Category Archives: Tests

Playing County cricket will be good for Ajinkya Rahane

 

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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.

Are Indian pacers ready to take the lead?

India have had a stellar last couple of years: the team has won eight consecutive Test series under skipper Virat Kohli, which has catapulted them to world number one in the ICC rankings.

But even though the Indian team has done wonderfully well over the last couple of years, everyone knows that their real test will begin later this year when they embark upon another round of overseas tours.

The young Indian team without experience went through a similar cycle from 2013 to 2015 without much success. Even though the team did not win many games, the core of the present team was formed during those tours. The team since their 2015 tour of Sri Lanka has gone from strength to strength and has now finished their run with a crushing 3-0 away win against Sri Lanka.

To read the full article, click here.

Will Afghanistan and Ireland get enough competitive games?

The ICC has announced that Afghanistan and Ireland are now full member nations, which means that they now get Test status.

It is exciting and wonderful news for the hard working cricketers from both the nations who probably dreamt of this day since they started playing cricket.

Even though this is a great news, it also brings about the question if these two nations will be able to get enough competitive games.

The team before these two countries to get Test status was Bangladesh. Bangladesh for a long time struggled to get opportunities to play against the top nations especially away from home.

Bangladesh in their young 17-year career have played just 47 tests away from home, and the majority of their games have been against Sri Lanka against who they have been able to play regularly over the last 17 years.

They only played their first test in India just recently after 17 years of being granted the Test status. They have never played Pakistan in UAE and haven’t toured Australia since 2003.

Out of the 47 Tests 32 have come against four nations which are Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and Zimbabwe. The rest of the five teams in total have invited Bangladesh only for a grand total of 15 games in 17 years. That does not even equate to even one Test a year.

This is something which the ICC has to guard against. Bangladesh still does not get enough games against the top 5 nations. They haven’t played a game in England since 2010 and in South Africa since 2008. Those are pretty shocking numbers to be honest. When the world is calling Bangladesh a mediocre team in Tests, the stats above tells us why.

Both these teams would be incredibly excited at the prospect of competing against the top nations and it would be a disappointment if they have to resort to just playing with each other all the time.

The individual cricketing boards also have a part to play in this induction. Countries like India, England, Pakistan and Australia need to try and squeeze in series against these two teams regularly, even it is just for a game or two.

I understand that initially there might be lots of one sided games but they will improve with time and with enough opportunities against top teams.

The addition of Bangladesh and now Afghanistan and Ireland is wonderful for cricket in general and sends out a great message for other associate nations.

The rapid strides that Afghanistan has taken will give great confidence to other associate nations to take their cricket seriously.

This is a great day for cricket but again steps have to be taken that these teams are engaged effectively to keep the interest alive in their respective countries.

Hopefully the ICC and the rest of the countries realise that and do their part in development of cricket in these two countries.

Welcome Afghanistan and Ireland, and I hope you have a wonderful time playing Test cricket.

Read my original article at The Roar

Years later, the ‘Gilly’ effect is still being felt

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

What is the role of a cricket coach?

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

India’s home season

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

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

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

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

Criticizing a young team is not fair

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.