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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

England Tour 2014 - A win at Lords

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28 years. That is the time it took India to repeat its World Cup win and now another win at Lords. Lords cricket ground - the Mecca of cricket and MSD chalked out a victory plan that his team could implement. Not that everything went his way though but the fact he was the winner meant a lot to him, his team and the fans.

The Indian team has been one without a lot of earlier superstars but the current team has benefited quite a lot by reduced expectations. They were expected to lose this series after the 8-0 drubbing earlier. Retirements have come and gone but the core of the team has not changed. Except Rohit Sharma's replacement by Stuart Binny, the top five have been consistent and same. Binny's debut was also necessitated by a change in Dhoni's strategy to play 6 batsmen (including himself). Not that Duncan Fletcher's inputs were far behind. Picking six pace (not fast) bowlers for this tour was probably Fletcher's suggestion but he may not get too much credit for this.

The batsmen have been improving and best of all, covering up for one another. Rahane scored in the first innings after the top order had seen off the worst of the track. Vijay and Pujara did the right thing by occupying the crease to an extent that the English bowlers were not only physically tired but mentally worried. Back-to-back test matches are going to test Anderson and Broad. In fact, Anderson might be secretly wishing for a two-test ban so that he can put his feet up. The support bowlers are not stepping up for England just like the new batsmen are.

Vijay has been an enigma for most of the Indian fans - someone who can bash the bowling in T20 shows utmost patience in test matches, leaving the balls outside the off stump with good decision-making ability. Pujara has been solid as well but without the scores (that one expects from him) to back up the stature of his innings. It has been Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan who have not been upto mark so far - Kohli will be given a run for all five tests but MSD will start thinking of Gambhir if Dhawan fails in the next test too.

Stuart Binny was unlucky that in the first innings Dhoni didnt go for the catch of Ballance of his bowling and while batting, he was given a bad decision. He will get another chance, if Dhoni's pattern is to repeat (of not changing a winning team) and that is where he has a good opportunity to perform again.

What can one say of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar! He has scored runs whenever he had a chance to bat, picked wickets mostly (except the last innings) and remains active on the field throughout. One of the most unassuming person on the ground, Bhuvi is a star for the Indian management to preserve. His swing is great and he should not be lost just like the Praveen Kumars and Irfan Pathans. He should be given more chances like the other star of the moment - Ishant Sharma!

Ishant has been getting wickets by the bunch in the last few tests - a sign that he has been less unlucky (a familiar explanation for his high bowling average). But, jokes apart, his forte has been his physical strength (despite a lanky frame), stamina and willingness to go on and on as per his captain's demands. Of course, execution of Dhoni's plan was the key highlight for Ishant - if not, one could have imagined another loss for India (at the hands of Root and Ali). One recalls the match against Australia where Ishant was asked to bowl at a 7-2 field and how he succeeded! The average is looking better already but he has a long way to go before he can fill Zaheer's boots.

Overall, a good victory for India with the master strategists Dhoni and Duncan plotting the rivals fall in detail. From now onward, it is India's series to lose. England seems to be on a downward spiral and the rest of the series can quickly go downhill for them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

England Tour 2014 - First match drawn - sign to come?

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The first test match ended in a draw with England not being able to get 20 Indian wickets while the Indian bowlers got 10 in the one innings that they bowled! Not without both teams giving each other a tenth wicket stand of more than 100 runs. It was a mediocre match with the teams putting up performances that were mediocre, at the best. True, Bhuvi scored two fifties and took a fiver but there was nothing much to separate the two teams. That in itself is a sign to come up in this series. Of course, the pitches will be better in the following tests but neither team has shown the right skill and application to step up and grab the mantle.

With both captains being under pressure for different reasons, the match had a number of interesting sidelights but overall tended to be a bit like the dull and drab soap operas that appear on the telly. India will feel good that they did not lose their first test of the tour - something that they have been used to, every tour. The grounds seem to be in favor of the Indians more than the hosts (for commercial reasons - grounds having spent money on getting drainage systems fixed have to earn back the money quickly and for that, they need matches to go for five days)! The weather is also good with less interruptions from cloud or ground. All this means that the Indian team feels more at home on these pitches.

