Young players will be under the spot light for India

India has never played a bilateral ODI series in Australia before, so this will be a new experience for the Indian team. The Australian team is always difficult to beat at home and India traditionally hasn’t done well in Australia. The Australian team is the current world champion and it will take a huge effort by this young Indian team to compete in this series.

The Indian team is young but has a seasoned leader in MS Dhoni. This tour will be a new experience for the youngsters in the team and they will be under spot light throughout the tour. Let us look at the Indian ODI squad for picked for this series:

ODI squad: MS Dhoni (capt), R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh, Rishi Dhawan, Barinder Sran

There are some new faces in the squad and with Shami’s injury Ishant and Umesh will be expected to lead the pace attack. The batting will depend on the experience of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Ajinkya Rahane who has been in great form will also be expected to contribute in the middle order for the team. With 5 batting spots already taken there are two open spots in the middle/lower order ODI series. One spot is for sure going to an all-rounder. The front runner for that spot should be Rishi Dhawan. Rishi Dhawan has done well in the practice games ahead of the series and has some experience playing in Australia representing the emerging players X1 for India. He is expected to get a look in in the first ODI. The number 6 batting slot will be a tossup between Manish Pandey and Gurkeerat Singh.

Manish Pandey batted brilliantly in the warm up game and also is a brilliant fielder. Gurkeerat Singh also is a very good young player and he offers India with an option of an additional spin bowling option. So this will be an interesting decision. Also it will be interesting to see if India will go with 2 bowling all-rounder option with Ravi Jadeja and Rishi Dhawan. Ashwin will most probably be India’s lone spinner for the first ODI and with injury to Mohammed Shami, Ishant and Umesh are most likely options to take the new ball. If India opts to go for 3 pace bowling option then Barinder Sran is most likely going to make his international debut at WACA.

This is going to be an interesting series for India and the young players will be under pressure to perform and make an impact. Gurkeerat Singh and Manish Pandey have been waiting in the wings for some time now to make it to the ODI X1 and this will be a perfect launch pad for them to stake their claim. MS Dhoni would be hoping that India can turn their ODI fortunes around at the start of 2016 and his leadership will play a crucial part in this series. The experienced top order will be expected to make consistent contributions if India is going to push Australia in both ODI and T20 series. Below is the likely X1 for the first ODI at the WACA. I am expecting Jadeja and Axar to miss out from the X1. I don’t think the Indian team is going to play two spinners at the WACA. The closest tossup will be between Gurkeerat Singh and Manish Pandey but I think Gurkeerat might get the nod as he is a decent spinner as well.

Indian X1 for First ODI (Likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey/Gurkeerat Singh, MS Dhoni (capt), Rishi Dhawan, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Barinder Sran

Even though this will be a tough series for the young team, I expect them to give a good account of themselves and may be even win the series with contributions from the senior players.

Top 5 best test performers in 2015

The year 2015 was a very good year for the young Indian team. The team just played 9 tests last year and managed to win 5 of them and just lost 1 test. Even though the record for the year doesn’t look bad the test team is not without its issues. The batting has been highly inconsistent there has been lots of chopping and changing in the X1. Virat Kohli’s aggressive captaincy though has been the talking point of the year and the hopes of India turning their fortunes around overseas are high in the coming years.

Let’s look at top 5 performers for India in tests in both batting and bowling.

Top 5 batsmen 2015 (Table 1):

Player Mat Inns NO Runs Ave 100 50
V Kohli 9 15 0 640 42.66 2 2
AM Rahane 9 15 2 593 45.61 3 1
M Vijay 7 12 1 522 47.45 1 3
S Dhawan 6 10 1 485 53.88 2 0
CA Pujara 5 8 1 347 49.57 1 1

 

India had a highly inconsistent year with the bat in tests. The batting against spin especially has come in for lots of criticism. The low point of the Indian batting was their capitulation against the left-arm spin of Herath chasing a modest 4th innings total. The table 1 shows the top 5 run getters for India in tests for the year 2015.

