Wednesday, January 31, 2007

One step closer :: India name 12 for the 4th ODI

India named its 12-member team for the 4th ODI against the Windies to be played today (31 January 2007). There are few surprises. And as I suggested a few days back, the team management appears to be slowly honing in on a final combination. Dravid stated yesterday that the team management has more or less pencilled in 17-18 players from which the final 15 that will travel to the World Cup will be chosen. To me, the big surprise in this statement was that both Kumble and Harbhajan would go to the Windies and that Powar will need to fight it out with a pace bowler for a spot in the 15-member team!

It is clear that the team management have invested a lot of faith in Irfan Pathan. In that sense, Pathan seems to be a certainty to go to the Windies. One certainly hopes that Pathan can deliver. Dravid also confirmed that Ganguly and Uthappa will open.

So, the 12-member team for the 4th ODI (in possible batting order) is:

1. Saurav Ganguly, 2. Robin Uthappa, 3. Irfan Pathan, 4. Sachin Tendulkar, 5. Rahul Dravid, 6. Yuvraj Singh, 7. M. S. Dhoni, 8. Ajit Agarkar, 9. Harbhajan Singh, 10. Anil Kumble, 11. Zaheer Khan, [12th man] Dinesh Karthik

I suspect Dinesh Karthik will carry the drinks. He would also field after Kumble finishes his quota and runs of feigning a non-existent injury!

I would certainly advocate Pathan coming in at #3 in the batting order.

Again, the absence of Virender Sehwag is quite telling. If, as I had suggested the other day, Sehwag were to occupy the #6 position, just after Yuvraj Singh, the composition would look a lot more balanced and even... But then, perhaps the thinking in the team is that Sehwag would be in competition with Irfan Pathan for the #3 spot.

Either way, given Dravid's comments on Sreesanth it looks like the final XV would be the 12 chosen for this match plus Virender Sehwag, [either Romesh Powar or Sreesanth], Munaf Patel. Munaf Patel appears a sure look-in given the positive comments expressed by Dravid. The team seems to be pinning a heck of a lot of hopes on Munaf Patel (moreover, the other pace bowlers have been sent home). Given his propensity to break down at crucial times, this choice is a potentially risky proposition. But it looks as if the team management has painted itself into some sort of a corner here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Possible team for the 4th ODI :: A few iterations short of the final chapter

So, India lost the 3rd ODI match against the Windies. I think that that is perfectly fine. It'd have been poor, in my view, for India to have won all eight lead-up games given the teams that they have taken into each game. They are clearly experimenting around a few key spots. Winning all 8 games would perhaps give the team management a sense of "we are doing things right". They are not -- and I feel that Dravid-Chappell-Vengsarkar troika know that. As I said right from the first match of this series, they are a few iterations short of a balanced team. This loss actually got them closer to a winning combination, in my view. Yes, the cliche kings will be out with "but winning is a habit" and other assorted cliches. But I think the loss could not have come at a better time.

What did India learn?
  • Of Uthappa and Gambhir, the former, thanks to his whirlwind 70 off 41 balls, should win the World Cup berth.
  • Ajit Agarkar -- much as I dislike accepting it -- will be given the plane ticket to the West Indies.
  • Given the rate of his free-fall, Suresh Raina may not even get a plane ticket to Ghaziabad, which is where I believe he lives. He is perhaps hanging on mainly due to his fielding.
  • The jury is probably still out on Karthik.
  • Kumble may have to hang up his ODI shoes (at least, I hope he does).
  • Powar seems to have got his numbers (and game) right although he might himself endorse a petition to have the "all rounder" moniker wiped off his bio.
  • Sreesanth has possibly lost his grip on the team although he may yet earn a plane plane ticket to the Windies.
India should now start fine tuning its final team composition. A loss from here on in -- in the remaining match against the Windies and the 4 match series against Sri Lanka -- would not be great. India should try and win every game from now on.

The loss in the 3rd ODI couldn't have, as I said at the start of this post, come at a better time...

I'd suggest that the team for the 4th ODI should be (in batting order):

Saurav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, M. S. Dhoni, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan

This team would still be one "bit bowler" short. So, the only question mark would then be on whether Sehwag makes the cut instead of Dinesh Karthik in the final XI. My preference would be to have Sehwag in the XI, mainly because, Pathan, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Yuvraj and Sehwag can (together) bowl 20 overs.

On the point of bowl-outs of the last 10 overs (or the 5th bowlers' quota) by "bit bowlers", I believe that the thinking has shifted -- slowly but perceptibly. Previously, teams were only looking to bowl-out just the last 10 overs with one or two "bit bowlers". The current thinking is that teams need a good mix of a few players who are able to bowl-out 20 overs. That way, teams can take in 3 mainline bowlers and take a clutch of bowlers who can bowl-out the remaining 20 overs.