As I had suggested in my previous post, Stuart Binny was picked in the playing eleven as a batting allrounder but his captain was not sure about his bowling talent. He was given 10 overs of a total of 145, not something that he would have hoped for, when given the cap on the opening day. On the final day, his knock with Jadeja showed his temperament and ensured that he will live on for another test for sure. He seemed comfortable at the crease and definitely deserved more with the ball. MSD too mentioned at the end that he wouldn't change his bowling attack - that means there will not be any changes to the playing eleven for Lords test (not a bad idea though).

Murali Vijay and Pujara (in the second innings) continued the good work they had put in on the tours to SAF and NZ while Virat Kohli will try to forget this match quickly. Rahane and Dhawan got starts but could not capitalise much. Vijay was the batting highlight for India and he will do well to remember his good knock for all his moments in future where he will get into trouble. He is one batsman who seems to be comfortable in test matches and T20s, not ODIs. Strange! Rahane looked pretty while on song but could not convert his knocks to a bigger one.

Dhoni and Binny played one innings of significance which augured well for a team that went in with five regular batsmen. MSD has come up with a new plan to counter the swing on this tour and it seems to be working so far. The English bowlers seem to have found a defect in full areas to him - that might be a critical flaw in his game now. The tailenders contributed to the team total which meant that twice this series already, India went past 350. The last tour, they managed to touch 300 once only! Not a bad start for a team that had the batting legend, Rahul Dravid, as the batting consultant before the first test.

The bowlers did well till they met Root, Broad and Anderson. Bhuvi was always expected to do well because of the swing he obtained but Ishant continued the good work from NZ series. Ishant seems to have taken over the mantle left vacant by Zaheer but he needs more wickets under his belt. Shami was a bit disappointing but he is a good bowler who will learn from his mistakes soon. All in all, a good outing for a bowling unit that was not expected to take 20 wickets. They still havent but the hope has been revived in this test. This bodes well for Dhoni and his team for Lords.

Everything to play for in London and the Indian team will be keen to go forward quickly in the series.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Indias 2014 tour to England starts

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After a long break, back to blog just before the test series against England starts. 3 years after the disastrous tour where the Indian team lost 0-4, they are off to the venues where Duncan Fletcher's horrible overseas record as Indian coach started. The team composition is different and therefore the hope is that the performances will be different as well. The Indian team has shown substance and fighting spirit during the two overseas tours (NZ and SAF) and the Indian fan must be hoping that there will be more of the same. Only difference hopefully is that the performances will translate to victories.

The Indian team, despite encouraging signs, have not been able to win any test during their overseas sojourns. The team composition was announced in late May and there were few surprises. Let us revisit the same and see how they fare up

  • Opening batsmen - M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir. I dont see any changes from the last test even though Gambhir is an established batsman in the squad. The first two warm-up matches will give an indication of who will play and who will not. Anyway, the long tour (five tests) will give enough opportunities to all concerned in case of loss of form.
  • Middle order - Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma. There is no replacement for the players who will all play in the test match. That is the biggest risk in the squad and how Dhoni will balance the risk in performance downsides will be seen. Will there be a SOS call to anyone else during the tour?
  • All-rounders - Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Stuart Binny. One of the first two named would have been a guarantee before the Bangladesh tour. But, Binny's memorable performance (6-4 in the ODI's) will give MS Dhoni a pleasant headache. Binny as an allrounder who can bowl 10 overs of pace (+ swing and seam) will be ideal in England. Look out for Binny on this tour.
  • Pace bowlers - Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishwar Pandey, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, Pankaj Singh. This was a surprise when the tour was announced. Zaheer Khan was dropped which makes Ishant the top bowler in this tour. He will retain his place in the eleven just for Dhoni's preference but if he does not pick up his performance, there are others in the wings. Shami and Bhuvi will be the other first-choice pacers while the backup squad is also quite interesting to look out for. One wonders if Umesh Yadav was unfortunate but the players picked can be handful on their day.
  • Wicket-keepers - MS Dhoni, Wriddhiman Saha. Saha is most likely a tourist on the squad but will come in contention just in case any middle-order batsman flops continuously. Watch out for the aggressive MS Dhoni (as a batsman)!
There are two warm-up matches in the lead to the test series and these will give an insight into the selection policies that will be adopted by MSD. The matches will also give an indication to the skill and temperament of the players who will vie for the 2-3 positions that are vacant. 

