Posts Tagged ‘India’

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

It probably isn’t unfair to say that the berth atop the ICC Test Rankings, historically, hasn’t been a paradise for teams that have scaled it. Idealists would find it easy to argue that the current and former number one teams have had questionable, if not in entirety, rises to the top – England’s failure in the sub-continent, and India’s predominantly home-series wins adding alibi to their theories.

English fans, now, find themselves being stopped short of being wildly idealistic. What seems profound here is that despite victories (and draws) against tough overseas opponents on foreign soil (barring their quest in the sub-continent), England finds itself basked amidst vicissitudes of press coverage stating ‘too much cricket’ as an excuse for their exponential dip in form in the ongoing series against the Proteas. Isn’t this true for almost the entire set of test playing nations, or at least the top six nations?

World records may not hold great importance if it doesn’t help achieve a significant team result. © BBC

True, just like how the blackout in Northern India has highlighted our dependence on diesel, there have been enough presumptions with regard to England’s dependency on seam-friendly tracks. It wasn’t too long ago in the timeline when the English selectors (rather Andy Flower) had a pleasant headache over the pace bowlers they needed to leave out of an eleven being fielded. Even KP’s antics did little to overshadow the confidence that they had built as a test unit under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.

But, isn’t it common these days to witness sparse differences in standards between teams (or if we extend this to organizations in general) vying for pole position? It is healthy, as a fan, to witness intense battles between teams that look not only strong on paper, but have the firepower to back it up on the field.

A nascent advantage of the billions of cash reserves in the Middle East has been the creation of stronger clubs (through foreign ownership) to compete against the cliché of names one usually comes across in the European leagues. Chelsea, for one, given how they’d been a dominant force not too long ago under the billions of Roman and reign of Mourinho, finished sixth last season – it wasn’t ‘too much football’, but stronger competitors.

Fortunately, cricket is witnessing the same. Just to drift slightly off here – as much as I’d love to call the current New Zealand team a touch below par, the resurgence of West Indies (too early to say?), owing to the return of Chris Gayle at the top of the order, has been a welcome sight to most of us.

In paper, they may hardly seem like teams being overworked. Chris Gayle, players competing in the IPL, WICB issues have, in the past, camouflaged substantial on-field press coverage (barring the Ramdin ‘paperwork’ during the series against England). The change in tutorship at New Zealand has received a little more space than an obituary in newspapers here. But they’re competing all right.

Coming back to the perennial issue highlighted earlier – packed calendars don’t help. Agreed. Much has been written in the footballing circles about how players get jaded after a long season (domestic, league, continental competitions adding to the toll) followed by international commitments. And by the time they’re done with it, the new season beckons – it isn’t uncommon to see players who’ve undergone the wrath of such schedules sit out of contention for the best part of August.

Cricket is equally, if not more, demanding in terms of fitness (probably more mental owing to the long stretches of tours away from home). Unlike football (and I’m sure football purists would disagree here), there’s very little space for error in the game of cricket – a lapse of concentration could cost a batsman his wicket, a fielder a catch and a bowler a wayward  line/length. Add to all this media hype and expectations (something which I believe dearly affects teams like England  and India, more than other teams around) – the end result is a volatile cocktail.

So, have teams at the top been victims of everything (and everyone) but themselves? It is as much about hype and expectations, as it is about packed schedules. The modern day sportsman is trained (through a combination of well-structured training programs catering to the mental aspects of sport) to cope with expectations of a nation, and the glaring eyes of the world.

But few cross the line that differentiates the best from the rest. A double hundred in a dead-rubber test on a flat wicket deserves to be dwarfed to insignificance when compared to a half century on a trying wicket that saves a test. Only when the cricketing community starts setting such standards and yardsticks, will we see the crop of players rise up and deliver.

Let me recall an interesting anecdote I heard from a source (this isn’t fiction) regarding Don Bradman’s reaction, when quizzed by an Australian journalist, after Brian Charles Lara had scored a record breaking 375 against the touring Englishmen in Antigua. The Don, apparently, had replied ‘Okay’.

Assuming that age had caught up with the Don, the journalist repeated his question (understandably more pronounced) to get the entirety of the message across. The Don, once again, without batting an eyelid, replied ‘Okay’  When quizzed further, The Don had said: ‘On a flat wicket, against a scrawny bowling attack in a Test which wasn’t heading towards a result, what more can I say?’