I think India should adopt this strategy that Australia and South Africa have successfully employed over the last 2-3 years or so. Australia only look to 3 bowlers bowling-out their 10-over quota. Typically, this would be Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken. The remaining 20 overs would be bowled-out by a combination of Mitchell Johnson (of late), Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds and Cameron White.

Similarly, for India.

I do not believe that the team should look to have Pathan bowl-out his 10 overs. He is not a 10 over bowler in ODIs. He should be treated as a "bit bowler" in the same mould as a Jacques Kallis or a Michael Clarke or an Andrew Symonds. That may help clarify his role in the team a bit better. Of course, there will be days when he bowls magnificently to have figures of 10-2-35-3. But then, these should be bonuses rather than the norm.

I believe India should look to bowl-out Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, while a combination of Pathan, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag and Yuvraj should bowl-out the remaining 20 overs.

If Sehwag does play in the XI, my suggestion would be that he bats in the middle order, just ahead of Dhoni. He can then unleash his array of strokes in the final overs. With Dhoni, it would be an interesting mayhem to watch!

The irony of it all is quite amazing. Here is a cricketer, low on technique who is a Test opener but a one day middle order player! Hummpphhh! So much for logic and rationale... But then, that is the type of cricketer Sehwag is. He does defy logic and rationale in almost everything he does.

Sehwag is set to play 3 ODI games for Delhi-A against Delhi-B, as part of Delhi's preparation for the Ranji ODI Tournament (slated to commence Feb 10). Sehwag leads one of the teams while regular Delhi captain, Mithun Manhas leads the other. The timing of these practice games appears somewhat manufactured. Clearly DDCA is keen to get Sehwag back in Team India -- and why not! The practice games have been so hastily organised that even some of the Delhi team players appear to be unaware. The three games are on Monday 29 January, Tuesday 30 January and Thursday 1 February. Sehwag is clearly sweating and hungry at the moment. And that can only be good for Indian cricket. The team needs him there with a fiery hunger -- and not lackadaisical complacency -- in his belly.

Apart from the XI named above for the next game against the Windies, the remaining 4 players in the XV could be: Virender Sehwag, [Anil Kumble or Ramesh Powar], [Munaf Patel or S. Sreesanth], [Suresh Raina or Gautam Gambhir or Joginder Sharma].

If the 4 that are selected are Sehwag, Powar, Munaf and Raina (very likely), unfortunately, that means that India will go with 4 seamers and 2 spinners in the XV. But that's they way things have panned out, especially since R. P. Singh and Joginder Sharma have been sent home.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

India Vs West Indies :: 3rd ODI :: 27 Jan 2006 :: Team Composition

After winning two games of the 4-game series, India appear to be on a track that spells confidence. Captain, Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell have insisted that it is more about process and less about outcomes. And that's exactly what I feel they have done. They have concentrated on getting the right personnel in the right spots. They seem to have got a few things right along the way. They have won a few games along the way too -- after a disastrous tour to South Africa and after a series of ills in the shortened form of the game. India's plan appears to be coming together.

The team management seems to be inextricably zeroing in on a workable team composition. One gets the feeling that, at least in the minds of captain, coach and selector, tickets have been booked for much of the 15-member team for the World Cup. They now seem to be iterating around the edges to fine-tune a few remaining spots.

So what have we learned from the selections so far?

Given that the team has rested Saurav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, M. S. Dhoni and Zaheer Khan for the 3rd ODI in Chennai today, I think that this quartet has already booked its place on the final XV to the World Cup. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar are also definitely in.

I'd find it hard to believe that a fit Yuvraj Singh won't make it. He is an important player in the overall scheme of things. The remaining 6 matches of India's preparations should sharpen him up. These matches are a chance for him to prove that he is match-fit. It would be nice for him to be allowed the opportunity to work himself to peak fitness with the body and the bat/ball. His presence in the field is as important for India as his ability to score in the death overs.

Given the importance that both the coach and captain place on an in-form Irfan Pathan, I'd find it hard to believe that Pathan is left out when the final-cut is decided on.

So, that makes it 8 definite spots taken (in my books at least).

The team for the Chennai match is (in possible batting order):
Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Anil Kumble, Sreesanth.

This is a good team roll that has its composition targetted to the World Cup.

This is Uthappa's big chance. He may be in a fight with Gambhir for the openers' slot. I do hope Uthappa shines in this match. I rate him highly. I'd like to see him on the plane to the Windies.

This may also be a fight between Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina for a slot in the middle order.

Ajit Agarkar may have done enough to book a ticket to West Indies.

I think this is also a test for Sreesanth to see if he has it in him to bowl tight and straight for 10 overs.

And finally, it appears also that there is a fight between Powar and Kumble for an extra spinners' slot. I have a feeling that Powar may have done enough with some accurate bowling in the last match, but there may be a few questions on his batting. Is he as good with the bat as people around him (and his Ranji scores) seem to make out?

