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As the 2015 World Cup nears, have a look at my new blog that talks about the 50 wins that redefined Indian cricket.
Session-dashboard - Tracking Test Matches as they progress.
Tracking T20 run-chases in an innovative manner - See here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

World Cup 2015 - Indias home support at Melbourne

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One of the factors of India's win over South Africa at Melbourne was the home support it received. Tickets for this match as well as India's clash against Pakistan were the ones to be sold out within hours of release. A sure sign of the Indian fans ability to travel to the greatest cricket holiday destination of 2015 - Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand has been more scenic in the
Image courtesy - site
Melbourne, for me, has been a favorite ever since ODI cricket in colored clothing and day-night formats were introduced in the eighties. The awesome feeling of getting up early in the morning to watch the Indian team play against the hosts (even though the result may not be in our favor) is cherished even to this day. It was this image that enticed me to visit the ground for a quick tour during my business visits.

The tour was fascinating to watch and listen to - a far cry from the Indian grounds which do not care much for posterity. The tours are a treat to watch, especially the side-conversations and juicy nuggets that do not get published in any format! Definitely a treat for any cricket fan. Just like MCG, the Lords cricket ground is yet another legendary cricket holiday destination. Another favorite of mine!

Thanks in part to the Information Technology industry and the growing economy of the average Indian fan, cricket holiday destinations are growing and have become more economical to travel. Of all the countries that play cricket at the top-most level, Australia and England top the charts for holiday destinations. India remains the home place for all of us and hence does not qualify as a holiday destination (to keep it simple). Australia, with its great weather and support for cricket, would definitely edge out the more sober-looking England at the top.

Do you agree with me? What are your favorite cricket holiday destinations to visit in your lifetime?

Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 World Cup - India thump South Africa at MCG

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It took four matches for India to beat South Africa in World Cup. But, when it happened, it was a thumping win for the defending champions who must have felt that they were playing the match at Mumbai, not MCG.

Shikhar Dhawan could not score a run during the Australian Tri-Series but after two matches he is the top-scorer of the ongoing World Cup. What a difference the break after the tri-series has done? The support provided by his captain and team management, his own slight tinkering with his mind (more than technique) has helped Dhawan in the tournament. He seems to have a clear vision and is determined to do well in the company of the other top-order batsmen. While Kohli did not have the same success as the previous match, Rahane continued the great work once again.
Image Courtesy: Cricinfo site
Rahane is probably the most elegant slogger in the tournament - never for a moment does he seem to lose his composure while scoring runs at a rate greater than 120! Rahane is also the most technical of all batsmen in the top order who can not only withstand the pace and guile of opposition bowlers but also score runs briskly. Dhoni showed glimpses with his bat but could not continue as last match. The same problem as last match occurred again - the last five overs were not as productive as what the first 45 overs showed.

The Indian bowlers were disciplined but the fielders were keen to make a mark. What else can explain run-out's of AB De Viliers and David Miller. The bowlers tightened the screws with their wicket-to-wicket bowling but the fielders were also positioned well by the captain not to give any easy runs. The end result was that the South Africans were gasping for breath. The lineup that can drive fear into any bowling attack was not able to score even 200 while chasing. The world saw the current South Africa team in a different light. Were they real favorites for the tournament? The much-maligned Indian bowling had done extremely well to throttle the batting as well as take all ten wickets. Mohit and Shami along with Ashwin with their repeated strikes are wreaking havoc on opposition plans.

The Indians are the favorites to top the group, thanks to their performance in the first two matches. Will they sustain this level for the next seven (four matches at group stage and three at knock-out level)? Definitely possible.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2015 World Cup - India make it 6-0

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India defeated Pakistan today, just like they did in 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2011 - a winning streak that actually totals TEN if you include the T20 World Cup as well. Incredible! From the looks of it, the Pakistan team does not seem to be able to absorb the pressure that comes with such a marquee clash. At the same time, the Indian team seems to ride on the pressure involved to put a spirited performance. The same team that seemed to behave like amateurs in the Tri-series matches were transformed into tigers.

