Selection headaches for India ahead of first Champions Trophy game

India have had a great start to their Champions trophy campaign. They won both their warm-up games with ease and they would be particularly pleased with the way the pace attack has performed.

The batting, however, was a mixed bag. India came into the tournament with an idea of who they would like to play in the XI, but after the warm-up games things have become little muddled.

Shikhar Dhawan has done enough to book his place in the XI, opening the batting with Rohit Sharma. Virat Kohli showed glimpses of him returning form against New Zealand – even though the innings was really scratchy, he would have appreciated the time spent in the middle. MS Dhoni’s position in the team is not in question as he batted reasonably well in the one game he played and kept wickets brilliantly.

Ajinkya Rahane’s twin failure means that he will not feature in the XI for the first game against Pakistan. But now comes the interesting part: India played Dinesh Karthik in both their warm-up games and Yuvraj did not bat in either. Dinesh Karthik scored a brilliant 94 in the Game 2 against Bangladesh and Virat Kohli hinted in the post-match conversation that he would like to give Karthik a longer run in the team.

The position of Yuvraj Singh remains unclear, however. Is Yuvraj not fully fit? If that is the case, his selection was a blunder by the selection committee. Kedar Jadhav played pretty well for his 30-odd against Bangladesh and so did Hardik Pandya, so it will be interesting to see which way the management will go in terms of the batting.

The selection of the bowling attack isn’t that simple either. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has done extremely well in both the games and for sure will take the new ball. Shami and Yadav both have done well in the chances they received, but I am not sure the team has a place for both of them. It will be a toss-up between Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav. Jasprit Bumrah will for sure play as the third seamer as he has been India’s best bowler in the shorter formats over the past year.

Complete Article at The Roar.

Ravichandran Ashwin – Overseas Blues?

Ravichandran Ashwin

Ravichandran Ashwin is India’s premier spinner and needs to be backed.

Ravichandran Ashwin has played a grand total of 5 tests overseas, 4 of them in the “Subcontinent” spin bowler’s graveyard Australia. Many greats from the subcontinent in the past have struggled to pick up wickets in Australia. Anil Kumble first visited Australia during India’s 1999/00 series when he had already played around 7 -8 years of International cricket. He picked up 5 wickets in 3 tests at an average of 90 and SR of 175.

Mastering the overseas pitches hasn’t been easy for subcontinent spinners especially Indian spinners over the last couple of decades. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are the two major spinners who played for India during that time and both of them struggled overseas. Anil Kumble was never effective overseas until the 2000’s after almost a decade of international cricket. Harbhajan Singh except for few games here and there never mastered the art of bowling on overseas pitches. So why are we expecting Ashwin to be great before he has even played 10 tests overseas?

India isn’t in the Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkat and Prasanna era anymore, those days are long gone. Ravichandran Ashwin’s career is similar to how Anil Kumble or Harbhajan started their careers with team India. They were Match winners at home but ineffective overseas. Anil is an Indian legend and you don’t pick up 600+ wickets without being one but even his craziest of fans would accept that his performance in the 90’s overseas was largely underwhelming. The Indian spinners have struggled to master the right length to bowl on pitches in Australia, England and South Africa especially.

The Indian spinners are used to bowling on Indian pitches which assist them a lot. They don’t have to bowl too full on Indian pitches as bowling short of a length is more than enough as the bounce and turn on Indian pitches will take care of the rest. The reason why most of the overseas spinners struggle in India too is because they bowl too full. The Indian spinners when they go to Australia or England struggle to find the right length. They bowl the same short of the length which they bowl in India and it becomes too short on those pitches as there is no help for them. Batsmen easily pick them off of the back foot. If you look at Anil Kumble’s footage from the 90’s in Australia you will get the gist.

As a good spinner you are supposed to adapt but again you need time. Spin bowling is a difficult art, especially in conditions which isn’t helpful. You need to be able to adjust your line and length according to the pitches you play on. Also spinners mature later than the fast men. It took 10 years for Anil to find the right way to bowl overseas. Once he figured that out he started winning games for India overseas.

