West Indies tour – The pull outs continue

The West Indies tour continued to suffer as more first choice players from the Indian team continue to pull out ahead of the test series. This time it is the turn of Zaheer and Sreesanth. The Indian team will now be without their first choice seamers for the test series. Abhinav Mithun and Praveen Kumar have been named as the replacements. Sometimes it is hard to understand the thinking behind some selections and Praveen’s is a curious one.

Mithun though I understand as he did not do that badly in the test series against the Sri Lankans last year but Praveen’s selection comes as a surprise. If Praveen gets a game this will be his debut for India in the longer format. Munaf and Ishant are already part of the squad, so I am assuming they will be in the starting X1 for the first game at least. Mishra and Bajji will most probably play in most of the games considering how poorly West Indies batsmen have handled spin on this tour. If the need arises to play a third seamer it will be interesting to see who India will play in the X1. So the Indian team who are already light on experience in batting will be suffering the same in the bowling department too.

The Indian team needs to win 3-0 in the test series in order to not lose any points in the test championship race. With the pull outs it will be miraculous if they achieve the same. The batting now will completely rely on Dravid and Laxman and the bowling on Bajji and Mishra. I hope that the youngsters can perform well and continue the good work they have been doing in the series already. The team under Suresh Raina has already won the ODI series and now Dhoni’s challenge would be to captain a young team to victory in tests. The pull outs though have made the series more competitive and give the West Indies a chance to upset the Indian team.

Test squad: MS Dhoni (capt), VVS Laxman (vc), M Vijay, Abhinav Mukund, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli, S Badrinath, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Mithun, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel.

World Cup 2011 – Problems galore for team India

Yet another inept performance by the Indian team hands them their first defeat in the World Cup 2011. The bowling and fielding problems were already well documented in the media and with this performance; the batting also joined the problem list. The middle order problem started even before this game but wasn’t taken that seriously as we were chasing miniscule totals but it hurt us big time against the saffers. The top order delivered again led by brilliant Sachin Tendulkar. The little master yet again delivered when mattered with the help of Sehwag first and then Ghambir got India to a commanding position.

Once the top three were back in the hut, the rest fell like a pack of cards. Dhoni was furious after the game, accusing the batsmen of playing to the gallery rather than for the team. It might be true but I got the feeling that the batsmen wanted to score big and make sure that SA are batted out of the game but failed miserably in their quest. Losing 9 wickets for 29 runs is something which even the associate nations would be embarrassed about after the position India were in at that time. The problem now for India is that they have to wait for 1 more week before they can try to rectify the situation. As Ricky Ponting said at the start of the tournament, the gap between the matches are ridiculously long. The gap probably is affecting the Indian team as there can be no momentum for the team and there is very good chance that the Indians will turn up rusty for every game they play.

The bowling too had their issues as except for Zaheer and Bajji (Second spell), the rest were pretty pedestrian. Munaf and Nehra were all over the place and were not able to bowl at the death and for some reason Dhoni did not use Yusuf Pathan that much during the middle overs. The decision to play three seamers kind of backfired for the Indians as Nehra’s lack of match practice was shown up against the Saffers. To give such an important last over to Ashish was a tactical error by Dhoni as Bajji would have been a better choice. The fielding too did not help the Indians as they dropped couple of dollies in the outfield. Ghambir and Yuvraj were the major culprits on that front.

India now has to win against the WI to make sure they don’t end up fighting for the Quarter-final spot with England and Bangladesh. I hope that India plays Ashwin in the all important game against the WI. At the moment it seems like India would find it hard to go past the Quarters with this bowling and fielding performance. India is lacking in all three disciplines at the moment and I don’t think they have enough time to fix any of those. Suresh Raina might also get his first game against the WI next week replacing Kohli as he gives an extra option with the ball for Dhoni. India needs to do lots of thinking with the squad and come up with a better all round performance in the next game if they have any thoughts of advancing beyond the quarters. Based on the performances so far it does not look that promising for India in this word cup.

World Cup 2011 – India’s bowling conundrum

Dhoni and Kirsten will have serious headache when sitting down to decide on India’s bowling combination for the next game against Ireland. After watching the Irish win against England, the Indians would have known that this is anything but an easy game. The Indians tried 3 pace/1 spin option in the first game and then tried 2 pace/2 spin in the second but both combination met with limited success. The failure of the Indian bowling attack to defend an imposing 338 runs against England at home will be a bitter pill to swallow.

The problem for the Indian team right now is that except for Bajji and Zaheer there is no sure starter in the bowling department. Munaf Patel has been steady without being threatening and Chawla was treated with disdain by the English batting who are traditionally suspect against legspin. So there lies a problem for the Indians. The team does not have too many options either. There is Ashish Nehra in the pace department who hasn’t been tried and there is Ashwin who is yet to get a chance. Sreesanth was poor in one game he played and so was Chawla. One thing which is certain is that we will see a change in the bowling for the Sunday’s game.

