Strategic Break, really?

Yesterday’s game between KKR and RCB was interrupted by rain. The game was on hold till the rain stopped and the ground was ready for play. The game stopped when RCB were 100/3 in 14.1 overs. After the match resumed, the bowling team just bowled 5 balls and the umpire called for strategic break. Are you kidding me? Why would either team want to strategize when they had just spent about an hour in the dressing room with the coaching staff.

What is there to strategize after just 5 balls when nothing much had changed? If BCCI wants to give an advertising break, why not just call it that? It is funny that BCCI dictates and forces teams to take a break when they don’t want to and thereby cause unnecessary break in play. If BCCI wants to sell airtime to make money they should call the break as advertisement break. If they really want to give the teams a strategic break, it should only be taken when the teams want to take it.

It was extremely funny when teams had just come in after a 45 minute break and within 5 deliveries had to go back in to strategize nothing.

India’s home season

India’s long home season ended with a brilliant series win over touring Australian team. India were brilliant throughout the season and it was a dominant home performance. India also reached the top of the rankings table during the season and have taken a nice lead over the second ranked team. The team had lots of positives over the season which spanned 13 tests none more satisfying than the performances of the pacers. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami were excellent and provided timely breakthrough’s throughout the season. They both were pacy and kept their intensity whenever they were called up on by the captain. Bhuvneshwar Kumar also was brilliant in the chances he received and pocketed couple of 5 wicket hauls on wickets which assisted him. Ishant Sharma did not play a lot during the home season but he did give his all whenever he made the X1.

The spin combination of Ashwin and Jadeja were devastating throughout the home season. Ashwin was brilliant in West Indies as well when India toured last year for a 4 match test series. Jadeja though kept improving throughout the season and ended up as the number 1 bowler in the world at the end of it. The left-armer was brilliant with the ball and by the end of the season was contributing with the bat as well. The duo was also received good support from Jayanth Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav in the games they made the X1. The biggest positive for India though was the fact that they played as a team throughout and most of the wins were a thorough team efforts. There were many instances of young players stepping up to the challenge and putting in match/series defining performances. Jayanth Yadav’s maiden test hundred against England, Karun Nair’s triple hundred and Kuldeep Yadav’s 4-fer all were extremely important in the context of the match and the series.

The senior members also stepped up to the plate when required. The captain himself was brilliant throughout the season except for the Australian series. Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Saha, Ashwin, Jadeja, Lokesh Rahul all made crucial contributions throughout the season. The all-round contributions from Jadeja and Ashwin, gave Kohli the opportunity to play 5 bowlers when required. The solidity which Saha discovered during the home season also gave Kohli a great chance to experiment with the X1.

Now that the home season is done and dusted, the team would know that they are in for much tougher challenges in the coming year or so. Overseas tours are not something new for this bunch. Most of the members from this present team were part of India’s long overseas season from 2013-2015. The team already knows what to expect and would hope to be better prepared this time around. Kohli’s first challenge obviously would be to defend India’s Champions Trophy crown which would be right after the IPL. This Indian team has shown that they could compete on any type of wicket and now they would want to put in more consistent performances overseas. Things are really looking exciting for team India under the leadership of Virat Kohli and as Ashwin had mentioned in his interview, hope he can take India to the newer heights in the coming years.

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.

BCCI advisory board making the right noises

BCCI had recently announced an advisory board for the national team comprising of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. It wasn’t clear what the actual role of these greats were as a part of the advisory board. The advisory board though has started making recommendations within weeks of their appointment suggesting that improvement of the national and domestic scene would be their primary role.

Here are some recommendations made by the board to BCCI:

Identify a pool of 30 bowlers:

This is probably the most important recommendation of all. Bowling has been a major trouble for team India over the years and this if implemented probably will help towards correcting that. The recommendation was to identify 15 pacers and 15 spinners from domestic as well as U-19 and U-23 cricket and appoint mentors for both disciplines to take care of them. But it is not clear as to what taking care means. Whether they will coach them actively or will these bowlers be part of some sort of camp is not something which is mentioned yet. It will be great if these bowlers are also kept away from IPL and are only played in domestic/A-tours. BCCI selection committee will be responsible to identify these 30 bowlers and it will be interesting to see who makes it to the final list.

Increase the number of A-tours:

This is something BCCI has been already doing. India does play quite a lot of A-tours. The recommendation though suggests that BCCI should schedule A-tours few months ahead of an international away series. This will be a good one as this will allow players to get acclimatized to the conditions ahead of time and will help them to plan for the tour. BCCI did do this last year with A-tour to SA months before India toured there for 2 tests but this isn’t something which is happening more frequently.

Renew the Talent Resource Development Wing (TRDW):

This was something which was introduced way back and was scraped for some reason. The new advisory board wants to renew or reinstate the TRDW again. The Talent Resource Development Officers (TRDO’s) used to attend domestic games and identify bright talents across the country. The primary role of the TRDO’s was to just do that but again this idea was scrapped and this is no longer happening. I read somewhere that the match referees are doubling as the talent scouts which does not make sense. So this seems like another good recommendation.

So these are some interesting developments after the BCCI initiative with the advisory board. The board has made some important recommendations but again it will be interesting to see how and when BCCI implements these. It is great to see the advisory board taking their role seriously but again unless these recommendations actually take effect we cannot read too much into them.

