Category Archives: Sports

Has Steven Smith damaged his legacy as a player?

The Australian cricket team has been one of the top sides for a long time, have always been extremely competitive on the field, and played the game hard.

However, over the last few years they haven’t been able to replicate their enormous success, struggling especially outside Australia.

Howver, they looked settled in the Test format over the last few months. The demolition of a good English side, who themselves went through a difficult phase with disciplinary issues, meant the Aussies were moving in the right direction under captain Steve Smith.

The skipper himself was in tremendous form and the bowling was one of the best attacks Australia has ever had.

The South African sojourn couldn’t have started better for the Aussies, with a crushing win in the first Test. The Proteas were under the pump, having just lost two Tests in a row at home. The second Test disaster though, which left the vice-captain David Warner with demerit points and resulted in the ban of Kagiso Rabada, seems to have affected the visitors more than the hosts.

Read the full article @The Roar

Batting boosts India’s chances of title defence

India came into the Champions Trophy 2017 with a team that looked great on paper but was extremely low on match practice.

Rohit Sharma hadn’t played in an ODI game for India for about eight months. Yuvraj Singh was not in India’s one day scheme of things until England ODI series earlier this year where he played three games.

Shikhar Dhawan played in the England series earlier this year but was dropped for the third game after failing in the first two.

Dinesh Karthik who is India’s other middle order option hasn’t played an ODI game for India since 2014.

Kedar Jadhav who is a newbie in the middle order doesn’t have too much experience playing overseas. The only match practice any of these players had before the Champions Trophy was in the IPL.

Completely different format and conditions to what they would face in England.

The Indian team were banking on the return to form of Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh in particular. Yuvraj Singh gives India the much needed impetus in the later stages of the innings and Rohit Sharma lends solidity to the top order.

The last time India won the Champions Trophy in England in 2013, the opening partnership of Dhawan and Rohit did a stellar job.

The opening combination was little short on confidence and it showed in the way the batted in the first few overs. Both Rohit and Dhawan looked nervous at the start of the innings.

Rohit was beaten couple of times in the first over and Dhawan batted at a strike rate of 50 until about the fifth or sixth over. Both the batsmen understandably took their time in setting up a platform which helped Yuvraj, Kohli and Pandya to tee off in the final few overs.

Even though India would have been happy with the opening combination returning to form, the biggest relief for India would have been the return to form and fitness of Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj – as Kohli pointed out after the match – is a game changer.

There were lots of questions over his fitness and form ahead of the game and the genial south paw answered his critics in the best way possible. Yuvraj played one of the most important innings for himself and for the team’s confidence in the tournament.

Yuvraj Singh plays in the crucial position for India in ODI and his returning to form gives huge boost to India’s chances.

Even though Indian bowling is very good this time around, the batting always gives them the confidence in the major tournaments. India began their defence of the title with lots of question marks around the team selection and the batting form of some of their players but after the first game, India has ticked lots of the boxes.

A firing batting unit is crucial for India’s campaign and the first game has shown that all is well in that regard for team India.

My Original Article @The Roar

Missing French Open not a bad idea for Federer

Roger Federer decided to give French Open a miss this year. Not only did he missed the Open, he missed the entire clay season in order to concentrate on Wimbledon.

Federer earlier this year won the Australian Open, his first Grand Slam in five years and to do it by beating Nadal in the finals was phenomenal. Federer is a great champion and the current record holder with most Grand Slam singles title in men’s tennis.

Federer is currently 35 years old and possibly has a year or two left at the top level, so it is prudent that he decided to pick his battles.

This is not something new in professional sports. In cricket there are players who during the back end of their careers decided to skip one format over the other to prolong their careers.

There is nothing wrong with that. Sportsmen have very uncertain and short careers and them wanting to make most of their time is something which needs to be respected.

Federer won the French Open in 2009 on clay, a surface where is he not very comfortable playing. It is harder to play on clay when you get older.

Unlike grass courts and hard courts, clay isn’t a quick surface. Players need to have lots of stamina and the ability to engage in long baseline exchanges. Also unlike on synthetic and grass courts, you don’t get too many free points on clay.