The confusion though would be whether to go with the tried and tested formula of 3 pacers or give the 2 spin option another try? This will be something for the Indian think tank to ponder over the next 48 hours. The Indian team would know that Nehra is prone to injuries and should be played only if he is 100% fit. The other option they would want to look at is Ravichandran Ashwin, but that would make too many offspin options in the team. As far as I am concerned, even though Chawla had one bad game he still gives the team an attacking option. The Irish struggled against Swann, so spin I feel is the best way to contain them as the pitches aren’t pace friendly.

The batting of the Indians again will be the most important factor in Sunday’s game. The Indian batting order needs to make another huge score as we know that any team can chase over 300 runs. The pitches are so flat that it does not matter if you are playing Ireland, Netherlands or England, the result could be the same. India doesn’t have the firepower of the Aussies in pace nor the variety of a Pakistan or South Africa so they need to play on their strength. As Dhoni said it seems like the batsmen need to score 350 every time they step on the field. It’s daunting but that’s how it is right now. Whatever may be the combination India goes with, a good solid performance in the field will go a long way in resurrecting India’s campaign. Dhoni and India will for sure know that.

India claim the series with a convincing win

The test series came to an end earlier this week with a convincing win from the home team. India virtually demolished the Kiwis in the final test to win the series 1-0. New Zealand though hung in well in the series until their wings came off in the final test. It seemed like they had given it all till then in the series and did not have much to contribute in the final test. But Vettori’s men should be proud of what they achieved in India after their disastrous campaign in Bangladesh. Playing against the number 1 team in the world they gave quite a scare to the home team in the first test, only to be denied by Harbajan Singh’s brilliance.

For the home team though this wasn’t the performance they would have hoped at the start of the series. India was starring down the barrel in the first test only to be saved by Laxman and Bajji and their bowling looked listless in the second test after claiming a huge first innings lead. So to be frank the final test win would have been more of a relief to Dhoni and India. India came into the series with a chance of improving their ranking points but ended up losing one point due to the final margin of victory. The good thing for India was that even South Africa did not have a great time in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan where they drew both their tests.

The series though had some positives for the Indian team. Rahul Dravid getting back to his best was the best thing for the Indian team ahead of a touch South African tour. Ishant Sharma getting his form back was another highlight of the series. Even Sreesanth gradually improved as the series wore on and was bowling brilliantly at Nagpur along with Ishant. It was heartening to see Ishant bowling quick and accurate after a long time. Gautham Ghambir also returned to some sort of a form in the final test and Dhoni’s runs should also give the Indians some confidence.

The other positives include Bajji’s batting, even though he could have taken more wickets as he himself admitted after the conclusion of the series. Laxman and Sehwag have continued their good form with the bat which will also be one of the major positives from the series. There were lots of good induvidual performances in the series but as a team they could have performed better. Their fielding for instance, as the captain himself mentioned after the series wasn’t special as there were far too many drop catches. The bowling from the spinners wasn’t that special either. Both Ojha and Harbajan did not look like running through sides at any time in the series.

All in all a convincing performance in the final test of the series but overall the team management will be disappointed with the victory margin. The focus now shifts to the ODI series which is all set to begin on Sunday and Ghambir has been named the captain for the first couple of ODI’s. The decision to rest the senior members of the squad for the one-day series is definitely a good move by the selectors as they could do with some rest before an important series against the proteas.

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.

World Cup 2011 Preview – Indian Bowling

Time is running out for Sreesanth to stake his claim for a world cup berth

World Cup 2011 is back in the sub continent and while everyone is hoping this to be the magical farewell Sachin deserves let’s look at India’s chances in a two step exercise. The first major discipline the Indian team most often struggles is their bowling. India has failed to get a consistent bowling partner for Zaheer over the past couple of years thereby putting lots of pressure on our premier bowler. Zaheer to his credit has responded incredibly well but let’s look at the possible bowling combinations India could try in the lead up to the World Cup.

Even though we have struggled in the bowling department, India has still managed to find some sort of consistency in the selection of the ODI squad. Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra have done a commendable job over the past year in the absence of Zaheer Khan. There have been few others tried in the meanwhile with limited success. So going by the latest trend, India might open the bowling with Praveen and Zaheer with Nehra being the first change. Since the world cup takes place in the subcontinent, I feel that pace is a very important factor rather than the swing. Unless we are playing in the northern part of India under cloudy skies, I don’t see the bowlers getting too much of swing. Praveen Kumar might have a lot of struggle under conditions which are not favorable to the bowlers.

