinga in the 10th over, there were a lot of tweets on my timeline suggesting that Dhoni should come out to bat. Their logic must have been that he takes his time to settle in, and if there is time to be used up, it better be between 10 - 15 overs rather than later in the innings. That is fine, but I was happier to see Kohli come in to bat at No. 4, and happier still that he stayed till the end to guide the chase in a manner contrasting of how Dhoni would have done it.

My last post on this blog (about 2.5 weeks ago) was about Dhoni's planning of chases. This one is about how Virat Kohli planned this one, and comparing it with what Dhoni would have done (the latter part would obviously be presumption based on the pattern of his innings in the successful run chase against Australia and the tied match against Sri Lanka).

On of my biggest problem with Dhoni when he comes out to bat with overs in hand in a run chase is that he plays far too many dot balls at the start of his innings. Settling in is fine, but the same can be done more effectively by rotating the strike rather than dead batting the ball. Kohli too played 8 dot balls between 10 and 15 overs, but at the end of 15 overs, he was still batting on 16* (18b). Compare this with Dhoni's knock in the successful run chase against Australia, and you will find that Dhoni stood at 8* (24b) at one stage in that chase. Even if you grant Dhoni the benefit of a much easier chase on hand against Australia, I don't think you'd still justify 8 runs in 24 balls!

At the end of 15 overs, India stood at 118 for 2, and though only 21 had been scored in the last 5 overs, there was enough momentum to make Mahela Jayawardene delay taking the Bowling Powerplay, as he has himself admitted. Had Kohli made the kind of start that Dhoni made at Adelaide, India might have had about 10 runs fewer at that stage, and Sri Lanka might have taken the Bowling Powerplay, causing the batsmen to take a risk or two more than ideal. This is presumption, but by no means far-fetched!

In my last post, I had written: "if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere."

At Hobart, two of India's best chasers (Gambhir and Kohli) planned it in such a way that going up to the 40th over would not be necessary. One may argue that the early finish was more a result of the leaking Malinga - an assault that even Kohli would admit that he had not planned for - but I think it is still quite clear that Kohli had planned to finish the game off at least one over before the 40th. Their partnership saw calculated risks (mostly taken by Kohli) for boundaries every now and again, which allowed them to be unflustered if Sri Lanka managed to sneek in a good tight over. This is the reason why Rangana Herath's spell of 4 overs for just 20 runs did not have as big an effect on the result as it should have had.

When the second lot of powerplay overs commenced, Kohli executed the second half of his plan, which was to attack straightaway and keep the required run rate below 9 runs per over at all times, rather than chasing 13 off the final over! He was obviously helped by some poor bowling from Sri Lanka, especially some of the leg-stump lines... but one must consider that when a batsman is pulling off some calculated risks, the bowlers are under increased pressure and have greater tendency to falter.

India may still not reach the finals of the series, but it was a great match for the team... and something they dearly needed towards the end of a very difficult tour of Australia!

Monday, February 13, 2012


India beat Australia earlier today by 4 wickets with 2 balls to spare at Adelaide in the 4th ODI of the CB Triangular Series. While Gautam Gambhir was India's top contributor with a measured 92, it was Dhoni's knock of 44* (58) that was the talking point of the day.

India won the match due to a massive 112 meter six by Dhoni followed by a no-ball by Clint McKay due to a above-waist height full toss. Once it was over, a lot of people called it all well and good... but was it just as well and good when the chase was on? My Twitter timeline at the time of the chase said that most of the viewers were having trouble understanding why Dhoni was leaving it so late. And I was with them... indeed, why so late?

The biggest question raised after Dhoni hit that monstrous six was that if one can hit such shots, why not try it earlier to ease a bit of pressure, rather than risking it all at the end. And these kind of queries were not just raised in the minds of casual viewers, but also the men in the dressing room. The Man of the Match Gautam Gambhir had this to say: "We should have finished this game in the 48th over. We shouldn't have taken this game to the 50th over, that's my personal observation."

What is the best way to plan and pace a chase? When do you attack and when do you rely on quick running? Obviously, the answers differ in different conditions, but I think certain things remain common everywhere. In my opinion, if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere.

And in this innings of MS Dhoni, it is quite apparent where the miscalculation occurred. His innings break up is like this - 8 runs of first 24 balls, 25 of next 31 balls, and 11 runs of the last 3 balls. He came in when 92 were needed of 95 balls, and ended up playing 30 dot balls, i.e. 52% of the total deliveries he faced. To put it in perspective, Gambhir faced 52 dot balls in his 111-ball innings, i.e. 47% of the total deliveries faced by him, despite batting through the middle overs as well!

One might well argue that since Dhoni was not doing much to get the required run rate down, Raina and Jadeja had to go for the big hits, and lose their wickets in the process. Gambhir was right when he said that it's difficult in the middle, and different people plan their chases differently, but surely, when you end up with 7 runs of 19 balls in the Batting Powerplay and play a dot ball in almost every over where you also take a 2, you are not doing a lot of good, are you?

Dhoni is usually a fabulous planner and executor of chases - stiff ones, tricky ones, easy ones and straightforward ones. He, along with Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, have made India a very competent chasing unit in limited overs cricket, and also made the World Cup runners-up captain Kumar Sangakkara remark that a team needs about 350 runs on the board to feel safe against this Indian team. But every now and again, there arises a question mark of Dhoni's strategies in such situations.