So, it would seem to me that the team for the World Cup is shaping up to be:
Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan, [Gautam Gambhir / Robin Uthappa], [Suresh Raina / Dinesh Karthik], Ajit Agarkar, [S. Sreesanth], [Ramesh Powar / Anil Kumble].

From what I have read, S. Sreesanth may be in a fight for a spot with Munaf Patel.

That would leave two spots.

One of them would have to be Virender Sehwag. He has, in my view, sweated enough and it is perhaps time to bring him into the equation for the games against Sri Lanka.

The final bits of polish can be applied to the team at that point. In my view, things are shaping up nicely from a selection point of view.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

India Vs West Indies :: 2nd ODI :: 24 Jan 2006 :: Team Composition

The team for the 2nd ODI against the Windies certainly looks a bit more balanced and better, in my view. The team management has realised that the balance wasn't quite right. I alluded to this balance issue in my post on this blog a few minutes before the commencement of the 1st ODI of the series.

India went into that game with 4 bowlers. And that is just not on.

The team for the 2nd ODI is also not right, in my view. They are a batsman short.

However, one can see that the team is working on a path that will get them from a starting point to an ideal finsihing point with just a few swaps-and-changes. They appear to have started this journey really well.

It also helps that the team is winning along the way!

So the team for the 2nd ODI (as announced) is:
Gambhir, Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar, Karthik, Dhoni, Agarkar, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Powar, Joginder.

My suspicion is that the batting order will be:
Ganbhir, Ganguly, Joginder, Tendulkar, Dravid, Karthik, Dhoni, Powar, Agarkar, Harbhajan, Zaheer

Sreesanth and Raina miss out from the last game. One suspects that both of them are probably going to miss the plane to the World Cup.

This team, though better, in terms of balance, than the team for the 1st ODI, still lacks in one or two departments. It has 5 mainline bowlers in Zaheer, Agarkar, Harbhajan, Powar and Joginder. In addition, it has 2 'other bowlers' in Ganguly and Tendulkar.

It lacks 3 all rounders, in my view.

They are, in my view, Sehwag (for Gambhir), Yuvraj for Karthik/Powar and Pathan for Agarkar.

But one can witness a progression towards that state.

I believe Pathan and Yuvraj should make it into the team for the last 2 ODIs when the 15-member team is announced tomorrow by the selectors. They should replace R. P. Singh and Raina. There were some clues to Rainas' dropping in Dravids' pre-match interview. Pathan's case is helped by his recent wicket taking -- in particular, in the Ranji semi-final against Mumbai (where Mumbai were 0 for 6 wickets at one stage, with Pathan claiming 3 of these)!

Good luck to Team India...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Revamping the Indian domestic competition...

In recent times, I have heard many people suggesting that the Indian Domestic Competition needs an overhaul.

A good first-step was taken a few years ago, thanks to a movement led by Sunil Gavaskar. The traditional zonal-manner in which the Ranji Trophy tournament was organised up until then was scrapped. We saw the Ranji league divided into two leagues:
  • the Super League consisting of 15 teams in two divisions of 8 and 7 each, and
  • the Plate League consisting of 13 teams in two divisions of 7 and 6 each.
It is not clear why the Super League has two divisions of 8 and 7 each. It is also not clear why the Plate league has two imbalanced divisions of 7 and 6 each. Some things are best left without much questioning, I guess!

This was a good first step initiated by Sunil Gavaskar.

However, the future of Indian cricket can not rely on the Ranji Championship to throw up super cricketers. If you see the Australian scene there are a few teams that slug it out in a near-International-standard cricket competition. The main reason is that the Ranji leagues have too many teams. The better players emerge from a competition with only a few teams that slug it out. The best players need to play against each other. This is why the Australian league is one of the strongest.

So, here is a suggestion on a revamp of the system:

While I can understand the need for teams like Orissa, Assam and Bihar to participate in the national competition, we need to assemble a competition with fewer and better teams to slug it out. A smaller and stronger competition will unearth the best players.

After the Ranji competition is completed, why not create two Super-Six Divisions?

The First Super-Six Division will consist of the top-6 teams from the Super-League -- three from each Division. We could get them to play a home-away Ranji-Super-Six-Championship-League.

The Second Super-Six Division will decide who gets relegated to the Plate Division. The bottom 4 teams from the Super-League and the top 2 teams from the Plate Division can play in the Second Super-Six Division. We could get them to slug it out in a home-away league to decide who gets relegated (2 bottom teams) and who stays in the Super league (top 4).

A change is required to unravel the best players in Indian domestic cricket. This is but one suggestion...

India Vs West Indies :: 1st ODI :: 21 Jan 2006 :: Team Composition

This is being written a few minutes before the start of the 1st ODI between India and West Indies at Nagpur. India has 8 games (4 against the Windies and 4 against Sri Lanka) to fine tune their preparations for the World Cup. And I must say I do not quite like the way they have started this journey... A few things are right, but not all of it, in my view.