Except the  overs 46-50 while batting (when they collapsed - contributing to a total that was 20-30 less than what looked possible), the Indian team dominated the entire match! The Indian fan must have been visibly impressed by the incredible win on this day. Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Shikhar Dhawan were the ones to star with the bat - getting their act together against a bowling attack that was inexperienced but had the talent to trouble any team. Riding on the luck that supported them (dropped chances), the batting and running between the wickets climbed several notches higher than what was on display Down Under in last three months.
Picture Courtesy: Cricinfo Site
Virat Kohli was missing in action in the ODIs after a great test series - today, he was back in action. First with Dhawan and then with Raina, Kohli found his bearings and slowed down only near his century. Pity that he fell on completing the milestone. Raina was pure class - the shots he made and the placement of his strokes were on the spot. The opposition bowlers could not pitch the ball up to him at any time - he was just ruthless. The other aspect of Raina was his selflessness - milestones do not matter to Raina at all, only the team's objective matters. Witness his celebration when Kohli got to his century - amazing character. The only downside was the lack of form for MS Dhoni - though he hit one large six, he was a shadow of his old self. Time enough for him to get back to form still.

While the batting clicked, everyone was worried about the bowling composition. Will they come to the party as well? Starting with the ball that dismissed Younis Khan, Shami was like a man possessed. He was supported well by the others though Umesh was expensive at the beginning. Mohit provided good backup to ensure that the pressure was on the batsmen. Fielding was another area where the Indians scored higher than their opponents - the experience of fielding on the larger Australian grounds for the last few months had helped so much! The Pakistan team was always on the lookout for the big shots because of the tight fielding. One more noticeable aspect was Dhoni's willingness to attack - the slip catchers were usually missing in the previous matches - Dhoni is showing signs of aggression already. Ashwin was bowling as he should in a test match - looking for wickets and bowling outside the off (did Manager Arshad Ayub have a word with him?). Jadeja was solid but went for few runs (making up for the wickets). Umesh came back in his subsequent spell and looked much better - maybe it is a good idea to have him following Mohit Sharma in the next match.

All augurs well for the Indian team but they have to make this as a practice in most of the group matches to get an easier opponent in the quarterfinals. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

2015 World Cup - India's preparations so far

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The Indians finished their preparations for the World Cup with a loss in the final ODI at Perth as well as the teaser for their uniform they will display (on top of the MCG).

There are couple of warm-up matches scheduled before the tournament starts officially, against Australia (8th Feb) and Afghanistan (10th Feb) at Adelaide. These two matches will serve the purpose of testing out the four players who are in doubt for the tournament (fitness issues) - Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. There are doubts about Ishant but only MSD will know what is real. Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni who went for the tri-series are still with the team as per the latest news.

So, where are we in terms of preparations? Let us go through the team and see the plans that the Indian team might have:

  1. Shikhar Dhawan - definitely will play the warm-up matches and first two ODIs (Pakistan at Adelaide and South Africa at MCG). Based on his performance, his future will be decided. Dhawan did well at Perth against a decent England bowling attack - a knock that will give him confidence going into the tournament.
  2. Rohit Sharma - he will play as the opener whenever he is fit. It will be good to give him a work-out in the warm-up matches but will be key to the current team's fortunes.
  3. Ajinkya Rahane - Back-up opener but could also potentially come one-down in case of an early wicket. He is much more technically sound than Rayudu and hence he will be the backup for No.3 slot
  4. Virat Kohli - Dhoni seems to like Kohli lower the order in case Jadeja (or Ashwin or Binny) does not play. But, on initial look, it is certain that Kohli will be at No.3 when there is a good partnership at the top. Will he be always at No.3? Probably not (especially when a wicket falls early)
  5. Suresh Raina - Raina has done well in recent times though the Tri-series saw just one good knock from him. Raina can be ideal to play in the latter overs and statistics also point that Dhoni is a better bet ahead of Raina. Will Dhoni come in to stabilize the innings while Raina is held back to blast the attack?  
  6. Dhoni - The captain has not shown glimpses of his usual form recently. Will be good for him to have a break before he comes back to his own. His impending baby will also clear his mind for good. 
  7. Rayudu - If Dhawan has to be dropped, Rahane goes up the order and Rayudu comes in his place. Hence, he will not be in the starting lineup but will be expected to play as soon as he gets an opportunity. Tough luck for the lad!
  8. Binny - Stuart Binny has been the biggest bright spot to emerge out of India's performance in the tri-series. It is a no-brainer for Binny to be in the playing eleven. This gives India the luxury of playing two seamers and two spinners with Binny/Raina to bowl the other ten. He can open the bowling and shore the batting.
  9. Jadeja/Ashwin - Jadeja has been rusty and hence he will be the biggest beneficiary of the warm-up matches. If he can recover to his prime form, India will have one less headache. Ashwin has gone down in the pecking order, lower than Axar because of his lack  of wickets in the ODI version. Though he is a better batsman than Axar, his fielding is a cause of worry.
  10. Axar Patel - Axar bowled well in the Tri-series, showing that his performance on sub-continental pitches was not a fluke. He is a handy player only if he can lift his batting skills
  11. Mohd Shami - Easily the best pace bowler on view in the Tri-series, Shami has been enjoying the stint in the shorter version after a mixed test series. He will lead the attack in the absence of Ishant (due to injury) but his performance will reflect on India's fortunes with the ball.
  12. Ishant/Bhuvi/Umesh - Bhuvi should partner Shami in the Adelaide match to make use of the new ball but if Ishant is present, he might get the nod. If the pitches are helpful to the faster bowlers, expect Bhuvi and Ishant to be both present. Umesh Yadav has not shown any semblance of form and he is an insurance for the squad at this time.

With this situation, India will go into each match with an open mind and flexible plans to counter any situation. With the cool Dhoni at the helm, let us wish the Indian team all the best!

Do have a look at the 50 ODI victories that redefined Indian cricket.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Australia Tour Tri-series - India bow out winless

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On Twitter, Statistician Mohandas Menon posted the series where India finished winless since 2011 World Cup

  • 2011 in Eng 
  • 2013/14 in SA 
  • 2013/14 in NZ 
  • 2014/15 in Aus

They escaped a whitewash in the test series and another losing streak in the ODI series (thanks to rain) but that was no consolation to a team that has high hopes on retaining the next World Cup.

At Perth, the Indians started well. Their openers did a decent job to see off the dangerous Anderson and managed to score a 80+ partnership with both taking chances but surviving. Dhawan was back to something that resembled form. Rahane, after the initial jitters, settled down to anchor the innings. It was the failures again of Kohli, Raina that hampered India. The batting collapsed from 83-0 to 165-9 before Shami hit out to get 200 on the board.

The Indians seem to be experimenting with the batting positions and getting some answers. Stuart Binny has made Dhoni realize that he is a handy person to have in the lineup. Jadeja was rusty with bat and ball but Axar has proved that he is a good bowler to have in the middle overs. The batting depth is present on paper but that has to be translated to reality. With Ashwin in the squad, the team management must figure out what is the combination to play in the World Cup. What happens to Umesh and Bhuvi? Are they injured? Dhoni's answers in the press conference seems to suggest.

The Indian batsmen dont have a first (or even second) gear - they seem to bat only at the top gears or perish. This was the fashion few years ago when batsmen used to play defensive and rotate the strike over. But, the new generation tend to be aggressive in any situation - that is causing the problems to the Indian batsmen, like this game. No longer are they happy to score at 3-4 runs per over. They are looking at boundaries every over. This will not work - Kohli, Rahane, Rayudu, Jadeja should be told this. Rahane should have gone on and controlled the innings but could not.

