My Thoughts

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

The first time I saw Virat Kohli bat was in the 2008 ODI series against Sri Lanka. A series made famous by Ajantha Mendis who tormented the Indian team throughout that tour. Virat was pushed to open the batting with Gautam Gambhir in the absence of the seniors and as a 19 year old playing on some unusually bowling friendly conditions he showed a lot of composure. Since then Virat was marked for greatness and for the next decade he did not disappoint.

Virat had to wait a year before he became a permanent fixture in the Limited Overs format but he had to wait a little longer in Tests. His breakthrough series came in Australia in 2011/12 after a poor outing in West Indies in 2011. Virat even at a very young age came across as someone who always wanted to succeed. He was aggressive and mentally strong, a product of that time in a team which was lead by MS Dhoni.

In just couple of years he Virat became the leader of the new age Indian Test middle order post the retirement of the greats. Him along with Pujara and Rahane became the face of Indian batting for the next decade. Virat loved Test cricket and he did not shy away from making that known to everyone. From the time he took over the captaincy from MS Dhoni in the middle of the 2015 series against Australia he always wanted to make India a force in the format. He started to work on his fitness thereby inspiring the next generation of Indian cricketers and brought about the change in the mindset of the team.

His confidence in the pace bowlers meant that India went from a bunch of spray guns to bowlers who could hunt in pairs and make life difficult for the opposition. After the 2015 Australian series, Virat asked his bowlers to watch Josh Hazlewood who not only bowled economically but also ended up with the best average among pacers in the series. Virat always had the hunger to keep improving himself and you could see that in his preparation. After his disastrous 2014 tour of England, he made it a point that he wouldn’t do the same mistake when he toured again in 2018.

From that series in Australia in 2012 till 2019 November (Month of his last international hundred) Virat scored more international runs than any other player in the world. His 17872 runs were scored at 60.99 with an incredible 62 tons. He not only became the best all-format batter at that time but also transformed the Indian Test team into number 1 team in the world. The Indian pace attack became the best in the world and Indian became the flagbearer for Test cricket.

But again when things were going brilliantly for Virat the batsman & the captain, things took a turn after the home series against Bangladesh in 2019. Virat’s batting form started to dip and while India continued to be a good Test side the collective failures of the experienced middle order became the topic of discussion. Virat is yet to score a hundred in any format since November 2019 his 2478 international runs during that time came at 37 with no centuries. His ODI & Test form were the most affected while his T20I record still remained good.

His dip in form meant that Virat also relinquished his Test captaincy after the series loss in South Africa earlier this year, this also meant that he was forced out of the LOI leadership as well. Virat has always been this fighter who always proved his doubters wrong but this time it does feel that he probably lost that hunger to improve. His weakness outside offstump which he fought so hard to improve upon after that 2014 series in England has returned and this time it has started to affect his limited overs batting as well.

His performance in this ongoing IPL further highlights his struggles. He has struggled to score runs this season and when did score, he has struggled to maintain a good strike rate. He has had 3 first ball dismissals this season as well which hasn’t happened ever in his career. The year 2022 is an important one for India and with the T20 world cup around the corner, India would need Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to be in good form with the bat to guide a young team.

Virat still has at least 2-3 years of cricket left in him but I do expect him to retire at least from one format soon. His Test record has taken the most hit and with his average dropping below 50, couple more failures in the upcoming season might see him bid adieu to the format. It will be sad if Virat isn’t able to turn this form around to finish his career with an average of 50+ which he so deserves.

Virat did have a spark at the end of the the IPL with a match winning 70 odd in a must win game for the RCB but again there wasn’t much else after that. While as fans we would love for him to get back to his pomp but again it will all depend of what Virat Kohli wants from his career here on in. It will be disappointing if Virat hangs up his boots without 10K Test runs at 50+ average, so the hope is that he will be able to have that one last dash towards greatness.

I have been following Indian cricket since early 90’s and never have I seen such an injury ravaged touring in my life time. When India landed in Australia on 12th November 2020, they already were missing Ishant Sharma and Rohit Sharma and knew that their captain Virat Kohli will be leaving the team after the first Test. The tour started off with the ODI series for India and by the first T20, India had already lost Jadeja to injury. This meant that the genial all-rounder had to miss the first Test at Adelaide.

Despite that one could argue that the Indian team that played the Adelaide Test was almost at full strength and was only missing the services of Ishant Sharma. Rohit Sharma isn’t a regular in Tests yet and India seldom play Jadeja and Ashwin together overseas. But again when the first Test was completed under bizarre circumstances with the tourist getting bowled out for just 36 the lost further two personnel. While Virat’s exit was already known the injury to Mohammad Shami was a body blow for an already depleted Indian attack.

While India had to pick themselves up from the disaster of Adelaide they also had to dig deep into their reserves to get a good XI on the field. The failure of Prithvi Shaw meant Shubman Gill made his debut. Mayank Agarwal who was a main stay of Indian top order was struggling with his unusually high backlift which he probably picked up during his IPL stint. The Indian team fought hard and beat the confident hosts proving all comers wrong with their resilience and courage.

while things were looking good for the tourists finally injury to Umesh Yadav further dented the Indian team which was already missing 3 of their first choice players. A confident Indian team landed in Sydney knowing that Rohit Sharma will be available to open the batting along with Gill in the 3rd Test. The Sydney Test began with Jasprit Bumrah leading the attack. While Bumrah is extremely talented and has been the spearhead for India in all formats, we need to remember that he has just played 16 Tests himself. He had Mohammad Siraj who had made his debut in Melbourne and Navdeep Saini making his debut as his bowling partners. The Test was remarkable for more than one reason. While the Indian team did pull out one of the most brilliant and resilient batting performances in recent times they also lost Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah and Hanuma Vihari in the process.

Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul who would have been the next choice of players to make the XI got themselves injured in the nets. While Agarwal awaits scan reports, KL Rahul is probably sipping a cup of team at home watching the game on TV. The Indian team has been hit with unprecedented bout of injuries which was least expected at the start of the series but the one heartening thing though is the fight shown by the players. The credit should be given to the team management on the tour and the unassuming yet strong leadership of Ajinkya Rahane. This series will be memorable for more than one reason but the nothing can be bigger than the courage the team has shown despite adversities.

The Indian team might struggle to put together a good solid playing XI for their toughest game of the series but again you wouldn’t bet against them giving a tough time to the Aussies. The Australia team at full strength at home has struggled to dominate a injury hit Indian team at home. This shows the bench strength of the Indian side and also the mental strength of the team to keep fighting no matter what the situation is.

The Indian team may not be able to put together a strong XI for the final Test but the Aussies will know that this touring team surely has one last fight left in them to make it hard for the hosts. With the Border-Gavaskar trophy on the line the hosts are under more pressure than the tourists who have nothing to lose going into the final Test.

Wicket-Keeping is a crucial component in a Test team. There is a reason why teams don’t compromise on quality of keeping in Tests as opposed to the shorter formats. While all Test teams have decent to good wicket-Keeping batsmen, India have struggled to find one since the retirement of the legendary MS Dhoni.

The Test keeping spot for India has been quite a game of musical chairs between Wriddhiman Saha amd Rishabh Pant. While Saha is the better keeper of the two his batting has been less than inspiring and hasn’t been of Test quality. Gone are the days when Test teams select a wicket keeper for just their good glove work. Almost every Test side in the world now has a wicket keeper who can bat really well. For India it has been a dilemma at least in the Test arena as while Rishabh Pant is an exciting bat his keeping against especially spin is lot left to be desired.

Pant has already dropped 4 chances in the Test and a half he has kept wickets in the ongoing series and things haven’t changed much since the last time he was dropped. Saha on the the other hand is known for his excellent glove work but again age isn’t on his side and his batting has dipped to a level of not being of international standard. The Indian team though over the last 5 years since the retirement of MS Dhoni from this format haven’t tried any other options which makes it very difficult to come up with a replacement immediately.

The Indian management and the selection committee need to dig deeper into the domestic system to bring out a good wicket-keeping batter for Tests. Indian domestic system has 30+ FC teams and it is hard to believe that they cannot find one wicket-keeper who can keep better than Pant and can score runs as well. While Pant is a good batter his glove work needs lots of work and international cricket isn’t the place to learn your trade. Parthiv Patel another youngster who had a brilliant Test series down under in 2003/04 was dropped because of his poor keeping which cost India a series win. Rishabh Pant despite his mouthwatering stroke play needs to spend more time in domestic cricket and work with coaches to improve his glove work if he wants to represent India has a Test wicket keeper.

The problem for India is that even when we look at the IPL squads except for Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan there aren’t many promising young keepers in any of the franchises. Most teams have an overseas wicket-keeper which isn’t helping much with unearthing talent for Indian team. While I am not suggesting we pick a Test wicket keeper based on IPL performance, we at least would have some idea about their skills with the glove in a high pressure tournament.

Right now in the ongoing series India do not have many options but in the future though the selectors need to think about giving opportunities to other young keepers in the domestic system. India will soon be playing at home where keeping against Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja will be crucial and they cannot have Rishabh Pant in the current form to be doing that. Going back to Saha will be a step back as well. If India wants to be a force in Test cricket they need a keeper who makes less mistakes and is reliable behind the wicket and at the moment Rishabh Pant is not that.

Every time an Indian national squad is announced there is always controversy. Fans and experts alike question selections, express disappointment over someone missing out and there is conspiracy theories always floating around. The three squads announced for the Australian tour wasn’t immune to that either. But again the T20I squad garnered the most criticism. Lets look at the T20 squad and analyse the “Controversial”
picks in more detail.

Team India T20I squad: Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (vice-captain and wicket-keeper), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy

The T20I squad garnered the most criticism and critique from the fans and experts alike. The biggest controversy or mystery is the omission of Rohit Sharma. Rohit has been absent from the Mumbai Indians playing XI for the past 3 games and also I am sure BCCI would have consulted the franchise medical staff before making the call. There is no way BCCI would omit their star limited overs player with hearsay or half baked information. There is a reason why Rohit hasn’t been picked for the tour. The fact that MI posted on social media about Rohit practicing after squad announcement is highly unprofessional as despite that he did not partake in an important clash against RCB last night. Considering there isn’t much time between the end of IPL and the beginning of the Australian tour, I feel the call was right.

The next controversy was with the omission of Rishabh Pant from the T20I side. I am a big fan of Rishabh but again I need to be objective about a player. Yes he is brilliant and yes he is very talented but lets look at his numbers just to stay little fair on the players picked. Pant has played 28 T20Is for India and has an average of 20 at a SR of 121. Not earth shattering numbers by any means. His IPL season this year so far has been mixed bag. He hasn’t been his belligerent best and has shown lack of form over the last year or so. Sanju Samson got a lot of criticism from experts for his lack of good FC scores but again we are talking about T20 games. Yes Sanju himself isn’t the most consistent or reliable but when Pant was given 28 games to prove himself, I feel we can at least give Samson 3 more games to show his mettle.

The other contentious spot in the squad was the selection of Varun Chakravarthy. Yes Varun is a reasonably unknown commodity and not many people rate him as a spinner. He has had a great season so far for KKR but again the argument is that there are better spinners available than Varun in India. Fair enough, the only other player who I thought could have been picked is Kuldeep Yadav as he has brilliant T20 numbers but again his bowling has been on the decline in LO formats over the last 18 months. Yes there is Ravi Bishnoi and Rahul Chahar but again I don’t see selection of a young spinner is that bad as it is made to be. It does seem like the selectors have picked him based on his IPL2020 performance but again that’s fine as both spinners I mentioned above is a future star and will be picked soon in the Indian XI. Yes Varun might not be the best spinner in India but again his selection isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. Krunal Pandya and Axar Patel compete directly with Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar. They both are bowling all-rounders and Varun has been picked as a specialist bowler. Sundar and Jadeja have been very good in shorter formats and their bowling this IPL has been brilliant as well. Jadeja especially has been batting brilliantly for CSK. So I don’t see any controversy in their selection.

The one player who even I though should have been in the T20I squad is Suryakumar Yadav. He has been brilliant in IPL for years and it is strange that he does not get picked for the national side. He once again proved last night how amazing he is in this format and I hope that the selectors give him a chance soon in both the LO format. He is a deserving player and should have been part of this squad to Australia.

This is just a 16 member squad and not everyone can get into the XI. There have been few people preferred over the other and while we can argue the merit of others who haven’t been picked, we cannot deny the talent of the people who are in the squad. The rest of the squad is on the expected lines except for the return of Shikhar Dhawan at the top and the addition of Mayank Agarwal in T20 after his brilliant season for KXIP this year so far.

Overall I feel that even though the T20I squad hasn’t impressed everyone, the selectors haven’t done a horrible job as it is made out to be. They have picked the best available players on merit and I don’t see this as a disaster. Everyone might feel someone someone else would have been a better choice in the squad but again that would be in the hindsight.

The T20I and Test squads were announced by BCCI yesterday and while majority of the personnel were as expected there are some interesting selections in both formats. The biggest controversy though is the absence of Rohit Sharma. Rohit who has been missing in the last few games for Mumbai Indians has been left out sparking some speculation regarding the seriousness of his injury. MI management posting that Rohit is back in the nets and is getting ready to play the rest of the games has created some confusion regarding the the star batsman’s current condition.

BCCI though have mentioned that they will monitor his status and will take a call regarding his inclusion. The rest of the squad though had some interesting choices. Varun Chakravarthy who has had a brilliant IPL for KKR has been chosen as the spinner in the T20I squad in place of Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep hasn’t been at his best in shorter format for over a year now and him not getting enough chances for his franchise also might have played a part. The T20 squad already has Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar. Hardik Pandya returns to the Indian squad after missing in action due to injury for a while. The rest of the pace attack for the shorter format remains on the expected lines with Navdeep Saini retaining his spot.

Mayank Agarwal gets a go in the T20 team after a stellar IPL2020 and Sanju Samson gets another chance ahead of Rishabh Pant as the lone wicketkeeper in the squad. While Rohit Sharma’s absence does leave a huge void in the squad Shikhar Dhawan returning to the top gives the team the much needed experience in the batting department. BCCI have gone with the performers from the ongoing IPL but again it will be interesting to see how they will perform in a tough Australian tour.

T20I Squad to Australia: Virat Kohli (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (VC & WK), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy

The ODI squad though is very similar to the T20 one. The biggest surprise though is KL Rahul being the lone wicket-keeper in the squad. Shubman Gill is back in the ODI squad and Mayank Agarwal retains his spot in the team. Prithvi Shaw who was part of the Indian ODI squad to New Zealand does not find a place this time and Kuldeep Yadav returns after being dropped from the T20 team. Shardul Thakur is back in the ODI team and this series also marks the return of Hardik Pandya in all three formats. Ravindra Jadeja retains his all-rounder spot and Yuzvendra Chahal is the other spinner in the ODI team. In the absence of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul doubles up as the deputy to Virat Kohli in the shorter formats on the tour to Australia.

India’s ODI squad to Australia:Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Shubman Gill, KL Rahul (vice-captain & wicket-keeper), Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Mayank Agarwal, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur

The Test team though has very less surprises. Rohit Sharma once again is absent from the squad which means that KL Rahul makes a come back as an opener. There is Pritvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal as well who mostly will be the first choice openers at the start. Shubman Gill also has been retained in the squad to provide another opening option. The spin department has the regular 3 spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. Ishant Sharma’s injury means Mohammad Siraj gets another opportunity in the Test team and Navdeep Saini retains his spot in the squad.

Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah round of a varied and good pace attack. India for sure will miss Ishant Sharma as he has been India’s best bowler over the last couple of years and has helped maintain pressure from one end consistently. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane retain their middle order spots along with Hanuma Vihari who might play based on the team composition. Hardik Pandya also makes a return as a pace bowling all-rounder after missing in action due to injury.

While there are some controversial selections in the T20 and ODI squads the Test team except for the absence of Rohit Sharma probably is the best they could have done. Mohammad Siraj who has been one of the best domestic bowlers for India over the last few years gets another deserved chance and I hope he gets to play in the XI. The Australian series is scheduled immediately after the IPL and the Indian team will be short of practice in the longer format. It will be interesting how the team cope with this new normal and against a team which will be very tough to beat at home.

Test Squad for Australia: Virat Kohli (c), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Mohd. Siraj

With 2 wins and 2 losses, Kolkata Knight Riders haven’t really had a poor start to the season. Except for Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians, most of the teams have been in the similar bracket. The biggest problem for KKR though has been their lack of clarity with the batting order. The last game against DC which they lost by 18 runs showed how far they were off in terms of their batting order.

For KKR right now the in form batters are Shubman Gill, Eoin Morgan and Nitish Rana. The fact that Eoin Morgan comes so late in the order after an awfully out of form captain Dinesh Karthik is way beyond comprehension. The experiment with Sunil Narine isn’t working either. KKR used Narine as an opener in India where he provided them with some good starts but again he isn’t doing much in this season for them. There needs to be a point when they need to go for more conventional batting order. Shubman Gill has been in good form but has been losing his partner way too early in every game.

Dinesh Karthik who has been in poor form can open and so could Rahul Tripati who batted at number 8 last game. Eoin Morgan needs to bat at number 4 or 5 for KKR. Him batting at 6 and coming in once the game is already beyond their reach does not make sense. Andre Russell has always been a floater in KKR order and he can continue to do so. The team management and the captain need to make sure they come up with a working batting order which will consistently give them runs. Probably opening the batting is what Dinesh Karthik needs as he hasn’t done anything down the order so far. Him opening means Nitish Rana can bat at number 3 followed by Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell and Rahul Tripati.

The above order actually makes more sense in terms of achieving more consistency in the run scoring. Rahul Tripati and Eoin Morgan scored 80 runs of just 34 balls in the game against DC, so using them so low down the order is criminal. KKR have a good team, but it does seems like they are rigid in their way of thinking and do not want to make changes which will help them to be more consistent in the tournament. Sunil Narine has done brilliantly for them at the start of the innings in the past but again this does not seem to be the season for him. It will be interesting to see if the team management will ring in the right changes in this all important game against a rejuvenated Chennai Super Kings.

My batting order:

Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripati, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik (WK & Capt), Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Pat Cummins, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Varun Chakravarthy

Just about a year or so ago, Jasprit Bumrah was bowling like a dream in all formats of the game. The thing which has always been unique about Bumrah is his control in all formats and the way he adapts to different formats easily unlike few other bowlers around the world. He had a brilliant tour to South Africa followed by another brilliant one in England and Australia. All this culminated into that dream series against West Indies where he absolutely demolished the hosts in the 2 Tests he played. He was swinging the ball both ways and caught the host batters napping in both the Tests.

Right after the series the stress fracture happened. The fracture was minor and luckily did not involve surgery. He had a break for few months and was back for the series against Australia in January of 2020. Bumrah struggled in that series for rhythm. He not only was expensive but was also unable to take wickets. While that series may be attributed to him being rusty for missing in action for few months the following series in New Zealand followed similar pattern.

He struggled in the first couple of T20Is but did pull it back with some good spells later in the series. The following ODI series was disastrous for India and Bumrah as the latter struggled for control and wickets once again. Even in the Test series which followed Bumrah’s lack of wickets was one of the reasons India struggled against New Zealand batting. Bumrah finished with 6 wickets at an average of 31 which was below par for his standards. Even though there hasn’t been much cricket played this year due to COVID19, it has been probably the worst year for Bumrah in terms of returns.

In 6 ODIs he played this year he averaged 287 with just 1 wicket. In T20Is he did well with 8 wickets at 20 but in Tests he took 6 wickets in 4 inning for 32. While IPL isn’t the standard we normally would want to measure a player, Bumrah has been a stalwart in this tournament and his start to the season further proves that he is still struggling for rhythm. He has gone for runs in all games he has played and has struggled to bowl yorkers like he used to do before the injury.

His lengths has been all over the place and the way he fed short deliveries to AB De Villiers to be hit for sixes is something you don’t see with Bumrah ever. India tour Australia later this year and Bumrah is a crucial bowler for for the former if they want to repeat their 2018 success. The only reason India won in 2018 was because of the sustained pressure created by the pace bowlers. Bumrah was brilliant in that series bowling at high pace and accuracy. This year Australia will be stronger with the return of Steven Smith and David Warner and the Indian pace attack will have their task cut out.

Ishant Sharma has just returned from an injury and Jasprit Bumrah is still searching for his rhythm. Mohammad Shami has been the only Indian pacer who has looked in fine form in this IPL. Jasprit Bumrah is once in a generation talent and is a bowler who will be winning India lots of games in the future but again the team management should make sure he is in the right headspace. He is being captained by Rohit Sharma and I hope he and MI camp are doing everything to get his confidence back. As an Indian fan I will be watching all the games MI play just to see Bumrah’s bowling as I know that his form is crucial for India in the Test championship and also for the T20 WC next year.

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.

Faf du Plessis returns as South Africa take on a very difficult assignment against a team who are chasing 11 consecutive home series win. South Africa’s last visit to India did not go well and their 3-0 loss was one of their worst performances in subcontinent conditions and possibly left many of their young players pretty scarred. The chief destroyers from the series Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be back in action for the Indian team and the pitches this time as well will be aiding spinners.

The South African team though will rely a lot on the batting of captain Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock. The rest of the batting though except for Aiden Markham are inexperienced in these conditions and will be hoping for lots of help from the experienced heads. The bowling attack will have the talented Keshav Maharaj and the fantastic Kagiso Rabada leading the attack. Vernon Philander is back to take the new ball giving South Africa a pretty well rounded bowling attack for the conditions.

For India though the opening combination is still an issue. Rohit Sharma will be taking up that mantle this time along with Mayank Agarwal. The middle order though has a settled look with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. Hanuma Vihari who had a great West Indian tour will take the number 6 slot in the batting order. Rishabh Pant has been dropped owing to his poor performances in Tests recently which means Wriddhiman Saha makes a comeback to the Test side. Jasprit Bumrah’s stress fracture means that Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami will be the two lone Pacers in the XI. Jadeja and Ashwin as the spin bowling all rounders will complete the Indian bowling attack for the first Test.

Key Players:

Cheteshwar Pujara (India): Pujara was instrumental in India achieving the historic series win in Australia earlier this year. Even though he had a poor series in West Indies, his credentials as a very good player of spin makes him very important in home conditions. He averages 62 at home with more than 3000 runs and he once again will be crucial for India in this series.

Ravichandran Ashwin (India): Closing in on 350 Test wickets Ashwin will be back to being the lead spinner in home conditions. His record at home is exceptional with 234 wickets at 22.68 and he will once again be key for India on pitches which will for sure be helping spin.

Faf du Plessis (South Africa): In an inexperienced batting line up Faf will hold the key for South Africa’s chances. He has been on multiple tours to India and has most experience playing in these conditions and him having a good series will be crucial for his side on this tough tour.