Like it arose today, it had also arisen during the first Twenty20 between India and Australia earlier on this tour. One of the earlier occasions that I can remember when a similar question had arisen in my mind was not a chase, but India setting a target for New Zealand on the tour of 2009 in the 2nd Twenty20 International, where he wasted the middle overs with 8* (18) before ending up with 28* (30). In that match too, it might be argued that Dhoni's slow approach forced Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja to play shots that shouldn't have ideally been required in those situations.

The man I have written this post about - MS Dhoni - had brilliantly executed the 161 required runs of 170 balls in the World Cup finals. The run rate required then at Wankhede Stadium was 5.68 runs per over, and here at Adelaide Oval was 5.81 runs per over. If he can do it so well there, why couldn't he do it as well here? Had this been a one-off case, I wouldn't have bothered writing this long a post, presuming it to be a mistake. But it is not a one-off case, and thus this has to be considered a strategy of some sort - and in my opinion, a miscalculated strategy!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


In less than 20 hours from now, Afghanistan will play against their neighbour Pakistan in an ODI at Sharjah. It will be the first time that Afghanistan will be competing against a Test-playing nation in an ODI. Their first Test-playing opponent in a Twenty20 International had been India during the World Twenty20 Championships 2010. Now they play the longer version of the game against a country with whom they share a longer border.

The Afghan team has been very impressive in its short cricketing journey thus far. Those who have watched the movie 'Out of the Ashes' will know about their rise from the World Cricket League Division 5 through to the ODI status. And it did not stop there. They won the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2009-10, by managing 6 outright wins in 7 First Class games, including the finals against Scotland at Dubai. In the current version of the same (i.e. ICC Intercontinental Cup 2011-13), they are standing currently at the 3rd position after 2 matches, behind Ireland and United Arab Emirates.

No one really expects Afghanistan to beat Pakistan in the one-off ODI to be played tomorrow at Sharjah. But what everyone would dearly like to see is a good fight. They are unlikely to match the Pakistan team in skills, but who wouldn't love to see them show some spark on the field!

Their next major assignment after this ODI shall be the World Twenty20 Championship Qualifiers to be held in mid-March, followed by the World Cricket League Championship (2 ODIs) and the ICC Intercontinental Cup (1 four-day First Class match) assignments against the Netherlands at their adopted home grounds in the UAE.

They have been now, for quite some time, a team that I have fascinatingly followed. I wish them all the luck in these fixtures, and hope that their fairytale stretches on for a long time.

Friday, February 3, 2012


India's win over Australia at the MCG in the second Twenty20 International was the first away win in an international match for India since 23rd June 2011, which was the 4th day of the First Test on the tour of West Indies. That is a gap of a whopping 225 days!

 the turn of the millennium, this was just the 4th occasion when India has had to wait for more than 200 days for an away (including neutral matches) win. The earlier three occasions were:

But while these numbers of over 200 days may look very large at first, none of those droughts were half as bad as the recently-ended one! In the 209-day gap of 2000-01, there was no away match played by India. That gap was a result of scheduling, not performances! In the 244-day gap of 2003, India played just 2 neutral ODIs against South Africa at Bangladesh (1 lost and 1 no result) and 1 Test against Australia (draw) at Brisbane. And in the 216-day gap of 2004-05, India played and lost just one ODI against Sri Lanka at Dambulla.

, in this recently-ended drought of 225 days, India played 10 Tests (losing 8, drawing 2), 2 Twenty20 Internationals (lost both), and 5 ODIs (3 lost, 1 tied and 1 no result). That is a run of 17 win-less away internationals!

The most staggering fact is this - after the first ever away win against New Zealand at Dunedin Test of February 1968, India has never had a win-less streak of away international matches as big as this 17-match one! India played 43 away Test matches from June 1932 to January 1968 without a win, which remains India's longest win-less streak in away international matches, but since then, the largest one was the one that ended a few hours ago!

(P.S.: And since we are talking numbers, this is the 400th post on CRIC - SIS.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012


That's just 7 minutes short of a normal day of Test cricket!
World No. 1 and Defending Champion Novak Djokovic from Serbia and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal from Spain fought an epic 5 hour and 53 minutes long battle for the title of Australian Open Men's Singles title. It was the Serb who triumphed with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 win against the Spaniard, in what turned out to be their first ever 5-setter in their 30th match against each other.

The first Men's Singles semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had been a brilliant one to watch over four sets... the second semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray went longer and was an exhilarating five-setter. Expectations were high from the finals, and though the quality of the tennis was not great in the first two sets with plenty of errors committed by both men, the finish more than made up for it... and elevated this match to the status of a true 'epic'.

The end of the fourth set and the fifth set were amazing rides - a great spectacle for every viewer who had the privilege of watching it unfold! Novak Djokovic was on cruise control mode, and soon he had three break points on Rafael Nadal's serve at 3-4 in the 4th set. Djokovic would have served for the Championship, had he been able to seal the break there. He did not... and Rafael Nadal played some wonderful points, and there seemed a palpable shift in momentum, aided by the chants from the crowd of 'Rafa! Rafa!' and some adrenaline-inspired fist-pumping from Nadal himself.

In a frenzy of the next few games and the tie breaker to follow, wherein the play was even halted once to close the roof due to rain, Rafael Nadal elevated his game and broke Djokovic's serve once, got broken back, allowed Djokovic to gather a good lead in the tie-break, before fighting back and sealing the win when Djokovic hit wide a backhand down the line on his own serve.

The fifth set saw some stunning rallies from the two men. They were exhausted, no doubt - with Djokovic showing his exhaustion more than Nadal - but when they committed to those rallies, there were no half-measures. Nadal broke Djokovic, Djokovic broke him back immediately, and then made another crucial break at 5-5, before serving out for a win (not without defending a break point of his own)!

