Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dhoni must be kidding...settled combination?

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India wrapped up proceedings and normal service has resumed. Ashwin has proven to be Kumble's second coming in India. The England home series was an aberration simply because they had good spinners and good batsmen. I say that tongue in cheek of course.

What's disturbing is that Dhoni thinks India have a settled side. Openers haven't provided a decent start in several innings. Neither opener has managed good scores consistently. Pujara keeps getting to bat too early and Sachin's waning days mean that this test could have been an aberration. Australia don't have the batsmen to take India on like England did. Australian batsmen just want to get on with it and that's a terrible mindset in Indian conditions.

This Indian side will get creamed in South Africa. A third whitewash in three overseas series is not progress or even mildly amusing. India can take cue from the time when Gilchrist was still in the Australian side. He played pressure free for most part because there were accomplished batsmen ahead of him. He was the "all rounder" in the side. Dhoni would do well to think about building a team with those fundamentals. It's time to give Rahane a go as opener instead of thinking that Vijay can step up in South Africa.

Jadeja can play if he proves that he can bat with the tail or if he can make the number seven spot his own. At this time he is not showing any of those possibilities. It's time to put Tiwary in the hopper to see what he can do. Taking a rookie to South Africa may work like Amre and Sehwag coming good, but its a risk given the bowling attack that they are going to confront.

India is paying the price for not looking beyond Raina and Yuvraj in a timely manner. In fact, I would argue that they still have no plan for life after Tendulkar. While the IPL is certainly to blame, I see meaningless domestic matches also as a problem.

The fact that Mumbai has won 40 times should us something about lack of competitiveness. In addition, first innings lead rules means to me, less emphasis on team work and more on individual glory. Personally, I think the Ranji Trophy should be trimmed to 20 teams or less. An NFL like format needs to applied to foster intra-division rivalry. A nationwide draft should be instituted to bring parity to teams. This way a 303 not out score truly has meaning and gravitas as opposed to a number to justify inclusion in the national team.

And maybe a minor league needs to be put into play for very major team. These could be in smaller towns. Maybe even privately owned teams or player owned teams. Like a partnership model. What's frustrating is that there is talent in India that's being wasted. Poor coaching, un-supportive set up and misplaced incentives such as IPL. BCCI can funnel money in a way such that young cricketers are forced to consider test cricket. No one should be coerced but the money on the table should provide a positive motivation. Plus, cricket awards etc can be other sources of recognition for test cricket.

Tendulkar's departure is likely to make no difference anymore.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Selectorial boldness needed for India

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Australia hurtled to 317 runs at the end of day 1 at Chennai. Despite the loss of 7 wickets, Australia can take comfort from two facts. One, their scoring rate was pretty good and it allowed them to maintain pressure on India. Two, barring Ashwin none of the other Indian bowlers came close to taking wickets. My own view is that the Australians will work Ashwin out by the next test match. The reason being that the LBW wickets he got were almost all due to batsmen errors with the Shane Watson one being the lone surprise. There were no caught behinds, no bamboozle bowled batsmen. But wickets are wickets and Ashwin can feel good about his bowling. Hopefully, he'll bring a few more tricks to the next innings, to counter a potential tactic change by the Australians.

The less said about Harbhajan the better. Jadeja is doing what he was picked to do. He needs to score runs in this test otherwise, there should be no room for him in a test match side. Both Harbhajan and Ashwin have test centuries against their names and I have often wondered what the heck Dhoni is so scared about that he packs his side with more batsmen. India theoretically bat right down to number 11 (Ishant being the sole non-batsman). Ojha would have been real useful on this track.

All eyes will be on the Indian batsmen though because Australia is likely to fold for 350-400 runs. If things go per India's plan, then India should pile up around 550 with major contributions from Sehwag, Pujara and Kohli/Tendulkar. However, from a future stand-point, even if Tendulkar is the major contributor, India should be worried that the load hasn't yet spread to the others. It's time to bring new blood in and challenge them to come good. This is post-Gavaskar again, when Vengsarkar, Amarnath, Srikkanth were not able to deliver, yet were persisted with citing lack of alternatives. Azhar and Shastri being the others.