The Indians fared better while bowling thanks to the pitch and an accurate bowling attack (except the comeback man Jadeja). Binny made use of the conditions to his favor and picked up wickets to put England  on the backfoot. But, the Indians could not restrict the winning team. Jadeja and some sloppy fielding (by selected fielders) meant that the Indians could not put enough pressure on the duo of Butler and Taylor. Overall, a tour that ended without a win. It can be termed as a success still if the next tour (with more or less the same players) contains few winning moments. Hopefully, the players remember and implement the lessons learnt.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Australia Tour Tri-series - England crush India

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Binny came in for Ashwin and injured Rohit Sharma was replaced by Ambati Rayudu for the match against England at Brisbane. The Indians suffered a rare defeat against England on neutral venues - one of the worst defeats. But, Dhoni would say that the process is more important than the result. Here, the process seemed to be clear once again.

Dhoni is putting his boys through a tough test - putting his team in when he could have easily bowled after winning the toss on a helpful surface. Playing against the accurate English bowling on this surface is probably the best practice that he could get his team. Seeing the team performance, Dhoni must have got an idea of who is capable and who is not. I expect to see strategy changes for the World Cup based on this match.

Stuart Binny shone with the bat and then picked a wicket while opening the bowling. If one goes back to the last World Cup Down Under, the likes of Phil Simmons (probably same speed of Binny) did a great job opening the bowling. Binny and Bhuvi opening the bowling is going to be a good option if they can restrict the scoring with the new ball. Shami and Ishant then could bowl first change and make use of any reverse. With the spinners, Axar seems to have proved that he is as good as Jadeja and Ashwin but not in the similar mould while batting.

With two more matches in the tri-series and then maybe couple of warm-up matches, one should  foresee Dhoni tinker  with  more options even at the loss of few matches. Getting to know the strengths  and weaknesses is  probably the most important test now.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Australia Tour Tri-series - India lose to Australia in first match

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The Indian team started their ODI series with a clear intention to finalize few remaining strategies for the forthcoming World Cup. Firstly, they wanted to figure out the key team member's form on Australian pitches and see how they would fare against the fearful Australian bowlers. Secondly, the team management wanted to check how the strategy of batting first (on winning the toss) would pan out. The think-tank would have also wanted to see how the fielding positions have to be planned out on large grounds with their bowling attack. Finally, they also wanted to see which combination would be the most ideal for the World Cup in different situations (opening, middle overs, death overs).

Hence, Dhoni elected to bat after winning the toss. Dhawan did not make use of the opportunity to open with Rohit by slashing at a wide ball from Starc within the first over. Rahane was sent in at No.3 giving him a similar feel of opening the batting. Rohit was going strong at one end despite not getting the strike as much as he would have liked to. Rahane got going with some good shots on both sides but got a bit too aggressive for his own liking. Kohli is not as effective batting first as he is when chasing a target -  today was no different.

Thanks to  Cricinfo for  this image
Kohli's wicket set the scenario for Rohit and Raina to set a partnership. Both did motor along nicely upping the scoring rate and preventing any further wicket loss. Till the batting PowerPlay when Raina holed out to  mid-on - the Indian team should plan well for this phase when they should bat normally and avoid any loss of wickets. Dhoni had to drop anchor because of Rohit's century first and then ensuring the loss of further wickets. But, he fell against the run of play followed by quick wickets at other end. All this led to a total that was probably 25-30 runs behind what was required. MSD has summed up his issue at the batting dead-end very nicely in his interview.

The Australian innings started off with both openers putting up a fifty stand before Yadav stuck. But, continuous partnerships for the second and third wickets meant that the asking rate was never a problem. India grabbed four quick wickets for 32 runs but it was too little too late. The bowlers were inconsistent but what was promising was the last 15 overs when the Indians defended with new resolve. Dhoni's message to the team during the last drinks break looked to have worked - the bowlers found the yorker-length while the fielders dived and caught everything. If only this was done earlier in the innings, the Indians might have been still able to squeak home.

