Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Anyone who experienced the events leading up to Tendulkar’s half century on Day Two of the Melbourne Test would have been forgiven for thinking that the Boxing Day test was hovering towards a Tendulkar biopic fleetingly waiting to acknowledge a long awaited milestone. The next couple of days, however, seemed to outline the fact that the periphery of this achievement has rather harsh boundary conditions. As did the hopes of a victory on foreign soil, given that India’s next tour outside the subcontinent is a far two years away.

Thus, yet another favorable Test result has vanished into oblivion, leaving many of us wondering over the secret behind the magical formula that Gary Kirsten possessed, that others didn’t. A logical thought would question the challenge posed by during those tours outside the subcontinent when Kirsten was in charge as compared a tour to England and Australia, the latter by no means pushovers albeit their recent results.

Cricketing plans, in general, anticipate years of austerity and stability with fitness of talent pools ranking high amongst others. While talent remains plentiful in supply, the longevity of most remains a function of form and/or fitness. A lot of the younger players who’ve paid brief visits to the international setup resemble the yesteryear Internal Combustion Engines that possessed low volumetric and thermal efficiencies – a direct correlation to unfavorable statistics and rapid breakdown. Temperament remains a spark plug that pre-ignites when exposed to high temperatures.

Virat must be persisted with, and the quick hopeful fix of bringing in Rohit instead will only send wrong signals © ThatsCricket

Having said that, it is important to remember that the inevitable day when the Indian batting would be forced to field a middle order that resembles the current Australian top order – sharing a grand total of five test matches between them – isn’t far away. Whether the best laid plans weave a middle order fabric that fills the gap between the large sized shoe and small feet will remain unanswered for some time to come, it will be worth persisting with a few who’ve shown that with time, maturity evolves.

Persisting with Virat Kohli for the rest of the series, irrespective of the statistics that come out, is one way to tap the right ore. Given that he has matured into an outstanding ODI cricketer, it is hard to imagine why he cannot replicate his achievements in the longer formats. This would, on the other hand, mean shutting the doors for Rohit Sharma this tour, who seems to have picked off from where he left off the last time he toured down under. He has certainly seen enough downslides to let this hit his game hard again.

The archetypal Indian sentiment would find it hard to drop a veteran to accommodate a couple of youngsters given the lack of proximity of the next tour abroad. One may find it even needless to house such a need given that a prolonged gap wouldn’t require youngsters to be armored with foreign soil experience as immediately as the present moment. Even if the contrary decision was made, there is every chance that a few selectors could be painted as villains by a section of the fans and media for robbing their ‘local legends’ of a last ditched attempt to gain glory. The fact is hard to argue against, given that the veterans have had very good track records down under during previous tours.

But again, only one out of the four scheduled tests have been completed – even if it was premature. A Test match that gets over with over a whole day’s play left reflects quite strongly on either the nature of the wicket, or a single sided dominance. The effect of losing a potential entire cricketing day dances to a different tune than the one set by Samoa changing time zones in order to remain in line with its trading partners who are nearly a full day ahead.

The key for India to succeed will remain focal around sticking to this combination. The inabilities exposed haven’t changed with time – the opposition tails have forever wagged at amplitudes that summate those of all hundred odd Dalmatians. A large part of the blame, as gathered through eavesdropping on discussions between common man and common man during train and bus journeys, among others, has been cannoned towards MS Dhoni and his ‘defensive’ methods. The picture painted resents a star who neither takes his himself nor the dream job too seriously.

Although in reality, the belief must be that the Indian tail fails to place a price on its wicket. As much as men want to hate (yet find it hard not to like) Harbhajan Singh, he proved the most infuriating of all lower order batsman to get out, even amidst bouts of unaffected public depreciation down under. Ashwin, a craftsman plying the same trade, seems the nascent player showing signs of steadiness amongst a sample that includes the Indian skipper. Dhoni’s lack of inventiveness in wiping out an opposition tail would certainly have been neutralized, or even forgotten, had his willow yielded more runs.

The series is still young and alive, and whatever was learnt out of Melbourne must be applied in Sydney for sustenance. This would mandate sticking to the same combination, unless injuries hamper the thought, if India hopes to gain anything out of Sydney.


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

December 25, 2011

There is a new whiff of anxiety that engulfs the Australian air amidst the shimmering heat of expectations leading up to the Boxing Day test at Melbourne. Triggered over the last 18 months by a sudden upsurge in the number of individuals presented a baggy green, it marks a stark contrast to the mood in a nation that boasts having fielded the least number of captains in Test Cricket over the best part of the last 3 decades – an accolade that that sits atop a list that boasts solidity and surety in selection and leadership.

