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A star studded franchise led by one of the most influential cricketer of the era, Royal Challengers Bangalore seem to have got it all but for an IPL title. For some reason despite having a talented and best cricketers around the world, RCB has never been able to put together a title winning season. Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers have been the constant for the franchise and they have in fact carried the hopes of the team for over 12 seasons.

This time again Virat Kohli led RCB have one of the best squads in the tournament. AB De Villiers and Captain Virat Kohli are back again in the mix. The biggest problem for RCB over the last two seasons have been their openers. Since they have gotten rid of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle, the team has struggled to find the right combination at the top. This has meant that Virat Kohli has had to move up the order leaving the middle order inexperienced. The signing of Aaron Finch though will help RCB a great deal on that regard.

The Australian captain has been match fit and is coming straight after a ODI series in England which would mean that along with Parthiv Patel, RCB has finally taken care of the opening combination at least for now. They also have another exciting signing of 20 year old Devdutt Padikkal who has had an incredible start to his T20 career averaging 64 at a SR of 175. His addition in the middle order will be exciting for RCB.

Their bowling arsenal is strong as well with the legendary Dale Steyn and India’s Navdeep Saini. Adam Zampa has been roped in and they have the ever reliable Yuzvendra Chahal in the squad as well. Even though Zampa has been in tremendous form for Australia in the recently concluded ODI series, it is hard to see him make the X1 for the first game. Washington Sundar’s availability means Moeen Ali will be benched as well.

Similar to most of the seasons RCB once again have a great squad and excellent talent at their disposal. The biggest criticism they have received over the years is the way they use their squad. Their selection is all over the place and Virat kohli hasn’t shown too much patience with players which means the consistency in the X1 is something which is non existent.

Also the Bangalore venue hasn’t been kind to them as well. A small ground and a flat pitch means they normally don’t have any advantage like a team like CSK of playing in the home ground. Probably the change of scenery is what they need. The first couple of games in Dubai has shown that long boundaries mean hitting sixes isn’t that easy and scores are not that high. A fit team like RCB might take advantage of that and they pace/spin attack can actually put pressure on the batters with the pitch having some assistance to good bowling. Virat Kohli will be hoping that this year finally breaks their jinx and they would be able to claim their first IPL title.

My RCB XI for the first game:

Parthiv Patel (Wkt), Aaron Finch (O), Virat Kohli (Capt), AB De Villiers, Devudutt Padikkal, Washington Sundar, Chris Morris (O), Navdeep Saini, Dale Steyn (O), Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammad Siraj

They can play Gukeerat Mann Singh if they want another batter to replace Siraj and they can include Adam Zampa or Moeen Ali by replacing Chris Morris by Shivam Dube. So RCB does have a very balanced squad and obviously they don’t have to have the perfect XI in the first game. The Above XI looks very balanced with good mix of batters/all rounders but again I will be tempted to get Zampa in due to his brilliant form recently.

When England won the toss and batted again they wouldn’t have envisioned what would transpire over the next 99.4 overs. England themselves started poorly. They had lost both Jason Roy and Joe Root before even getting off the mark. Jonny Bairstow who has been in supreme form this series once again was the saviour. He along with captain Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler got England to 96/4 but again the visitors were still firmly on top.

Sam Billings who has already scored a hundred in this series first stitched a significant partnership of 114 to get England out of the woods. Billings once again was brilliant and scored 57 before he was dismissed by Adam Zampa. Bairstow though kicked on and completed a brilliant hundred (112). Chris Woakes scored a quickfire fifty to guide England to a competitive 302/7. For Australia though Adam Zampa was among wickets again with 3/51. He has been brilliant with the ball all through the series and has also been able to keep the runs in check.

Australia’s innings did not get to a great start either. The found themselves 73/5 in just 17 overs and with half of their side gone the game was firmly in the grasp of the hosts. Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey then counterattacked with a stunning assault on the English bowlers. Both of them completed brilliant hundreds. Maxwell who has been in great nick through this series once again was fantastic. He scored his runs at a high strike rate and kept the bowlers under pressure throughout. Carey was brilliant as well and when the pair was separated after an enormous partnership of 213, the game was all but over for England.

Even though there was a bit of drama at the end, Australia completed the win with 2 balls to spare. Australia will be thrilled to have won the series and they have been brilliant in this format over the last year or so. They would particularly be happy with the performances of the middle order. Almost the entire series was won by the middle and lower order as the top order did not contribute much in this series.