Even though Virat Kohli scored the most runs in 2015 the star performer for India was Ajinkya Rahane. Ajinkya was brilliant with the bat again in 2015 and was one of the lynchpins of Indian middle order along with Virat Kohli. Murali Vijay once again had a great year with the bat. He missed the entire SL tour due to injury but did well for India at the top of the order. Shikar Dhawan though ending up as one of the top run getters for India at the top has been highly inconsistent. His struggles against the South African pace bowlers begs the question if he is indeed our long term opening prospect. He did make couple of significant contributions against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The other bright spot for Indian batting this year was the return of Pujara at number 3. He scored a brilliant hundred on his return to the team in the 3rd test against Sri Lanka and also made some useful contributions against South Africa.

Virat Kohli would assume that Rahane, Vijay, Pujara and himself will form the core of the Indian batting line up in tests for the next few years. India still is looking for a reliable number 6. Rohit Sharma has been employed in that position without much success over the last couple of years. India will do well to try out few young players at that position. The other spot in question is of Shikhar Dhawan. Dhawan is a good bet on flat wickets at the top but his weakness against quality fast bowling was once again shown in the test series against South Africa. With KL Rahul waiting in the wings, it will just be matter of time before he is replaced at the top of the order in tests.

Now let’s move on to the bowlers.

Top 5 bowlers 2015 (Table 2):

Player Mat Inns Wkts Ave Econ SR 5 10
R Ashwin 9 17 62 17.2 2.83 36.4 7 2
RA Jadeja 4 7 23 10.82 1.76 36.7 2 0
A Mishra 5 10 22 15.72 2.83 33.2 0 0
I Sharma 7 12 14 31.5 2.77 68.1 1 0
UT Yadav 6 12 11 45.9 3.74 73.6 0 0

As you can see in the table above, Ashwin had a phenomenal 2015 with the ball. With India playing most of their tests in sub-continent it is expected that the spinners will be among the top wicket takers for the year. Ashwin is not only India’s best bowler; he also topped the wicket takers chart for the year 2015. Ravindra Jadeja made an excellent comeback into the Indian team for the series against South Africa. Even though the pitches were conducive to his style of bowling he did bowl with amazing accuracy and control. He also made some vital contributions with the bat lower down along with the wickets he took. The third spot goes to Amit Mishra who also had a wonderful year with the ball. Mishra though was unlucky as he did not get to play all 4 tests against South Africa. He probably bowled the least amount of overs among the three spinners but ended up getting a decent haul of wickets with excellent average and SR.

The pacers hardly had anything to do in 2015. Since most of the tests were played in the subcontinent the Indian pacers hardly had any chance to make an impact. In spite of that Ishant Sharma returned with decent figures for the year. His 14 wickets at 31 cannot be underestimated considering the wickets he bowled on. His performance in Sri Lanka was brilliant and he was regularly able to exert pressure from one end and was also able to price out some crucial wickets. It augurs well for India that Ishant is finally the leader of the pace attack which India want him to be. Umesh Yadav like Ishant did not have much to do this year with the ball but in the limited chances he got he was highly inconsistent. He did have some excellent spells with the ball but in between all that he did leak a lot of runs. His reverse swinging spell against South Africa in the final test was brilliant but such spells were few and far between and he released the pressure built by other bowlers regularly.

It was a decent year for the Indian test team in 2015. They had a young leader and a young team and they have done a reasonable job in their first year. They will have tougher assignments in the coming years but 2015 has been a good stepping stone.

Team selection has a few surprises

India tour Australia for a 5 ODI and 3 T20 series in January 2016 and the team for the same was announced last week. There were lots of surprises in both the squads and the biggest of them was return of Yuvraj Singh in the T20 squad. Yuvraj Singh who has been in brilliant form for Punjab in the Vijay Hazare trophy has been recalled into the Indian squad for the T20 games in Australia. Yuvraj who found himself out of favor after a disappointing performance in the World T20 in Sri Lanka in 2014 has made it back with good performances in the shorter format. Harbhajan Singh retains his spot as the second spinner in the T20 squad and Ravindra Jadeja returns to the team in both the formats.

The other surprising inclusion was of Ashish Nehra who makes a comeback into the T20 squad. The most surprising exclusion from the ODI squad is Suresh Raina who finds himself out of favor after some inconsistent performances this year. There were also lots of good selections in both the squads and few youngsters have been rewarded for their excellent performances in domestic cricket. Mohd Shami as expected makes a comeback. Since we already know a lot about the players already discussed let’s look at the young players who made the squad and learn about them in little bit more in detail. Let’s first look at the T20 squad.

T20I squad: MS Dhoni (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Harbhajan Singh, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra

Hardik Pandya (T20 Squad) (All-Rounder): (Age: 22, T20 Games: 28, Runs: 503, Wkts: 17)

Hardik Pandya had impressed one and all when representing Mumbai Indians in the IPL. Pandya has pace and is a decent bat lower down the order. He is the only all-rounder picked for the T20 games and we can understand the thought process on the same. We surely needed a pace bowling all-rounder for Australia and Pandya fits the bill perfectly. The only thing I am worried about Pandya is that he hasn’t bowled that much in domestic cricket for an all-rounder. He does average about 3 overs out of possible 4 in T20 games and 9 overs in OD cricket. So I guess he bowls good number of overs for Punjab/Mumbai in shorter formats. He does have the talent but lacks experience with the ball. It will be interesting to see how he goes on the bouncy tracks of Australia.

ODI squad: MS Dhoni (capt), R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh, Rishi Dhawan, Barinder Sran

The ODI squad has few more youngsters compared to the T20 one but we are only looking at the 3 who haven’t played for India at this level. Manish Pandey already represented India in ODI’s in Zimbabwe.

Gurkeerat Singh (All-Rounder): (Age: 25, LA Games: 46, Runs: 1555, Wkts: 11)

Gurkeerat Singh is probably the most expected of all selections in the ODI Squad. He has been in brilliant form with both bat and ball in the recent times. He impressed one and all with his performances against “A” teams of Australia and South Africa few months ago. He has excellent records in first class and list A and would be an excellent fit in the Indian middle order in ODI. He is also in line for the test middle order spot in the future.

Rishi Dhawan (All-Rounder): (Age: 25, LA Games: 53, Runs: 1070, Wkts: 70)

Considering India’s struggles to find a good pace bowling all-rounder in shorter formats the selection of Rishi Dhawan is going cause a lots of interest. If you look at his FC records people would think why this guy is not already playing for the country. He has an excellent batting average of 41 in FC and a brilliant bowling average of 25. If that is not enough his ODI record of 39.62 with the bat and 31.6 with the ball is equally fantastic. He has been in line for a debut for a long time. He has repeatedly done well in the “A” games for India. His performances will be closely watched and everyone will be hoping that he succeeds and if he does India’s prayers for a pace bowling all-rounder will be answered.

Barinder Sran (Bowler): (Age: 23, LA Games: 7, Wkts: 15)

He is the least know of the new faces in the Indian squad. His selection is the direct reflection of India’s desperation to find a good left-arm pacer after Zaheer’s retirement. Barinder has the talent and is a bit raw as he hasn’t played too many games for Punjab yet. He does come in with high praise so a lot of expectation has been placed on his young shoulders. It will be interesting to see how he does if he gets picked in the X1. I wish him best and I hope he comes out with flying colors. India could do with some variation in the pace bowling department.

Considering that we are playing Australia in their home these probably are some bold selections. The selectors have made it clear that they want to move on and they are looking at young players in the shorter formats. This also sends out and SOS for established players like Suresh Raina to get their act together and they cannot take things for granted. The tour will begin on January 12th and I hope the cricket is at the highest level. Even though it is very hard to beat Australia in Australia, the Indian young players have the capability to put up a good fight. The series will also cause lots of interest in terms of the personnel’s selected for both the squads. So I wish the youngsters all the best and hopefully each one of them will have a great series and help India win the series.

Criticizing a young team is not fair

India has been traditionally been a poor traveling team. The team has hardly won overseas even with some legends in the team in the past. India has only won 40 tests overseas out of 247 games with a W/L ratio of 0.377. India’s overseas record post Ganguly era is impressive. India has won 27 tests overseas since November 10, 2000 (The first time Ganguly captained in tests) out of 91 tests since that period. The W/L ratio since that period is very respectable 0.75. So if we take that period out we have 13 test wins overseas in 156 games at a W/L ratio of 0.185 which is extremely poor record.

The Ganguly era basically made the overall test record slightly better than the horrible record we had prior to that. It is not like the India had a poor test team  before that. India lost all those tests with legends in the team like Sunil Gavaskar, Bedi, Prasanna, Kapil Dev, GR Vishwanath, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Amarnath, Venkatraghavan, Mohd Azharuddin etc. The Indian team was mentally weak and was not able to turn good performances into wins overseas and was mostly blow away by the opposition. Now all the experts from the past are expecting this young team who are nowhere near the capability of the teams of the past to suddenly start hammering teams overseas.

Let us look at the current Indian team. Except for Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli, the rest of the batting order is still up for debate. The bowling has been extremely inconsistent with a young brigade led by very inconsistent Ishant Sharma. The spin attack hasn’t played too much overseas (Ashwin has played a grand total of 9 tests outside Asia). The attack on Kohli and this young team by past players and media for not winning overseas seems little over the top. I agree that the fans want Indian team to win overseas and compete but again we need to give this team a chance. Almost all the players played their first games overseas in 2013-14 and gave a decent account of themselves, much better than some legends did in the past.

Sourav Ganguly started kind of a golden era of Indian cricket but again he had much better team at his disposal. Sourav and Virat are similar captains, both are aggressive in your face leaders but Virat Kohli is developing a core while Sourav already had a core available to him. The task for Sourav was to channelize and guide a group of legends to perform as a team and start winning games overseas but the task for Kohli is much tougher. He does not have legends in his team but has few good players who are still finding their feet at this level. He does not have a batting line up consisting of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. He does not have a bowling attack of Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath, and Anil Kumble at his disposal to turn this around immediately. So the media and experts need to be patient with this young team.

There is no reason to crucify this team now. They have just started to gel and perform. They just won a test series in Sri Lanka which even the best of Indian teams were not able to do for 22 years. Sourav Ganguly had a bunch of players who were experienced and were playing in the team for 10-13 years. Srinath, Kumble and Sachin were playing for a long time and except for Sehwag the rest of the team at least was 5 years behind them. So let us not hammer this team now. The ex-players should understand this better than anyone. I can agree if the media is doing this as they like to sensationalize things but the former players who have played at the highest level should know better.

I can understand the frustration of Virat Kohli and he is completely justified to feel aggrieved. The Indian teams of the past won home games like how Virat and his team is doing now and except for post Ganguly era performed worse than the current team outside home. Expecting a bunch of players who hardly have any experience to suddenly turn that horrible overseas record overnight is ridiculous. I hope that we support this young team and back them and give them some time to figure themselves out and I am sure we will see the results getting better when they travel overseas again. This is a young team with a young leader after legends exited the game. We can see how badly South Africa and Australia played in the sub-continent after their legends left the game so give these players some time and encourage them. No need to throw your own players under the bus for winning home games the same way the teams of the past won their games at home.

Test series – Indian Team Review

South Africa has been the best traveling team over the past decade or so. They had hardly shown any weakness over the years irrespective of the surface they play on. The South African team of the past had stalwarts like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher who were wonderful players. This team though lacked the experience and class of the SA teams of the past. It was always clear when the series began that it will be a battle between the Indian spinners and the SA batsmen. This time though the visitors fell well short and got hammered 3-0. For Indian team and Kohli though this was their second consecutive test series win and a step in the right direction.

So let us look at the good and the bad from the series as far as the Indian team is concerned.