I am not saying give Ashwin 10 years to learn the trade but don’t discard him just after 5 tests. He can be an incredible asset for the Indian test team. He bats very well and averages almost 40 with the bat and is a good slip fielder. The Indian team needs to give him confidence and allow him to mature a little bit overseas. Unless he bowls on such wickets he is not going to learn. Anil Kumble got the chance to learn and we should not deny Ashwin of the same. We know Ashwin can pick up wickets; he just needs to know how to do it consistently overseas. It is unfair for the critics to expect magic from him when our last two major spinners had the same trouble overseas.

Ashwin has the talent and that needs backing. He has been brilliant in home conditions and now needs to translate that success to overseas games. He will do that and needs to be persisted with. I hope that the think tank play him on this tour as he would add amazing value to the team and if there is even a little help in the pitch he is bound to provide you with better attacking option.

Can England overcome the Indian spin challenge?

1984/85 was the last time an English team won a test series on Indian soil. It has been a long wait and in that time India had developed into a dominant force at home. India have lost only one series at home in the last decade. But this time though the hosts are the most vulnerable. The Indian team has just lost great players in the middle order and is trying to find the ideal replacements. The bowling too is going through a transitional phase.

The time when Anil Kumble used to torment the visiting teams on turning surfaces are long gone and India are playing with two young spinners who are trying to make a mark. Ravichandran Ashwin has had a great beginning to his career and in partnership with Pragyan Ojha has done a great job in the home tests. The spin partnership will obviously be tested to the fullest against a tough English team. With all due respect to New Zealand and West Indies who toured earlier, this is probably the toughest batting line up to which the Indian spinners would bowl to.

The Indian team will be hoping that their openers fire. The middle order of Kohli, Sachin and Yuvraj will be the key against the English spinners. India will also hope to have a fit Zaheer throughout the series.

The English team too has their fair share of worries. They will be thrilled to have Kevin Pieterson back in the team to bolster the middle order. The English batting line up has struggled to play in the subcontinent on turning surfaces. Even though the Indian spinners are not in the same class as Ajmal, they would be surely a handful on the subcontinent wickets. The English team has a lot to prove and a win in India will surely be a huge step.

The English batting will rely on Cook, Trott and Pieterson to put up big totals and Swann to lead the bowling attack. England will know that batting well in India is extremely important and under these conditions countering the Indian spin attack will be a challenge.

This test series will be extremely important to both teams. This is a start of a tough home season for India and they would want to start that with a convincing win. The English team after faltering in Dubai and Sri Lanka would want to prove that they can play well in the subcontinent conditions. There is no doubt that this series will be decided as who wins the battle between the Indian spinners and the English batsman.

The series takes off tomorrow and the fans would be hoping for a tight contest. The Indian team will want to win this convincingly and the English team will want to deny the hosts the same. Let the games begin!!

IPL 2011 Auction– Sourav’s Snub and Kumble’s wise decision

The IPL “Tamasha” auction just concluded last weekend and the biggest surprise of all was non inclusion of Sourav Ganguly. Sourav was one of the high profile players who found no takers at the auction. West Indians Brian Lara and Chris Gayle were the others to not find any bidders. Sourav who was an icon player for his home side Kolkata Knightriders for the first three seasons was not retained by his franchise. He entered this year’s auction with a base price of $400,000.

The biggest surprise was the lack of interest in one of the greatest captain’s of the Indian team. He did not have a bad IPL III either. Kolkata who did not retain him also did not make an attempt to get him back in the auction. I would say that it would have been a very bitter pill to swallow for Sourav and I don’t think he deserves such treatment. There have been lots of money shed over few players who I feel have been extremely lucky as some of them haven’t played any form of cricket for a long time.

Sourav’s snub should rank as one of the worst in the IPL till date. Being one the greatest players for the Indian team he deserved better and I hope that he gracefully exits the IPL scene. I do not want him to accept any sort of coaching opportunities presented by Kolkata owners as the damage has already been done.

Rahul Dravid and Laxman who also weren’t retained by their respective franchises were extremely lucky to have been picked up by the Rajasthan Royals and Kochi respectively. . Anil Kumble though made the wisest of choices as he decided to pull himself out of the auction at the last moment. He might have had to play for a different state team which probably he might not have wanted or he probably thought that he might also be snubbed in this auction so wanted to stay ahead of the game. Not exactly sure what the reason behind his decision was but it was a brilliant one. He has been made as the “Chief Mentor” for his former franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore.