My forecast - India will do well to draw the series but they will give a good fight to the young England side. The latter's experience with conditions will make them the favorites (even though the squad is relatively inexperienced at the highest level). What do you say?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Is StarSports the new Cricinfo?

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For long, all of us have been used to logging into Cricinfo for information regarding cricket - scorecards, statistics and articles. I remember the days long ago when I used to check Cricinfo's text version through a UNIX shell to get information about an ongoing cricket match from an obscure office in Singapore! The system administrator used to walk around the floor like a headmaster scouting for mistakes from schoolboys. I would login to the UNIX system and have couple of windows open - one would be my work related stuff while the other would be a screen with scores from Cricinfo. Based on the location of the admin, I would hide the screen behind my work so that no one can notice anything. Thanks to Alt-Tab combination, it was easy to move from one screen to the other. Gone are the days now, when not only are internet speeds faster but companies are more liberal to the sites that one checks. Thank goodness!

I was surprised now to check the new version of recently. There were quite a few features that highlighted the difference between this one and the other - few of them being:
  • My most favourite one - video scorecard of matches that have been completed. Not just overall highlights that exist in YouTube but ones that show the fall of wickets and boundaries. This is what helps a cricket fan like me get quick insight about the progress of a match
  • Significant performance - This again shows the significance of few bowling spells like Mohit Sharma's recent one for Chennai SuperKings.
  • Statistics - A different view of stats that justify the selection of players in the match eleven - notice Vinay Kumar's performance and reason for his dropping
  • Opinions - This is like Cricinfo's section where articles from eminent personalities like Harsha Bhogle exist.
Though the focus of Starsports is restricted only to specific matches, it has made great strides to match the success of Cricinfo. Way to go, Star!

This post is a part of Cricket just got better! Activity by in association with

Sunday, April 06, 2014

T20 World Cup - India and SriLanka once again

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India and Sri Lanka met in the 50-year World Cup three years ago. Today, they meet in the T20 version.

India defeated South Africa in the semifinals convincingly after their batsmen led by Virat Kohli scaled down a tough target relatively easily. The chart shows how the Indian batsmen turned the screws after 7th over. Thanks to the opening batsmen, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, who started the assault on the SAF opening bowlers, the Indian score motored along.

It was quite surprising to see Faf Du Plessis open the bowling with JP Duminy and Alibe Morkel especially when Steyn had Rohit Sharma in knots during the recent SAF tour. The other batters managed to continue the scoring with Virat Kohli hitting the right form once again (anchoring the chase as well as hitting the big boundaries when required). Hopefully the next match will see Kohli continue his tremendous form for the last time to take India to the Cup (this will be good comfort for the youngster who had publicly cried when India bowed out of an earlier version of T20 WC).

It was interesting to see Ashwin take three wickets with his carrom ball - Shane Warne would be proud of those deliveries. With Amit Mishra in the playing eleven, Ashwin has risen to the occasion but watch out for Ravindra Jadeja in the final. He will be key to the Indian bowling's performance (especially against the likes of Jayawardane and Sangakkara).

India will win the final and hold all the three titles (both World Cups and Champions Trophy) at the same time - hope this becomes true later today.

Monday, March 31, 2014

T20 World Cup - India maintain a clean record

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India maintained a clean slate in the league phase of the T20 World Cup thanks to an overwhelming victory over fancied Australia. Despite being in a precarious situation when they batted first, the Indians recovered mainly through Yuvraj Singh and posted a target that was much beyond the Aussies reach. The final margin of victory should give you an idea of the Indian's dominance.