The team composition just doesn't look right. The balance is just not there.

I do hope they lose, for this will make them go back to the drawing board.

India has gone in with:
Gautham Gambhir, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, K. K. D. Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Sree Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan.

Joginder Sharpa, Robin Uthappa, Romesh Pawar and R.P. Singh have been left out.

What is wrong?

In my view, we should not open with Gambhir and Ganguly. In his pre-match interview, Dravid said that India has gone in with Ganguly and Gambhir (a left-left combination) to nullify the Windies opening bowlers. Why does that matter? They should have their eye on the World Cup and cannot afford Gambhir carrying out an opportunistic cementing of his place! [Note: Good luck to Gambhir if he does cement his place with a quick-fire 50 or so].

What India needs is a right-left explosive opening partnership. In the absence of Uthappa, they should have gone in with a Dhoni-Ganguly opening partnership. My crystal ball says Gambhir will make a quick 50 or so and they will be stuck with him till the World Cup.

I also do not think they should go with just 4 bowlers. It looks like Ganguly-Tendulkar-Raina will bowl out the 5th bowlers' quota of 10 overs. The balance is not right. The time was ripe to blood Joginder Sharma. In the absence of an out of form Irfan Pathan, they should have played in Joginder Sharma in the remaining games. They may have missed the boat on this. Again, my fear-stricken crystal ball says that the Ganguly-Tendulkar-Raina combination may bowl 10 overs for 20 and get 3 wickets. This may make the team stick with this combination for the remaining games.

I can see egg and faces from a mile!

However, the basics are there. It is, in my view, right for Tendulkar to drop further down the order. This is a bold move and a move that is to be applauded. I feel that he will stabilise the middle-overs. It is right for Ganguly to open. It is just not right for Dravid to come in at #3 (which is how the team sheet has been announced). Tendulkar or Dhoni or Karthik should come in at #3.

I am hoping for a Gambhir failure. I am hoping for a Karthik failure (get Joginder in please). And I am hoping for a Tendulkar-Ganguly-Raina (5th bowler) failure. And I am hoping India loses badly to make the management go back to the drawing board. However, I feel I will be proved wrong -- unfortunately. I may not get my wishes... But one lives in hope.

However, it was nice to see Dravid's attitude in a Cricinfo interview. Unlike past captains, he admitted that there were a few glitches. He indicated that the team was not quite the finished book. He indicated that Sachin Tendulkar would bat further down the order. He straight-talked on Sehwag. He said, "[Sehwag] when playing well, when he's in a good state of mind mentally and physically, is an asset. Sometimes, playing games helps but sometimes a bit of time off - switching off mentally - can be beneficial as well. The selectors have taken a decision and we need to respect that... sometimes being away from the game can do you a world of good. As far as I see it, the best players must go to the World Cup - in terms of form and fitness. It's not reputations that we need to go by." Straight-talking here. He's left a door open for Sehwag, perhaps? But one door is certainly shut.

He was clear on his own form too. He did not duck like an Azharuddin. He did not stutter like a Tendulkar. He did not play verbal-gymnastics or politics and sweet-talk like a Ganguly. He hit it straight down the middle. He said, "When I've got runs, it's made a difference to the side. I was happy with my form till I broke my finger in South Africa. But it was a strange tour for me. It's not easy to miss four weeks in the middle of the tour and then to come back. Things didn't go as well as I would have liked in the Tests as well. In a close series, one key innings can change the series. It's not about the number of runs or averages. It's about getting the critical innings when it matters. It didn't happen but we need to pull up our socks and move on."


He then made it clear -- in what can be seen by Sehwag, Yuvraj, Kumble and Pathan as a clear indication that time is ticking dangerously -- that there were only a few cogs in the World Cup selection-wheel that needed to be set right. He said, "We're very close to identifying key players for the World Cup squad. You must have a key group and we've identified them a while back. There have been a few form blips, a few fitness issues - obviously some spots available for selection - but we have a good idea of our plans."

More straight-talk... More power to him.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bigot Brother...

So Shilpa Shetty is in the midst of a major crisis. Rediff has a "Special" on it to match its "Specials" on issues such as the the Gujarat riots, the Tsunami, the Jessica Lal murder case, the brutal Noida killings or the Mumbai Blast case. Seriously!

The issue has been raised in The Commons by Labour MP Keith Vaz (an MP of Indian origin). The Prime Minister, Tony Blair responded to the question at question-time. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was forced to field questions on this issue while leading a high-level delegation of business people to India. Neither Brown nor Blair had seen the program. And why would they?

The Guardian has commented on it. The Times in London has written about it. Germaine Greer got in on the act with a column in The Guardian. The episode even made it to TV news bulletins and also on to the mainstream, respected AM package in Australia's own ABC!