There was a point in the 5th set where they had a 31-shot rally, which was a spectacular display of baseline tennis. But what made that point even more incredible was the fact that it came just 5 minutes after they had played a 25-shot rally, at about the 5 hour, 15 minutes mark on the clock! They might have just been athletes competing on the Rod Laver Arena... but for a good 6 hours, they elevated themselves to the status of superhumans.

But now, why do I say that the Indian cricket team should have watched this match? What lesson could have been learnt from watching this match that could be applied to cricket, or any other sport for that matter? It's a simple answer - the FIGHT!

The two men fought like gladiators, and in the last two sets in particular, virtually every point was a FIGHT or a FIGHTBACK! Both men, and Nadal in particular, chased down every shot hit by the opponent, defended what would have been sure winners, stayed in the point when the opponent was dominating the rallies, and did it again even if the previous time that they had done it had not resulted in a point for them!

Over the two tours of England and Australia, a lot of people have commented about the lack of FIGHT in the Indian cricket team. I do not know how to define this term FIGHT, but somehow, I do know that what I saw in the tennis match earlier today was definitely a FIGHT! The Indian team could do well to look at the determination of Djokovic and Nadal - to keep on carrying themselves for all of those 6 hours. After the end of the match, their legs refused to support them, and they had to be seated on chairs when the organisers were giving their speeches. But when they were in the game, and especially in a rally, their bodies did not dictate to them - they dictated to their bodies!

And there's another aspect to the story of Rafael Nadal in this match to be considered - an aspect which should interest the Indian cricket team! Nadal came into this match with a 0-6 record against Djokovic since the start of 2011. Over 2011, Nadal lost to Djokovic thrice of hard courts, twice on his favourite clay courts (both times in straight sets) and once on a grass court. Two of those losses relinquished his hold on Grand Slams (Wimbledon and US Open) and two other losses ended his reign as a Masters Champion in those tournaments (Rome and Madrid). The remaining two losses were also in the finals... and what could have been an incredible season for Rafael Nadal turned out to be just a 'good' one because of the unstoppable Serb.

Most people are of the opinion, I amongst them, that Djokovic's brilliant run of 2011, and his record against Nadal over the year in particular, has put some kind of a mental block in Nadal's head. He came into this match fighting not just his talented opponent, but also the demons in his own mind. When Nadal was looking down and out in the fourth set, I tweeted forlornly that the prospect of 0-7 against Djokovic in their last 7 meetings has a feeling as hollow as India's consecutive away Test losses in England and Australia.

But by the time they were finished with each other, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry had been elevated to another level, and Nadal had not lost the smallest ion of respect for the 0-7 run! Despite the 0-6 and the mental block coming into the match, he gave it his everything and fought till the very last point. India had been in a 0-6 position going into Perth... desperate for positives and inspiration! What followed was a loss in 3 days, with India being bowled out for 161 and 171 in their two innings. Where Nadal fought with the inner demons and a champion opponent, the Indian cricket team did not fight! They capitulated!

Eventually Nadal did lose and the run now stands at 0-7... but one can rest assured that the next time he faces Djokovic, he will continue to fight for every point. Even if it does become a 0-8 then, that 0-8 will have a much better feel to it than the 0-8 of the Indian cricket team.

Djokovic and Nadal were an inspiration to me today... and I am sure they were a similar inspiration to many more viewers around the world! The Indian cricket team could do well with such an inspiration... and a lesson!

Monday, January 23, 2012

AT 2

CRIC - SIS turns 2 today! I have not been very active on this blog or on Twitter for about last 6 months. As a result, while I had posted almost 300 blog entries in my first year of existence on blogosphere, I have done only about 100 in this second year. This is No. 398th!

I have been caught up in a lot of other things away from blogosphere and twitter causing the lower returns of the second year. Though I do have the satisfaction of having received a lot more hits on these last 100 than I received on the first 300!

I believe I'll manage to be a lot more frequent over my third year, because not being so means missing the company of a lot of brilliant minds, whose comments on this forum and banter over at Twitter has become an excellent company to have at all times! I could never have imagined 2 years ago that there will be so many different people all around the world whom I have never seen by face, but will always relate to them by their Twitter handles and Display pictures!

To all the readers that I have had for these two years, Thank You! It's fun writing about cricket, because when you follow it passionately, the excesses spill out in the form of words. But it's even better to see people read and acknowledge what you have written - whether they agree or disagree from your point of view! Thank you, once again!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


A five-day match. The finals of your country's premier domestic cricket competition. Team A bats first and scores a mammoth 621 runs for their 10 wickets in 245 overs by tea time of Day 3. After the tea break, the weary batsmen of Team B come out to bat. They have been on the field for a good part of 3 days, and have watched the opposition batsmen pummel their team all through that period. Soon, they lose their top order and are staring down at 24 for 3.

After brief recovery partnerships and some minor contribution revolving around a 150 made by their No. 4 batsman, Team B manage to reach 295 before being all out in 102.4 overs. They are 326 runs behind Team A's mammoth run tally, and there are potentially 100 more overs remaining in the game - 90% of them on a 5th day track.

What should a captain be doing in this scenario? Simple logic would suggest that the captain of Team A should be enforcing a follow on and the captain of Team B should start preparing his speech to be delivered as the runners-up in the tournament, explaining this loss and reflecting on glorious moments in the campaign!