The Good:

Ravichandran Ashwin (Matches – 4, Wickets – 31, Ave – 11.12, 5 wickets – 4):

When we are talking about the series we cannot look past Ravichandran Ashwin. He has been phenomenal for the team this year and once again was the highest wicket taker for India. He bowled beautifully and troubled the SA batsmen throughout the test series. He picked up 31 wickets at a ridiculous average of 11.12 and overall has a record of 176 wickets in 32 games. He has had an amazing run in Indian colors and within a short period of time has become India’s spearhead. Kohli and the Indian team would be hoping that he continues to do well for India in all formats.

Ravindra Jadeja (Matches – 4, Wickets – 23, Average – 10.82, 5 wickets – 2):

When the series began everyone knew that the all-rounder spot was the most crucial part of the X1. Virat Kohli’s 5 bowler theory meant that he needed someone who not only could bowl well but also contribute with the bat. Jadeja did that brilliantly throughout the series. His bowling was outstanding and his batting was decent enough. He made few crucial contributions later in the order to help India to decent totals. This biggest asset of Ravi Jadeja is his accuracy, he hardly gives anything away. Especially on pitches which help the spinners it is almost impossible to score of him. His economy rate of 1.76 is an able testimony to his accuracy and when you add 23 wickets at an average of 10.82, it becomes a deadly combination.

Ajinkya Rahane (Matches – 4, Runs – 266, Ave – 53.2, Hundreds – 2)

Ajinkya Rahane was the star of the Indian batting this series. He was the highest run getter in the series overall and was the only batsmen to score hundreds in this series. Rahane along with Kohli and Vijay was India’s mainstay during the overseas tours last couple of years but for some reason he never found his range in India. This series has hopefully changed that trend. Rahane was brilliant in Delhi where he batted amazingly well in both the innings to notch up back to back hundreds. He ended up with most runs with an amazing average of 53.2.

Virat Kohli (Captain) (Matches – 4, Runs -200, Average – 33.86, Hundreds – 0)

Virat Kohli as a batsman alone had an okay series even though he ended up as 4th highest run getter for India in the series. Virat as a captain though he had an outstanding series. The way he marshaled his resources on the field was very commendable. The way he kept attacking, his bowling changes, his field placements were all brilliant. He has had a dream start to his test captaincy. Even in Australia, even though we did not win, his captaincy was good. His conviction on using 5 bowlers at all cost is also helping India to be more attacking and have more options. He now has a weight of expectation on his shoulders and when India tour again, everyone would expect them to do better than what they did last year.

Murali Vijay (Matches – 4, Runs – 210, Average – 35, Hundreds 0)

Murali Vijay once again was India’s pillar at the top of the order. He started of brilliantly with crucial contributions in both the innings of the first test. He did go off the boil a bit at the end of the series but his contributions in the first couple of tests cannot be taken lightly. He once again proved that he is one of the linchpins of India batting and had a decent series as the opener under some touch conditions.

Honorable Mention – Cheteshwar Pujara.

The Bad:

Indian Batting Overall:

Even though there were some bright spots in the Indian batting department overall there were too many cracks. The Indian batting struggled and often collapsed from good positions to let SA back into the game. This was noticed in the Sri Lankan series too. India needs to look at a reliable opening partner for Vijay. Dhawan had a very poor series with the bat but probably deserves one more series before we look for a replacement. Rohit Sharma was disappointing with the bat again. He hasn’t been consistent in this format and the management must be running out of patience with him. Finally Wridhiman Saha who has a wicket keeper is brilliant but as a number 6 batsman he falls short. India needs to rethink the 5 bowler strategy if we have Saha as the keeper. Even though he looks good enough to make some useful contributions down the order but does not look like someone who would make big scores. Number 6 looks little high of a position for him in the batting order. He would be a good number 7 if we are playing 6 batsmen. Something for the Indian camp to think about before their next tour which is not for a while.