Competing against young players on clay can be very taxing and can take a lot out of you. I am not saying that Federer would not have won the title – he may well have – but again that’s the chance he has taken.

It can be really hard for someone who has been struggling with injuries over the past year or so to ignore the fact that he isn’t young anymore.

Federer is arguably the greatest tennis player in history of the game and he has practically achieved everything a professional tennis player could achieve in the game.

He has also said that he is not aiming for number one ranking anymore which means that he need not play all the tournaments for points either.

Grass courts have always been Federer’s best surface and he has seven Wimbledon titles. He wants to be fit and ready for the championship and that’s something which is a personal decision. Only the player knows his body and what he can or cannot do at a particular time in his career.

Federer’s decision needs to be respected and there is no reason to question it. He is a great player and I am really looking forward to couple more Grand Slam titles from him before he calls it a day.

Wimbledon and the US Open gives him the best chance of adding to his 18 titles than the French open does. So Federer deciding to miss the clay season may not have been a bad idea and as Andy Roddick put it, it was smart from the champion.

My article published on The Roar

The 5 bowler strategy will be tested

Virat Kohli has been vocal about the 5 bowler strategy since he took over the test captaincy in Australia. India tried Harbhajan as the 5th bowler in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka hoping that Ashwin, Mishra and Harbhajan can compensate for the 7th batsmen in the team. The biggest problem for India though is that they haven’t found a reliable bowling all-rounder yet to successfully incorporate the 5 bowler strategy.

The other problem the team management will face is the batting combination. It is clear that the team think tank supports the selection of Rohit Sharma in the X1, but with the arrival of Pujara the debate begins once again. Rohit played at number 5 in the second and third tests in Sri Lanka and did reasonably okay at that spot. It is certain that Murali Vijay and Shikar Dhawan will reclaim their spots as the openers in the first test against SA which will push Pujara to number 3 in the order. Virat Kohli will bat at number 4 and Rahane at number 5.

This makes the selection very interesting. Considering Indian think tank still wants to employ 5 bowlers strategy that leaves only one spot open which will be taken by a wicketkeeper. So it will be interesting as to what combination India will play in the first test. The selection of Rohit Sharma is just one end of the stick. The other issue which India will face is getting a bowling all-rounder to occupy the number 7 spot if at all they decide to go with 5 bowlers.

India employed Stuart Binny for the last 2 tests in Sri Lanka. Binny did okay in those games but again he will not be that effective on Indian pitches. He might score some runs but his bowling will not be that effective on pitches which will be aiding spinners in all probability. In Indian conditions the team would need a spin bowling all-rounder to occupy the number 7 spot. India already has Ravichandran Ashwin who is a decent bowling all-rounder and Amit Mishra showed that he can handle the bat competently to score some useful runs down the order. Now the options for a spin bowling all-rounder is minimal.

Couple of years back Ravindra Jadeja was a certainty in the Indian team but his form has gone south in the last couple of years. His performance in the one off game against Bangladesh A was nothing to write home about. The other option India has is Karn Sharma. Karn’s performance in Adelaide on a turning track does not inspire much confidence on his test match bowling ability. His batting too wasn’t too flash in that game. The last and final option India has is Axar Patel. Axar has done well for India in limited opportunities he has received in the shorter formats but his credentials as a test match bowler is questionable.

So considering the above options for the 5th bowler, it will be interesting to see if India does decide to go with the 5 bowler option at all for the tests against SA. The return of the injured players and the arrival of Pujara back in to the X1 leaves the think tank with more headaches than they could handle. The batting combination needs to be worked out and the decision of Pujara or Rohit needs to be made ahead of the first test. This could also mean that India could ditch the 5 bowler strategy and play both Pujara and Rohit in the X1. If they decide to drop Rohit and play an all-rounder, it will be interesting to see whom they will pick. There are plenty of things to worry about for the Indian think tank ahead of the test series against South Africa. It will be interesting to see what combination Kohli & Co will go for in the test series.