Is there a chance... any chance... that Team A could lose by enforcing the follow on? Can Team B score at 8 runs per over for 60 overs in their second innings, and then get Team A all out for less than 150 runs in about 35 overs in the final session of the match?

In a match where 20 wickets have taken almost 4 days and 347.4 overs to arrive, can Team A lose their 10 in just one session of play of 35 overs? In a match where 916 runs have been scored at a rate of 2.63 runs per over, can Team B really score at 8 runs per over on a 5th day track to set up a score to bowl at?

Any person who knows a little bit about First Class cricket will also know that these above questions should not even enter the mind of the captain of Team A. There is just one thing to be done - enforce the follow on, dismiss Team B in the second innings, and win the match by an innings and some runs to seal the title match in all pomp and glory!

Sadly, the defending Ranji Trophy champions Rajasthan had the opportunity of Team A earlier today at Chennai, but decided that making Tamil Nadu (the Team B) bat again was not worth the risk (which somehow they deemed existed) of losing the match!

When a team that has a chance to seal a thumping outright win, with virtually no risk of losing that game, goes for a draw instead, it is a pity that such a game is called "cricket". Rajasthan got a lot of criticism for their go-slow approach to batting over almost 3 days, but a lot of it was unfounded. The system of Ranji Trophy is such that they were just playing for the best chance of a win. But surely, no better chance existed than enforcing a follow on?

Would it not have been nice for Rajasthan to reply back to all those critics with a thumping innings win over Tamil Nadu? Would a win not taste sweeter if it is an innings win rather than a win by first innings lead? I have absolutely no idea what made Rajasthan skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar and his team's management personnel decide against the option of enforcing a follow on, but I would dearly love to know a reason! I would dearly love to see how can one offer a justification for such a decision by keeping a straight face?

I had tweeted towards the end of Day 3 about how a win, if not outright, would seem hollow, given the position that Rajasthan had found themselves in! It so happens that I have lost quite a bit of respect for a team that will tomorrow be crowned as a 2-time running champions of India's First Class cricket!


That is what the 11th seed Belgian Kim Clijsters did today in her 4th Round Women's Singles match against 5th seed Chinese Na Li at the Australian Open today - beating her before she'd actually beaten her! I had expected it to be a good match, a replay of the title clash of last year... but it was much better than what I had bargained for!

I did not see the entire match... missed the first set completely! But as it so transpired, that is when the real beauty of the match unfolded! Na Li had won the first set 6-4, and Kim Clijsters had apparently injured her ankle, and had needed attention to it. The Chinese then broke early in the second set, and looked set for a revenge win.

But then a fightback ensued... Clijsters broke back, and they went along till the tie break. That second set tie-break was truly epic - a brilliant battle of wills! Na Li took an early lead in the tie break, and at the change of sides, she led 4-2.

Then she took a couple of more points - one of each woman's serve - to have four match points at 6-2. Her destiny was in her hands, and 2 of those 4 match points were to be on her own serve! But then madness ensued... two errors from Na Li and a forehand winner from Kim Clijsters slashed it down to just 1 match point.

And that was followed by a brilliant exchange of strokes dominated by Kim Clijsters. She made Na Li move from side to side, then drew her to the net, and finished it off with a stunning lob that the Chinese did not even make an attempt to retrieve.

The Chinese camp was suddenly silent... stunned into silence would be more like it! A change of sides must have raised some hope since it gave Na Li some time to gather back her wits and have a sip of her drink. It was to prove to be in no avail... as Clijsters calmly won the next 2 points, and this 4th Round match seemed to be headed the same way as last year's finals!

Eventually, Clijsters took advantage of the momentum to race ahead to 5-1 in the deciding set, and then following a brief fightback from Na Li, sealed it at 6-4. She will now meet the current world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the Quarterfinals.

The Belgian mother won that match with that stunning lob. All through the remaining part of the match, Na Li wore a beaten expression on her face... and the desperation of her efforts showed that she knew she was far away from victory. She virtually tried to hit a winner on every ball, especially if it was on her forehand, in the third set. And except for a brief period where she rallied to win 3 games including a break of serve, most of those attempted-winners did not connect to her liking. Clijsters had well and truly gotten into her head!

It must have been a difficult experience for the Chinese, who had lost the finals here last year in a very similar manner - taking the first set, before losing the next two. But what a tremendous effort by the Belgian! To keep your head while facing 4 match points against you, as a defending champion participating in your last ever Australian Open event in front of a crowd that has loved her and supported her as half-an-Aussie, and then complete that turnaround was an effort that cannot be described in words!

What a match! Hope there are some more of these in this business end of the Australian Open 2012!


I have had this thought in mind for a long time now… months, really! Now I am finally getting down to laying it down in words. While doing so, I was again delayed by this post on Cricinfo by Harsha Bhogle… which was very related to my post, though not completely in agreement. It was definitely more food for my thoughts!

India’s domestic structure is a pretty complex one, and by almost a unanimous opinion, not the most effective or efficient one! For a long time now, there have been random voices and calls from various personalities suggesting, advocating and demanding changes… but there really has not been much of it! Like Harsha Bhogle, my post does not call merely for a change… it calls for an overhaul!

Along this line, I have written a post in a detailed and comprehensive manner describing specifically the changes I would like to see in Indian cricket's domestic structure. It has been hosted by Freehitcricket. Have a read!

Friday, January 20, 2012


One-sided matches, almost invariably, are a combination of one side performing exceptionally well and the other side under-performing. The first Test between Pakistan and England at Dubai was no different.