For England though this series has been a difficult one. They are probably the only team to have played a lot of international cricket over the last few months and frankly were not at their best in this series. The other good thing about the series were the pitches. These weren’t the roads we normally see in the ODIs in England. The bowlers had a fair chance in all the games and we can see that in the scores across the 3 games.

The Australian bowling was excellent and Zampa in particular. The consistency shown by Glenn Maxwell is another positive for Australia in this series. This series was brilliant and Australia surely were the better team and should have won the series 3-0, if not for their horrendous collapse in the second ODI.

When England won the toss and batted first no one could have predicted the roller coaster of a game they would witness over the next 98.4 overs. England’s start was anything from smooth as Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood tied the English openers into a knot. Both Bairstow and Roy struggled to get away. England found themselves in trouble when Roy was run-out for 21. Joe Root and Eoin Morgan battled hard against some brilliant bowling and great fielding of the visitors. The scoring was tough but they hung around.

When the partnership was broken though, England batting collapsed. They found themselves at 149/8 from a healthy 90/2. Adam Zampa was at it again with a fantastic 3/36. Josh Hazlewood was miserly once again with a spell of 1/27 in 10 overs. A late order partnership between Adil Rashid and Tom Curran got England to a fighting 231/9.

While England lower order fought well, 232 wasn’t a target Australia would have been worried about. Even though Australia started poorly themselves losing 2 wickets early, the partnership between captain Aaron Finch and Marnus Labuschagne meant that Australia were cruising at 144/2 in 30 overs. At that stage of the game, there wouldn’t have been too many people who would have given the hosts any chance. England though kept plugging and as soon as they broke the partnership, Australia collapsed losing 8 wickets for 63 runs.

For England Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer were the heroes with 3 wickets each. Sam Curran picked up 3 as well and Tom Curran was miserly giving away just 28 in his 10 overs. This win should give the hosts huge confidence as there were down and out at one stage.

For Australia though this would be yet another heartbreaking loss as their batting once again collapsed from a winning position. It is not often a team restricts England under 250 after the latter bats first after winning the toss. Australia would know that they have blown a great opportunity to go 2-0 up. With this win though England would have gotten a lots of confidence and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they don’t go on to win the series from here.

In this three part series we will be looking the teams India will be facing in this World Cup in the order they will play them. We will look at how India have fared against these opponents over the last 4 years since the 2015 World Cup.

Kuldeep Yadav & Yuzvendra Chahal had wood over protean batters during India’s tour to South Africa in 2018

June 5,2019 – India vs South Africa, The Rose Bowl, Southampton

India kick off the World Cup campaign with a tough game against South Africa at the The Rose Bowl. South Africa have been a difficult team for India to beat in the World Cup in the past. In fact the 2015 victory was India’s first against Proteas in a World Cup match. Even though the historical head to head record between the two sides is firmly in South Africa’s favour the last 4 years have been a little different. Both teams have met 12 times since the 2015 WC and India have a 8-4 advantage. This includes India’s crushing series win in South Africa last year. Both teams have good bowling attack but India definitely have the edge in batting. In the absence of AB De Villiers and inexperienced South African batting rely heavily on Faf Du Plessis and Hashim Amla to provide them with the stability they need. With the game being played at the Rose Bowl, the spinners with come into play. India with Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal will be favourites in this contest.

Verdict: Even though this will be a tough game, India probably hold the edge over an injury stricken SA side. They are still awaiting confirmation on the availability of Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn.

June 9, 2019 – India vs Australia, Kennington Oval, London

Like South Africa, Australia have been one of the most difficult opponents to face in the World Cup for India in the past. Even though India triumphed against them in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals, en route to the title, they were beaten by Australia in 2015 World Cup in the Semi-Finals. Both teams have met 18 times over the last 4 years with the honours even at 9-9. This is one match up which is difficult to call. The Australia team though will be buoyed by the return of Steven Smith and David Warner to the ODI side and with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins making a comeback as well they look a strong side this time as well. Their recent form has been brilliant as well as they won 8 games in a row against India & Pakistan in the sub continent over the last couple of months. The battle obviously will be between the two batting sides and how the Australian batters play the Indian spinners. In the last 4 years this has been a high scoring ground with team batting second winning 6 of the last 11 games.

Verdict: This is a tough one to call and I would probably give Australia a slight edge on this one due to their recent form and historical dominance over India in the World Cups.