While Tendulkar decides when to leave, India need to rid itself of the Jadeja-like, balancer type players and bet on the come. Sehwag, Gambhir, Harbhajan, Tendulkar and perhaps even Dhoni are 2-5 year players. Pujara and Kohli are the only two that are already blooded that will go longer. India's test future cannot be so fragile. Pujara and Kohli are looking at years of draws and defeats if selectors don't become bolder.

Rahane, Tiwary, Rayudu, Raina, Sharma (yes-him), maybe Nayar, need to be blooded to bat around Pujara and Kohli. Openers are an issue, but I think Gambhir will claim his spot back. He's likely to put the pettiness aside and start thinking big picture. I have been impressed by his commitment in the past. Especially, the chaperoning role he played in South Africa and the World Cup. I believe he will be back to doing that again. Maybe under a different captain, but for sure he's capable. Sehwag appears to have run out of gas. Age or fatigue seems to have dulled his performance. With a less experienced attack to face, maybe he'll come good, just like Ponting made hay against India, only to be shown his place by a better attack.

This test match offers Pujara and Kohli a great chance to test themselves against good fast bowlers on a benign wicket. It would be a great learning opportunity before they head off to take on fast bowlers on overseas seamer friendly wickets. While people may say it's not the same and it may make them complacent, I feel that batting against genuine pace in any conditions is a good thing, so long as they don't get carried away with their performances (assuming they come good). There are always lessons that can be learned by the smart batsmen.

It's too early to tell where this test match is headed. Clarke continued in the tradition of good captains demonstrating intent in the first innings of a series. Although, Dharmasena reprieved him off Ashwin during the post-lunch session, Clarke appeared to be in good control for most part. Henriques took a huge step towards becoming an heir to Andy Symonds. I was impressed by his poise and clarity of approach. However, recently such folks seem to be fading -- Duminy being the other that comes to mind.

I see Duminy, DuPlessis, Henriques, Hafeez, Root and perhaps Jadeja as similar contributors. Jadeja can get there provided he demonstrates that his batting isn't a joke. If were to predict what happens tomorrow, I would say a biggie from Tendulkar is coming with Pujara for company.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Australia In India: Questions ahead of the BIG Series

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Why are we calling the India v Australia Series 'The BIG Series'?
Because...Sachin said so. There is no question that the Pope resigned so as not to miss a single ball of the BIG Series. But just because Sachin said it, and the Pope resigned, it does not really make it a BIG series. 

Once upon a time in Eden Gardens, a series between these two countries was a guaranteed blockbuster. Now its like a poor remake of poor remake of a cult movie. Its like if Roshan's Agneepath, which itself was a poor remake of Bacchan's Agneepath were to be remade with even more plastic characters...

Who will win the series?
That is tough to say...and mostly the question misses the point. The team with the fewest sustained injuries will think that they came out ahead. I mean we all know the idea is to survive the series so that IPL monies are not risked. 

IPL VI will start 34 seconds after the last Test in Delhi. Actually its a week after,

If I were to do an honest analysis, I think India will win because their players will probably go all out. The BCCI has ensured that Indian players; if injured while playing for India, will be paid their full IPL contract, were they to miss the IPL because of that injury.

There is no such incentive for Australia. At least not that has been made public.

Will India hit a new bottom in this series?
They may...but it would still not be the lowest low. That will come in 2015 in Australia. The yardstick by which India measure their low points, does not account for humiliations in Test cricket.

Who will be missed the most..Ponting, Dravid, VVS Laxman, Hussey?
This is a real easy one...Sachin Tendulkar

How many Australians were born after Sachin made his first first class 100?
6...Out of that 6, one, Ashton Agar was born after Mike Atherton first thought about Sachin's retirement

Will this series throw any new heroes?

The 2 countries obviously have a rich rivalry. Which Test really stands out among the many great contests between the 2?
The Tied Test, Of course...by a distance. In that Test Match Ravi Shastri was not allowed to speak. 

What was the lowest point of the rivalry?
Sydney 2008. It was not funny.

What was the high point of the rivalry?
The 1977/78 India tour of Australia. That was a time when the ICC was fighting commercial interests. India played a second string Australian side. Came back from 2 games down to draw level and chasing 493 in the last innings of the deciding Test, came within 47 runs of achieving the impossible. 