I don't know Shilpa Shetty. But in an attempt to find out more about her, I tried to find her web-presence. I reached her website. However, in an attempt to field the surge in traffic to her website a few intro pages appear to have been added to her website by her managers. This includes contact details of her manager as well as a statement from her management.

Good on them for cashing in. Why won't they?

I don't know any of the movies Shilpa Shetty has acted in. I don't care either. The fact that she is not mentioned in the same breath as Shabana Azmi, Rekha, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nandita Das, Smitha Patil, Madhir Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Rani Mukherjee, et al suggests that she is probably not an A-Grade actress.

I heard a clip on radio in which she asks, "Why does everyone hate me? Why am I so hated?". I then understood why she wasn't being mentioned in the same missives as the afore-mentioned Indian actors. She is probably just an actor that's acting out there on the "Not-so-Celebrity BIGot Brother" that's going on in the UK!

Does anyone really believe that this Bigot Brother thing is for real? Isn't it all staged... badly? It seems to me that the only thing that is for real in this reality-TV caper is the TV!

The fact that Shilpa Shetty is now a 10/3 favourite to win the show just indicates how out of touch I am with popular culture!

Good luck to her and her tribe...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Gibbs again...

Michael Gleeson in The Age today (Wednesday 17 January 2007) expresses views on the Herschelle Gibbs story that are not dissimilar to mine.

Did Herschelle Gibbs get off lightly?

Herschelle Gibbs, the South African player was found guilty of a Level 3 offence when he uttered rascist comments in the 1st Cricket Test between South African and Pakistan. These comments were made between overs of the Test match and were picked up by the stump microphones.

No doubt there were some extraordinary mitigating circumstances. Gibbs and his team-mate, Paul Harris, were constantly nagged by a few of the Pakistan fans. Another team-mate, Makhaya Ntini, was knocked on the head. No doubt the said players were frustrated and provoked by the unruly spectators. However, the manner in which Gibbs chose to deal with the resulting frustration was unbecoming of an elite sportsperson. Period. What transpired was racially offensive. Gibbs admitted his guilt.

The reaction of Mikey Arthur, the South African coach was... shall we say... interesting. He blamed it on the stump microphones that picked up Gibbs's slur saying that the microphones were "too intrusuve"! Duh! I don't get it? Is Arthur saying that it is ok to pass on rascist slurs as long as they are not picked up by microphones?

While I found Gibbs's utterances terrible, I found Arthur's comments offensive. Gibbs had "heat of the moment" as a possible defence. Arthur must serve time too, for he was in the cold comfort of his team dressing room. Clearly, South Africa has someone rather dodgy at the helm!

Rascist slurs are bad. Period. They should not be tolerated. Period.

Cricket should have (and should be seen to have) "zero tolerance" for rascism.

The fact that this "intrusive microphones" chorus was also picked up by Herschelle Gibbs's father just goes to show that some people just haven't got it. The fact that the microphones picked up the slur does not absolve the player of guilt. It just proves it. The player is guilty. Period. And for that, he must do time.

Now, a Level 3 offence carries a punishment of either 4 Tests or 8 one-days. I wonder why Gibbs got away with a 2-Test ban? Is that because South Africa play only 2 Tests and no other games prior to the all-important World Cup in West Indies? This smacks of a convenience that sacrifices the games' integrity. I'm afraid Chris Broad, the match referee in this instance, has let the cricketing fraternity down. Again!

It is time that cricket stamped out rascism and the manner in which it handles bad behaviour. The starting point should be that it needs to get tougher on its Match Referees.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dissecting the World Cup probables...

Vengsarkar, the Chairman of selectors announced the 30 probables for India's cricket World Cup campaign (Feb-Mar 2007).

The probables are:
Rahul Dravid (capt), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, Suresh Raina, Ramesh Powar, Anil Kumble, Rudra Pratap Singh, Dinesh Mongia, VRV Singh, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, Sourav Ganguly, Parthiv Patel, Zaheer Khan, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Ishant Sharma, Rajesh Pawar, Joginder Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara.

This list is not a million miles away from one I had suggested early yesterday on this blog. The two outside choices that I'd alluded to -- Robin Uthappa and Joginder Sharma -- are both in. By the way, another reason for my penchant for Uthappa is that he keeps wickets. He was an India U-19 wicketkeeper not long ago and in that sense, is in the 'Dravid mould'. So, if Karthik does not make the final cut, Uthappa can don the gloves in case of an injury to Dhoni...

Joginder Sharma did not set the world on fire against Bangladesh in his debut series. It was a series in which India lost an ODI to Bangladesh! However, times have changed and he is a changed cricketer. I have a feeling he will come good. He occupies the all-rounder's spot if Irfan Pathan does not manage to get it all together.

