Posts Tagged ‘Series Preview’

 Goutham Chakravarthi

 2o July 2011 


2011 was always going to be an important year in the annals of Indian test cricket. With tours to South Africa, England and Australia, this year was going to be the judging yardstick for this MS Dhoni’s team. The British media has already billed the summer to be its best cricket-wise since the Ashes summer of 2005. Dhoni’s men recognize this and more. They will look to keep their reputation and ranking intact come 13th of August – and also of not having lost a series to England since 1996.

Zaheer and Ishanth have a huge part to play for India to win

The media hype surrounding the Lord’s test is nothing short of that around the last Harry Potter movie world-wide premier earlier this month. With all the frenzy around Tendulkar’s imminent 100th hundred, India quietly will be confident of doing well. We hear the same stories of Indians struggling with pace and bounce, but this team for all its Asian inadequacies has won tests in Perth, Durban, Johannesburg, Trent Bridge, Kingston and Hamilton in the last five years. If anything, they have proved to be a better batting side than most give them credit for. They weren’t given much chance in South Africa earlier this year but came within a Kallis masterpiece of winning the series there. Also that they have been a settled unit for a number of years means that they have toured a lot and are not alien to English conditions as some would like us to believe. They will know what to expect when Strauss flips the coin on Thursday morning.

Englandhave had a great run under Flower. So have India under Dhoni so much so his win-record at this stage of his career puts him among the game’s elite. Englandwith its seemingly endless pool of fast-bowling riches and a very strong top 7 will test the Indians all round. But it takes only one strong batting performance for theories to be questioned and doubts to creep in. India has a history of batting for long time when they go well which will seriously test England’s four bowler theory at some point or the other over the next four Tests.

Which brings us to pitches. Pitches with life can make this a memorable series. Two strong batting sides playing high-scoring dull draws on flat tracks will be a terrible waste of the skill on display. Anderson and Tremlett will want to put their skills to test with a bit of help from the wicket against the seemingly impenetrable batting techniques of Dravid and Tendulkar. Laxman has had a remarkable last couple of years and will want to leave a mark on this series. He is the man India turns to, to get difficult runs and he seems to relish scoring them when most needed. And on the most difficult of wickets.

The bowling team would also prefer result oriented wickets as it will bring all its bowlers into equation which is largely Zaheer Khan dependent otherwise. It will be series where Ishanth Sharma is expected lend solid support to Zaheer with the new ball following a renaissance of sorts in the Caribbean. The third seamer, like withEngland, is a hard nut to crack. While Munaf would be ideal to follow behind Zaheer and Ishanth with his steady guile, Sreeshanth and Praveen Kumar offer wicket taking options. Indiawill do well not to forget Sreeshanth bowling them to victories in Johannesburg and Durban. And Harbhajan will want to out do Swann.

Even with all the experience India are often caught cold in the first test of a series –Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa in the last few years. They were found wanting in the first Test at Jamaica last month only to be saved the embarrassment by Harbhajan and Rain. Almost tellingly, Charl Willoughby caught them cold at Taunton in the practice game last week. How India fares in the first Test will perhaps play a huge part in the overall outcome of the series.

While cricket will celebrate a huge landmark by turning 2000 test matches old, it is apt that the various skills that make it remarkable will be on display – Rahul Dravid, Trott and Cook with patience; Tendulkar and Pietersen with aggression; Laxman and Bell with grace and flair; Strauss and Gambhir with grit; Dhoni and Morgan with raw power; Anderson and Zaheer with craft and bend, Tremlett and Ishanth with steep bounce; Swann and Harbhajan with loop, guile and deceit. These people have shown that you can be a world beater by doing your deed your own way which is a credit to game of test cricket itself.

Romance of the occasion aside, I pick India to pip England2-1.

Prasad Moyarath


25 January 2011

India playing five one day internationals against South Africa in South Africa, just one month before the World Cup in India raised the eye brows of many Indian cricket aficionados. In the past, India could never do well against the hosts in the fast and bouncy pitches there. What will Indian players gain by playing matches on fast and bouncy pitches when the World Cup is going to be held in the flat batting tracks of the subcontinent? – This question puzzled many except those in BCCI. To the Indian surprise, all the matches were held on comparatively slow pitches and the Indians came out of the series winning 2 out of the 5 matches. Only the time will tell what the Indian team gained out of this series but a post mortem of this series reveals many interesting facts.

Sehwag, Praveen Kumar and Gambhir returned to India even before the start of the series with injuries. With Piyush Chawla, Ashwin and Rohit Sharma in the squad, the first two matches were looked upon by many as chances for the Indian selectors to try out these players before declaring the Indian team for the 2011 World Cup.

Team composition for the first two matches clearly proved that the selectors or the team management didn’t have any well thought out plans. Ashish Nehra looked completely out of sorts and Rohit Sharma sent in as replacement for Sehwag batted at No.4 and No.7 in the first two matches. Indians were beaten outright in the first match but won a thriller in the second despite Dhoni’s lackluster captaincy almost presenting a victory to South Africa. Even when it was very clear that India’s only winning option was to bowl out the South Africans, Dhoni kept persisting with part time bowlers and brought back Munaf only when the South Africans were very close to a victory. Luck was with Dhoni and India on that day.

Tendulkar returned to India with an injury and Parthiv Patel was sent in as a replacement. Indian team for the World Cup was announced and that seemed to confuse the team management more. Lack of a specialist opener forced the team management to thrust the role of an opener on the World Cup discard – Rohit Sharma and Dhoni didn’t have the gumption to use this contingency to test the disaster management skills of his team. He could have opened with Kohli and promoted himself to No.3. Though India won a thriller in the third one dayer through some hard hitting by Yusuf Pathan and presence of mind of tailenders, rain denied a century to Kohli and an outright win for South Africa (though they won by D/L Method) in the fourth one dayer.

Fifth one dayer showed the display of individual brilliance by Amla and Pathan. Cricket fans wondered what would have happened had Amla been caught by Ashwin at 70 and Duminy given out in the second ball he faced and rain not interrupted South African innings. Though South Africa won a thriller as shown by score card, apart from Pathan and Parthiv Patel to a small extent, none of the Indian batsmen took the fight to South African camp. Though the official Man of the Match was Amla, there was no doubt that the fifth one dayer would always remain etched in cricket lover’s memory for Yusuf Pathan’s innings.

India lost yet another one day series in South Africa but the fact that this team went down fighting even without 3 reputed players is a consolation. Indian team management and selectors never had a plan and was confused on the selection of players. They neither selected the team with an aim to win the series nor with an aim to give exposure to World Cup players. But with days to go for the 2011 World Cup, this series also exposed many weak links in the Indian side. Ashish Nehra’s lack of form and the inconsistency of Yuvraj, Raina and Dhoni are sure to create sleepless nights for the team management and selectors. Lack of a good fifth bowler was clearly visible from the way South Africa recovered several times after an initial collapse. A world class side should be able to overcome any eventuality and this Indian side’s inability to overcome the opening problem that surfaced due to the injury to openers will pose a question mark on the quality of team selection. Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay turned out to be complete failures and it got forgotten due to the fact that they were not included in the World Cup team. Kohli, Pathan, Zaheer, Munaf and Harbhajan did something of note.

A diffident captain, a brittle middle order and a bowling attack with inconsistency written on it, this Indian side has flooded the minds of Indian cricket aficionados with doubts. “The big learning from this game is to keep wickets in hand for the last ten overs” – the parting words of the Indian captain summed up the whole picture. Did Dhoni become Indian Captain without knowing the basics of the game?