With most of the teams already settled, it’s sad to see that Sourav Ganguly had to bow out this way as a player from the IPL. I am not sure if he would continue playing domestic cricket either. For all the laurels he had brought to the team India, he for sure needed a better send off. The Kolkata team owner Shahrukh Khan in an attempt to pacify the angry Sourav fans offered him a management position but I am not sure if Dada would be interested in the same. The damage has been already done and a severe blow has been dealt, so accepting a coaching role would only add insult to injury.

Series gone wrong for the home team

The second test between India and New Zealand just concluded at Hyderabad earlier this week and it was another boring draw. India, who were expected to roll New Zealand over considering the huge difference in the rankings have found this series pretty hard till now. With two draws in two games, the kiwis will be swelling with pride as none of the teams baring South Africa have gone away from India with a drawn series in recent times. The major problem for the home team has been the pitches and the lack of bite in the bowling department.

India has always been a tough place to tour for the western teams but in recent times with pitches getting flatter, teams have started to adapt much better. New Zealand has always done well in India as their previous tour was also a drawn series. Did the Indian team expect an easy series? Probably yes. Even though all the Indian players came in the media and claimed that they were not taking the Kiwis lightly, I am sure in their minds they thought it was going to be a piece of cake. The intensity was missing and the players seemed to go through the motions. It was just couple of brilliant innings from Harbajan which has helped India from trailing in this series.

So two draws in two games, which has been a very rare sight in the past year or so in India. Almost every series has produced a result and most of the games have been result oriented. So if we analyze closely, the problem is that both the teams have struggled to bowl out the opponents on flat pitches. Indians always have had issues with their bowling and it has shown through in this series. Harbajan has struggled to pick wickets, Sreesanth has been very inconsistent, and Ojha has been steady but doesn’t seem like someone who will run through sides. New Zealand again is a one man bowling team, in spite of an inspired spell by Martin in the first test; they still rely heavily on Vettori to pick wickets. Indian bowling though has been really disappointing, especially in the second test.

India was 122 runs in front of New Zealand with two days to go and you would expect the number 1 team in the world to win from that position. Indian bowling looked toothless and did not look like taking any wickets in the absence of Zaheer. Zaheer has been India’s stand out performer for Indian over the last 2 years and without him the bowling looks toothless. The below table shows the Indian bowling performances over the past couple of years:

Performance of Indian bowlers over the last 2 years

If you look at the list you will see that Zaheer has been exceptional, considering that India has played most of the games in the subcontinent. But the rest have been pretty ordinary. India’s premier spinner Harbajan averages little over 35 and the rest to put it mildly, have been mediocre. So how have India been winning games? Well the answer is pretty simple, the batting. Indian batsmen have been in supreme touch over the past couple of years and they have racked up huge scores. When India batted first they have scored big and even when they had to chase a big score they have matched the opponent or scored more than them. So the Indian bowlers have had the luxury of picking up wickets at an expensive average. So on an average the Indian bowling combination (Zaheer, Sreesanth/Ishant, Ojha and Harbajan) has to concede 374 runs for their 10 wickets going by their record over the last 2 years. It’s Hardly a mark of a top ranked test team.

India now needs to win the final game at Nagpur to win the series which is not the situation the team would have assumed at the start of the series. The team bowling combination has to be looked at seriously with an important series against the saffers looming large next month. The Indians would also be hoping that Zaheer is fit for the all important series as he has been our premier bowler over the last couple of years. I hope that we do better in the final game and win the series against New Zealand which will give us some confidence going into the next series against South Africa

Indian team needs Bajji the bowler more than Bajji the batsman

It was brilliant to watch Bajji play in the last couple of games. Coming into the 5th day at Ahmadabad, India was starring at an embarrassing defeat against 8th ranked New Zealand. Bajji who walked out to bat with Laxman batted brilliantly to save the game for the Indians with a brilliant hundred, his first in test cricket. He followed up that innings with another blistering hundred in the next game in Hyderabad to prove that the innings in the first test was not a fluke by any means.

So great news, we have unearthed a good lower order batsman but have we lost a bowler in the process? Rewind 4 years back to another case of similar transition which ruined a career of a promising bowler. Irfan Pathan was a brilliant find for India and for couple of years since his debut in 2004 he was a good new ball bowler who can bat a bit. Later for some reason his bowling took a back seat and he started batting so well that he could have walked into the X1 just as a batsman. The team management though said that he needs to concentrate on his bowling as it was his primary skill and sent him back home in the middle of an overseas tour. Is the management ready to take the same decision with Bajji if the trend continues?