Pakistan were exceptional - keeping tight lines on the first day to create mistakes from the batsmen on an unresponsive wicket, then bat solidly at the top and wag a bit at the bottom to get a more than decent-sized lead, and finally put in another disciplined and at the same time, aggressive bowling effort to bowl England out just 14 runs ahead of their first innings lead.

England were shabby - they got too caught up in trying to be careful against the spin and were done in by Ajmal's guile and wicket-to-wicket lines as a result, then could not find the ammunition to restrict Pakistan despite taking wickets at regular intervals after they had got the first breakthrough, and finally batting poorly again to be shot out just for 160.

The result tells profound tales about both the camps. For Pakistan, it is a huge win, coming against the opponent in whose country they had experienced the lowest point of their recent cricket history - the 2010 Spot Fixing Scandal. Since then, Pakistan has been in a rebuilding state. After showing the promise in the World Cup (and just before than in New Zealand), they have now every reason to be delighted with the progress they have shown under the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq. This is the first time in about half a decade that there is a sense of stability in Pakistan's cricket, which had been missing ever since they had lost to Ireland in the World Cup 2007, followed by their then coach Bob Woolmer's death and Inzamam-ul-Haq's retirement in the next game against Zimbabwe.

Their win has just made the scenario of Test cricket very exciting at the top. England, because of their Asian struggles, are definitely not in the category of 'Invincibles' yet. Pakistan themselves are on the rise, as is Australia after a decline for some time. India is on a slide, as is Sri Lanka (despite Durban). South Africa is stable near the top, though inconsistent. If Pakistan can unearth another couple of good fast bowler (something they tend to do quite easily and also frankly because I am not very convinced with Aizaz Cheema yet), they might as well threaten for a stint of their own at the top of the rankings in a couple of years.

On the other side of the fence, England have a task ahead of them. They rose to the No. 1 spot in Test rankings not a long time ago. But if they put in such performances in Asia, they will not be holding that rank for a long time, as 2012 sees them play away to Sri Lanka and India as well. Their batting is definitely not as abject as the scores of 192 and 160 would suggest (almost seems like I am talking about India!), but their difficulties against the sub-continental spinners in the sub-continent have been very well-documented. They are not incapable of doing well in the sun-continent - Strauss has a century in each innings in Chennai and a wonderful 150 at Bangalore in the World Cup to look back at, Trott was very consistent in the World Cup, Bell (despite his confusion against Ajmal's doosras) has a fine footwork to counter spin bowling, Pietersen is a class player in a different category of his own, Morgan can counter spin effectively, as can Prior (which is what he showed in the first innings at Dubai).

They have worries in the bowling department too, and it starts right with the structure of their bowling attack. Five bowlers or four bowlers? One spinner or two spinner? What should be the combination when Bresnan is fit and what should it be when he isn't? I don't think two spinners is a good idea for England. Spinners are the bowlers that Asian batsmen relish facing, and so home or away, the best way to attack them is with pace - something the South Africa has done well with a good measure of success in the sub-continent! In the Dubai Test, Swann hardly troubled the Pakistan batsmen. When there is turn, he will surely get a few wickets, but if he is played out comfortably, then 3-4 wickets per Test is not much of a solace. In the sub-continent, the lead spinner of every team needs to be capable of getting 6-7 wickets every Test match!

The other spinner in the English ranks in Monty Panesar, who performed well in the warm-up game prior to the Dubai Test. So bewildering as it might sound to many - here's what I think England should do: draft in Monty Panesar in place of Graeme Swann, their premier spinner. I do feel that sub-continental batsmen prefer facing an off-spinner rather than a left-arm spinner. But the most compelling reason is the abundance of right-handed batsmen in the 3 teams that England will face in Asia in 2012. In their last respective Tests, Pakistan had just 1 left-hander in top-7 (Taufeeq Umar), Sri Lanka had 2 (Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara), and India had 1 (Gautam Gambhir). With just right-arm fast bowlers in their ranks having to bowl mainly at right-handed batsmen (thereby almost eliminating their chances of bowling around the wicket), there are very little chances of footmarks creating rough patches on the pitch for an off-spinner. But if a left-arm spinner can use those footmarks by going over the wicket. It may be a slightly defensive strategy, but in my opinion, it is the best shot for England!

Greame Swann is a wonderful bowler, but England would do well by adopting a horses-for-courses theory. He can always be drafted back in the side if they are faced with a dustbowl or if Panesar underperforms or if they decide to go with 5 bowlers. But I think going for a left-arm spinner with 3 pacemen is a strategy worth having a shot at!

As for their fast bowlers, they will just have to persevere, get their lengths
right, and be patient. The Asian pitches can be a big test of patience, and winning that test shall help them win a lot of Tests. Broad, I suspect, will be their key bowler... and Strauss would do well to hand him the new ball every time with Anderson (unlike what he did at Dubai). England would have loved to have someone with reverse-swing-capabilities of Simon Jones in their ranks... but even without that, they have good men in their arsenal. Now lets see if they can fire!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Taking a leaf out of Stuart Broad's book!
This one's headed the same way as the last one... and it is unbelievably painful to watch it happen. Mad hope kept flickering up every now and again, but there was always an air of inevitability even when there was some promise being shown.

Which tour is more depressing as a cricket viewer? I really have no idea, and even if I discover some way of measuring my depression, I would really not be interested in doing so. But since we are in the midst of the Australian tour, I want to touch upon certain points that make me really afraid of what's happening and what more might happen.

During the tour of England, a lot of things went wrong for India. It was believed that if some of those things had gone right, India would not have suffered the embarrassment of a whitewash. In the period between the England tour and the Australian tour, there were a few steps taken that were seemingly lessons from the former. Yet, here we are... facing the very same 4-0 scoreline against an opponent that is definitely not as good as England had been!

So what were the excuses that could have been passed off as reasons for the England debacle?


India received the biggest blow possible on the very first day of the Test series in England, when Zaheer Khan limped back into the dressing room clutching his hamstring muscles after having picked up the wickets of both the English openers (and having a catch dropped of their No. 3 in the slips) by soundly working them over. The absence of Zaheer Khan for the rest of the tour was considered to be one of the biggest factors of India's losses there by all and sundry.

But now, in hindsight, one wonders how much of a difference would he really have made! He has been available for all the 3 Test matches in Australia, and while he has bowled well himself, India's attack really has not looked as threatening as it should have considering the personnel present. One might say that the Zaheer-led bowling attack has done commendably except for that one period spanning over two Tests in different time zones where they conceded 836 runs for just 1 wicket, but that is a hollow argument!

The only conclusion that can be drawn after watching India bowl in the 7 losses thus far is that with or without Zaheer Khan, the bowling has just not been good enough to get the team within sights of a victory! While their opponents have had bowlers (Stuart Broad and Peter Siddle being prime examples) who have altered their bowling lengths to gain impressive rewards, the Indian team continue to field a bowler (read Ishant Sharma) whose lengths have received sound punishment and have shown no signs of changing.


In England, India was hampered by lack of fit personnel even at the top of the batting lineup. Sehwag was unfit for the first two Tests, and did not look fit enough even in his return for the last two Tests. Gambhir suffered injuries during the series. Tendulkar had to play an innings battling fever. Yuvraj Singh got injured during the series.

In Australia, there have been no such problems. Sehwag came in completely fit having scored the highest score by a batsman in ODIs, and Gambhir too came in fully fit and having recovered a bit of his lost touch against the West Indies at home. And even before the series started, there was more or less a certainty that Virat Kohli would be given a decent run at the No. 6 spot. So as a result, India played an unchanged top-7 in all three Tests... and floundered in each one of them!

The consistent failures of the Indian batting unit have been very baffling and difficult to explain. These men have brilliant records and have been proven performers in the past even in tough away conditions too. With these 7 losses, voices have grown loud that these batting stalwarts are old now, and their age is showing up in their batting. Dravid's spree of bowled dismissals are explained as a result of slowing reflexes.

These very same men had had wonderful runs with the bat in not too distant a past, and back then, they were being described as fine wine - getting better with age. Now, they are supposedly getting slower with age. It's the easiest way of calling for their heads, I suppose!

While it is obvious that sooner rather than later, these men will have to make way for a younger generation of batsmen, one needs to realise that age has hardly been a factor in their undoing. Yes, they have failed... failed in 7 consecutive away Tests! But I honestly believe that this failure has been more due to much braver (read fuller) bowling from the opposition bowlers in helpful conditions. Since the Indian bowlers have not been able to replicate such consistency in bowling, the opposition batsmen have been made to look much better than their Indian counterparts, which may not be the genuine case!


In England, lack of acclimatisation and preparation in those conditions was considered to be a major factor in the losses. The Indian team landed in England after the Caribbean tour less than 10 complete days before the start of the first Test. They played just one 3-day warm-up game before the first Test, and looked ill at ease in conditions that were completely different from the ones they are accustomed to.

For the Australian tour, certain players reached Down Under more than two weeks before the first Test, and the others reached about 12 days prior. The preparation involved one 3-day game and one 2-day game. No player was coming in unfit or with the lack of match practice. In fact, India's biggest concern was over the fitness of Zaheer Khan... but he too played two Ranji games before playing a warm-up match in Australia.

After the first Test at MCG, Dhoni said that India have always been poor starters. It was depressing to see him hide behind that age-old facade... while the truth remains that the first Test was the one where the team was the most competitive during this tour, and had genuine chances of a win! Since then, it has all been downhill.


The IPL got a lot of flak after the England disaster, because of the way it disrupted cricket schedules. While the rest before the Australian tour for the team was hardly any better, but they were at home in an ODI series. This meant that the core of India's middle order was well rested and those who were participating in the ODI series were doing so to gain match fitness, practice or cement their spots in the Test team.

The scheduling also received a lot of flak because of the inadequate acclimatisation factor, as touched upon in the previous point. Yet no such reasons can be passed off here in Australia. The only conclusion that I can draw is that the team has actually been outplayed on the field, and any changes in the external factors would hardly have made any difference to the eventual result!

In England, the Indian team was beaten by a deserving side functioning at the top of its game. All the reasons / excuses that were put up by the fans defending the team were nothing but a protective shield to prevent any adverse after-effect of that shocking loss! Therefore, it was doubly depressing to see that protective shield blown apart piece-by-piece in a systematic fashion to leave the team and the fans nakedly exposed and vulnerable.

Every now and again, time calls for change. For the Indian team, there had been confusion over the past couple of years about when exactly is that time. Well, there is no such confusion now! That time for change has come, and a lot of rebuilding needs to be done. There will be more losses on the way, and more pain to be endured. But what needs to be done must be done!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


As expected, a couple of losses have brought out the knives against Team India. The blame has been placed on batting, bowling, captaincy, lack of practice, disharmony in the team, and myriad other factors. Suggestions and advice have been pouring in from everywhere.

These suggestions involve simple things like dropping VVS Laxman for Rohit Sharma, to more radical ideas like R Ashwin opening the batting!