A defeat to their Trans-Tasman neighbors isn’t the most ideal way to approach a Boxing Day fixture. Australia’s amorphous top order has welcomed its newest occupant in the form of Ed Cowan, an individual perhaps known more for his prowess with the pen than the bat (given that a lot of viewers do not follow Australian Domestic Cricket) – one who has just come off a century in Canberra against the touring Indians. Avid book readers will relate his autobiography to the isomeric title that is shares with that written by a Pakistani General.

The opening partnership of Cowan and Warner will have to lay a solid foundation for the rest to capitalize on

The partnership of Cowan and Warner, representing solidity and attacking batsmanship respectively, will look to take advantage of a brittle Indian bowling line up whose injuries and form are governed by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. The Australian weakness against the moving ball has been as well documented and exploited as political instability in the Middle East – a problem that has been diagnosed with no credible solutions on the card. Whether the Indian attack is all steam and no engine, depending on the fitness of Zaheer amongst others, to take notice of this is a question that will be answered over the next few days.

The lone positive that Australian cricket has witnessed is the rebirth of Michael Clarke, the batsman, after taking over the captaincy mantle. Clarke was touted as successor to Ponting well before he turned 25, and had his sinusoidal fluctuations in form – one that saw more troughs than crests over the last three or four years, including an alleged assault by current outcast Simon Katich.

But Clarke seems to have learnt, and learnt for the good. Much will depend on the number of runs he contributes at number five, given that he is the meat of the sandwich formed by old war veterans Ponting and Hussey, whose batting averages over the last few series’ have dipped to numbers possibly lesser than their ages.

But history has shown that these men have answered questions with the axes right over their heads. And they’ll look to capitalize against what appears a fragile attack on paper, given that the lower order’s batting form – especially Haddin and his unsure methods – has been indifferent of late.

A good total is one that would allow a young Australian bowling attack – boasting pace and aggression, but lacking experience – to have a go at an experienced Indian batting lineup that could well see off its stars from Australian soil for possibly the last time in some of their careers. The impressive forms of Pattinson and Siddle along with a wily Nathan Lyon will be up against a batting line up possessing a barrage of runs in their career banks – something that they are unlikely to encounter anytime later in their careers.

But the bigger concern that would require addressing from Mickey Arthur and the rest of the coaching camp is the Australian catching of late. Never before have so many issues tainted the Australian lineup and their first foreign coach would look to bury the issues, rather than sweeping them under a carpet.

Weather permitting, as I glance through the weather forecasts in Melbourne predicting showers, the cricketing world will look forward to a series that will erase the bruises of the last series down under to tip the cricketing scales towards the sporting direction.


Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

26 January 2011

 

When a player as great as Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer loses a Grand Slam match, the event goes beyond being just the matter of a player winning and a player losing. It delves deeper than anyone can imagine. After all, there must be a reason why Rafa lost today in Melbourne, or why Roger lost in Wimbledon last year. These two have a winning percentage of more than 80% and probably much more in a Grand Slam, hence the occurrence of a loss is rare.

 

With this, the winner is almost overshadowed in the process (unless it is the other one of them, of course). As a Rafa fan, it was painful to see Australian Open’s update on facebook with all the depressed looking pictures of Rafa. Just like it would have been for Roger fans at the end of Wimbledon, when this picture was flashed ad infinitum on the several pages of media.

Right since he won the U.S. Open, it was rare that any conversation involving Nadal would not include the term “Rafa Slam.” It is another matter, that this feat has not been achieved in Men’s tennis for over 40 years now. The hype is not without substance—Rafa was clearly the best player in the world till now, and has tasted success before. But then, I see things going too far in trying to compare “Rafa Slam” with Rod Laver’s Career Grand Slam. I saw tonnes of articles on the same, and an entire fan base was busy arguing which one is a greater accomplishment.

And then, the small matter of people considering a possibility of Rafa winning six consecutive slams—French Open is his’ for the taking, and probably Wimbledon too.

Everything, today, makes no sense. What we only know is the winner of this tournament alone will have a possibility to run for a calendar Slam, and that would be too remote.

When Rafa publicly told that winning all four Slams consecutively is next to impossible, and that he is not the favorite going in to the tournament, he had a point. He knows his body is fragile, he was battling with a flu before the tournament began, and he is more prone to being upset on a hard court than Federer. Yet, we pondered all over the news as to who will have the upper hand should they meet in the final—Federer or Nadal. The same happened in the U.S. Open during the semis, and the same happened this time (although, to be frank, Ferrer d. Nadal sounds a lot like Federer d. Nadal).