The journalist decided to pose his question thus: ‘Sir, how much do you reckon you’d have scored had you been in this situation?’. The Don thought for a while and said ‘Maybe 260 … or 270.’ Presuming that age had taken a toll on his thinking, the journalist asked ‘Sir, but he scored 375. You’re saying you’d have 260. And you’re not rating his knock too.’

To which The Great Man replied: ‘I’m 85, he’s just a 23 year old kid.’

Maybe, that is what greatness is about.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Siege warfare has been their stock in trade. For Australia, this series was a case of truth being stranger than fiction – in the good sense. Consistency across four tests reaped benefits earlier not thought-of, and it certainly wasn’t a case of a chain being as strong as its weakest link when a few individuals failed to step up to the occasion. Not a single test seemed likely to enter the fifth day, with the exception of the final one that might have not lasted so long had Australia enforced a follow on.

The worst thing about India’s 4-0 whitewash down under was the inevitability of it. That a large set of the players looked withdrawn and out-of-sync (every time the cameras focused on them) didn’t help the cause either. Astronomical numbers gathered over years of batting is what constituted the middle order, but there was little evidence to suggest that this was the barometer by which their performance was being gauged.

As unpopular as this view will probably be, the proverbial rant surrounding why Rohit hasn’t played a Test yet will continue for some time to come. After all, when wickets fall at intervals so short that the same old advertisements are shoehorned every five minutes (in some cases, ironically featuring the stars that are on the field – or ones who had just lost their wicket), little can be said in defense of their numbers, irrespective of how large they are.  They are statistical quirks, no more, and cringe-worthy.

How meekly the Australians made a team of eleven Indians capitulate throughout the series ranks alongside General Friedrich Paulus’ surrender at Stalingrad in 1943.  Never before had a German Field Marshall surrendered to enemy forces. And the Indian fans’ displeasure is as much as that, if not more, experienced by Adolf Hitler back then. The Australians have dominated the series with an air of perfection that would have made Michelangelo knock of the Sistine Chapel ceiling on a Sunday afternoon to target a work of art likewise.

Playing a Test in Australia is never a pleasant experience – precisely why it is so fervently anticipated. The IPL might have forged opportunistic alliances between these two nations (among many others), but nothing further seems to have transpired. The Indians’ only comforting presence in the Australian dressing room would be that of Shaun Marsh, whose IPL image contrasts that which he has built during this series, albeit the formats being grossly different. Marsh is an unlikely candidate to catch the plane to the Caribbean, come this April. He has cut a lonely figure, resembling a Greek window-shopper unable to buy runs.

Australia’s biggest gain over the series (apart from unearthing/refining an outstanding pace attack) has been the resurgence of Clarke as both a batsman and skipper. For some, Clarke’s Midas touch could’ve come as a greater shock than American Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s tax returns. Just as it seemed during the build up that Clarke’s perceived image would receive boo-eliciting responses to every remark he makes, given how unpopular he was among certain sections of the public, the response couldn’t have been more timely and stronger. That he had Ponting by his side all along the course of this series is a tribute to how the two of them have responded to immense pressure.

Now who is more subservient of the two? © Sportsbanter

Premonitions over their roles and future in the Australian setup have finally been buried. With Brad Hogg making a comeback at 40, it would be hard to stop a rampaging Ponting from continuing to play on until he experiences another lean patch like he did in 2011. As will Mike Hussey fancy his chances in hanging around the International setup for some time to come – given how the influx of promising youngsters hasn’t quite worked out the way that the selectors might have anticipated. It would require a Marsh-esque run with a virgin willow for either of these two batsmen to have their performances under intense scrutiny once again.

Haddin’s forgettable patch has rightfully seen him relegated, as much as claims may state that he was rested. At 35, it seems that his path henceforth is a foregone conclusion. The absence (injury) of Paine brings in a whiff of fresh air via Matthew Wade, a youngster who has shown potential to dazzle crowds with his reassuringly simplistic approach to the game – more reassuring than Mickey Arthur’s claims that Haddin is on the right track for Ashes 2013. In truth, Haddin was only marginally better than being hopeless.

Wade’s outing in International Cricket has been much anticipated

Wade, on the other hand, will be in action as early as tomorrow when the two teams face off against each other in the first T20I at Sydney. He’ll feature alongside a few veterans, a few new names, a quirky Marsh and his younger brother Mitch (possibly), under the leadership of George Bailey after Cameron White’s inconsistent form relegated him into oblivion.

