Posts Tagged ‘Ian Bell’

It is something of an unfortunate oddity that the first test of the 2013 Ashes will be remembered more for dubious umpiring decisions as against the tide of sinusoidal sessions that have tilted the scales back and forth.

Swann’s exploits on a fourth day turner shifted the focus from otherwise folkloristic fervors provided by Bell, Broad and Beer (did you observe the stands these days?) all day. Swann’s delivery to dismiss Phil Hughes tested the very limits of technology, fractional math and yet another umpire’s uncertainty. Though Dharmasena can be absolved of blame in this instance. Technology won, and as many voices echoed, Cook has been the wiser of the two captains in effectively putting the DRS to use.

With a target of 300+ on the cards given the way Broad and Bell closed Day 3, Australia did well enough to restrict the lead to 310. A brilliant fight back followed Bell’s, possibly, match-winning century, and Broad’s fighting fifty. Siddle cleaned off the lower order to take his tally to 8 for the match. On a slow, low wicket, Siddle’s performance has been very commendable.

Australia’s response was reminiscent of the team they once were. Watson’s aggression setting the tone for a combative start, at the same time deriving an unspoken sense of satisfaction through Roger’s solid, defensive methods at the other end. Granted, the reality didn’t turn out to be quite as effective as their yesteryear opening stands. Australia’s top order woes continuously point to how no batsman is ready to proclaim a new dawn of Australian supremacy. The elite always ensure self-perpetuation.

Cowan fell victim to Joe Root’s first wicket in Test Cricket, offering a shot similar to that of the one he played against the pace of Finn in the first innings – only to be caught at slip. Earlier, Watson’s unsuccessful use of the DRS, after being trapped in front off a Broad in-swinger, proved yet another case of the all-rounder’s solid start not being converted in to a bigger score.

Rogers laid a strong foundation with his maiden fifty in Australian colors

Chris Rogers, resembling an old, bespectacled, gritty Lance Corporal looked every inch an effective blocker, notching up his first fifty before chipping Anderson to mid-wicket. David Saker’s dramatics from the pavilion indicated a well framed plan to reduce the pace off the odd ball to make Rogers play a touch early. Or whatever it was, it worked.

With much hope sheltering on the willows of Clarke and Smith, a brief spell of play indicated their resilience towards battling it out in the middle. A slow, but steady, progress towards keeping the scoreboard ticking threw brief light on a slow Australian recovery. But Broad and Swann had different ideas.

Within no time, Clarke, to his dismay, yet again inclining towards the DRS, unsuccessfully questioned Aleem Dar’s decision to declare him out caught behind off Broad. Swann sent Smith back after deceiving Smith with his guile, making him play back to a delivery that spun a mile and caught the Aussie trapped plumb in front.

Swann’s role on Day 5 will be critical towards England taking a lead this Ashes

Hughes followed to a successfully DRS-referred lbw decision by England, with Dharmasena turning the initial appeal down. The Sri Lankan couldn’t have been blamed for thinking that the ball pitched outside leg, for the replays showed a very thin margin that had fifty percent of the ball within the danger zone. A whiff the other way would’ve had pundits lauding the precision of Dharmasena’s eagle eye.

Agar’s dynamic innings with happy dashes of flair earned him a promotion up to number 8 in the second innings. Say what you want about him being a debutant, but he kept a still head to face off 24 balls to close off the last session.

With plenty needed for the Australians, England clearly have the upper hand to take a 1-0 lead. Swann holds the key on a wicket that appears to oddly turn like a minefield. But we all know what happened last innings don’t we?


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

You can carp over England’s performance over the first three days up to a certain point all you like, with a fair sense of justification around loose strokes and a couple of idea-devoid sessions on Day 2. But you can’t accuse them of at least not trying to salvage some morale through responsible batting during the second innings.

Ian Bell, as he’d shown over many an innings post his maturity, finished the day unbeaten on a well-paced 95 – an innings that tilted the scales towards England. He’s mastered the art of wearing down bowlers; waiting for the right occasion to unleash his aesthetic drives through the off-side. He is what the likes of Phil Hughes and Rohit Sharma should become – boys who entered the international scene with immense potential, waiting to grow in to men who can carry the burden of expectations on their shoulders moving forward.