Indian bowling has suffered really badly in recent times. The number 1 ranking and the brilliant win/loss record does not give us the complete picture. The truth is that the Indian bowlers have been hugely benefitted by the great batting line up. The Indian batting has been able to rake up tall scores, which helped the bowlers to put pressure on the batting sides to force a result. Harbajan Singh also has struggled as a bowler over the last couple of years. Except for couple of performances, one against New Zealand last year and one against South Africa earlier this year, he has been largely mediocre. To be frank none of the spinners have looked the part in the recent years.

If we look at Bajji’s record this year, you will see that he has really struggled with this bowling; he averages 44.72 with the ball this year with just one 5 wicket haul. His batting though has had an upswing as with his recent exploits, he has an impressive average of 33 with 2 hundreds. To be frank as an Indian supporter I would like to see Bajji contribute more with his bowling rather than with his batting. Indian bowling struggles without Zaheer and the spin department has been in a mess for over 2 years now since the retirement of Anil Kumble. Harbajan Singh was supposed to take the mantle from the great Kumble but unfortunately he has struggled to step into his shoes.

I am not sure how to take his sudden surge in batting form. Even though his three innings have helped India immensely in this ongoing series, his bowling has been a huge let down. He has one more match to redeem himself before we set out to South Africa next month. India would surely need a decent performance from him against South Africa to complement the pace attack if we have to challenge the host. Only the coming months will tell us how his career will shape out. If he continues to perform badly with the ball, in spite of his valuable batting the selectors might want to look for other options. I hope that Bajji doesn’t follow in Irfan’s footsteps and rediscovers his bowling form. India needs Bajji the bowler more than Bajji the batsmen in the coming months which I am sure he is very well aware of.

Bowling cupboard looks bare for team India

Praveen Kumar has been one of the few successful Indian pace bowlers in IPL 3

When 39 year old Anil Kumble is the best bowler in a T20 competition then you have serious issues. This is exactly the story of IPL III this year where Anil Kumble and Muthaih Muralitharan have been the best bowlers by a mile in terms of economy and wickets tally respectively. Even though the overseas pacers have done reasonably well, the Indian pace bowling continues to suffer in the ongoing IPL.

Ishant has been ordinary and the less said about Irfan Pathan’s bowling exploits the better. RP Singh looks jaded and the other young bowlers like Tyagi and Sangwan lack consistency and pace to survive at the international level. So why is India struggling to unearth one good pace bowler to compliment Zaheer in the Indian team? Praveen Kumar has been bowling very well for Bangalore Royal Challengers and Zaheer has been in decent form for Mumbai Indians but that about does it for Indian pacers till date.

Chaminda Vaas who hasn’t played for Sri Lanka for a while has easily out bowled every Indian bowler in this tournament. That says something about the plight of Indian pace bowling in the past few months. So it seems like the selectors are in for a headache when they sit together to pick a team which will best represent India in the upcoming T20 WC in West Indies. Zaheer and Praveen probably will be automatic selections considering current form but who will claim the third seamer spot is anybody’s guess at the moment.

Sreesanth has been poor, Nehra injured and Irfan Pathan not in the 30 probable’s picked for the T20 WC. The selectors might look to play 2 spinner, 2 pacer attack to counter this situation with Mishra or Chawla joining Harbajan in the bowling line up or they could give a chance to a untested youngster such as the promising Mithun or Umesh Yadav who has bowled with pace and heart for Delhi Dare devils. I guess some investigation should be done as to why our bowlers regress after a strong start in their careers to avoid such situations in the future. Is it the money? Is it the fame? Is too much cricket affecting them? Someone has to find an answer to that question.

The team selection will be an interesting one, whatever the combination the selectors come up with. I am not hoping for any drastic changes or any major surprises in the squad so we have to be prepared for Nehra, Ishant to be back in the squad. We will see Indian bowlers leaking lots of runs yet again the onus clearly will be on the batsmen to perform. Bowling continues to be a problem and looking at the IPL performances there seems no light at the end of the tunnel.