IPL 2015 – Young talent makes IPL an interesting watch

IPL evokes mixed emotions among fans across the world. Some people call it great entertainment whilst the others call it a meaningless slogathon. The only thing as an Indian fan which compels me to watch this long drawn out tournament is the young Indian players. In the past the only way to know about a young talent is when they made the Indian team. In the last 15 years or so television has brought domestic games closer to us but still not a lot of us get time to follow them. The IPL though is something which sheds light on these young talents. The current IPL is no different. Performances in the IPL need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Even though there are some great bowlers taking part in the tournament, flat pitches and small boundaries kind of negate any sort of impact they might have on the batsmen. In spite of all that it takes a special talent for an uncapped player to perform in front of record crowds and against some international greats. So here is the list of players that impressed me this season. I am only including their list A and FC records as a yardstick as I don’t think performances in IPL should be taken into account when selecting players for ODI’s and test cricket.

Shreyas Iyer (FC: 50.56, LA: 54.60)

Of all the young players this season none impressed me more than this 20 year old. Shreyas Iyer opened the batting for Delhi Daredevils and has performed brilliantly with the bat. Shreyas represents Mumbai in first class cricket and has made an impressive start to his career. He already has 2 hundreds in 10 first class games and averages 50. His List A record is also impressive as he averages 54 with a hundred already to his credit in 6 games. Shreyas looks primed for India debut sooner than they would have imagined but again it will be interesting to see if the selectors go for him in the upcoming tour to Bangladesh. Shreyas looks like a test prospect for India and I hope he is not thrown in too soon in that format.

Deepak Hooda (FC: 50.63, LA: 40.60)

Here is another youngster who has had an impressive beginning in first class cricket for Baroda. Deepak Hooda has 2 first class hundreds in 8 games at an impressive average of 50.63. He had a brilliant start to IPL for Rajasthan Royals but has fallen off the grid as the tournament progressed. Hooda has brilliant hand eye coordination and has shown that even at the age of just 20 he can hit long balls. Hooda looks a perfect middle order prospect for ODI/T20 format for India as he can bowl part time off spin if needed. Hooda is another brilliant find this season by Rajasthan who lead the way in unearthing good Indian talent.

Pawan Negi (FC: Bat – 27, Bowl – 42, LA: Bat – 6.00, Bowl – 33.66)

The Delhi left arm spinner who plays for CSK does not have enough FC experience at this point. The 22 year old though has shown enough spark in the T20 games to suggest that he could be a good back up for Ravi Jadeja in the shorter formats. Pawan is a good lower order bat and a good left arm spinner who has done well for CSK in IPL games. He needs to play more FC games for us to judge if he can represent the Indian team beyond T20’s and ODI games. Pawan has shown great talent with the bat which augurs well for India in the shorter format. Let’s hope that with experience he can become a good bowling all-rounder for India in all formats.

Sarfaraz Khan (FC: 23.75, List A: 29)

Young Sarfaraz is all of just 17 years of age and has been a revelation for RCB in IPL 2015. He has played couple of crucial innings for RCB this season and looks like a great prospect for team India in the future. Sarfaraz hasn’t played too many FC games to take his stats seriously. He is just 17 and has few more years to find his feet at this level. His talent is apparent but we need to make sure that he is not rushed to international cricket. Sarfaraz needs few years in FC cricket before he can be considered for Indian team and I hope that he gets there.

Yuzvendra Chahal (FC Bowling: 40.06, LA Bowling: 23.28)

Chahal is a good young leg-spinner who has held his own this season for RCB. The Haryana leg-spinner does not have earth shattering FC record but has a very good LA record. With India looking for a good leg-spin option in shorter format, Chahal can fit the bill. He has great control for the shorter formats and his economy rate of 3.98 in LA games show that he can be miserly as well. A bowler who can pick wickets and also keep the lids on the scoring is a perfect recipe for shorter format. The Indian selectors need to keep a close eye on him for the future as he can be a useful addition to the Indian ODI/T20 bowling line up.

Shreyas Gopal (FC Bat: 34.86, FC Bowl: 23.55)

Okay Shreyas Gopal hasn’t played many games for Mumbai Indians this season. In fact he just played one game at the start of the season and has not been considered again for MI in this season. Shreyas is a brilliant prospect for India in all formats. A leg-spinner with good control, Shreyas provides great variation the Indian team is looking for in the bowling lineup. Not only Shreyas is a good leg-spin option he also has 2 first class hundreds to his name at an average of 35 which makes him a very good option in tests and ODI. I included Shreyas because he is very talented even though we hardly saw him play this season. Hopefully the selectors are keeping an eye out form as he has performed brilliantly for Karnataka in Ranji trophy.

Honorable mention: Anureet Singh (FC Bowl: 26.67, LA Bowl: 23.36) and Jagadeesha Suchith

The above players might get a look in sooner if the selectors are going to send in an experimental squad to Bangladesh earlier next month. There are also others like Sanju Samson, Suryakumar Yadav, Sandeep Sharma and KM Jadav, who are consistent performers for their state sides over the years and have also performed excellently in the IPL who will be hoping to get a look in, in the upcoming tour. It will be interesting to see what team the BCCI decides to send to Bangladesh. The performance of Bangladesh against Pakistan at home would probably sway BCCI to send much more balanced squad this time but again there is scope for some experimentation. It will be interesting to see if any of the youngsters find a place in the ODI team. Sanju Samson, Sandeep Sharma, Anureet Singh and Kedar Jadav will be in the top of the pile as some regulars are expected to miss out.

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.