Since virtually everyone has jumped in on the bandwagon, I thought of joining in too. But my solution (or should I call it suggestion) to the Indian team is far less drastic.

I would like to see the Indian team go unchanged to Perth, with a small reshuffle in the batting order - Kohli at 5 and Laxman at 6. There are a number of reasons behind this line of thinking, and I'll state them thus:

A. Fours Bowlers vs. Five Bowlers

I don't see any reason to change the status quo unless we discover a new bowling all-rounder in the ranks. And while Ashwin's performances with the bat do show promise, it is far too early to call him an all-rounder already. The drubbing at SCG has made everyone cry hoarse about India's bowling resources, and it's been conveniently forgotten that at MCG, Sehwag had called this very same bowling unit the best that he had ever played with.

While I don't think it's the best ever of Sehwag's time, but I still do think that it is quite good. They took 20 Australian wickets at MCG, and if the WACA pitch offers assistance as is being claimed in the media, I think they are quite capable to picking 20 more there. They are well-rested now after having been in the field watching Australia score a mammoth score, and most importantly, there are no injury concerns (at the moment).

Zaheer Khan has been leading the attack well. Umesh Yadav has been inconsistent and a little wayward, but I think he can be relied upon to pitch the ball up. In the second innings at MCG, his lines were not that good, but he grabbed 4 wickets because of his length. Ishant Sharma is, in my opinion, the biggest concern because he finds it difficult to change his length, and at a venue like Perth, his natural short-of-a-length balls will seem a lot shorter than they do at other venues.

There are talks of dropping Ashwin and going for Ojha or a fourth seamer... but I don't think that is a very good idea. Maybe, Ojha for Ashwin is an option worth considering, but definitely not a fourth seamer! I don't think either Abhimanyu Mithun or Vinay Kumar will add a lot more value than R Ashwin in the team. As for Ojha, the main reason for considering him is that the Australian right-handers pose more of a threat than the left-handers. Zaheer Khan with the new ball is very potent against the left-handed top-3 of Australia. But with Michael Clarke hitting form and Ricky Ponting hitting a ton, a left-arm spinner might be of help more than an off-spinner.

B. Laxman At 6

Laxman's numbers at No. 5 are very similar to his numbers at No. 6. Averages of 49.00 at 5 and 50.18 at 6 show that he is quite comfortable at both these positions. However, from the team's perspective, I think it is beneficial to have him at 6 rather than 5.

There are a number of benefits of having him bat at 6. Firstly, it adds experience in the lower middle order of India's batting, which has been prone to collapsing even after being given a good platform by the top- and middle-order (read 1st innings at MCG). Secondly, it separates India's Big 3 - Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. When they are bunched together at 3, 4 and 5, one bowler bowling a fiery spell with good rhythm can get rid of all of them. With Laxman at 6, it offers a break between India's 3 best batsmen's batting positions and protects them from one inspired spell of fast bowling.

C. Kohli At 5

Virat Kohli is young - in terms of both age and experience in Test cricket! Currently, when he comes out to bat, he comes with the knowledge that there is just a struggling MS Dhoni and the tail to follow him. With him at 5, he will know that there is an experienced batsman in the form of VVS Laxman to follow, and will allow him to play in slightly lesser pressure. At No. 5, he will almost invariably bat with one of the Big-3, and if he survives that partnership, he will get a chance to bat with another member of the Big-3. These experiences can only help to calm him and grow as a cricketer.

D. Kohli vs. Sharma

All those people calling for Rohit Sharma to replace Virat Kohli need to realise that Rohit Sharma is not a saviour sent from heaven for Indian team's cause. In shorter versions of cricket, Sharma has flattered to deceive in the past, and that is why Kohli got his chances in the first place. Since Kohli capitalised, it is fair that he be given his chances in Test cricket too... even if they are chances to fail!

The most baffling point is that I don't see any reason why Rohit Sharma can come into this lineup and do something that other batsmen cannot do! Sanjay Manjrekar says that this step makes "long term sense"... but right now, the team's goal is a very short-term one - i.e. to arrest this slide in Australia and put India's away Test cricket on surer footing. The time for long-term measures will start after this tour, when India will play at home for a long time. For the present short-term goal, lets stick to short-term solutions and show faith in these players!

Saturday, January 7, 2012


MS Dhoni has received a lot of flak over his field placements and defensive captaincy strategies over the past week at SCG. This is not the first time that his field settings have left cricket watchers frustrated in muted agony. Some just shrug their shoulders and say that it's become a part of the modern-day captaincy, while others grit their teeth and wonder who-the-hell ever called Dhoni an attacking captain!

I find Dhoni strange and difficult to understand. Sometimes, his field placements and other strategies are so good that you feel the need to applaud him even if they do not work out the way they were intended... and at other times, they are so lousy that you question whether you are watching the right match!

Less than 10 months ago, on 24th March 2011, India played the Quarterfinals of the ICC World Cup 2011 against the then three-time defending champions Australia at Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel Stadium. In that match, Dhoni had attacked like I have never seen him do before. He had a fielder at silly point even on Yuvraj Singh's bowling in the 39th over of the Australian innings to Ricky Ponting, who was batting fluently in his 60s and 70s. In fact, Ponting had either a short square leg or a silly point virtually every time he faced a spinner till he was in his 70s.

Those attacking field placements may not have directly earned India any wickets, but they surely sent a statement of intent to the opposition. One might argue that Michael Clarke's horrendous attempt at slog sweeping Yuvraj Singh might have been caused by the attacking field settings (even he had a slip for him in the 31st over bowled by Yuvraj Singh), but that is arguable both ways.