So who could be the backup options? Ishant Sharma is one of them and of course Sreesanth might be in the squad too. Both of them have the pace but both of them are way too inconsistent to bank on. The unfortunate part is that Ishant Sharma got injured when he was looking like getting back to some sort of rhythm against the Aussies and Sreesanth who replaced him for the next game looked very rusty. India has around 10 ODI’s to try various combinations and I hope we do try everyone who might be part of the squad in all those games and make sure that the main bowlers are fit for the major event.

So currently the pace bowling list looks like this, Zaheer, Ishant, Praveen, Nehra and Sreesanth. There are other names too in the list who have played on and off in the team like Munaf Patel, Abhinav Mithun and Vinay Kumar. Since the world cup is in the subcontinent I am thinking that we will not be looking at more than 4 pacers in the 16. I wouldn’t want to be one of the selectors for sure when they sit down to pick the team for such a major event. A home tournament means that you at least have easy access to replacements when someone gets injured. The spin department too throws quite a lot of names with Bajji being the only settled bowler in the X1. The other spinners who could make the 16 are Ashwin, Ojha, Mishra and Jadeja. The chances of Ashwin and Jadeja being the second spinner is more likely as they both are in the squad as the allrounders. The BCCI’s plan of sending the Indian test squad early to South Africa to get acclimatized to those conditions would mean that the selectors can try out different combinations in the home series against New Zealand.

Even though we should have identified our combinations by now, it seems like we have fallen little back on trying out few players. Ravichandran Ashwin has just played couple of ODI’s till date and Ojha has never gotten a consistent run in the team. Mishra too has not been part of the squad for a considerable length of time. This probably shows that we are one of the most underprepared team right now among the favorites in the bowling department. With teams like South Africa, England and Sri Lanka playing with almost settled squads for close to a year now, India is still looking for the right combination ahead of the world cup.

Captain Dhoni said in his latest interview that he will be looking to play the full team in the ODI series against the proteas, which leaves the selectors with just the ODI series against the Kiwis to experiment. With various combinations to try and with bowlers like Vinay Kumar and Mithun in the wings, I am not sure how we are going to pick a 16 at the moment. Except for Zaheer, Nehra, Bajji and Praveen the rest of the bowling just looks like a lottery at the moment. It will an interesting selection and the coming months will give us a clearer picture. Whatever may be the squad, I just feel that the selectors have left this too late for comfort. We just have to hope that the prime contenders hit form at the right moment for the big tournament.

Asia Cup squad – Seniors return as expected

Mahindra Singh Dhoni will want a good performance from the team after the debacle at the World T20 and Zimbabwe

The team for Asia cup was announced earlier this week and as expected the seniors have returned to the squad after being rested for the tri-series in Zimbabwe. The experiment of playing an A team in Zimbabwe back fired badly as India crashed out without making the finals losing twice to Zimbabwe. The Indian bowling was poor and the batsmen were inconsistent. The star performers from that tri series have been retained though in the squad to Srilanka for the Asia cup (The other two teams being Pakistan and Bangladesh).

Rohit Sharma who made two centuries in Zimbabwe makes the squad, so does Virat Kohli. The selectors have given another chance to Dinda who was ordinary in Zimbabwe and also Ravichandran Aswin who turned in a decent performance in the only chance he got on the tour. Ravindra Jadeja has been retained in the squad after he scored couple of valuable 50’s on the tour, even though his bowling and fielding has been largely disappointing.

Yuvraj Singh has been dropped for the Asia cup due to his poor form and fitness. He was one of the members in the squad pointed out by Gary Kirsten as being unfit to play any form of cricket. Yuvraj’s form has deserted him since his return from injury and I hope that he takes this break on his stride and really works on his fitness and form. He is a brilliant limited overs player and India would want him fit and firing for the World Cup next year in India.

Sachin Tendulkar has been rested for the Asia cup as per his request to be able to spend more time with his family. The rest of the squad pick themselves with Dhoni returning as the captain of the team. Ghambir and Sehwag will return to the top of the order with Raina, Kohli and Rohit forming the middle order. The all-rounder spot will be up for grabs and will be a tossup between Aswin and Jadeja. Dhoni will be back donning the gloves followed by Bajji, Zaheer, Praveen and Nehra completing the X1.

Saurabh Tiwary makes his India debut after a brilliant IPL for the Mumbai Indians. I doubt that he will make it to the final X1 though unless there is a injury or a dead game where India can experiment. I hope that he gets a chance though as he is an exciting talent.

All in all a decent job by the selectors considering the options they had. The onus will be on the experience of Sehwag, Ghambir and Dhoni. The bowling even though experienced might do okay on the slow Lankan pitches. Bajji will be crucial and so will the part-time spinners. I hope that we put up a decent performance this time and hopefully will reach the finals.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Pragyan Ojha, Ashok Dinda, R Ashwin, Saurabh Tiwary.