June 13, 2019 – India vs New Zealand, Trent Bridge, Nottingham

India will be taking on last year’s finalists in their third game of the tournament. India will start as favourites in this contest as historically India have a good record against the Blackcaps. The recent record between the two also alludes to the same conclusion as India have won 9 out of their last 13 games against New Zealand. New Zealand are a good side and have a good bowling attack and an aggressive batting attack. They did struggle a bit against the Indian spinners in the recently concluded series between the two sides. Indian spinners will once again be crucial in this contest. The blackcaps will have Tim Southee and Trent Boult with the new ball and Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi to manage the spin department. The batting will be led by captain Kane Williamson with the experience of Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill. The Indian batters did struggle against Boult’s swing in New Zealand but again we may not see such conditions in the world cup in a dry summer in the UK. The Indian bowling attack were all over New Zealand in the recent series and it will be interesting to see if they continue to do so in the World Cup.

Verdict: India definitely hold the edge over New Zealand in this contest. This will be close game but gain India is expected to win this game against the blackcaps.

That concludes part 1 of this series and the review will continue with the next three games in Part 2.

 

 

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Ajinkya Rahane’s hundred at Lord’s was one of the best innings played by an overseas batter on a difficult wicket

pic Courtesy indiatimes.com

The year 2013 saw a young Indian team under MS Dhoni embark upon a overseas tour leg with their first stop in South Africa for a 2 Test series. The Indian team was touring for the first time with you the legendary trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the squad after a really long time. A young Virat Kohli along with Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara were the considered the lynch pins of the Indian batting on those tours.

India did not win any of the series on those tours but two players clearly emerged as the leader of Indian batting unit and Ajinkya Rahane was one of them. Rahane had a brilliant season with the bat. He scored hundreds in England, Australia and New Zealand and was brilliant in South Africa as well. In just over a year or so he had become India’s most crucial batter in the X1 along with Virat Kohli and was rightly made as the latter’s deputy when MS Dhoni called it a day midway through the Australian series.

Rahane was brilliant and with his technique against quick bowling and his naturally attacking style of play it was a joy to watch him bat on those tours. His 100 in Lord’s was one of the best batting you will see on a spiteful pitch and was a purists delight and his  147 in Melbourne against Mitchell Johnson was one finest attacking knocks you will see by an Indian batter against quick bowling overseas. Even during initial phase of his career Rahane was always a nervous starter with a slight weakness against spin. He did struggle to score runs at home and was always comfortable playing on hard fast wickets overseas. After the overseas leg was done, he had an average close to 50 and was considered one of the leading bats in the world at that time in 2015.

Fast forward to 2018, now an experienced Indian team led by Virat Kohli began yet another overseas leg. In the 3 years between the two sets of tours Ajinkya Rahane went from one of the 2 best batters in the side to being dropped for Rohit Sharma in the first two Tests of the South Africa tour. He did make a come back into the team and played few crucial knocks on all the tours but he was a pale shadow of the confident batter we saw in the 2013-15 season.

Rahane did not score a single hundred in 19 innings he played overseas since 2018 and his average of 27.94 showed the inconsistency that had crept into his batting. He struggled to convert starts and got out playing some uncharacteristic shots during that time. His Test average had dropped from something in high 40’s to just about 40 at the start of 2019. It is very hard to decipher as to how a brilliant player can regress so much in a short span of time. He wasn’t his usual self in this IPL for Rajasthan Royals as well which cost him his captaincy this season.

Ajinkya though who wasn’t picked for the World Cup in England has signed up to play for a first division county side Hampshire this season. A decision which might be god send for him in the current state of his career. Playing endless international cricket when you are not doing well cannot be good for your psyche and have some time away from the Indian team is probably what he needs right now. A good season with Hampshire away from the razzmatazz of the World Cup and media attention will be good for him to try and rediscover his magic with the bat. The responsibility of being a senior member and an overseas player for his county side is probably what is needs to get his career back on track.

Rahane is a crucial member of the Indian Test side and with the ICC Test Championship set to begin after the world cup, him being in form is crucial for the team’s success. I hope that he has a great county season. The runs he scores is not as important as the confidence he gains by playing away against some good competition and some very good bowlers. Players in the past have benefited a lot by playing in England and if he uses this chance well, he can also do so and return as the confident player he once was for India in Tests. India begin the Test Championship in August with a 2 Test series in West Indies and he along with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara will be once again the batting leaders guiding the young players around them.

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Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri will shift their focus to the world cup as the IPL has now come to an end.