Even in the Semi-finals against Pakistan at Mohali, I was impressed by the fielding positions he had set. The fielders were within the 30-yard circle were up very close, in order to stop the singles that result if they are fielding on the edge of the circle. On the other hand, the fielders in the deep were right on the boundary line, in order to cover as much ground as possible to prevent a boundary. For the gaps in the middle, he relied on the lack of athleticism of Asian batsmen for converting ones-into-twos. That was quite brilliant to watch as the pressure built on Pakistan, with Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq almost stalling their progress in the middle overs.

Post the World Cup win, when I had done a post on the main architects of India's World Cup triumph, I focused more on Dhoni's captaincy in the knock-out matches than his knock in the World Cup final. Those kind of knocks when India is chasing a target in ODI cricket are a Dhoni-specialty, but that brand of attacking captaincy as we witnessed in India's last three World Cup matches was a pleasant change.

And now with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that it indeed was just a "pleasant change". I had secretly hoped that Dhoni might have turned over a new leaf during the World Cup, and we would see a more attacking Indian captain post that win. The first crack in that hope came with the draw at Dominica. The England tour also a big question mark, but to be fair to Dhoni, he never really had a bowling unit there with whom he could attack well.

But here in Australia, that reasoning does not hold good. Sehwag claimed at Melbourne that the current pace-bowling unit is the best he has ever played with. Even if that assertion is over-the-top, there is no denying that this indeed is a very good bowling unit that India is carrying (obviously when fully fit). They may have flopped miserably at SCG with only 4 wickets to their name (reminds me of the Centurion Test on India's 2010-11 tour of South Africa), but they are the very same bowlers who grabbed 20 Australian wickets at MCG.

It can be arguably held that a bit less defensiveness of Dhoni's part might have helped the bowlers in a big way. It wouldn't have allowed the Australian tail to wag as much as it did at MCG, which could (and I am just saying COULD) have altered the result there... and while at SCG, the result may not have changed, but there was definitely a scope for a little more attacking cricket when Ponting and Clarke were early in their partnership. Even when their association had crossed a 100-run mark, Australia was still trailing India (albeit not by much). I would have expected a truly-attacking captain to use that slender margin of lead to continue attacking rather than having a sweeper cover and a deep square leg. It just so happens that because of the size of the SCG, Dhoni continued to be unable to stop the flow of Australian boundaries and runs.

I wonder which 'alter' of Dhoni's multiple-personality will need to be strengthened to see him attack once again like he did at the World Cup!

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Would love to see them batting together once again!
There are a lot of things I would love to see happening in 2012... but I have picked out over here, five of them that I dearly wish for:

1. Get That 100 And Then Many More

I hope it happens in a few days time now at Sydney. He's got three there already, and with a Test average of more than 200 at SCG, there's every chance that the 100th ton for Sachin Tendulkar finally arrives there. I wish to see that 100th ton out of the way, and then many more runs and tons from the Little Master in 2012. India will be playing Test cricket against Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England over the next 12 months... so lets have another special year (like 2010) in 2012 from Sachin Tendulkar!

2. Cheteshwar Pujara Gets Back In

His last appearance in the Indian squad was a year ago... in the Third Test during India's Tour of South Africa. An injury in the IPL caused Cheteshwar Pujara to miss virtually the entire remaining 2011. He made a comeback for Saurashtra mid-way through the Ranji season, but could not get back his form that saw him force his way into the Indian team. With Saurashtra not making it to the quarterfinals (they came very close), and his spot uncertain in the West Zone team, it could be a difficult path for Pujara now. Taking into consideration that Virat Kohli has been given his chance at No. 6 for India in Tests with Rohit Sharma right behind him, Pujara will have to work extremely hard and pray for a little bit of luck along the way. I too will be praying for him... and hope to see him reclaim his spot in India's Test squad very soon!

3. Afghanistan Qualify For The World Twenty20 Championships

The Qualifying Tournament for participation in the World Twenty20 Championships 2012 will be held in United Arab Emirates from 13th to 24th March 2012. A total of 16 teams will fight for the meagre 2 spots open for them in the main event. Realistically, the teams that have a good chance to make it through are Ireland, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Canada, Kenya and Scotland. I would love to see Afghanistan make it through once again, and participate in their second major global tournament after the 2010 edition of the same. Having followed Afghan cricket closely for the past one year, I find the prospect of Afghanistan in top-flight cricket a very realistic and exciting one!

4. An Exciting U-19 World Cup

The Australian state of Queensland will be hosting the U-19 Cricket World Cup in August 2012. I love watching the U-19 World Cup tournaments for they show up a lot of unknown exciting talent... and not always from the regular cricketing nations. The highest wicket taker in the 2010 edition of the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand was a fast bowler from Papua New Guinea! India is place in arguably the easiest group - Group C - alongside the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea. I would love to see the Indian juniors perform well and for a lot of young, new and exciting talent to emerge from this tournament.

5. India Gets A Small Measure Of Revenge In November - December

India will be hosting England for 4 Tests at the end of the year in November and December. There is nothing Indian fans would like to see better than a reverse whitewash after the humiliation faced over the English summer of 2011. But one's got to be realistic here... the English cricket team in Test cricket is a fantastic one, and though they are not the most comfortable playing in sub-continental conditions, they can still be a handful. A good pace attack can work in any condition on earth, and the South Africans have shown that admirably in India - twice! But I would love to see India gain some big wins over England during the winter season, and show them why this land came to be known as the Final Frontier!