I believe the reason we saw Rafa sobbing during a changeover was not because he unable to finish the ‘Rafa Slam.’ It was probably because for the second time in a row, his journey at Melbourne was being cut short due to factors outside his control. And a part of it, obviously, was because of the hype surrounding this remote possibility. As much as Rafa downplays these records, greatness, and any kind of statistics, all this talk would have gotten into his head, surely.

And yet, the media has nothing to lose. The title “Rafa Slam?” has been conveniently replaced by “Rafa Slammed!” An already big story turned into an ever bigger one. Media is a necessary evil in everything regarding any profession. And it is a small price to pay for such professionals who earn big bucks, anyway. Or is it?

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Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

24 January 2011

 

After watching Robin Soderling’s yet another unceremonious exit from the Australian Open (he lost in the opening round last year), I have finally figured out why these courts do not suit this big man. The courts here are fast enough that they give his opponent a good chance to make him run around the court, and expose his fragile movement, and they are slow enough to not provide Soderling with a good enough penetration. Moreover, the relatively low bounce of these courts (compared to the French) do not suit Soderling at all.

Soderling thrives on extremes. The extremely slow conditions at Paris with bounce high enough to allow him to generate his own pace, or the extremely fast conditions of indoors to enable him to hit the first strike. He does not have a good transition game to thrive on these courts. The other stalwart of Melbourne, Andre Agassi, didn’t have that either, but he had the great return of serve, and ability to take the ball ridiculously early to make him a legend at these medium paced courts (in addition to his four titles at Australia, he has also won Miami six times, a record). Soderling has neither.

His opponent, the 22 year old Alexandr Dolgopolov utilized his weaknesses efficiently. Dolgopolov. This was the first time I watched this kid play, and I already like him—especially his last name. I said his name aloud quite a few times during this match, and he gave me enough reason to cheer for him.

In some ways, it is Dolgopolov, rather than Grigor Dimitrov, who reminds me of Roger Federer. He may not have Federer’s aesthetic one handed backhand, but he possesses two of the most important strengths of Federer—the efficient playing style (he hardly looked tired during the match even though this was his second consecutive five setter), and effortless movement around the court. Plus he has a variety of ground strokes to easily trouble Soderling.

He intelligently used his slice forehands to easily return Soderling’s big serves, and robbed him of pace with continual use of slices. When they did not seem to work, he was equally comfortable at being aggressive with his two hander, and he always had the option of running his opponent wide off court with his unique jumping top spin forehand which has enough depth and angle to trouble even the best movers in the game—Soderling was a gimme. In the third set, he was so comfortable with Soderling’s game, that he was routinely stranding Soderling by placing one drop shot after other. Soderling, who normally does not show any emotions on court other than determined fist pumps at his camp, was literally screaming in frustration.

As I said before, his game revolves around efficiency. Just like Federer, he looks like a ballet dancer on court, albeit of a different style. His inexperience showed in the fourth set as he started sensing the finish line after breaking Soderling thrice in the third set, but quickly regrouped in the decider to win the fifth set very comfortably.

This is his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, and his next test will be sterner. Murray has dropped just 22 games so far in the tournament, and will like Dolgopolov’s unorthodox game. He moves far better than Soderling, and has many dimensions in his game which would force Dolgopolov to think over his strategy mid way during the match. Dolgopolov just achieved his greatest victory in a short career so far, but as it is for any youngster, the road only gets tougher. Can he be this year’s dark horse at Melbourne? I would definitely be waiting for that to happen.

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Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

15 January 2011

 

Another season starts, and brings with it lots of questions and expectations. Will Rafael Nadal bag his fourth Slam is at the top of this list, with the expectations from the reinvigorated Roger Federer, who recently paired with Paul Annacone and had an excellent fall 2010, not far below. Novak Djokovic has given enough to his fans to look forward to after his runners-up performance at New York (and Melbourne is place where he has bagged his maiden major), while Robin Soderling (surprise, surprise! In a repeat of last year, Andy Murray doesn’t find himself at No. 4 at Melbourne) expects to increase his cushion in the top-4 by gaining points even if he wins his opener.

Andy Murray, and Great Britain, is still in search for his elusive feat, while the other Andy, Roddick, says he has never been more motivated. There is a small matter of Juan Martin del Potro coming back in the circuit, while Nikolay Davydenko performed well at Doha too.