What kind of pitches will work in India's favor?
If we were to get into Dhoni's mind and answer the question...

"Any pitch that turns 34 degrees from the 7th over of the second session on the 2nd day if India is batting first and 56 degrees from the 4th over of the first day if India is bowling first and where the bounce is at the level of the bails for balls bowled between 60-75 mph....would be a pitch where we can win"

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, expertly has created the perception that even at home he does not get the pitches he wants.

What will a series win mean for Australia?
Australia has already started talking up Sachin, his greatness, his divinity, etc....etc...which means they want to win. And in today's landscape, any team that wants to win in India, can. Whether it will mean anything in the scheme of things overall...I don't think so. A win in India probably doesn't count for much when the Ashes start

What will a series win mean for India?
For India, there are 3 winning senarios to consider. A series win where Sachin flops, a series win where Sachin's delivers 100s, and a series loss where Sachin scores 100s. What a series win will mean for India depends on what it means to Sachin Tendulkar.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

India get ready for Australia

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Someone forgot to tell the BCCI that Ponting has retired. Harbhajan Singh's selection after a non-performance in this year's Ranji Trophy is surely a backward step despite his not-so-advanced age. With Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni, Harbhajan had once been the senior in waiting. Unfortunately, the seniors never let go until it was too late for Harbhajan to actually mature and become the senior. If you get my drift.

Needless to say, I'm not very pleased with the selections for the Australia series. The team does not get to move forward. Neither Dhawan nor Jadeja are inspired selections that will cement their places for the long term. In fact, they may fill a minor gap at best, and leave the bulk of heavy lifting to Pujara, Tendulkar and Dhoni. Since Rohit Sharma blew his chances at Irani Trophy, why not bring in Manoj Tiwary and give him a go. He recently returned from injury and scored a dogged 37. For someone that rusty, it's not a bad effort.

In addition, if moving sideways or backwards was the plan, then why not give Raina another go. The guy has expressed desire and demonstrated that he's willing to work for his test place with a good performance in the Irani Trophy. Funnily enough, no one's centuries in the Irani Trophy have counted. Jaffer would  have been a much better bench-warmer in Indian conditions than Shikhar Dhawan is going to be. And please spare me the garbage about a left-right combination. The most successful pairs - Hayden-Langer and Greenidge-Haynes both batted the same side.

While Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is a welcome addition to the team, I thought Sreesanth merited selection too. Unfortunately, the team might relegate Kumar to the role of a stock bowler instead of an attacking option, unless all three fast (sic) bowlers play. Awana might have been a good choice if the team needed someone to send down a lot of overs during the containment periods. Sorta like Morne Morkel or even Peter Siddle at times.

Ashwin is a better all-rounder than Jadeja. So if Harbhajan was picked, why was Jadeja picked. Ashwin has a test century and Jadeja has had a century of opportunities to prove himself worthy. With Ojha in as the left-armer, Jadeja shouldn't play. Or Ojha will be benched and India will struggle to take 20 wickets. Jadeja is 3-fer bowler but not a 5 or 6-fer guy. Rayudu looks like a good option for a number 6, right now given his form. Rasool's all-round abilities also offer an option to replace Jadeja with a bowling all-rounder instead of a batting one. Hopefully, for the third test some changes will be made including giving Rayudu or Tiwary a go.

All in all, the selectors and BCCI have shown no vision. Once again, Pujara and Kohli will have to score a bunch of runs to haul India to safety and Australia will be content to play for draws. Tendulkar should have retired months ago and he may score many more centuries, but it's like watching a black-and-white movie in IMAX for me. Ho-hum.

As far as the series goes, India will win it. The Australian team is in worse shape than India's in terms of batting. I think Sehwag, Kohli and Pujara can put it across the Aussie seamers in Indian conditions. I don't believe either Lyon or Doherty are good enough to trouble even Jadeja. They are not in the Panesar, Swann league, although Nathan Lyon can surprise us.

This is going to be a fun series. A few new Aussie batsmen are going to arrive. My bet is on Henriques. Neither Khawaja nor any of the others are showing much spark. But I bet Phil Hughes, Shane Watson and Clarke will be hard to bowl to in India, regardless of conditions.