Mumbai Indians beat Chennai Super Kings in the IPL finals to clinch the title for the fourth time and the result meant that an incredible close competition came to an end with a huge drama. This also means that with the IPL coming to an end, the focus of the fans and the cricket team squarely back on the World Cup 2019 to be held in England early next month.

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India will be hoping that Kedar Jadhav will recover in time for the World Cup as his replacement isn’t straightforward

The Indian squad had been already announced and it was nice to see that most of the players picked had a reasonably good IPL. The players also looked fit except for few niggles and were in good form by the end of the tournament. The only concern for India right now will be the fitness of Kedar Jadhav. Jadhav is part of Indian World Cup squad and has been a regular fixture in the Indian team over the last few years.

There hasn’t been much news about how his injury is progressing even though it does seem like the management is confident that he will be fit for the marquee tournament. If India are to look for a replacement, the front runners are obviously Rishabh Pant and Ambati Rayudu. Both the players who were left out of the initial 15 announced by the selectors last month. While Ambati Rayudu has played a lot of games for India over the past year the cries for inclusion of Rishabh Pant has never been louder after the youngster once again had a good IPL this season. The biggest problem for India is that neither of these two players provide India with a bowling option which Kedar does in ODIs.

The selection committee will have to weigh in the options and need to make the right decision if at all it comes down to finding a replacement for Kedar Jadhav. It will be unfortunate for Jadhav if he had to miss out due to injury as this may be his final chance to represent India in a 50 over World Cup. The rest of the squad though looked in prime fitness and also looked in good form.

Shikhar Dhawan who was having an indifferent 2019 had a very good IPL for Delhi Capitals. Rohit Sharma once again had a 400+ season, even though he could have been more consistent for his title winning side. Even though Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore once again failed to make the play-offs, he had a good season with the bat with 464 runs. MS Dhoni had a brilliant season behind the stumps and with the bat for Chennai Super Kings.

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Kuldeep Yadav’s bowling form will be a concern for India but again IPL format is different and he is India’s best ODI spinner

The bowlers except for Kuldeep Yadav had a fantastic IPL. Yuzvendra Chahal was brilliant for RCB and Ravindra Jadeja did his bit for CSK with both bat and ball. Jasprit Bumrah was once again in his elements for MI with wickets as well as his economy rate and once again proved why he is India’s spearhead in all formats. The two bowlers India will be concerned about is Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav. Both of them did not have a good tournament this time around and struggled to pick wickets. Even though there is no doubting their skill, India will be hoping that the change of format might help them gain their form back. Mohammad Shami was fantastic for Kings X1 Punjab and looked fit through the season.

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Hardik Pandya was brilliant for Mumbai Indians in this IPL

The biggest gain for India in this IPL was the form of Hardik Pandya. Pandya had been missing in action for India due to non-cricketing reasons earlier this year and he showed why India need him in the team for the world cup. He was brilliant with the bat for Mumbai Indians at crucial times in this season and was good with the ball as well picking 14 wickets. He will be the crucial cog for India in this world cup and will provide us with the X-Factor in the X1.

The selectors will be keeping a close eye on Kedar Jadhav and will have to announce a replacement soon as India will be playing their first warm up game against New Zealand on the 25th at the Kennington Oval, London which is just over 10 days away.

India’s World Cup Schedule:

May 25 – India vs New Zealand (Warm Up)
May 28 – India vs Bangladesh (Warm Up)
Jun 05 – South Africa vs India
Jun 09 – India vs Australia
Jun 13 – India vs New Zealand
Jun 16 – India vs Pakistan
Jun 22 – India vs Afghanistan
Jun 27 – Windies vs India
Jun 30 – England vs India
Jul 02 – Bangladesh Vs India
Jul 06 – Sri Lanka vs India

I will be doing a two part blog later going over India’s opponents and how India have done against them since the last world cup.

I started watching cricket in the early 1990s, when the role of a wicketkeeper in a Test team was to be good with the gloves and contribute some useful runs with the bat.

Australia had Ian Healy, who was a brilliant keeper and also was a useful bat down the order, at a time when teams were happy with keepers contributing 20s and 30s, with the occasional 50.

All that changed on November 21, 1999.

Chasing 369 to win against a strong Pakistan at Bellerive Oval, Australia had lost half their side for just over a 100.

Justin Langer was holding up one end and Adam Gilchrist, in only his second Test having replaced Healy, came in to join him in the middle.

The Pakistan bowling attack was a strong one, comprising Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. Even though Gilchrist had made his ODI debut three years earlier, no one could have predicted what followed over the next 24 hours.