Lots of action await, and the year’s first Slam is due for a major surprise this year. The last two years had surprisingly predictable finalists considering the history of this court to produce dark-horses (Thomas Johansson, Rainer Schuettler, Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez to name a few) and Melbourne cannot get third time lucky. The distorted seedings due to injuries will make the earlier rounds very interesting, and to add to the unpredictability, we’ll have the wrath of rainfall too, adding the unnecessary breaks in between and spoiling player’s rhythms.

Amidst all this, a draw analysis is an indispensible part of the event, whether important or not, differs with one fan to another.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter

Promises to be a blockbuster. Right from the start, we will revisit an old rivalry—Lleyton Hewitt vs David Nalbandian. While they are more famous for being the two counter puncher finalists at Wimbledon, it was the last time at Melbourne, when they played an epic, which went 9-7 in the fifth. Both men have lost their firepower since then, but this promises to bring back some of it—the war of two great return of serves, and two great backhands.

Other than this highlight opening round match, this seems to be a fairly routine draw for Nadal, with compatriots Feliciano Lopez expected in the third (Lopez can only trouble Nadal on a fairly fast surface, and given that he was unable to even break him at New York, Melbourne should be a breeze), and David  Ferrer expected in the quarter finals. Ferrer has troubled Nadal in past, but that was way back in 2007 where he was having the year of his life, and Nadal was …. well, not quite the Nadal we know today. He may be very well troubled by Marin Cilic, though, even if he is out of form. He likes Melbourne, and would be hoping to repeat his semifinal performance this time around.

Richard Berankis is the kid to look out for after having a great season last year to spring himself in the top-100 and earn a place in the main draw. Michael Llodra, who brought Paris Masters to life last year, is also the one to look out for, even though he may not like the slower surface here.

First Round Matches: Hewitt vs Nalbandian

Dark Horse: David Naldandian

Semifinalist: Rafael Nadal

 

Robin Soderling’s Quarter

Or if we want to go back to the routine top-4 we have enjoyed for most part of the past two years—Andy Murray’s quarter. This also promises to be the most exciting quarter of them all, with lots of potential upsets on card, and a great chance of a dark horse to emerge. Both the top seeds expect to have smooth sailing for the first three rounds, and things will start getting explosive by then. Murray might get any one from the former finalist, Baghdatis, Melzer, or ….. del Potro, who finds himself nicely hidden in the draw. Soderling would also find it difficult in round four, with any one of Tsonga, Gulbis or Dolgopolov opposite his net. There are also dangerous players in Thomaz Bellucci or Phillip Petzschner lurking around.

All in all, this promises to be a very exciting quarter, and look out for a definite dark horse emerging from here.

Potential matchups to lookout for: Gulbis vs Dolgopolov, Tsonga vs Petzschner, Baghdatis vs del Potro.

Dark Horse: Ernests Gulbis

Semifinalist: Jo Wilfried Tsonga

 

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter

Again, not much to choose from. Berdych has been out of form since ages, Kohlschreiber has enjoyed some upsets in Melbourne, Verdasco achieved a dream run (albeit with a bitter ending) in 2009, Davydenko almost upset Federer last year, while Djokovic has had his own personal problems with the heat and humidity here. Adding up the veteran Ljubicic, and the unpredictable Almagro and Gasquet only add to the confusion. Djokovic might struggle against the fellow Serb Troicki, while Davydenko and Verdasco may light up the Melbourne night in the third round. All in all, your guess is as good as mine.

Potential matchups to lookout for: Davydenko vs Verdasco, Djokovic vs Troicki, Gasquet vs Kohlschreiber (the battle of two one handed backhands)

Dark Horse: Can Davydenko be called one?

Semifinalist: Fernando Verdasco

 

Roger Federer’s Quarter

Federer may not have won as many titles in Melbourne, as he has won in New York or London, but all of his four victories here have been ruthless dominations—in 2004 against Safin, in 2006 against Baghdatis, in 2007 against Roddick and Gonzalez, and in 2010 against Tsonga and Murray. When he is in form, he enjoys this surface as much as, if not more than, Wimbledon or U.S. Open. And given his form over the last few months, it is hard to see any player coming even remotely close to upset Federer before the semis. Sure, Simon may have beaten him twice, but he is half as good as he was in 2008, while Federer is twice as much efficient. Monfils, Roddick, Wawrinka …. All are capable of giving him a scare, but not outdo him in the war of attrition.

Federer is fit, fresh, motivated, match-fit, confident, and on a winning streak. Anything less than something really special will be insufficient to stop this man.

Semifinalist: Roger Federer

 

Semifinals: Tsonga d. Nadal, Federer d. Verdasco

Champion: Roger Federer