The use of Pacers:

Even though Virat Kohli has a lot of faith on his fast men, they hardly bowled in the 4 test series. Let us just look at the number of overs each pacer bowled. Ishant bowled 62 overs in 5 innings in this series which amounts to 12 overs per innings. Yadav bowled 42 overs in 4 innings which amounts to an average of 10 overs per innings. Aaron bowled 20 overs in 3 innings which amounts to roughly 7 overs an innings. These are poor numbers. The bowlers did well in the limited opportunities they got. I understand that the pitches were not conducive to fast bowling but again to underuse fast bowlers so much is not going to be good in the long run. In the 90’s India did something similar where the pacemen were just in the team to bowl with the new ball and then disappear for hours before they are brought back to give the spinners some break. We surely don’t want to go back to that era. Javagal Srinath mentioned in his recent interview how that strategy was detrimental to India’s performance overseas while winning in India was easier.

So overall it was a good series and a win against the number 1 side in the world will be sweet for the young team. They now have a long break from this format and few things to ponder over before they play test cricket sometime in 2016. Till then it has been a decent year for the Indian test team. Winning a series in Sri Lanka after 22 years and beating the number 1 side in the world should cap off a good year for Virat Kohli as the test captain.

Chennai Floods – Impact of Social Media and the real heroes

Actor Siddharth (Left) and RJ Balaji (Right) started the relief work in Chennai with their #ChennaiMicro movement

Actor Siddharth (Left) and RJ Balaji (Right) started the relief work in Chennai with their #ChennaiMicro movement

When I first heard about the incessant rains in Chennai I had no clue about the devastation it had caused to the city I grew up in. When I later looked at the videos and photos it was really heart breaking. It really pained me that I was not there and was not able to help the people in need. This was the time I read an article and found few of the twitter posts by actor Siddharth and RJ Balaji. I do have twitter account but I hardly use it. Let me be honest, I am not a big social media fan. Even though I have Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc… I hardly use it.

Now when I logged on to twitter and looked at the posts and the number of people involved in making a difference I was completely inspired. I decided instead of feeling bad for not being present in Chennai during this time, I can do something worthwhile. So there began my involvement in doing something useful to help the people in need. The twitter proved that if used well social media is the most powerful tool in the current generation. I was able to help out people providing useful information or guiding them to the right contact being here in the US which would have not been possible like 15 years ago.

The other thing which was amazing was the number of young volunteers who were involved in the relief work. It was really inspiring to see how much they were working hard to help the people in need. I met lot of very good people and was able to help a few of them with their needs. It was truly amazing experience to be part of the work which was going on in full swing with their relief work in Tamil Nadu. The kind of pictures we saw of the floods meant that these volunteers braved their way in conditions which were extremely dangerous to help the people who needed food and supplies. There are not enough words to thank these countless volunteers who made the difference during these testing times for the state.

We need to thank actor Siddharth and RJ Balaji who started this movement and used the social media via their #ChennaiMicro movement to reach out to people. They have been brilliant and their team has done some amazing work in the Chennai and Cuddalore which were the most affected. The Tamil film industry in unison was completely involved in the relief work and it was brilliant to see how they were ready to help anyone who needed any supplies. I would also like to mention Khusbhu, Vishal, Vishnu, Karthi, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Karthik Kumar, Singer Suchitra, Shanthanu and countless others who joined the movement and were not only in social media but also were in the field helping people in need.

These are the real heroes. No amount of thanks can repay the efforts they put in during the time of adversity to help the people of the state. The people of Tamil Nadu have once again proven that humanity is bigger than any religion, caste or language.

I am so happy that I took to twitter a week ago as otherwise I wouldn’t have been so close to whatever relief work was happening in TN. I really want to salute all the heroes who decided to leave their homes and go on the streets and help people in need. I would also like to mention the countless brothers and sisters from all over the world (not only from India) who donated generously to help the relief work. The spirit of the people of TN has been heartwarming. Even though we were not getting much attention in the national media, the people brushed it off and helped themselves to recover from one of the largest natural calamity the state has faced since the tsunami of 2004.

I am really proud of my state and my city. I am really proud of the Tamil film industry. This has been really a rewarding experience and I would like to keep myself involved in every way possible in the state’s rehabilitation work.