Gilchrist scored a brilliant, unbeaten 149, Australia chased down the total, and the legend was born. For the next nine years, Gilchrist tormented bowling attacks around the world.

Gilchrist was brilliant behind the stumps too, was excellent keeping wickets to the legendary Shane Warne, and he had an amazing ODI career as an opener.

This success made teams world over realise how important the role of a good wicketkeeper-batsman can be, and in an effort to find their own version ended up compromising the primary skills of many a keeper.

The only other player who did well as a keeper in the ’90s was Andy Flower, but again, he wasn’t as destructive as Gilchrist.

Mark Boucher was brilliant for South Africa and was decent with the bat. Alec Stewart was good for England, as were Adam Parore and Dave Richardson, but none came even close to the impact Gilly had for Australia.

In the 2000s we saw Kumar Sangakkara, AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum and MS Dhoni – all brilliant for their teams – but again, none had the impact of Gilchrist.

Sangakkara and De Villiers found keeping and batting hard to combine, and gave up their gloves to concentrate on batting. Dhoni was a good keeper but was not effective with the bat overseas. McCullum played just 52 Tests as a keeper before becoming a frontline batter for his side.

From the current generation, possibly Quinton de Kock comes close, but he has a long way to go before he can be compared to the Aussie.

Gilchrist not only averaged 47.8 with the bat but also scored those runs at an enormous strike rate of 81.95 – a deadly combination that saw him turn Test matches multiple times during his career.

Adam Gilchrist set a trend that teams the world over are struggling to follow to this date.

Link to my original article

The role of a cricket coach is most underrated and also most overrated at the same time by the fans.

Recently I was watching a talk show where this topic was discussed extensively. The panel on the show were Brian Lara, Sir Vivian Richards and Ian Chappell.

All three of them legends of the game and they unanimously agreed that coaches are at the international level should basically be good man managers.

They also mentioned that the name “Coach” should be changed to something more relevant.

Even though that kind of simplifies the role, I think there is some merit to that line of thinking.

Sourav Ganguly recently on another TV show brought up an interesting point. India toured Ireland and England in 2007 without a coach.

The Indian team manager for that tour was Chandu Borde who was already 72 years old at that time. India went on to win both the series, first against South Africa in Ireland, followed by a Test series win in England.

The Indian team was experienced and contained players of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Kumble and Zaheer Khan.

The team was full of legends and the role of the coach here would have been just to help to manage and help the captain with the strategy for the games.

Coaching in the international level does not exist. If a player needs coaching at the international level, he should not be there in the first place.

So would it be more appropriate to call them consultant or Advisor or Strategist instead? Probably yes, but again I am not sure what the position is called is that important compared to having a clear understanding of the role.

There are lots of fans who blame the coach for the poor performance of the batsmen or the bowlers but again the role of an international coach is not to teach players to bowl or bat.

That level of coaching is done at the grassroots level and should stay there. Once the player is representing his country, he is expected to do the basics right.

If he is not, the coaches at the preliminary levels need to questioned.

This does not mean that coaches are not needed at the international level. An international team can be full of legends but they need a good manager and also someone who helps the captain strategize ahead of the game.

A manager/coach is extremely important in a professional setup and cannot be completely ignored. You can never understate the role of coaches like Dave Whatmore, Bob Woolmer and Gary Kirsten and their contributions to their respective teams during their tenure.

Managing a team full of legends is very important in cricket and all the above coaches did that. Gary Kirsten helped India to a world cup win and achieve No.1 rankings in Test cricket. I don’t think Gary ever had to teach Sachin Tendulkar how to bat or Zaheer and Kumble how to bowl.

The success of these coaches was to effectively manage the teams they were involved in and offer support to their respective team captains.

Dave Whatmore converted the Sri Lankan team into world beaters. Bob Woolmer managed a mercurial Pakistan team full of legends effectively which none of his successors were able to do.

All the above coaches I mentioned understood their role and their boundaries. A coach’s role should never interfere with that of the captain and a coach should never have a say in what the captain does on the field.

The cricket coach role is no different that coaches at any other sport. A player at the international level cannot be coached and that should not be in the national coach’s job description.

The link to my original article

Now that IPL is out of the way, focus shifts to the 2017 Champions Trophy, kicking off on June 1 at The Oval, where the hosts take on Bangladesh.

Australia have won the tournament twice and are one of the favourites to lift the trophy. Most Australian players were involved in the two-month-long IPL and have just few days to recuperate before they play their first warm-up game, against the Sri Lankans.

Read the full article at The Roar


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