All in all, a good start that could have been much better. Due to the absence of a tour game (removed because of Phil Hughes), the Indian team had to use this as a warm-up match. The next match should see the Indians stepping up a gear against the English team. The bowlers should be able to find the lengths that work in the  opening spell - Shami's injury concern might hamper the team.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Australian Tour 2014 Final Test - When draw was more enjoyable

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The Indians lost 0-4 during their previous tour Down Under. This time it was 0-2 - a reflection of the progress that the team made over four years. The team transitioned on many counts during this tour. The old order moved into retirement while the new generation batsmen came after losing (if not disastrous) campaigns from New Zealand, South Africa and England. The team had come close to winning matches in the first two tours but on the last tour to England, they did win at Lords.

On this tour, there would be no wins but the two draws could be considered as morale boosters for a team that has now moved to a new captain as well during the series. The test team will no longer have a certain Mr. Dhoni. Virat Kohli seems to enjoy his captaincy considering that he has scored three centuries and a forty in his two tests as captain. Let us see how this run continues in the next series overseas.

The positives have been limited on the batting front from the Indian side - Vijay, Rahane and Kohli have been standout performers in all tests. Rahul did well in the Sydney test, showing signs of long-term promise. Shikhar Dhawan and Chet Pujara will be still in the scheme of the Indian cricket - part of a good set of batsmen for the next generation.

It is the bowling that will give the Indian management a big headache. Discipline was missing in all matches and it was very clear that the slow wickets would not help any of them. The fact that the opposition bowlers also struggled meant that the Indian bowlers were not far behind - if that was a consolation factor. Ishant Sharma did well to apply his learnings of many years but it shudders when you think that the others are in the same situation he was few years ago. Umesh Yadav looked full of promise during the last tour Down Under but he has not progressed much. Bhuvi could not do much in the last test due to injury but he needs support from the pitch and conditions to be effective. Can Aaron become more consistent is the question on everyone's lips?

Overall, the Indians lost the series but not disappointed their fans. A win would have been good but I think the next overseas series will be the one where India will start their winning streak.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

HNY and looking forward

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I did not mean the new Shahrukh movie here :)

Today, the Indian team for World Cup 2015 will be announced - I had mentioned my concerns earlier on this blog.

My team for the World Cup will be

  1. Rohit Sharma
  2. Shikhar Dhawan
  3. Ajinkya Rahane
  4. Virat Kohli
  5. Suresh Raina
  6. Ambati Rayudu (backup keeper)
  7. MS Dhoni 
  8. Ashwin
  9. Jadeja (or Axar if he is not fit)
  10. Stuart Binny
  11. Bhuvi
  12. Ishant Sharma
  13. Shami
  14. Umesh Yadav
  15. Mohit Sharma

If you have not observed, do check my new blog in the run-up to the World Cup.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dhoni the unconventional hero

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MS Dhoni was always unconventional - when I thought of writing a blog entry about him, there were many thoughts that entered my mind. But, Rahul Dravid's post was just superb, on the spot about what MSD stood for. Hence, I will try to write this post a bit differently.

When Ganguly announced his retirement, he was merely a player. What did MSD do? Watch this video for a timely gesture.

When Anil Kumble announced his, he was taken around for a lap by his team-mates (no, just one man)

Thanks to Times Group for image 
When Sachin Tendulkar's famous last match finished, this was the fitting finale
Thanks to Cricinfo for image
Having done all this, MSD also watched the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman walk away into the sunset without any fanfare. He was also witness to his friends like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag fade away from the limelight. 

Would he have scripted a better farewell himself than what he did? Probably not. Taking India to safety on the last day of the Boxing Day test match was the best way for him to say goodbye.

Thanks to Cricinfo for image
His records speak for themselves and there is no comparison for a wicket-keeper who captained his side so well. 

Finally, what did his workload look like? In 2014, he captained his team in nine tests, twelve ODI's and seven T20 internationals. Other than this, he led CSK in 16 T20 matches in the IPL as well as six T20 matches in Champions League. 

It was probably a choice of letting go one of the formats or one of his occupation (wicket-keeping or captaincy). Since he would continue to keep wickets (he is not a good fielder according to himself) as well as captain the side (his CEO would demand it always), one of the format had to give way. And that is exactly what MSD opted.