Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Look India Pass First Test

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Cheteshwar Pujara re-announced himself to the cricket world with a mature century. The rawness of his stroke-making was still evident. He played classical cricket shots, which were more likely to hit fielders than gaps. But New Zealand is not a team that has bowlers to test such batsmen. Pujara, though, in time is likely to make those adjustments to shot making that Dravid did so effectively. Pujara provided all the sense of calm and control that Dravid used to provide Indian fans. The real test will be against England’s bowlers that have a lot more variety and aggression. But this is a good stepping stone for Pujara.
Virat Kohli was a little too enterprising for the match situation, pitch conditions and all. Given that India’s bowlers are unlikely to take 20 wickets, unless New Zealand are under the pressure of close to 500 runs, Virat could have focused on piling on the runs, rather than providing the lift. So, while Virat seemed to be in total control, he didn’t respect New Zealand’s bowlers enough and paid the price.
The bad story was the “seniors” – Gambhir, Sehwag and Tendulkar. Each in his own way demonstrated scant respect for test match batting fundamentals. Perhaps too much security is not good for them. Gambhir and Sehwag started and continued in ODI fashion. Gambhir tried a cute ODI shot and was gone. Sehwag played great shots, but he played one too many. Despite being let off twice, he didn’t curtail his extravagance. There were enough mediocre balls on offer and he didn’t need to mess with manufacturing yet another ODI boundary through the slips. But Sehwag, like Gambhir, was guilty of disrespecting test match bowling. India would have been sitting at close 400 had either one of them toned it down a measure. Given that they were batting at the head of an inexperienced middle order, they should have assumed more responsibility and played smarter cricket.
Tendulkar seemed to be ok. The bowling wasn’t testing him. He didn’t miss too many balls. However, the one that he missed got him. I think Manjrekar and Ganguly got it right in the post match analysis. Tendulkar was somehow trying to convince himself and the viewers that the ball was too low. But he can’t convince the cameras. My addition to that is that now it appears that Tendulkar is playing to prove his critics wrong - critics who question his decision to continue to play international cricket. The ball he got out to could have got anyone out or not. It wasn’t  unplayable. Tendulkar misjudged it. Stuff happens. Personally, I didn’t think it was a huge sin for a batsman to be out in that fashion occasionally. He didn’t throw his wicket away. But his reaction smacked of some guilt at getting out cheaply. He’s now trying to live up to his own high expectations. He needs to give himself a break. If he wants to play and the selectors let him, then he should without any sense of guilt, assuming that’s what’s going through his mind. (I love my own psycho-babble sometimes.) Critics like me are going to continue to want him to leave, not because he’s not a good batsman, but because it’s time.
So, life after Dravid and Laxman isn’t as terrible. The new batsmen will still need to prove themselves in testing conditions and play some heroic knocks in future. But Kohli and Pujara showed that they belong. It was five years after Dravid and Laxman’s debut that Kolkata happened. Until then, there were glimpses of what was to come but test matches had not been won against quality opposition against the odds. I don’t believe we’ll have to wait for five years before Kohli, Pujara and maybe even Rohit Sharma turn it on for India.
Raina still has work to do if he is serious about his test career. He fiddled with a worthless ball outside the leg-stump. Good test batsmen don’t mess with such stuff on day one of a test match. He’ll likely get one more test match after this one to show up in the right manner.
Another piece of good news to me was that there were a reasonable number of spectators watching the game. For a game bereft of Dravid and Laxman, there was good interest in the new folks. In addition, this was a game against “no-name” New Zealand. With a little more thought into ticket pricing and scheduling and we might see more people at test matches.
Overall, India are doing quite well in this match. They are likely to get to a 400 plus total. Dhoni has an opportunity to add runs to his tally. Pujara has the appetite to carry on. Jeetan Patel bowled quite well and it should bode well for Ashwin and Ojha. The pitch will likely do something starting day 3. Provided Zaheer and Yadav make some early inroads, this thing could be over in four days. It’s hard to see India lose from here, but interesting things have happened in test matches.

P.S. Rediff bought Tendulkar's acting --- Here's a quote from their match-analysis "
Displaying a wide array of strokes during his near chanceless innings, Pujara revelled in the role of a sheet anchor. The youngster had the esteemed company of the world's leading scorer Tendulkar but the partnership did not last long as the legendary batsman was bowled through the gate.
It was a delivery that kept a bit low and skidded through, breaching the master's defence.

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