Australia sits at a disappointing fifth in the ICC T20I Rankings. A new stadium, a new home outfit; the Aussie fans will hope that it is the same old result though.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Grafter or not, Ricky Ponting’s 41st ton did not resemble a large set of the other forty but it was an innings certainly built through with perseverance and grit. It is tempting to wonder if Ponting’s approach is a reflection of knowing the squalor that would arise if he’d gone about batting the way he normally does. But his innings today certainly didn’t lack class.

Clarke’s stories, recent and not-so-recent, are strikingly different ones. His presence at the crease of late barely resembles the Clarke who, until not too long ago, struggled with his feet movement and approach for a period of time that could well be termed lengthy. He’s had his own share of issues in dealing with knife-wielding Brutuses behind his back, but he’s skipper now and is leading from the front in a series that is fast approaching a 4-0 whitewash.

He now appears a lot more frugal than his predecessor Ponting, and his views are minimalist. He spent the best part of the day trying to catch up with Ricky, and overtaking him by the time stumps were called. He had his share of luck while coasting through to 140, something Ishant would’ve sneered at given how his day turned out.

Sydney all over again. Image: Sportlive

A day’s play that would have left a hopeful Indian fan frothing at the mouth has drawn nothing more than a remorsefully apathetic response, almost as though this was expected. As the cliché goes, the mature heads will know that things are not always what they seem. At least, from the perspective of a source from the visitor’s dressing room who seemed to reckon that with the score line already 3-0 against them, things can’t get worse.

One can’t attempt to try and defend the indefensible. Just as the introduction of Ashwin as early as during the fourth over of the game seemed to light things up, more due to Umesh Yadav’s inconsistent start with the new ball, Sehwag’s ideas lacked the durability required to bundle out a supremely confident unit on a placid track. He’d have been fairly satisfied going in to lunch with three wickets fallen, but would have found it hard to sport a smile after that.

Ashwin did well to restrict Warner from cannoning off to a start that he’s so accustomed to, thereby building the pressure needed to get the southpaw in to committing an error. Marsh’s misery continued to haunt him as he looked like a rat lost in a maze, unable to get anything right in what could probably end up being his last Test in some time to come. Never before has an Australian Number Three looked so unconvincing. He’s certainly exhausted the large quantities of trust and patience which he might have found during the build up to Adelaide.

And that is Australia’s fear right now. It was the underlying theme of Sydney – that the veterans performed, and the youngsters didn’t. Although it is too early to conclude so at Adelaide, a few of them, to their credit, did justice elsewhere. A spot in the eleven now appears perennial for a few with great appeal. But with Brad Hogg returning to International Cricket (T20) at forty, Ponting could well set his sights on another nine hundreds by the time he decides to hang his boots.

Dat Two, as history suggests, will offer plenty more runs to trouble the scorebooks. But for this Australian side, this series, with a fragile bowling opposition, no total appears unimaginable.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

The Border-Gavaskar Trophy finds itself back in Australian shores once again. It has been over a decade since this series was won so convincingly, although fingers will point/will continue to point at India’s incompetency. The indignation in the visitor’s camp hasn’t seen a single day of untroubled repose yet. Which is why the essence of the Adelaide Test will lie more on Australia’s battle with themselves than anything else around.

The 3-0 score line is only a number that highlights the success achieved thus far, not an acknowledgment of the goals set themselves. The Australians have settled for the mere truth:  a few individual performances has overshadowed many meager stats from players who, now, find themselves at cross roads of their career – given that a few of their names don’t automatically find their ways into Arthur’s Playing XI when given a fully fit pool to select from.

Shaun Marsh and Brad Haddin, the same names that propped up during the build up to Perth, have done little to boost their credentials to get them away from the relegation shortlist.  They’re going to have to find themselves away from a lean patch that increasingly resembles Greece’s financial muscle. Perceptions that people have about their abilities (lesser empirical in the case of Haddin, given that at 35, ability isn’t what one is judged by) doesn’t seem to match the statistical reality required to warrant a place in the national side.

Combine the perception of a mid-thirties age bracket with a very lean form with both bat and gloves, and it leaves Brad Haddin beatable, something that even he has acknowledged publicly. The scanners over his performance are worth having, and the only way to put an end to his debacle is to address his uncertainty over shot selection.