Looking forward to real cricket again.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cricket Coaching Apps

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Golf applications for the iPhone and iPad flood the airwaves. There's tons of tips, coaching, drills and expert advise. I was hunting for cricket apps for years to see if Cricket could be made accessible to the masses. Take the mystery out of the game and open it up for those amateur cricketers who play leather or tennis ball cricket in leagues all over the place.

Normally, I don't put in a plug for any apps, but this one is really worth it. Recently, a friend provided a tip about CC Batting, Bowling and Fielding and I decided to check them out. At first I didn't know what to expect. However, these apps blew me away with their depth and breadth of material.

The very first thing that was pleasing to me is that the user interface is very, very easy to use. The app takes you directly into the mother-load without bothering you with intrusive intro screens and stuff.  The content itself is structured remarkably intuitively and one can easily navigate to what one is looking for without more than 2-3 touches.

The bowling app covers all kinds of bowling. Grips, run-up tips, foot landing, release, everything. Pictures with grips, coaching points in writing and video execution is all provided. For an aspiring amateur cricketer and even for a regular player looking for a quick reference guide to fix faults or improve, this quick, easy and accessible. The quality of the videos was way better than I expected. About the only bone I would pick is that the fast bowling videos provide a little more close up of the bowlers.

The batting application is very, very detailed too. Shot zones was my favorite. How often do we play the wrong shot due to well trained instinct? This app provides the best insight into shot selection that I have seen in a long time. The coaching tips provided a what every coach might tell his ward, but the detailed point by point enunciation is a important accompaniment for the videos and pictures provided.

If anyone is looking for a coaching application that's handy, technically credible and detailed, this is it. I wish I could rate the app online and give it five stars or at least a 4.5 to not gush too much. But I believe the makers have a winner here. It's worth it's price.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dumb and Dumber

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The BCCI has a history of raising the stakes when they perceive injustice against them. When Sachin Tendulkar was charged with ball tampering, the BCCI threatened to pull out of the tour unless the 'racist' match referee was removed. Eventually the official Test was called off. The game that took place at Centurion was not an official Test. 

Then 5 years later they again threatened to pull out of a tour if Steve Buknor was not removed as the umpire on the tour because they lost a Test match due to what they claimed as 'biased' decisions. This time they got their way.

Given this history, speculative reports that the BCCI, in an ICC meeting, threatened to pull out of any tour where the DRS is made mandatory are quite believable. 

That the ICC has made a complete mess of implementing the process around the technology of DRS is a view shared by many but the absolute stonewalling that the BCCI has been doing regards the DRS is a massive opportunity lost for the game.

The Indian board is in a position where they can pretty much propose any implementation of adopting the technology and the process behind the DRS and they can get the votes needed to change the existing process. There have been many intelligent voices across the globe that if solicited and harnessed the BCCI can propose a system that is better and agreeable to all.

If, the BCCI is not being constructive in its opposition to the current system is disappointing, then their absolute insistence that the underlying technology be fool proof is infuriating. 

Bats are not fool proof, they can break. So does the seam come off before 80 overs. Both, I presume, are manufactured using some machinery. No one from the BCCI insists that bats and balls be hand made so why this insistence on 100% human arrived decisions for snicks and LBWs.

What would be the right way for the ICC to make BCCI see some sense in it....

The only time I have sensed any passion with BCCI personnel including the president N Srinivasan, is when they talk finances. They may use the its-less-than-perfect-technology argument as a front but primarily their opposition to the DRS stems from the fact that the adoption of it is cost prohibitive. 

They are simply using chinks in the technology to their advantage.

If and when the DRS cost is diverted away from the boards or their costs are included in new contracts with sponsors and broadcasters, BCCI's stubbornness will melt away.

And we will be left with the same dumb process of referrals and referral limits and the umpire will pretty much become redundant. 

The BCCI can use its influence to give us a better system. A system where the umpire is given all the information he needs to make a right decision the first time. The DRS should not be a tool to measure how good the on-field umpire is, it should be a tool to allow the on-field umpire to make a decision informed by technology.

If the existing system is dumb, BCCI's stonewalling of it is even dumber. An opportunity lost