India achieved multiple things as part of this victory - they batted first and managed to defend it easily on these conditions (as against the previous matches when they chased down targets). Their middle order got valuable practice against quality opposition in match-scenario. Their only out-of-form batsman, Yuvraj Singh, came back roaring with a score that put the Indians in dominance. The other replacement, Ajinkya Rahane, did well in his stint but personally I dont think he will be in the playing eleven in the next match.

The bowlers continued their dominance with Ashwin and Amit Mishra leading the way. Mohit Sharma came in for Shami and did a great job in restricting runs scored while taking the dangerous wicket of Shane Watson. Bhuvi continued his good job with the ball and overall, it was a perfect job for the bowlers. The match also saw some good catches in the deep by the Indians - the fielding coach has been doing some good work in the background that ensured that the fielders did not drop any during the Aussie chase.

Monday, March 24, 2014

T20 World Cup - India notch up another convincing win

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The R-B chart below shows the easy manner in which the target was chased down.

After the fourth over, the Indian innings never looked back. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma stuck smart blows against the varied attack (thanks to IPL for providing more insight into the Windies bowlers) to take India home. Yuvraj Singh got time in the middle but did not do anything noticeable to justify his inclusion in the next match. Add to it, was a dropped catch on the field. Dhoni did hint that there will be a change (during his post-match conference) in the next match. MSD also mentioned that his batting was not tested - absolutely right. Only five batsmen have played in two matches (with two of them averaging an obscene 85+ runs per innings and one without an average) - check this page for more details. Hopefully, the team will not require additional strength in the forthcoming games.

While they bowled, the Indian bowlers were miserly as Uncle Scrooge. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar's analysis was out of ordinary - his bowling made the Windies openers look clueless. Smith and Gayle were expected to give a blazing start but even though they stayed for a long time at the crease, they couldnt get moving. The ball started swinging again for Bhuvi and the sight was refreshing if you are an Indian fan. Bhuvi's economy rate is the least of all Indian bowlers - check this page again. If Bhuvi was economical, Amit Mishra scores high on the wicket-taking category. By focusing on his strengths, Mishra has proved that he has a place in the T20 format - in fact, not many remember that he has taken three hat-tricks in the IPL (each one for a different team). Though Mishra figures high, Ravindra Jadeja also has taken the same number of wickets - the difference being the economy rate. For one who is usually economical, Jadeja has been costly this tournament - in this match too, the Windies total was boosted by the last over bowled by Jadeja. If only Dhoni had given Bhuvi the last over instead of Jadeja?

Next match is relatively easier against Bangladesh, considering the lack of form of the hosts. Dhoni will ensure that the intensity does not drop while trying out one or more of the other members of the squad.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

T20 World Cup - India maintain clean slate against Pakistan

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India won the first match of the T20 World Cup against Pakistan, maintaining its clean record in the World Cup. Thanks to its spinners, India got into the fifth gear early in the match and did not take its foot off the pedal at all. The pace bowlers also did a good job, except the last over of the match when Shami got clobbered. Overall, Dhoni didnt have any complaints against his bowlers, especially when the opposition got to a total of 130 only.

Fielding was aggressive as was the catching. The Pakistan team was at loss against the Indians and the recent Asia Cup win was a thing of the past. Batsmen came and went back quickly, without being able to gauge the pitch nor the bowling. Amit Mishra was under fire coming into the match but quickly recovered to bowl a great spell with his mix of deliveries. Ashwin was miserly but Jadeja (not unusual in the recent days) was slightly more expensive than his wont. Dhoni provided Yuvraj the option to roll his arm over than Raina - proved to be a wrong option. Yuvraj didnt do well in the match - surely signs are that his best days are behind him. Might be a good option to pick Stuart Binny (for the additional bowling option) but Dhoni is known to continue with his team for few more matches.