The list of probables can be broken into three categories of 10 players in each: CERTAIN, NO-WAY and MAYBE

Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, S. Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Zaheer Khan.

MAYBE (10):
Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Joginder Sharma, Ramesh Powar, Dinesh Karthik, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, Gautam Gambhir.

NO-WAY (10):
Mohammad Kaif, Anil Kumble, Dinesh Mongia, Parthiv Patel, VVS Laxman, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Ishant Sharma, Rajesh Pawar, Cheteshwar Pujara.

Arguably, guys like Kumble, VVS, Kaif and Mongia could make it to the "MAYBE" list. However, I do not think that that would happen. At least, I do not wish that to happen! Mongia has fluffed many an opportunity. Kaif has rarely grabbed any of the many opportunities he has been given. He can cringe about the revolving-door-policy that he has endured (and he has whined about it lately). However, there were many opportunities for him to stand up and be counted. He has fluffed them all and to me, doesn't look like a cricketer who wants to put his hand up when there is a fight going on. Similarly VVS. He is just not suited to the one-day caper. He can take his dodgy knee with him, settle himself on a couch and watch the proceedings from there instead of watching it from 1st slip, which is really the only place he prefers to be on a cricket field these days!

Party Patel Rohit Sharma, Badrinath, Ishant, Rajesh Pawar and Pujara are, one feels, just making up the numbers at this stage. So, in that sense, my "CERTAIN" and "MAYBE" self-select themselves by a process of elimination!

The trick is to then select 5 from the MAYBE list so that the final list has balance and strength: Balance in terms of experience, age, batting-bowling and agility; Strength in terms of capability, match-winning-ability, cool-headedness, maturity etc.

The 10 in my "CERTAIN" list includes 5 bowlers, 4 bats and 1 'keeper.

Yuvraj Singh has to go if he is fit.

My view is that this is a wake-up call for Sehwag and Pathan. They just have to work hard on their game and come back into the frame. They have to get hungry for success once again. I like the mean-edge to the selection. I also like the fact that, through the re-selections of Ganguly and Zaheer Khan, the selection committee has signalled strongly that "dropped does not mean dropped forever". Time is not on the side of Sehwag and Pathan. Unfortunately for them, nor are there any first class matches for either of them. But they just have to put in the hard yards and use their dropping as a spur to come back hungrier than ever.

Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik will fight it out in the first few games of the trial games against West Indies. I have a feeling that Raina will edge Karthik out...

The last place should, I feel, go to Joginder Sharma.

So the likely final XV could be:
Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, S. Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Joginder Sharma.

Not a bad effort, in my view...

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Indian World Cup Probables announced...

The Indian selectors announced the probables for the World Cup and also named the 15 for the first two "scene-setting" ODIs against West Indies.

As expected (and as I had 'predicted' earlier today), Uthappa and Joginder Sharma got the selectors' nods for the West Indies games. Sehwag and Pathan have been left out. My feeling is that this is a scare the spur them onto getting their houses (and more importantly, their minds) in order. I can't somehow imagine an Indian ODI team without Sehwag and Pathan in it. This has to be a scare tactic...

The surprise packets for the games against the Windies include Ramesh Powar and Gautam Gambhir. I must say the selection of Powar baffles me somewhat...

Pathan and Sehwag are in the WC probables list of 30 though. I'd expect thatboth Pathan and Sehwag will come in to the final WC XV at the expense of Powar and Gambhir (from the current team of XV announced for the first 2 ODIs). My suspicion is that Powar and Gambhir are keeping the seat warm for Pathan and Sehwag respectively while the latter two sweat it out a bit in the nets! The slight worry is that Delhi have no Ranji games left in the competition...

Given the surprise inclusion of Powar, the team for the first 2 ODIs looks like a well balanced ODI team.

West Indies one-dayers (in probable batting order)
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
Robin Uthappa / Dinesh Karthik / Gautham Gambhir
Rahul Dravid (capt)
Suresh Raina
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk)
Joginder Sharma / Ajit Agarkar
Harbhajan Singh / Ramesh Powar
Zaheer Khan
S. Sreesanth
Rudra Pratap Singh

The probables include a few surprises too. My sense is that VVS. Laxman, Mohammed Kaif, Cheteshwar Pujara, Dinesh Mongia and Rohit Sharma are just making up the numbers -- just as I had RS. Sodhi, et al in my list of 30 probables earlier in the day! The surprise packet in the 30 is Parthiv Patel. This must be a joke!

Oh well... Here's hoping that the Pathan-Sehwag scare works well...

World Cup probables
Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Gautham Gambhir, Zaheer Khan, Ramesh Powar, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Joginder Sharma, Ajit Agarkar, Rudra Pratap Singh, VRV Singh, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Rohit Sharma, S Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Dinesh Mongia, Ishanth Sharma, Rajesh Powar

India Team for the World Cup

The Times of India adopted an interesting approach to selecting probables for India's upcoming ODI matches against West Indies, Sri Lanka and then, the big one... The World Cup. It categorised players into "Certainties", "Up for a Fight", "Comeback", "Under Pressure", "Unlikely" and "Injured".

Apart from the fact that they omitted Yuvraj Singh from a place in any of their buckets, I am not sure that their categorisation, although useful, is spot on. I'd like to adopt this approach and instead, categorise players into:

Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni (wk), Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh

Dinesh Karthik (wk), Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, R. P. Singh, V. R. V. Singh

RISKY -- either due to injury or form or both (9):
Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Suresh Raina, Mohammed Kaif, Ramesh Powar, Munaf Patel, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, VVS Laxman

Wasim Jaffer, S. Badrinath, Joginder Sharma, G. Gambhir, A. Nehra, J. P. Yadav, R. S. Sodhi, Venugopal Rao

I have gone for 30 probables here. I'd be rather surprised if the 30 probables chosen by Vengsarkar and his co-selectors will be too different to the above list.

I think the 7 "certainties" will go.

Of the 6 "good case exists", I don't think Karthik should go, despite his good showing in the 3rd Test of the recently concluded Test Series against South Africa. If Karthik does go, it will be as a batsman.

I don't think Kumble should go either, again, despite his good showing in the ODIs against South Africa. Harbhajan bowled well in the ODIs in West Indies last year (2005) and should do well there.

Ganguly has done enough to be on the plane, perhaps as opener, along with Tendulkar.

Uthappa is firing on all cylinders and must have a shoe in. He is the highest scorer in the Ranjis this season and he couldn't have timed his 109-ball 108 against Saurashtra any better! Greg Chappell, all the selectors and Dravid (his Karnataka team-mate) are all there in Rajkot to select the 30 World Cup probables.

Only one of R.P. Singh or V.R.V. Singh will go I feel. Taking both of them will be a bit of an over-kill in terms of 'cover'. I think R. P. Singh would have his nose in front slightly in the short form of the game.

A dark horse, however, is Joginder Sharma. He has had an impressive Ranji season and is the leading wicket taker in India this year. He is a nippy pace bowler. He is also an impressive bat and a good fielder. He could well make the cut instead of R. P. Singh. People are already talking him up as India's long-awaited answer to Kapil Dev (it also helps that Joginder Sharma plays for Haryana!).

A totally dark horse is Ishant Sharma, the young delhi tear-away. But it is perhaps early days for him -- he is in only his first season of first-class cricket!

So, that leaves 7 "certainties" and 3 "good case exists" (4 if we add Karthik).

That leaves the "risky" people... If Yuvraj Singh proves his fitness, he must get in. He is an important player that can hold the middle innings together. Irfan Pathan, similarly, is an important player who must go. The decision to send him back to India from South Africa may just have been a terrific one. He seems to have re-discovered his bowling mojo.

Dinesh Mongia and Mohammed Kaif have thrown many an opportunity, one feels. I think Ramesh Powar will be a liability in the West Indies.

Calls for VVS Laxman to make a comeback into the ODI team have been almost as strident as those for Ganguly's return. Since his showing in the Test matches in South Africa and considering his possible inclusion in the context of a string of poor shows from the young-brigade (the likes of Raina, Kaif, et al) the constant VVS-related cacophony in the Indian media is perhaps understandable. However, Laxman is a liability in the field and his running between wickets is just slightly better than a duck on a twaddle in the park! Already, the team will be trying to hide Ganguly (and possibly Munaf) in the field. Laxman should be left behind and told that his career as a ODI player for India is over.

That leaves Suresh Raina, Munaf Patel and Virender Sehwag.

If Munaf is fit, he should go. I say this despite his woeful fielding. He is an accurate bowler and could be a handy player in the West Indies. I know that this selection is a tad illogical in the context of the previous paragraph, wherein I suggested the axing of Laxman because of his fielding inadequacies. The difference here is that the bowling cupboard does not look all that well-stocked. It is my submission that there is an adequate stock of capable batsmen in India. If Munaf goes, one just needs to hide him (too) in the field. Sigh!

It would then be a battle between Sehwag and Raina! Sehwag should go, if nothing for the sheer number of games he has won for India. He needs to re-discover his scoring touch and could be a match winner for India once again. His experience will be valuable. So also his bowling.

So the 14 for the 8 lead-up games and the World Cup would be:

Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa
BOWLERS (6): Zaheer Khan, S Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh, Munaf Patel
ALL-ROUND(6): Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni (wk), Virendar Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan

This leaves one last spot (the 15th spot). This could go to either Dinesh Karthik, Anil Kumble or Suresh Raina. I’d go with Suresh Raina to bolster the fielding. Raina could also be the cover for Sehwag and Uthappa in the batting department.