Keshav Maharaj (South Africa): Maharaj was brilliant in Sri Lanka and bowled his heart out on yet another subcontinent loss for his side. He would want to bring all that experience onto this series to help his side against a very strong home batting line up. It will not be easy but Maharaj is extremely talented and will be leading the South African spin attack this series.

Probable XIs:

India XI: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami

South Africa XI: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi

What they said?

“I think the most amount of credit has to go to the team, because we, we lay down a vision in 2015, that, you know, we’re going to be flexible [with our combination]. We were going to choose sides according to the conditions that we’re playing in. Because we want results, we want to be successful as a team, and we want to be at the top of the world. So if the team hadn’t bought into it, then it becomes a little difficult for guys who started don’t start to, you know, play with the kind of intent that you played with.” Said captain Virat Kohli about the success of his team over the last few years

“If you look at our squad, there’s a hell lot of new faces from the last time. It could work in our favour in terms of the brand of cricket and positivity. Yes it may not go our way but we are here to compete. We are not going to lie down and back down with the sort of old woes from the last tour. And who knows, it could be our time, in the next three Test matches, to shock some people.” Said Keshav Maharaj ahead of the first Test

This will be South Africa’s start of the Test championship and they will be hoping to make a good start to their campaign. India who have already been to a flying start with 120 points would want to build on it and start of the home season with a bang. Even though the visitors are expected to give a better account of themselves this time around, the hosts are overwhelming favourites to win this series and it will be hard to bet against that result.

Afghanistan are the newbies of Test cricket. They were given Test status along with Ireland just over a year ago but the strides they have made so far has been amazing. They had a horror start against India who are the best side in the world but the team under Rashid Khan have showed that they are quick learners. They beat Ireland in their only second game and now they have taken a giant leap by beating Bangladesh away from home.

This is a huge achievement considering how difficult Bangladesh has been for touring sides over the years. Captain Rashid Khan led from the front with an amazing display of bowling taking 11 wickets in the game. The batting was held together by Asghar Afghan who scored fifties in both innings. The batters showed lots of application contrary to their display against India where they looked lost. The batting had purpose and on a wicket aiding spin they showed great skill and temperament.

The same cannot be said of the host batters. Bangladesh showed no application or patience on a wicket which required a loads of them. The Bangladesh batters seemed in a hurry against an attack which was tailor made for the condition on offer. The pitch was probably godsend for Afghanistan as they have world class spinners in their ranks. The visitors made full use of thr conditions and bowled Bangladesh out in the both the innings to seal a comfortable 224 run victory in the end.

The result looked little difficult to achieve, not because of the Bangladesh batters but because of the weather which almost threatened to wash out the final day but thankfully for Afghanistan they got enough overs to achieve another historic win. They have now 2 wins in 3 Tests which is a great achievement for a budding Test nation. They will for sure face tougher challenges in the future but again they have shown an ability to adapt and learn. This win also was a great send off for the iconic Mohammad Nabi who decided to hang his boots in this format.

For Bangladesh though this is a huge step down. They had a good hold on the home Tests for the last few years and by this defeat their vulnerability in familiar conditions showed as well. The strategy of going for a spin track with all spinners in their XI, fully knowing that the opposition has world class spinners was a poor one. Their batters who have lots of experience in this format once again showed lack of discipline and will to fight it out when things got tough. The Bangladesh camp will want to take a hard look at themselves as this is not the first time their batters have thrown it away when things aren’t going their way.

For Afghanistan though this is a huge boost and something which will help other teams take notice. They deserve to get many more chances and this team under Rashid Khan looks like they will learn and improve fast.

Scores:

Afghanistan 342 (Rahmat Shah 102, Taijul 4/116) & 260 (Ibrahim Zadran 87, Shakib 3/58) beat Bangladesh 205 (Mominul 52, Rashid Khan 5/55) & 173 (Shakib 44, Rashid Khan 6/49) by 224 runs


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