Virat Kohli – Right attitude but does he have the right personnel?

The one off test between India and Bangladesh saw some interesting selections by the Indian think tank. Not all selections were popular ones but again there were some good signs nevertheless. Shikhar Dhawan’s selection was kind of forced as KL Rahul fell ill ahead of the test match. The 5 bowler strategy is something which Virat Kohli wants to implement consistently over the next couple of years but again he needs to make sure he picks the right 5 bowlers to do the job in tests.

The strategy might even work to his advantage as India does not play outside subcontinent for some time now. The other thing which was evident was that Virat Kohli prefers genuine quick bowlers over swing bowlers. He played both Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron in the same game along with Ishant Sharma. The test itself was marred by rain and we barely got 2 days of test cricket out of 5, so it was difficult to determine if this combination will actually be successful in the long run. Also it will be interesting to see whom Mohammed Shami will replace when he is fit again.

With Kohli and the think tank wanting to go with 5 bowler strategy, it puts lots of emphasis on a strong wicketkeeper batsman. India has Ravi Ashwin coming in at number 7 and the batting to follow after him might not be too reliable. For this strategy to work Wridhiman Saha needs to click as a batsman. We all know that Saha is one of the best wicketkeepers in India but again if he does not score runs with the bat, India might have to look elsewhere. The other selection which needs to be looked at is the second spinner for the subcontinent games.

Ravi Ashwin is India’s primary spin bowler but his partner is something which the Indian think tank is undecided on. Previously Pragyan Ojha was the one for the home tests but after his action was reported, he does not look the same bowler with the corrected action. Harbajan Singh was picked for the Bangladesh test but again he cannot be in India’s long term plans. Bajji looked out of sorts and struggled to match Ashwin with the ball. He did pick up three wickets but again those were gifted by some very daft batting by Bangladesh batsmen. It will be prudent for the Indian think tank to think in terms of blooding a young spinner to bowl alongside Ashwin in the home tests.

There are some suggestions to bring back Amit Mishra which is not a bad idea either but again Mishra has struggled in test matches even at home. It will be interesting if India actually picks some young spinner for the home tests, someone like Shreya Gopal. Shreyas Gopal has a good bowling record in first class cricket and can bat well too. This will help India in the 6-5 combination which they are planning to employ in tests.

India needs to somehow incorporate KL Rahul and Pujara in their test plan. Kohli seems to prefer Rohit Sharma ahead of Pujara in tests but again Pujara is more likely to succeed overseas. The selection of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma seems shortsighted and may not benefit India in the long run. Both Dhawan and Rohit are extremely good at home and on subcontinent pitches but again when it comes to overseas tests Pujara and Rahul are much more capable. It will be interesting to see what combinations Kohli will come up with in the upcoming series with Sri Lanka and South Africa.

India does tour Zimbabwe next for an ODI and T20 series and it will be the right time to introduce some young players in the team. India also needs to give a chance to players like Kedar Jadhav and Robin Uthappa. It will also be interesting if they would experiment with the bowling. Chahal comes to mind as an option in the shorter format. Virat Kohli has stuck with Karn Sharma but again he does not look like a test bowler.

These are exciting times for Indian cricket and we can expect some interesting selections in coming months. Virat Kohli needs to realize that in the longer run the idea is to make Indian cricket team more competitive overseas. Even though horses for courses selection seems good at the moment it will be detrimental to Indian cricket development in the long run. Players like KL Rahul and Pujara need to be in the mix if India needs to develop a team for all conditions. In the coming months we will know what the plan is by the current team management. Even though Dhawan needs to be persisted with as he provides an attacking option at the top of the order, India needs to make sure KL Rahul is somewhere in the mix and is not neglected. The same goes for Pujara. Virat Kohli has lots of tough decisions to make in the coming months. He does have the right attitude as a captain and has an attacking mindset but again he needs to pick the right people for the job for the team to be successful consistently.

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.

CW2015 – India needs to decide on the team combination soon

The Indian team hasn’t had a great start to the ODI Tri-Series. After losing a hard fought game to Australia in the opener, they have been hammered by England in the second game. While the first game was marred by poor lower order batting, the second game had a complete batting failure.