EXTRA (1): Suresh Raina / Anil Kumble / Dinesh Karthik

The likely XI could be:
1. Sachin Tendulkar
2. Sourav Ganguly
3. Irfan Pathan
4. Virender Sehwag / R. Uthappa / S. Raina
5. Rahul Dravid
6. Yuvraj Singh
7. MS Dhoni (wk)
8. Harbhajan Singh
9. Ajit Agarkar / R. P. Singh / Munaf Patel
10. Zaheer Khan
11. S. Sreesanth

Dark Horse - 1: Joginder Sharma for R. P. Singh or Munaf Patel

Dark Horse - 2: Dinesh Karthik for S. Raina

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why did India lose to South Africa?

India squandered a great opportunity to beat South Africa in South Africa in the recently concluded Test series. After the terrific win in the first test of the series, most fans would have harboured hopes of a rare away series victory for India. Although I had alluded to the possibility of a bounce-back by South Africa, it still is disappointing to see India go down the way she did.

The result was certainly not a bad one for India. The team can hold its head high amidst the clamour around them. Acheiving (even) a test match win outside India has always been hard for this team. They are now doing it reasonably regularly. What they do not yet have is that killer instinct that takes them from winning one match to winning a series. Every now and then, they take their foot off the pedal and allow the opponent back into the game. The team has to learn from this and move on.

In the 3rd test, there were a few reasons for India's loss. I will try and list them out here:

India did not put enough runs on the board in the first innings:
  • I know it is stating the obvious, but that was the start of India's problems. India was about 50 runs short in the 1st innings. These runs could have been made easily.
  • India was in a terrific position, thanks to the terrific start by openers, Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer. Dinesh Karthik was given out wrongly by the umpires who progressed from there to have a shocker of a test match. Even so, the rest of the batsmen should have capitalised on that wonder start. However, none of them, barring Ganguly and Sehwag really showed intent to get on top of the bowlers.
  • After starting off with a basket of crisply hit boundaries, Dravid lapsed into a sudden and almost inexplicable shell. It was almost as if he said to himself, "Why am I hitting all these boundaries when all we want to do is draw the match?"
  • Tendulkar scratched around for a well made 66, but always kept South Africa in the game as he did it. Similarly Laxman. The intent to dominate the bowling was just not there. Perhaps team India had decided right then that it did not want to win the match?
  • After playing himself into form with a clever 40 runs, Sehwag then threw it all away with a rash stroke against debutant Harris.
  • Ganguly, who was well-set at that point, then proceeded to not farm the strike. Perhaps he had way too much confidence in the tail that he had to bat with.
  • All of this leads me to think that one of the key issues for India going forward is to drive home the importance of being situation-aware.
Positive playing by South Africa
  • Right through the game, South Africa played positively. They played with intent. They wanted to win. They showed that hunger.
  • In the first innings, Smith and Amla played well and applied themselves to the task (winning) stoically. They had a plan and they went about it.
  • Even when they were 6 down for 281, Boucher and Pollock batted positively to ensure that India's lead was never too much.
Second Innings batting by India
  • Apart from the intent demonstrated by sending Sehwag to open, India did not really show any willingness to take the game to the opposition.
  • Sehwag was a disappointment as an opener. After hitting a crisp four, he lashed out weakly and needlessly at a wide ball. He let the team down and showed that his problems are all of his own making. It is in his mind and he needs to have a deep, hard look at himself.
  • Apart from Ganguly and Karthik none of the batsmen really showed self-belief. And that's where the team was let down. Every ball was made out to be a wicket-taking ball. When Ganguly and Karthik were playing, the same balls were made out to be run-scoring balls.
  • Self-belief was constantly replaced by self-doubt.

Basic cricketing hygiene:

  • What surprised me most was the lack of overall hygiene.
  • Given that we have two people at the top (Chappell and Dravid) who are somewhat consumed by process and not results, this lack of hygiene was most surprising.
  • For example, should Munaf Patel have been chosen at all? The coach and captain should have been on top of that, surely? He was clearly labouring even in the 1st innings and could barely bowl in the second dig.
  • The running between wickets was somewhat woeful. Witness the run outs of Laxman and Zaheer Khan. Laxman's run out would have cost India at least 30 runs. Zaheer had Karthik at the other end who was batting like a dream. Zaheer's run out cost India at least 30 runs.
  • The ground fielding was embarassing. This cost India at least 40 runs in the match.
  • One can blame the umpires for Munaf Patel's dismissal in the 7th ball of Steyn's over! However, that is outside the team's control. Basic cricketing hygiene is well within the team's control. The coach and captain take the rap for this, I'm afraid...
Put all of the above together and what we get is a rather sorry tale. India can do better in its international outings. But before any chest-thumping, India must pay attention to three basic things (a) winning mindset, (b) situation-awareness and (c) basic cricketing hygiene.

Without these there is little hope of India doing well anywhere -- even in India!