Bell's gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s style is placed on simple principles coupled with a style that pleases the eye. But what he lacked initially was a quality that he’s gained, and gained substantially well over the last three years. The boy became a man with a few match-saving, and winning, innings in South Africa – a fluent 140 followed by a persistent 78 against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and co.

A successful Ashes followed down under, before the perils of the turning ball in the subcontinent raised a few eyebrows over his technique under such conditions. But he’s recovered strong enough to pose as a fulcrum of the middle order at 5 – acting as the meat of the sandwich between the flamboyant, boisterous Pietersen and the exuberant, young Bairstow.

Bell, like Cook and Pietersen earlier, showed a lot of intent towards occupying the crease for as long as he could. So did Broad, who refused to walk after edging one to Clarke at slip off Agar, off a deflection courtesy Haddin’s gloves. Australia had no reviews left.

How Aleem Dar failed to notice that will remain an unsolved mystery. Broad’s deadpan expression following that was a classic. But the notion of walking rarely gets mentioned especially when these two teams meet. England will point to the Hot-Spot blunder that presented Trott his first golden duck in Test Cricket as a karmic equivalence. Clarke didn’t seem too pleased. But the game already has had its fair share of contentious decisions.

Haddin made a nuisance out of himself by dropping Bell in the very next over, a fairly difficult chance though. Australia desperately needed a wicket if their dreams weren’t to feel totally futile. They’d toiled hard to get Pietersen and Cook before lunch, after which Matt Prior threw away his wicket to a needless shot that matched his wicket-throwing first innings stroke.

Australia responded to the doggedness shown by Bell and Broad, but not with too much vigor. Agar got plenty of bounce, showed encouraging signs of proving his mettle as a bowler. It was a shame that his team had no reviews left when Broad smashed one off his edge to Clarke. At the other end, Bell was given plenty of opportunities to commit himself to the expansive drive – a temptation that he intelligently restricted, especially of the bowling of Shane Watson.

He played late, played his shots with soft hands to construct an aptly paced innings given the circumstances. England had plenty of time at their disposal, with an ardent need to keep the scoreboard ticking. Any run rate freeze would’ve exposed them to the risk of a collapse resembling their first innings domino. If a lead of 250 was their first milestone, they got there comfortably with Bell and Broad well stuck in.

The Australians were forced in to redrawing their contingency plans for chasing a score that appeared to cross 300. Not every innings can script a record breaking tenth wicket stand. England’s continued resistance crystallized the notion that they aren’t a weary shadow of the team that clinched the Ashes down under last year.

There was a sense of staleness about the Australian attack when things didn’t go their way. As Broad and Bell ticked on, Pattinson tried every trick in his young repository of skills to reverse the red cherry. His valiant attempts, though, didn’t yield a wicket.

The first session of Day 4 will decide the likely outcome of the first test. Many a skeptics fear of the game unlikely to run on to the fifth day can be buried to rest, unless a dramatic Australian collapse exhibits itself tomorrow. Or if they manage to chase down 300 odd with a series of Agar-ian innings.

Goutham Chakravarthi

No matter how much Cook and his boys said in each press conference that they were going to bounce back,  fans and media were certain of the white wash. That four of the five games were decided by whopping margins, it only deepens the scars of English cricketers who have won only one game of sixteen in their last three bilateral series in India.

England is known to prepare better than most for any series and it was no different when they arrived in Hyderabad ten days before the first game. Unfortunately, their planning and strategy leaves a lot to be desired.

Bell and Pietersen should both play in the XI

It is quite apparent that they have theories in place and try to pick players to fit them into those theories. The problem is, it doesn’t always work unless the player is brilliant enough fit himself to any theory. And in England’s case, there are very few of them who are that versatile.

It is silly that they had to choose between Pietersen and Bell for one batting slot. In an ideal world, you pick the best team you have – both Pietersen and Bell would be the first two to be penciled in in that case. And once the best batting team is picked, based on the strengths, the strategy is to be formed.

India showed them how it is done even when they were in England irrespective of the one-day results. With all their power players out injured – Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj – they played to the limitations of their side and planned to not lose wickets up front and let Dhoni and Raina take to the bowling at the end. That was their best chance with the team they had and they took the common sense approach.

