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Sunday, May 13, 2007

New-look Indian team

The Indian team wears a new look after the World Cup, with the resting of senior batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly and bowlers like Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh. Whether it is in the right direction or not, can not be gauged so soon, but the results show a better direction, compared to the recent past.

It is a reflection of the status of Indian cricket that a Bangladesh series win, which till late was such an easy formality, was celebrated as though the Indian team had beaten the Aussies. To be realistic, one should appreciate the team management for having selected a team with the youth as focus. The results were given a backseat for once and identification of new emerging talent was the main aim.

Sehwag has been given 2 chances so far but he did not capitalise on both his opportunities. Scores of 30 and 21 show that he had a start, but did not add much (what is new - this has been the way he has been batting recently). Gambhir scored a century and probably reserved his seat for the tour to England. Robin Uthappa might be given a chance in the last ODI, in a direct fight-out with Viru Sehwag.

MS Dhoni came in at No.3 in both the matches - will anyone call this experimentation? There will be no such cries since it is the Indian who is calling the shots (Ravi Shastri) rather than Greg Chappell. He notched up scores of 91 and 36, but his strike rate was much less than 100, which is his strength. This might be a good option against the lesser teams like Bangladesh but stronger teams will find it easy to restrict the Indian lineup without Dhoni at the slog overs.

The ODI Scene has come a circle now - with teams focusing on going steady during the initial overs so that wickets are available during the latter overs. This was evident during the World Cup matches and the 2 ODIs in Bangladesh as well.

Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Mongia shone with the ball more than their primary role of batsmen thereby ensuring that they retained their place in the squad. Mongia would be given another chance to show his talent against the Bangla team, in the last ODI, and thereby book his ticket to England (only if he scores a huge one). With both of them rolling their arm over, the Indian team could go in with 4 main bowlers only. But, this strategy will not work in the English grounds, where the Indians would have to go with 5 bowlers or one of the batsmen should bowl seam-up (a la Sachin Tendulkar).

Dinesh Karthik played a hand in the first win but could not rise the tempo during the second match when required. He can be looked at as a good replacement for Mohd. Kaif and insurance against Dhoni, for any unforeseen injuries.

The bowlers did a decent job in the second match, compared to the first one. Sreesanth showed his lack of fitness, suffering cramps after his initial spell. Zaheer Khan was mauled during the first match and was marginally better in the second. Munaf Patel was more steady than spectacular. The highlight was the performance of the slow bowlers - Romesh Pawar and Piyush Chawla. Pawar picked up wickets in both the matches with his flight and dip, which is better than what Harbhajan ever had in his career. Piyush was attacked in his first over, when he tried to go around the wicket to the right-hander. But, when he came over the wicket, he got into a good rythm and picked up 3 wickets. The best one was his first one - bowling Ashraful with a well-deceived googly. The batsmen at the crease at no time could pick up his variations and there was enough skills shown, that showed signs of a good bowler.

The selectors have had a good chance to look at the fringe players in the current series - the competition that they will face on their next tour would not be much higher than the one they faced here (atleast in the ODIs). Hence, this tour can be seen as a success by throwing up Gambhir and Piyush in the reckoning. One wonders if any more gains can be had in the last ODI and the test series.
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