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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.

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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Australian Tour 2014 3rd test - Kohli makes his name

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Virat Kohli was just one of the new brigade before the 2014 Australian tour started. He had a bad series in England where he fared very badly. One of the positives of the hurriedly-organized Sri Lanka ODI series was the return of Kohli's form. But, would he succeed Down Under?

Today, the entire Australian team is baying for his blood. Commentators are talking about his game. The media goes gaga about him. His girlfriend as well as his rival fast bowler get kisses equally. Kohli does not get fazed with the attention his opponents give on the field (lip-service) and off-field (planning his downfall). In the first test of this series, he scored twin centuries proving that captaincy did not affect his game. Despite his failures in the second test, Kohli was the sought-after wicket for the Aussies. After the Melbourne test, his series aggregate was one less than half a thousand runs with one test to play. If Steven Smith is in a league of his own, Kohli is in a similar league.

Picture Courtesy - Cricinfo
The test was not all about Kohli for the Indians - Ajinkya Rahane played an equal role in both innings though he might have scored less with runs and attention from media and opponents. His role in dismantling Mitchell Johnson's aura in this match was equally effective. His pulls and hooks in this match were a treat to watch.

Another player who impressed everyone was Murali Vijay. He may not have scored a century here but he was calm and composed. Vijay was instrumental in getting a good start (even though not in terms of runs) that could be capitalized by Kohli and Rahane. He was unfortunate to get a bad decision in the second innings.

Vijay, Kohli and Rahane will form the fulcrum of the Indian batting in future. Pujara, with all his overseas failures, should be able to make the necessary adjustments to join them. This then will become the new vintage, as MSD called them recently. If only Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and KL Rahul provide them adequate support, the Indian team will have a strong force to reckon with.

With the bowling, the Indian attack (should we call them so?) failed in the first innings to give away yet another 500+ score, As well as capitalizing on the top order weaknesses they could not penetrate the lower order. The bowling was much better on fourth day but the team could pick only nine wickets only. Overall, the bowlers were lacking in consistency - delivering a four-ball every over to release the pressure. Only Ishant and to an extent Ashwin were consistent throughout the match. It seemed like Dhoni missed the accuracy of Bhuvi throughout the match. How hard he must be wishing for an allrounder?

The batting this series has been a contrast - solid in the first innings while scoring 400+ in each test (the first time the Indian team has scored after the great 2003 series) but brittle in the second. They did score 300 in the first test while chasing a difficult target but the meltdown in second test cost them the match and the series. Here, the last day was difficult even though they had only 70 overs to survive (un-Australian decision to play the first session on fifth day) - MSD and Ashwin managed to play out 12 overs and thus get a draw for the first time in 13 tests (last drawn match was in Delhi, October 2008).

Next up is Sydney. The Indian team have an option to play two spinners - bring in Axar Patel in place of woeful Rahul and shore up their bowling to take 20 wickets. Anyway, the batting is being done by the top five players. The bowling will get more teeth and Axar's control might be the one weapon missing in Dhoni's armory. If Bhuvi is fit and available, he will be the person to replace Shami.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Is Dhoni-bashing the new fashion in town?

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Yes, MS Dhoni-led Indian team lost another match in Australia. Yes, the team is trailing 0-2 Down Under. This does not mean  that the media goes to town bashing the captain stating that he is the worst captain and that his predecessors did great. One of the recent posts did just that and I had enough.

I started looking at Cricinfo on the Indian performances from 2000 to 2010 and compared it to the same during 2010 until today. The results were what I expected them to be.

The performances from 2000 are

The performances from 2010 are as follows:

What it turns out to be is the following:
  1. The Indian team benefited by the regular tours to Zimbabwe during the earlier decade where they won 3 test matches. Now, there is an embargo on test matches and hence only ODI's can be played. Even there, the Indian team lost one match (it hurts even now!)
  2. Similarly, the Indian team visited Pakistan and won two while losing two matches. There is a BCCI embargo in place today. Hence, there are no test matches being played there. 
  3. Sri Lanka has also not had many matches recently - just three in the last four years. The Indian team would benefit by playing more in pitches similar to its own, especially when  the team is forming.
  4. If you remove the matches played against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Pakistan from the previous decade, the W/L ratio comes down heavily. 
  5. Yes, the performance against the better teams like England, Australia and South Africa is better but that happened after the Fab Four (Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly) came into existence. 
With this analysis, it is time the Indian team is given time to perform. The last Aussie tour still had the Fab Four (except Ganguly) in the team - this is the first tour for the new Vintage (as MSD calls them). Hopefully, the next tours to England, South Africa and Australia will be better.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Australian Tour 2nd Test - India lose Brisbane test, so?