One look at this England team and you know for certain that they have no such concrete plan. Expecting Kieswetter to do a Jayasuriya just because the pitches allow free stroke making against the new ball is silly. Kieswetter’s limitations have exposed the flawed roleplay identified for the players. You cannot score 80 runs in the first 10 overs just because that is how it is done in the sub-continent. You need to have the players to do it.

More importantly, the match winners in the team have to be looked after. And in this team, that match winner had to be Kevin Pietersen. The only time England won anything of substance in the limited overs format – T20 world cup in the Caribbean– Pietersen was the Man of the Tournament. That he was made to think his place in team was under threat to the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler wouldn’t have sat comfortably on him.

Not that Graeme Swann chose to release his autobiography just before the start of the series help. There was nothing sinister in his revelation that he didn’t think Pietersen was captaincy material. The timing would have hurt. Also Swann’s revelation that the four day boot camp in Germany prior to the Ashes were among the worst of his life didn’t go too well with Flower. Swann dropped catches and looked very innocuous with his off-spin throughout. It didn’t help at all in their team bonding.

On the other hand, M.S. Dhoni ensures that he gives Yuvraj Singh all the confidence in the world when he is playing. He constantly tells the press that Yuvraj is India’s key to success in limited overs cricket and he has reaped the rewards as the temperamental southpaw was instrumental in India winning the T20 world cup in 2007 and the 50 overs world cup early this year. Both Yuvraj and Pietersen have massive egos and the trick to ensure that they have the full confidence of the captain and the management. They need to be told that they are critical for their team’s success.

Also the fascination towards these power hitters in Alex Hales, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow is worrying. That they are picked and placed to take advantage of the powerplays is a noble thought provided they are good enough to do it. Kieswetter has shown that be can perhaps bat in top gear or get stuck with nothing in between, while Bairstow seems to have not much idea playing spin.

It would be common sense that an ideal XI will comprise of their three best players –Bell, Pietersen and Morgan. Also, their batting positions should ensure that they get maximum opportunities to play 50 overs. How they fit the others around these three will be a good starting point, and worthy of a good planning exercise.

Also, Cook’s captaincy has been far from impressive. Pietersen looked clueless when England were thrashed 5-0 in India last time, and Cook looked not far from it. The only time India struggled against this England attack was when they got the ball to reverse. It meant they should have looked to bowl during the day and not worry about the heat. Only in Hyderabad and Kolkata did they bowl first and the heat seemed to get to them.

Mental toughness of a team is also in taking these factors into consideration, and England would have done well to let go of playing under cooler night conditions. The night dew also ensured that India chased down England’s targets with great ease as there was no reverse either. Only Finn came through with a remarkable show of strength and endurance.

It’s all right when the media points to the fact that the next world cup in 2015 will be played in Australia and New Zealand, but not to forget is the fact the T20 world cup is in Sri Lanka next year. On current evidence, it is difficult to imagine England starting favourites to defend their crown.

 Goutham Chakravarthi

 4 September 2011

On Saturday, Mahela Jayawardene scored his 29th Test hundred to draw level with Donald Bradman. It was a spiteful pitch and runs were hard to come by. It was an innings in a losing cause against a team that no longer is the best going around. Yet, runs against Australia don’t come easy at the best of times. Ricky Ponting turned the ball square on this wicket and Mahela himself would have fancied his chances bowling spin on a wicket that had more turn in it than all the head turns a pretty girl would manage in a lifetime. It was Mahela at his best – playing late, with soft hands and precise footwork and impeccable judgment.

Mahela has drawn level with Bradman on 29 Test hundreds

Often, Aravinda de Silva from the emerald isle is talked up as its best batsman. Sanath Jayasuriya is the darling of the masses in the shorter format. Kumar Sangakkara, a contemporary, is widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s best batsman recently. Even with all the runs Mahela has conjured up wafting his bat like a wizard would his wand, he has churned close to ten thousand Test runs in a remarkable career. He must be the most stylish right-hander in the game even as the world is obsessed with Ian Bell and VVS Laxman.