The batsmen were never under pressure, especially the openers. The target being a smallish one, they had the luxury of settling down before going for the big shots. Rohit hit a four and six to ease the pressure while Dhawan upset Ajmal in his first over by thrashing him for three fours in an over. Dhawan was never settled in his innings but managed to score a 30. Rohit was also not sure about his batting but managed to score when required to keep his strike rate more than 100.

Kohli and Raina got together and managed to achieve the target without any pressure. Look at the way the chart keeps moving down and down during the partnership. Raina has been looking good after his dropping from the national team - this format seems to be bringing the best out of him. Kohli was his usual, chasing down targets at ease. Overall, an easy victory over a dangerous opponent.

Next up is West Indies. Once again, the focus will be on spinners with Ashwin expected to open against Gayle. Dhoni knows them well enough to plot their downfall. Let us hope the run continues longer.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

T20 World Cup - is India interested?

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We all know that the IPL came into our lives after the Indians won the T20 World Cup. But, are we really interested about it? I dont think so. The players are looking forward to the IPL that comes after the World T20 is finished - hopefully, the ICC should take note of this and do adequate changes to the schedule.

What about the Indian team's chances? They did not choose the team that I wanted to be selected :( Never mind, does not happen most of the time. But, let us do the analysis of the team selected and see what can be achieved.

The team selected is

  1. MS Dhoni (C), 
  2. Shikhar Dhawan, 
  3. Rohit Sharma, 
  4. Virat Kohli, 
  5. Suresh Raina, 
  6. Yuvraj Singh, 
  7. Ajinkya Rahane, 
  8. Ravindra Jadeja, 
  9. R Ashwin, 
  10. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 
  11. Mohammad Shami, 
  12. Stuart Binny, 
  13. Amit Mishra, 
  14. Mohit Sharma,
  15. Varun Aaron.

The first four select themselves and among numbers 5,6 and 7 two will be selected - Yuvraj and Raina will be given the preference because of their experience. Jadeja, Ashwin and Amit Mishra will play, thanks to their successes at Asia Cup together (and the fact that matches will be played on similar pitches). For the remaining two slots, Bhuvi has alone the experience of playing international T20 (only one among the pace bowlers). Whether Shami will be picked up again or Mohit Sharma be preferred (another CSK player) remains to be seen.

Binny, Aaron and Rahane might complete the trip without getting any match but this experience will help them in the future :)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Asia Cup - Bronze for India

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If it was an Olympic games, India would have won the bronze medal but alas! It is the Asia Cup and only the winner matters. India is not even in contention for the Cup and that is a fact for the last two editions, not just this one alone.

Once Dhoni pulled out of the competition due to a side strain (no one minded it as he needed good rest before the IPL, sorry the World T20). It was a good chance for all of us to look at Virat Kohli as captain. No one was surprised that the team's performance continued on similar vein despite the change in captaincy.  Of course, the captain can do wonders if his team can also put in the relevant efforts, right?

The Indian team did good in bits and parts but that was not enough against the efficient Lankans or the maverick Pakis. Even with the last wicket standing, India dropped the catch in the Sri Lanka match. Afridi showed that one cannot write him off - not sure if he himself knew what would be the result of the two sixes he hit finally.

One good point for India was that of Amit Mishra. How many times Amit has to prove himself? He showed that he had the tools to make anyone dance to his tune. With couple of hat-tricks to his name in IPL, he must be hoping to be in the playing eleven for the World T20. Definitely, it is a chance for Ashwin to be rested for the shortest version and give chances to Amit.

The fast bowlers continued to bowl and get thrashed - there were signs that the yorkers were coming back into fashion and it was good to see Bhuvi get it consistently right. Shami has to be rested so that he can regain his consistency and accuracy for the English tour.

Raina and Yuvraj will be back for the World T20 and so will Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron. How many players will actually play in one match of the 15 selected? My guess will be 12 - three will be just by-standers (Binny, Mohit and Varun). Lets hope India gets a bronze in the T20 atleast.