Haddin looks most likely amongst the Australians to get the axe post-series

With Clarke appearing to be a leader further to the right of Genghis Khan, the Adelaide Test would prove more important to a few individuals in the Australian team than to those in the visiting camp attempting to grab a consolation victory. Australia’s rebuilding phase has created avenues for talent to sneak in to, and only the bowlers seem to have answered the call of duty thus far. Ed Cowan’s performance, from the batting unit, hasn’t done his reputation any harm – although whether he’d be in the reckoning for a place in the Top 3 is subject to further debate.

Reports of a hard, dry surface ‘favoring’ the visitors (not in the literal sense) will matter little to Nathan Lyon who returns to the side on the same ground where he served as a groundsman not too long ago. No better time, and venue, to justify the faith shown in him by the selectors.

4-0 looms.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Apologists for depreciating cricketing standards in India have finally run out of excuses. Some of the post-mortem findings, coupled with ‘expert’ opinions, are the kind of things ardent fans want to stay away from – the media bringing out character-revealing natures, some fabricated and some true, of our heroes’ personalities and core interests.

But what, unjustly, is getting camouflaged is the lack of coverage by the Indian media on rising Australian standards. After all, Michael Clarke, amidst immense pressure during the build up to this series, had artillery with young, raw and largely untested players coupled with a few experienced seniors going through lean patches. That the Aussies decimated the Indians the way they did is a credit to their attitude and work ethic.

Barring Shaun Marsh and Brad Haddin, every Australian can afford to hold his head up high. Marsh has age on his side, whereas Haddin appears to be at the twilight of his career and much of it is stuff that he already knows – the willow isn’t generating enough sound to undertone his “be afraid … very afraid” warnings through politically correct advertisements in television media. His keeping skills, in addition, have been subject to much criticism over the best part of the last year.

Unlike India, the imbalances that need to be unwound in the Australian squad are far lesser. For one, albeit the talent possessed by Shaun Marsh, he doesn’t appear to be a Test number three. He is an organized batsman, no doubt, but he often bails out to deliveries outside off stump – those he’d have happily dismissed in the shorter formats. Test Cricket is a different ball game all together, and it might help him if he polishes his Sheffield record (not a mandate these days) to grab the spot with both hands with significant 4/5 day experience. After all, history has shown that even batsmen with unlimited talent but insufficient temperament have created their own recipes for prolonged failure in Test Cricket.

Reinventing the wheel with Sheffield Cricket will make Marsh a stronger candidate at three © Zimbio

Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja are examples of two batsmen from the very recent past who are busy reworking their techniques, temperaments and whatever else it may take to cement a spot in the Australian XI. Marsh isn’t far behind in terms of ability, although his domestic record may not seem all that overwhelming when compared to the other two youngsters. After all, Marsh looked a certain fit at three before he succumbed to injury in South Africa. This could, for all, be a bad phase he’s going through but when everyone makes merry and you miss out, you certainly feel the pinch a lot more obviously than otherwise.

Haddin’s story is a different one. The injury to Tim Paine may have created a sense of false security that he isn’t ready to be overthrown yet. He certainly isn’t moving as well as he’s expected to behind the wickets, and looks lost as a batsman. Poor shot selection has been his nemesis on many an occasion. He could place his faith in the confidence angels but his sustenance, despite the excellent team results, will only border on optimism if he doesn’t make a mark at Adelaide.

It would only take a radical reversal of course for the Aussie to potentially falter at Adelaide. Despite the middle order misgivings at Perth, the Aussies will feel that there is no willingness to face up to the necessity of having to face a threat at Adelaide given how the visitors are wounded and beaten – and that some of them may just be a touch too old to get up and resume battle.

The Indians, on the other hand, claim to have made plans to gradually phase out the senior players to accommodate the influx of youth from talent pools around. The reluctance to phase all of them out at once compares to a family that takes out too large a mortgage to consequentially suffer from making the monthly payments. However, with the Test Cricket schedules looking sporadic over the next couple of years to come, there is sufficient time to gauge the prospect of more than one veteran being replaced pre/post Adelaide.

Whoever comes in at Adelaide will be well aware that the Australian bowling unit missiles are as good, and potent, as any other subsonic missile around. Nothing has deterred the attack from disciplined bowling. It only took Mitchell Starc a few sessions with Wasim Akram to do what he did at Perth – and that spells trouble for any opposition. Neither did Ryan Harris show any signs of a bowler who’d just returned from a long lay-off due to injury. The Aussies, in a nutshell, have demonstrated that the ingredients for success are blatantly obvious: discipline, channeled aggression, enviable work ethic and consistency across the unit to build a competitive squad. This has got Australian cricket moving again – and all the Australians moving again.