Often his record at the SSC is held against him. Even otherwise, he would be the modern day giant that he is. He averages over 50 in the 4th innings. They say 20 of his 29 hundreds have come in Sri Lanka. In a career spanning over 14 years he has played only 4 Tests in Australia (1 hundred, ave: 34.25), 4 Tests in New Zealand (1 hundred, ave: 27.71), 4 Tests in West Indies (1 hundred, ave: 42.00), 5 Tests in South Africa (highest: 98, ave: 31.40). In a similar time frame, VVS Laxman has played 11 Tests in Australia, 5 in New Zealand, 10 in South Africa and 16 in West Indies! It is a shame that such a remarkable talent has had to play so less in these countries. Agreed his record isn’t the best there, but he has hardly been a failure. He has Test hundreds in all Test playing countries barring South Africa. He cannot be faulted for not being given more opportunities to better his performances. If scoring hundreds across the world is the barometer for judging batting greatness, he is up there with the best.

The disadvantage of coming from a smaller Test playing nation is the lack of deserved recognition a player should get. If he were an Australian or an Englishman, he would be constantly referred to as a modern day great. Chanderpaul, Mohammed Yousuf and Kallis have suffered the same fate over the years. But more important than the media space and public opinion, it is the respect of fellow players and opposition that counts. No cricketer or sane cricket scribe would have less than the highest regard for Mahela.

Mahela’s all round game makes him truly remarkable. He reinvented himself as a limited overs player after pushing himself to open the innings in T20 cricket. He is a player in the classical mould, but he has come to the realization that he can now paint modern art too. There is as much colour in his cover drive as there is in his imagination that can pull out a scoop to a fast bowler. He is the writer who has not only mastered long hand writing but someone who can tell an epic in a tweet. He has got it all. He is the master who not only knows all the tunes, but knows when to play them. He is Sri Lanka’s finest batsman. He’s done it with tremendous grace and dignity.

 Goutham Chakravarthi

 22 August 2011

The entire series has been about Rahul Dravid standing up for his team’s cause almost like another man back home fighting for the cause of anti-corruption. On a beautiful sunny Sunday, Rahul Dravid battled for his country with everything he’d got – with the skill of a sculptor, concentration of a chess Grand Master and the determination of a soldier. It was a throwback to the best days of Dravid between 2000 and 2006 when he scored runs with regularity and consistency of Indian government’s frequency in increasing fuel prices.

Rahul Dravid went past Gavaskar's 34 Test hundreds on Sunday.

A lower-order that has paled in comparison to the grit and skill shown by their English counterparts, showed admirable fight in supporting Dravid. Amit Mishra, showed twice today that he is made of good stuff. He handled the threat of Swann with great confidence and good skill. Alas, he was undone by a brilliant Bell catch. As a night watchman, batting overnight following on, he will be expected to carry the fight for his team for as long as he can. One the evidence so far, he is likely to.

Amid all the turmoil of wickets falling around him, Dravid looked at ease facing the turning deliveries of Swann, who has been highly impressive in this Test. Dravid looked unperturbed against some honest fast-bowling. If only the top-order didn’t acquiesce to the pressures of the English bowling, he may have helped hold the forte much longer. As it turned out, a determined lower-order helped India add another 197 runs in their first innings before the innings closed and Dravid became only the third Indian to carry his bat through.

The Indian fans would be relieved at the fight on display by the team battling a far superior team in all aspects this summer. Not often has the batting shown fight this summer, but today was different. The bowlers were made to work harder for their wickets and nothing was made easy. Even a skillful, determined unit that has had so much the better of its opposition was at times made to look tired and blunt by a determined lower-order. The message finally seemed to rub-off on the top order which looked more determined than before when made to follow-on. Finally, it looked a contest and it was a good battle.

Much of the series has been a disappointment for the poor standards exhibited by the visitors. Only Rahul Dravid has come out with his reputation intact. Enhanced as some would argue. Only cynics would argue of his stature or his greatness. Men of his ability rely not on reputation or pedigree but on deeds. Never the one to complain or seek excuse, he seeks pleasure earning his stripes and respect with deed on the field.

He is a clever man who studies administration and leagues of various sports across the globe and it is not difficult to see him get into cricket administration when he is finished with playing cricket. He was involved in the administration of world cup games in Bangalore for the KSCA (Karnataka State Cricket Administration). He makes case-studies on batting and presents them to young batsmen for his state Karnataka and for Rajastan Royals in the IPL. A selfless, but a clever man who is soaked deep in the games traditions and its values, it is but inevitable that his best runs should have come in a country that respects and values them as he does.

Alas, a controversial decision derailed his spectacular fight. India is proud to have such fighters represent it on the cricket field.