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.

Bowlers need to be nurtured, can BCCI step up?

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Since 2000, India has had embarrassment of riches as far as fast bowling talent is concerned. From no good fast bowling option in the previous two decades, India ended up with too many in the last 15 years or so. Even though we had lots of bowlers except for Javagal Srinath and Zaheer khan, none of the Indian fast bowlers managed to go past 200 test wickets in the last 20 years. India has always found it difficult to manage fast men, in spite of the overseas bowling coaches, the ability of the bowlers after a promising starts dwindles away after a year or so.

The fitness is an issue, they drop pace and in some cases they lose their swing too. The list is endless, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Nehra, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma etc. all fall under the same category. The recent interview of former Indian bowling coach Joe Dawes was interesting. He mentioned that the Indian bowlers bowl too much. The format they bowl in is also pertinent information. The 2 months of grueling IPL season followed by endless ODI games and then the CLT20 at the end of this year saps whatever energy the bowlers might have to be available for test cricket. Till the 90’s fast men used county cricket as their learning ground and were fairly successful at that.

India’s best two fast bowlers of the last 20 years Srinath and Zaheer owe their turnaround to county cricket. Srinath who was a one dimensional bowler until mid-90’s played a full season for Gloucestershire in 1995 and came back as a different bowler. Zaheer Khan who had lots of fitness and consistency issues came back a changed bowler after a full season of county cricket with Worcestershire in 2006. That trend has come to a halt now. Except for couple of short stints by Sreesanth and Agarkar, Indian players haven’t been allowed to play in county cricket by BCCI.

The Indian fast bowlers play in IPL instead which doesn’t help their development as test bowlers in any way. The jam packed international calendar means that the Indian bowlers don’t get to play in domestic first class games either. No wonder the Indian pacemen find it difficult to make an impact in the longer format as they have no experience bowling for that long. India’s current spearhead Mohd Shami who made his first class debut in 2010 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 12 are tests for India. Varun Aaron whose first class debut was way back in 2008 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 5 are tests. Mohit Sharma has 24 first class games to his credit, Ishant Sharma has 88 (61 of them are tests for India), Bhuvneshwar Kumar has 58 (First Class debut in 2007, 12 of 58 are tests) and Umesh Yadav has 40 (First class debut in 2008 and 12 of them are tests). So we see a pattern here.

Indian bowlers are over bowled in meaningless T20 games and ODI games which leave them no time to work on their chinks. The bowlers get paid hefty sum to get hit around the park in IPL, so they hardly have any motivation to work on their bowling at the test level. If India has any hopes of unearthing at least one good fast bowler, they need to keep these bowlers from playing in too many meaningless tournaments. After a long time India has finally found 3 bowlers who can bowl in upwards of 140 KMPH regularly with Aaron able to touch 150 KMPH. This is the right time for BCCI to invest in these bowlers and make sure they don’t fall by the wayside. India also has some young exciting fast bowlers like Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh who need to be nurtured.

It will be helpful for these bowlers to play in county cricket on helpful pitches to learn their trade rather than getting hammered around in the meaningless T20 leagues on flat pitches. These are exciting times for an Indian fan as for the first time we have bowlers who can bowl really fast but unless they are taken care properly we might lose them quicker than we realize. India’s international season starts right after the IPL and hopefully we will have the fast bowlers fit and available to be picked for India. The board and the coaches need to step up and work on keeping these bowlers fresh for international games. IPL is a good launch pad for young and upcoming players from domestic arena and it should stay that way. BCCI has enough finances to keep these young bowlers away from the T20 leagues and allow them to play more first class games which is the only way these bowlers are going to improve their skills. Let’s hope that things will change and the current crop can actually achieve what they set out to do and don’t become another Irfan or RP Singh.

A glittering career comes to an end

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It was 1991 and the game was India vs. Pakistan at Sharjah. I had never watched a cricket game before and I thought that Sachin was this young boy who just appeared with Kapil Dev in the Boost advertisement. Pakistan had batted first and score 257 in 50 overs and India was chasing a difficult score against a great bowling lineup. India had a great start but lost their way in the middle when this young boy walks in and plays a beautiful innings getting India close to the target. I still remember Sachin hammering Mushtaq Ahmed for two consecutive sixes and getting out trying to go for the third.

That was the day I got glued to the game of cricket and the reason for the same was the little master. Everyone knew that this young boy is going to be a great player then but even his strongest supporter would not have imagined what this great player went on to achieve in his 24 year career. Sachin Tendulkar gave the Indian fans lots to cheer in a particularly poor decade for Indian cricket. This was the phase where the Indian hopes in every game lay on just his wicket. The opposition knew that and so did every Indian fan. There were lots of fans who would just turn off their televisions as soon as their idol got out.

We need to understand that Sachin was still just a young man and to handle that amount of pressure was truly remarkable. I remember he was the only batsman who always looked at home even on the overseas tours when all his fellow team mates struggled to put bat on ball. The brilliant hundred in Perth and the fantastic innings in Johannesburg as a 19 year old were able testimony to the fact. Sachin had amazing composure for a young man and his balance at the crease was phenomenal. He did not have any noticeable weakness and even if he had he had the ability to iron them out before he stepped out to bat again.

 His child like enthusiasm for the game and his great dedication made him a stand out player of his generation. His achievements are there for everyone to see. In spite of enjoying a god like status in India, he still remains a humble human being. He has achieved everything a cricketer could dream of. The 2011 world cup win for sure completed his cricketing resume and for sure will give him utmost satisfaction. Sachin was also part of the world number 1 test team and his IPL team Mumbai Indians gave him a fitting send off with a CLT20 win.

It will be sad to see Sachin go. I have watched Sachin Tendulkar throughout his career and he has been part of my growing up years. As a cricket fan in the 90’s Sachin has given me lots of fond memories which I would always cherish. The brilliant hundred in Benoni, the desert storm innings, his brilliant performance in the 1996 world cup and many more such performances will forever be etched in my memory. Sachin Tendulkar will be sorely missed by every Indian cricket fan. It will be hard to imagine an Indian cricket team without the little master in the lineup. I hope that he has a great farewell in the final two tests he will be part of later next month.

I wish Sachin remains attached to the sport in some vicinity, imparting the vast cricketing knowledge he has. Thank You Sachin for all the great memories and as a diehard fan of yours I will for sure miss watching you don the Indian colors again.

Technology will never be perfect

UDRS (Umpire Decision Review System) was introduced by ICC in 2009 as a measure to improve the umpiring decisions at the international level. There has been call for the use of technology for ages in cricket and the ICC haven’t done anything for ages since “Third Umpire” came in to play for run outs and stumping’s. That was way back in early 90’s. The ICC has been always reluctant to introduce new technology for the most part of last 2 decades.

The UDRS primarily consists of 3 major technologies combined into one, the Hot Spot, the Snickometer and the Hawk-eye. Of all the three technologies Hawk-eye is the most debated and the most controversial one. There are various theories on the same and obviously like all technologies Hawk-eye isn’t perfect. The ICC needs to make sure that there is research constantly going on and they don’t get fixated on these three technologies for ever. Things need to evolve and improve and I hope that is taken into account as well.

But I am not going to talk about that at the moment. The BCCI has constantly opposed the use to UDRS since its inception but the problem is that the rest of the cricketing world has no problems with it. The fact is that no technology is going to be perfect and if we are looking for 100% stable technology we may never have one. The Hawk-eye isn’t a perfect technology and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The bottom line is that it will for sure bring down certain howlers in cricket at the moment. The Hawk-eye should at least be used to check if the ball pitched within the stumps or if the impact was outside off-stump for LBW decisions.

The Snickometer and hotspot aren’t that controversial but the recent test between SA and Pakistan has raised a few questions about Hot Spot too. The other concern for the BCCI has been the cost involved in implementing UDRS. The ICC doesn’t take care of the same which is the reason for the technology not being made mandatory. The ICC obviously needs to step in and possibly cover a part of the cost. This is probably a valid concern from the BCCI.

Even though there are some valid concerns over the technology, the use of it should be made mandatory. The ICC needs to step in to achieve the same even if it means that they cover part of the cost. No technology has ever been perfect and it will be very hard to implement one which will please everyone. The BCCI should bite the bullet and try the technology out for a while before opposing it completely.

Can Umesh and Aaron break the trend?

Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron will have their tasks cut off when the grueling Indian season begins in a month’s time

Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron were like a breath of fresh air when they took the new ball against the touring West Indies side at home. Both bowled with extreme pace troubling the West Indies batters on pretty flat wickets in India. Both bowlers capable of bowling in the excess of 150 will now have to concentrate on cementing their place in the Indian squad. The Indian fast bowling cupboard has not been fuller than the last decade or so. We had fast bowlers appearing left right and center only to disappear after a year.

We have had bowlers with enormous talent making their debuts, only to lose their way within a year. The reason to the same has never been analyzed. Talented bowlers like Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, and RP Singh etc… All had a great beginning to their career only to lose their way and finally disappear from the radar. When Umesh Yadav came on to the scene, I was little skeptic. India plays a lot of cricket throughout the year including the IPL and champions League. For a bowler to remain fit through this grueling schedule requires meticulous planning from the team management as well the bowler himself. It is not an easy task.

But after almost a year, Umesh has done quite well to withstand the pressure and has still maintained his speed. This shows that the boy has great work ethic and tremendous fitness. Aaron though wasn’t that lucky, he missed the Australia tour due to injury but made a good comeback bowling at 150 k’s even after his return in the IPL. These two have for sure have for now broken the trend of Indian bowlers losing their pace.

The next hurdle to cross will be to pass the grade from promising to good. This will be something which will separate them from the rest of the pack. Umesh Yadav had a great start to his test career and was very impressive in Australia. Aaron too had a decent debut test against the West Indies. Fast bowlers need to be looked after. There are only a hand full currently in international cricket who can bowl 90+ mph consistently. The Indian think tank needs to understand that. Aaron and Umesh are the future of Indian bowling and I hope the rigorous schedule of the Indian team does not consume them too.