With the World cup just a month away India seem to be having a boat load of issues with the team combination. Let us look at the problem areas for the team ahead of the marquee tournament.

The Openers:

India played 2 different combinations in the first two games and Shikhar Dhawan has struggled to score in both those games. After an underwhelming test series with the bat Dhawan seems to be struggling to put bat to ball in his favorite format of the game. It seems like India needs to take the harsh decision and give the Rohit/Rahane combination a chance in the remaining games. Rohit scored a hundred in the first game and Rahane looked good in the second before throwing his wicket away to a poor shot. The opening combination is the most important thing in Australia/New Zealand and it can make or break a team. India need to decide on what combination they are planning to field in the world cup and play that duo in the upcoming games in the tri-series and in the warm up games leading to the world cup.

 The Middle Order:

India has experimented quite a lot in this area as well. Virat Kohli who was India’s permanent fixture at number 3 has been pushed to number 4 for some strange reason. Ambati Rayudu was used at number 3 at the Gabba. Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni complete the Indian middle order. Virat Kohli should bat at 3 in all games, as he is India’s best ODI player. Suresh Raina will bat at 5 followed by MS Dhoni at 6. So that leaves Ambati Rayudu at number 4. The positions of Raina and Rayudu can be changed based on the team situation but India ideally should play Kohli at 3 and Rayudu at 4. India does not have too much room for experimentation in this regard as they haven’t picked another middle order batsman. Rahane who can double as a middle order batsman may have to open since Dhawan hasn’t been scoring any runs.

The All-rounders:

This is a very interesting spot for the Indian team. India has picked potentially 4 all-rounders. 3 of them are spin bowling all-rounders and one a medium pace all-rounder. It will be interesting to see which combination India will play at the world cup. Stuart Binny did a decent job in the game at Gabba scoring 44 runs with the bat and picking up the only wicket to fall. Once Ravi Jadeja is fit, I don’t think India will be playing Akshar Patel in the X1. The tussle for the one spin all-rounder will be between Jadeja and Ashwin. India might play both of them in venues which might have some help for the spinners and play one of them in the combination of Binny in the other venues. Jadeja has been Dhoni’s go to man in ODI’s, so it will be fair to assume that he will be India’s first choice spinner in the world cup.

The Bowling:

This will be the most talked about combination for India ahead of the world cup. Looking at the squad selected for the world cup, it is pretty hard to imagine how India is going to take 10 wickets in the game. The bowlers as seen in the test matches don’t have any control over the scoring with the new ball, which is going to be crucial in the world cup. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami haven’t been the most economical bowlers for India and haven’t been that effective with the new ball. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has struggled in Australia and hasn’t been able to pick up too many wickets. This leaves just Ishant who hasn’t played in the on-going tri-series due to an injury and might not take part in the rest of the series as well. This will mean that India will struggle to find the right bowling combination for the world cup. Ideally India should play Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant and Shami/Umesh. India cannot play both Shami and Umesh in the X1. Even though Ishant and Bhuvneshwar might not get you too many wickets, they can at least give you some much needed control with the new ball building up some pressure. Shami is good with the old ball which might help Dhoni to keep him for the middle and later overs.

So all in all it does look like a very tall order for the Indians to defend the world cup in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian bowling has relied a lot on spinners over the last year or so but in Australia/New Zealand they wouldn’t be that effective. India did not pick a wrist spinner in their squad which might work against them in the world cup. The batting too looks unsettled and with players looking out of form. Things do not look great for Dhoni and Fletcher ahead of the world cup at this point. India needs to decide on their best X1 in the upcoming couple of games as they don’t have too much room to experiment anyways with the World Cup Squad. The non-selection of an additional middle order bat and an additional pacer might work against the team in the world cup.

Below is my X1 for the world cup. The below X1 is the best combination I feel India can put up from the squad selected for the world cup.

India X1 (WC): Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli (VC), Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (C, WKT), Stuart Binny, Ravi Ashwin/Ravi Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami