My Thoughts

Archive for the ‘test cricket’ Category

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.

India has been traditionally been a poor traveling team. The team has hardly won overseas even with some legends in the team in the past. India has only won 40 tests overseas out of 247 games with a W/L ratio of 0.377. India’s overseas record post Ganguly era is impressive. India has won 27 tests overseas since November 10, 2000 (The first time Ganguly captained in tests) out of 91 tests since that period. The W/L ratio since that period is very respectable 0.75. So if we take that period out we have 13 test wins overseas in 156 games at a W/L ratio of 0.185 which is extremely poor record.

The Ganguly era basically made the overall test record slightly better than the horrible record we had prior to that. It is not like the India had a poor test team  before that. India lost all those tests with legends in the team like Sunil Gavaskar, Bedi, Prasanna, Kapil Dev, GR Vishwanath, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Amarnath, Venkatraghavan, Mohd Azharuddin etc. The Indian team was mentally weak and was not able to turn good performances into wins overseas and was mostly blow away by the opposition. Now all the experts from the past are expecting this young team who are nowhere near the capability of the teams of the past to suddenly start hammering teams overseas.

Let us look at the current Indian team. Except for Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli, the rest of the batting order is still up for debate. The bowling has been extremely inconsistent with a young brigade led by very inconsistent Ishant Sharma. The spin attack hasn’t played too much overseas (Ashwin has played a grand total of 9 tests outside Asia). The attack on Kohli and this young team by past players and media for not winning overseas seems little over the top. I agree that the fans want Indian team to win overseas and compete but again we need to give this team a chance. Almost all the players played their first games overseas in 2013-14 and gave a decent account of themselves, much better than some legends did in the past.

Sourav Ganguly started kind of a golden era of Indian cricket but again he had much better team at his disposal. Sourav and Virat are similar captains, both are aggressive in your face leaders but Virat Kohli is developing a core while Sourav already had a core available to him. The task for Sourav was to channelize and guide a group of legends to perform as a team and start winning games overseas but the task for Kohli is much tougher. He does not have legends in his team but has few good players who are still finding their feet at this level. He does not have a batting line up consisting of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. He does not have a bowling attack of Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath, and Anil Kumble at his disposal to turn this around immediately. So the media and experts need to be patient with this young team.

There is no reason to crucify this team now. They have just started to gel and perform. They just won a test series in Sri Lanka which even the best of Indian teams were not able to do for 22 years. Sourav Ganguly had a bunch of players who were experienced and were playing in the team for 10-13 years. Srinath, Kumble and Sachin were playing for a long time and except for Sehwag the rest of the team at least was 5 years behind them. So let us not hammer this team now. The ex-players should understand this better than anyone. I can agree if the media is doing this as they like to sensationalize things but the former players who have played at the highest level should know better.

I can understand the frustration of Virat Kohli and he is completely justified to feel aggrieved. The Indian teams of the past won home games like how Virat and his team is doing now and except for post Ganguly era performed worse than the current team outside home. Expecting a bunch of players who hardly have any experience to suddenly turn that horrible overseas record overnight is ridiculous. I hope that we support this young team and back them and give them some time to figure themselves out and I am sure we will see the results getting better when they travel overseas again. This is a young team with a young leader after legends exited the game. We can see how badly South Africa and Australia played in the sub-continent after their legends left the game so give these players some time and encourage them. No need to throw your own players under the bus for winning home games the same way the teams of the past won their games at home.

South Africa has been the best traveling team over the past decade or so. They had hardly shown any weakness over the years irrespective of the surface they play on. The South African team of the past had stalwarts like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher who were wonderful players. This team though lacked the experience and class of the SA teams of the past. It was always clear when the series began that it will be a battle between the Indian spinners and the SA batsmen. This time though the visitors fell well short and got hammered 3-0. For Indian team and Kohli though this was their second consecutive test series win and a step in the right direction.

So let us look at the good and the bad from the series as far as the Indian team is concerned.

The Good:

Ravichandran Ashwin (Matches – 4, Wickets – 31, Ave – 11.12, 5 wickets – 4):

When we are talking about the series we cannot look past Ravichandran Ashwin. He has been phenomenal for the team this year and once again was the highest wicket taker for India. He bowled beautifully and troubled the SA batsmen throughout the test series. He picked up 31 wickets at a ridiculous average of 11.12 and overall has a record of 176 wickets in 32 games. He has had an amazing run in Indian colors and within a short period of time has become India’s spearhead. Kohli and the Indian team would be hoping that he continues to do well for India in all formats.

Ravindra Jadeja (Matches – 4, Wickets – 23, Average – 10.82, 5 wickets – 2):

When the series began everyone knew that the all-rounder spot was the most crucial part of the X1. Virat Kohli’s 5 bowler theory meant that he needed someone who not only could bowl well but also contribute with the bat. Jadeja did that brilliantly throughout the series. His bowling was outstanding and his batting was decent enough. He made few crucial contributions later in the order to help India to decent totals. This biggest asset of Ravi Jadeja is his accuracy, he hardly gives anything away. Especially on pitches which help the spinners it is almost impossible to score of him. His economy rate of 1.76 is an able testimony to his accuracy and when you add 23 wickets at an average of 10.82, it becomes a deadly combination.

Ajinkya Rahane (Matches – 4, Runs – 266, Ave – 53.2, Hundreds – 2)

Ajinkya Rahane was the star of the Indian batting this series. He was the highest run getter in the series overall and was the only batsmen to score hundreds in this series. Rahane along with Kohli and Vijay was India’s mainstay during the overseas tours last couple of years but for some reason he never found his range in India. This series has hopefully changed that trend. Rahane was brilliant in Delhi where he batted amazingly well in both the innings to notch up back to back hundreds. He ended up with most runs with an amazing average of 53.2.

Virat Kohli (Captain) (Matches – 4, Runs -200, Average – 33.86, Hundreds – 0)

Virat Kohli as a batsman alone had an okay series even though he ended up as 4th highest run getter for India in the series. Virat as a captain though he had an outstanding series. The way he marshaled his resources on the field was very commendable. The way he kept attacking, his bowling changes, his field placements were all brilliant. He has had a dream start to his test captaincy. Even in Australia, even though we did not win, his captaincy was good. His conviction on using 5 bowlers at all cost is also helping India to be more attacking and have more options. He now has a weight of expectation on his shoulders and when India tour again, everyone would expect them to do better than what they did last year.

Murali Vijay (Matches – 4, Runs – 210, Average – 35, Hundreds 0)

Murali Vijay once again was India’s pillar at the top of the order. He started of brilliantly with crucial contributions in both the innings of the first test. He did go off the boil a bit at the end of the series but his contributions in the first couple of tests cannot be taken lightly. He once again proved that he is one of the linchpins of India batting and had a decent series as the opener under some touch conditions.

Honorable Mention – Cheteshwar Pujara.

The Bad:

Indian Batting Overall:

Even though there were some bright spots in the Indian batting department overall there were too many cracks. The Indian batting struggled and often collapsed from good positions to let SA back into the game. This was noticed in the Sri Lankan series too. India needs to look at a reliable opening partner for Vijay. Dhawan had a very poor series with the bat but probably deserves one more series before we look for a replacement. Rohit Sharma was disappointing with the bat again. He hasn’t been consistent in this format and the management must be running out of patience with him. Finally Wridhiman Saha who has a wicket keeper is brilliant but as a number 6 batsman he falls short. India needs to rethink the 5 bowler strategy if we have Saha as the keeper. Even though he looks good enough to make some useful contributions down the order but does not look like someone who would make big scores. Number 6 looks little high of a position for him in the batting order. He would be a good number 7 if we are playing 6 batsmen. Something for the Indian camp to think about before their next tour which is not for a while.

The use of Pacers:

Even though Virat Kohli has a lot of faith on his fast men, they hardly bowled in the 4 test series. Let us just look at the number of overs each pacer bowled. Ishant bowled 62 overs in 5 innings in this series which amounts to 12 overs per innings. Yadav bowled 42 overs in 4 innings which amounts to an average of 10 overs per innings. Aaron bowled 20 overs in 3 innings which amounts to roughly 7 overs an innings. These are poor numbers. The bowlers did well in the limited opportunities they got. I understand that the pitches were not conducive to fast bowling but again to underuse fast bowlers so much is not going to be good in the long run. In the 90’s India did something similar where the pacemen were just in the team to bowl with the new ball and then disappear for hours before they are brought back to give the spinners some break. We surely don’t want to go back to that era. Javagal Srinath mentioned in his recent interview how that strategy was detrimental to India’s performance overseas while winning in India was easier.

So overall it was a good series and a win against the number 1 side in the world will be sweet for the young team. They now have a long break from this format and few things to ponder over before they play test cricket sometime in 2016. Till then it has been a decent year for the Indian test team. Winning a series in Sri Lanka after 22 years and beating the number 1 side in the world should cap off a good year for Virat Kohli as the test captain.

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.

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 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.

Zaheer Khan did excellently well as a mentor for young bowlers in the Delhi Daredevils team this season.

Zaheer Khan did excellently well as a mentor for young bowlers in the Delhi Daredevils team this season.

Rahul Dravid has been recently announced as the coach for the Indian A teams and the U-19 teams. This is great news for the Indian cricket fans as Rahul Dravid is an international great and has been often mentioned as a great mentor for young cricket players. Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson have spoken highly about Rahul during his time as Rajasthan Royals captain. Dravid also has great eye for talent as he has spotted players like Rahane, Lokesh Rahul and Samson as future international prospects way before they were picked for India.

This is indeed as great move by BCCI after Rahul declined to be part of the advisory board which BCCI announced recently comprising of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. The only negative I see about all this is that there has been no bowler in sight in any of these panels. The Indian team as we all know has always struggled with the bowling and batting has never been a huge concern in the long run. India always churns out good batsmen and the advisory board consisting of only batting greats is disturbing. It would have been great if BCCI had requested Javagal Srinath or Zaheer Khan to be part of the U-19 and Indian coaching team to mentor the young bowlers.

Even though Zaheer hasn’t technically retired, it was seen that he was able to mentor young bowlers effectively in the IPL and looked like someone who could work with the U-19 bowlers and pass on some valuable tips. Zaheer and Srinath have been the best pace bowlers for Indian over the last 20 years and it will be great if the BCCI could use their expertise effectively. The advisory panel for the Indian team too needs a bowling component. If BCCI cannot find an Indian bowler to join the coaching or the advisory panel they should try and get an overseas coach. If India needs to become a force at the international level they need a good bowling unit.

The current crop needs guidance and help which will be paramount for their development. Young bowlers like Sandeep Sharma need the required support and advice before they make the transition to the national side. The Indian bowlers like Mohd Shami, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron need to be groomed and be taken care. The BCCI has always ignored development of the bowlers and it is the same with the current advisory board. Even though this is a welcome change and a good initiative, it can be better.

I hope that new advisory board recommends such initiatives for the bowlers. Rahul Dravid is a smart individual and I hope that he includes a good bowling coach/mentor for the u-19 and India A teams. The bowlers need to be developed at the grass roots level and need good guidance from someone who understands fast bowling. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly can be great asset to the coaching staff but again I would have loved to see a bowling component to the team. BCCI should work with the greats and come up with a plan to help the bowlers. If India does not take care of the current crop we will once again end up losing these great talents and end up looking for new brigade as we have been doing over the last 15 years. Hope some sense prevails and we see some development towards this in the coming months.

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

The first time I saw Rohit bat was in the game between India and South Africa at Durban. The setting was inaugural World T20 and this was an important game for India on a fast bouncy pitch. India was reeling at 61/4 in 10 overs. A young Rohit Sharma batting with enormous composure for a young player stitched a match winning partnership with the captain to get India to a competitive 153. India won the match and went on to win the World Cup. Few months later in a similar setting but on a less menacing pitch, India was facing Australia in the CB series finals. Chasing a modest 240 to win, India found themselves in a bit of bother at 87/3 when Rohit walked in and joined Sachin Tendulkar. Again Rohit batted brilliantly to score 66 in a 100+ partnership with the little master to win the game for India.

So it is understandable that everyone thought that Rohit is going to be the mainstay of Indian middle order for years to come. The hype surrounding Rohit wasn’t misplaced either as he was an extremely talented youngster when he made his debut for India. It is very hard to imagine that it is the same Rohit Sharma who plays cricket for India currently. The Rohit Sharma who plays currently looks fidgety all the time at the crease. He looks sublime when he is batting and then plays an ugly slog to lose his wicket from nowhere. Rohit Sharma’s issues are not technical but temperamental. He is highly successful on Indian pitches as his lapse in concentration is less likely to cost him his wicket but when he plays abroad where the ball does a little bit he is more likely to lose his wicket.

In the 90’s a wiry young bowler made his debut. It was none other than Ajit Agarkar. Ajit rose to instant fame and was the fastest bowler in the world to reach 50 ODI wickets. He even won few games with the bat in his first year of international cricket. When we thought that India have finally unearthed a good bowler, his career never took off to the next level. Don’t get me wrong in spite of all the ridicule Ajit gets for his performances he is one India’s best ODI pacers. He has close to 300 ODI wickets at an impressive average and strike rate. Rohit Sharma is a bigger enigma than Ajit ever was.

Rohit Sharma’s career is taking similar route to Ajit Agarkar and needs to sort it out before it is too late to do anything. He needs a break from international cricket. He needs to spend lots of time playing in domestic cricket or possibly county cricket if he gets a chance. Playing in county cricket might be very beneficial for him. He will benefit from being away from international cricket and just concentrate on scoring lots of runs. Put his head down and work on his temperament and just score loads of runs which will again put him back in the right frame of mind for test cricket. Rohit is extremely talented and there is no two ways about it. There is hardly any player who makes batting look so simple like he does when in full flow.

He is still very young and has lots of time on his side. If he works on his chinks, he can come back to the team and serve Indian cricket for a long time. I hope that he does that and fulfills the potential which we noticed when he made his debut in 2007. He is still a good player but we all know that he can be better. A middle order of Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Rohit will be a fantastic lineup which can pile up loads of runs in the future.

The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.

The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.

As the old adage in cricket goes “catches win matches” and obviously that holds true for all formats of the game. Catching has been a big problem for this young Indian side. There was a time when Indian slip cordon consisted of the Dravid and Laxman with Sehwag, Sachin ET all making up the other slip. The catching was brilliant and it was the main reason for India to climb in the rankings. Yes there were few drops here and there but mostly all catches were taken.

It was not only the slip catching but overall the Indian fielders were good in taking catches. The one criticism that Indian team had then was that their ground fielding was really poor. Now with the current team India faces quite the opposite problem. The Indian ground fielding is one of the best but the catching overall has been very poor. Over the last few months the Indian fielders have dropped some crucial catches which has changed the course of the game. The slip catching has been tentative and the overall catching has been casual. Statistics say that India has tried as much as 5 fielders in the first slip in the last 19 tests and as much as 8 catches have been dropped in the slips by India in the last 7 tests. This is a very revealing stat and something which has been completely ignored while blaming our bowling.

The Indian bowlers aren’t world beaters and they require all the assistance they can get from the fielders. The drop chances have really hurt India and their chance to win few games. The Wellington test comes to mind immediately, the drop chances of Williamson and McCullum cost India the test which they were well on the way to win. In the first test at Lord’s Rahane dropped Robson but luckily for him the batsman did not make most of that chance. India let a chance slip of Gary Ballance in the first innings and he went on to score a hundred. Alastair Cook was dropped in the first innings of the 3rd test which allowed him to get of the wretched form he had been under to post a career saving 95. The captain Dhoni himself hasn’t been a safe catcher himself in the recent times.

Young players like Jadeja, Rahane and Kohli have been pretty bad and have dropped some crucial takes over the last few months. Virat Kohli has been the biggest offender among the young brigade. His casual attempt at nabbing Brendon McCullum’s feeble drive at short mid-on in the second test cost India dearly. Jadeja has dropped couple of crucial ones. Dhawan has been a reluctant first slipper and has hardly shown intent to go after difficult takes. Rahane has dropped a few in the slips.

This has been a disturbing trend for the young Indian team. The young players who have been brilliant in saving runs and effecting run outs have been poor catchers in the slips as well as in the outfield. This problem has not only been in tests but also has been in the ODI’s and T20 games. India needs to arrest this problem fast if they have to compete at the highest level. Good players will always make you pay if you give them a second chance. India has found that out in the recent times to a devastating effect. The team needs reliable slip fielders and the outfield catching needs to be sorted out too.

India has two more tests after the current one at the Rose Bowl in this series and then they travel to Australia later this year. India needs to take all their chances to compete in these games. Top teams will make you pay if you drop catches. The coach and captain need to find a way to get through to these young players and figure out what is going wrong with the catching. If they do not arrest this trend soon, India will be finding themselves chasing the leather most often than not and the only ones to suffer will be the bowlers.


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