It will be interesting to see how these to shape up in the coming year or two. It will be interesting to see if the Indian think tank has the courage to play both these players together in the test team. India has finally found genuine pace bowlers and my hope is that we don’t lose them to mismanagement and greed once again.

The A tour raises more questions about the Indian batting reserves

The India A tour to West Indies started off with lots of promise. The series was supposed to showcase the best of Indian talent. With the retirement of Rahul Dravid, his replacement in the test team was of paramount importance. The selectors will be happy that Pujara gave a good account of himself throughout the series to emerge as the prime contender for the number 3 spot in the test team. The major disappointment though was the performance of Rohit Sharma.

Since his debut in 2008 Rohit has been considered as a player with enormous talent. He has represented India in the shorter format for about 4 years now and it does not seem like he is ready to make the step up. He started off the tour with a great 94 in the first innings of the first unofficial test but that was about it. He continued to struggle with his control in the longer format. He continues to throw his wicket away with ridiculous shots after getting set. More importantly he continues to disappoint his fans. It seems like Rohit has to work very hard in order to stake the claim for the test spot.The other person to disappoint this series was Ajinkya Rahane. Another player with brilliant technique and great domestic record who failed to impress on this A tour. Rahane struggled to get of the blocks most of the times in this series and seems to have the same issue as Rohit.

Pujara though was the only success of this test leg of the tour. The man once again proved the gulf between himself and the rest of the pack who are vying for a test spot. He played a brilliant innings in the first test to single handedly win the game for his team and scored runs consistently throughout. The batting was the big issue for the Indians in this A tour and the struggle of these youngsters against West Indies A team is not a good sign for the future. The West Indies gained more from this series than India. The other batsman to impress a bit was Tiwary who looked good in couple of innings. Saha did well with the bat in couple of knocks but none of them were consistent. Mukund was another player who disappointed throughout the series.

It seems like once the shorter format started the youngsters are back in their elements. Rahane and Rohit looked their part in the two T20’s which followed the test series. Does this mean that these players are just good enough for the shorter format? We will not know for sure unless we test them out longer. Is the IPL making these players lose their technique? This can only be answered by the players themselves. It will be interesting to see how these youngsters bounce back from this debacle. All these players are talented but to be able to succeed in test cricket talent alone isn’t enough. The will to fight it out in the middle when the chips are down is something these youngsters need to learn. For now though a test spot seems to be long way away for these youngsters.

Mid-Table scrum makes IPL V interesting

The IPL V is nearing the Play-offs and we are yet to determine the 4 semi-finalists. The competition this year has been extremely close and we are still unsure of the two teams who will join Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Delhi Daredevils (DD). KKR and DD are without doubt the two strongest teams in the competition. They have won most of their games and have qualified for the play-offs. Both the teams have been excellently led by their respective captains and have a very good bowling attack. The rest of the teams though have been involved in an absolute fight for the final two spots. Let us look at the teams with a chance to make it to the play-offs.

Mumbai Indians – Mumbai Indians are the other strong team who has had a mixed IPL. They have managed to win 3 of their last 4 games and are probably closest to the play-offs with 5 games in hand. Mumbai Indians have struggled with their batting. They have heavily relied on Rohit Sharma and Sachin Tendulkar to get them over the line on most of the occasions which has been their undoing. Probably the induction of Dwayne Smith in the middle order might give them the required spark.

Rajasthan Royals – Rajasthan Royals are the other team who have risen above their underdog status and have posted a serious challenge to the play-offs spot. Shane Watson and Shaun Tait in the playing X1 have given them the required balance and are currently looking like a strong squad.

Royal Challengers Bangalore – The major issue for RCB this season has been their bowling attack. In spite of having Murali in their squad they have been unable to play him due to the squad composition. They have often conceded 170+ totals this season which has greatly affected their batting performance. Their batting too has been highly inconsistent. The heavy reliance on Chris Gayle and AB De Villiers has been striking this season but with Dilshan stepping up to the plate in the recent games things might finally look up for the 2011 finalists. It will be interesting to see if they manage to play Murali in the squad who in spite of taking 8 wickets in 4 games finds himself in the sidelines.

Chennai Super Kings – The defending champions probably have had their worst season by a distance. The team has struggled to find the right combination throughout. Their batting has failed to find consistency and their inability to finish off close games has been the bane for the team from the south. They still have 4 games in hand and are currently looking at winning all the games if at all they want to make it to the play-offs. Things aren’t looking that rosy for the two time champions.

Kings X1 Punjab – They are yet another team who started as an underdog but have far surpassed the pre-tournament expectations. They are currently place 5th on the table with a very good chance of qualifying for the play-offs. In the absence of their captain Adam Gilchrist, David Hussey has led the team admirably well and with the addition of Azhar Mahmood they look a good squad capable of defeating anyone on their day. They have a good bowling attack and are looking good to challenge the top teams this season. It will be interesting to see what their combination would be when Gilchrist returns.

This has probably been the first season where the competition has been so close. There are just few games to go and we are still not sure of the semi-final line up. All the teams mentioned above have a great chance of making it to the play-offs. The teams cannot afford a slip up anymore and the captains would be aware of that. The next few days will be extremely interesting and could decide the fate of most of the teams.