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Statistician Mohandas Menon has an interesting tweet in the morning today

During this series, India have lost wickets by the dozen

  • Adelaide Test
    • 77/6 in 22.4 overs
    • 73/8 in 18.1 overs
  • Brisbane Test
    • 87/6 in 24.1 overs
    • 148/9 in 38.3 overs
This batting slump has overcome the good start provided by the batsmen like Vijay (again) and Rahane, Kohli failed this test match after his twin centuries while Dhawan came well in the second innings. Rohit Sharma, Chet Pujara and MS Dhoni would do well to introspect further on their game and see where they have to improve for the next test. In fact, I am not so sure if Rohit has to play the next test at all! Rohit has his list of chances but so far, nothing to prove his presence in the playing eleven. 

Murali Vijay played a great knock in the first innings - a knock that would rank high in Indian test cricket in terms of endurance and effectiveness. If only the Indian team could manage Mitchell Johnson better in the second innings, they could have inflicted a record defeat on the Aussies in the test match - look at the Aussie performance while chasing a paltry score. Definitely, another 60-70 runs on the board would have shaken them big time. 

Where the Indians faltered was during the first innings of the Australian innings. After getting the first six wickets, the Indian bowlers tried to repeat the dose that was given to Brad Haddin. Obviously, they couldnt deliver well and what happened was that the last four wickets doubled the score. This meant that the Australian team not only overtook the Indian team but also gained a healthy 97 run lead. Ishant Sharma as the pack leader should have guided his colleagues better. Maybe MSD should have put in a word when the match was slipping away. Maybe Ashwin was a better option to bowl at that time. The match moved away from India so fast that they were caught napping. 

The second innings saw the Indian bowlers grab few wickets and put doubts in the Aussie batsmen. They will try to leverage this for the next test match but the think-tank should definitely look to bringing back Bhuvi for Aaron and Raina for Rohit.

The margins of victory have been narrow than ever before - will the next match see the Indians strike a victory? Let us hope so.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Australian Tour 2014 1st Test - Same Result via different approach

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The Indian team encountered a familiar result at Adelaide Oval but the approach in which they played was different and refreshing. I mean only the captain and few other players because rest of the team looked to be still thinking what they need to do this series (e.g. Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Mohd. Shami).

Kohli came out with his reputation enhanced, scoring more runs than what he did in the entire Englan series. His bowlers did not do him good in either innings, bowling wide and short. David Warner, especially, was given length to punish at will. The selection of Karn Sharma was supposed to be Kohli's personal choice - one fault that could be attributed as this meant Kohli did not have a spinner who could have potentially used the wearing wicket as well as an useful batsman down the order.

Dhoni will be back the next match but Kohli has shown that he leads the team just like he wears his emotions on  the sleeve - always on the lookout for an opening. If only the bowlers and batsmen fire in unison. Vijay supported him but Kohli missed Dhoni, the batsmen, as well. Remember that MSD was the leading batsmen during England series too. It is a good exercise for the batsmen and no doubt the pitches will get tougher now. The rescheduling helped the Indians start with a docile pitch first up - good way to get used to the conditions.

Ishant bowled well but he could not get the wickets that mattered. Aaron was fast but not consistent enough. Shami seems to be still struggling while Karn was not the right person for this test. The bowlers could not put together a partnership that could either restrict runs or take wickets. Can Umesh Yadav make a difference, compared to Shami? Might be a good choice to make alongwith bringing back Ashwin for Karn.

The next three tests will not be easy as this one. Can India pull one back? They can. If they bat, bowl, catch and field well. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WI 2014 ODIs - India seal the farcical ODI series

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Farcical - that is the word one can use to describe the Windies 2014 ODIs. One match was washed out while the teams won one match each convincingly. When the series was poised for an interesting finish in the last two matches (one in the picturesque Dharamsala), the tour was called off. Not before the team played the last ODI (threatened to do so?).

Look at the image below from Cricinfo at the toss - the entire team came out to support the captain.

Considering the easy-going nature of the Windies (proof is the CLT20 celebration video with Bravo), it must have been a great injustice meted out to the team that caused the pull-out. Anyway, the match went on and the Indians won.

The script seemed to be skewed towards the team that was determined to do well against a team that did not have their 100% mind on the field. On a pitch that had true bounce, the Indians scored at more than run-a-ball (except Rahane who however scored a good fifty-plus score). Kohli did not look anything like his best but managed to score his 20th century (fastest to do so, faster than Sachin Tendulkar).

The Indian bowling was good with the exception of Shami and Jadeja who were expensive. Both the bowlers deserve rest from the forthcoming Sri Lanka ODIs (the original favorites are back to fill the void caused by the Windies pull-out). Axar Patel was an interesting selection (ahead of the surprise weapon Kuldeep Sharma) but he put in a performance that would have impressed Dhoni and Shastri (the two men who matter in Indian cricket).

The end to a tour that did not matter to the forthcoming World Cup. The replacement series actually makes sense now - does the BCCI work in this manner only?