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

Bowlers need a mentor too

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.

Cricket World Cup 2015 – Selections, Controversies and omissions

India announced their squad of 15 for 2015 cricket world cup to begin in Australia/New Zealand next month. While everyone agrees that 13 out of the 15 pick themselves there are few questions raised about couple of spots in the squad. Let us first look at the 15 member squad picked.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny

Let us look at the controversial picks and the questions raised about a few who were not picked in the squad.

The controversial pick:

Stuart Binny (ODI – 6, Runs – 40, Ave – 13.33, wickets – 9, Ave – 13.0, Best – 6/4):

Stuart Binny’s selection has been the most controversial and most discussed one in the squad of 15. Even though the theory is that the Indian team is looking for a medium pace all-rounder, the argument against it is that India already have 3 bowling all-rounders in the team and would have done well to go with an extra pacer. Binny has played 6 ODI’s for India and to be frank except for the Bangladesh ODI series he hardly bowled in the other ODI’s he played for India. MS Dhoni seemed to lack any confidence in the bowler and did not bowl him enough in New Zealand earlier this year in the ODI series. MS Dhoni used him sparingly in the test series in England too when he was picked as a bowling all-rounder. But Stuart Binny does provide an interesting choice for India on the hard wickets of Australia and New Zealand where India are likely to play only one spinner.

The controversy obviously is stemmed from the fact that Stuart’s father is part of the selection committee and also due to his underwhelming performance in the little chances he got but again all is not lost as he can still prove his detractors wrong.

The Non-Selection:

There were lots of eyebrows raised when the following players did not make the Squad.

Yuvraj Singh:

Yuvraj Singh was the most high profile omission from the World Cup squad. Yuvraj Singh was India’s player of the tournament in the successful 2011 campaign, so most questioning his exclusion are pointing to his ability as a match winner. Yuvraj being in brilliant form for his state in Ranji Trophy is also a reason for the uproar. The reality though is that Yuvraj Singh hasn’t been part of the Indian ODI plans for some time now. Yuvraj’s last ODI for India was about a year ago and has not been part of the ODI set up since then. Yuvraj had a nightmare ODI series at home against the Aussies and has been in indifferent form since his comeback to the team after he was diagnosed of Cancer after the world cup 2011. Yuvraj Singh has played 18 ODI’s since world cup 2011. He has scored 278 runs in those games at an average of 18.93 with just 2 fifties. So to be frank the questions over Yuvraj’s exclusion have been mostly emotional rather than based on performances.

Murali Vijay:

Vijay has been the toast of the nation over the last year or so. His brilliant performance in test cricket overseas has made the fans and experts question his exclusion as the possible 3rd opener in the ODI squad. Murali Vijay has played few ODI’s for India and has not done particularly well. I don’t think his performance in test cricket automatically warrants a spot in the CW2015 squad. Murali Vijay was never in the radar for the ODI team and he hasn’t played too many games for India in recent times to demand a selection in a high profile tournament like the world cup. His non-selection is less controversial when compared to few others.

Bowling (Pacers: Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron, Spinners: Karn Sharma and Amit Mishra):

The world cup this year is going to be held in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian squad contains three spinning all-rounders in the team. Ravichandran Ashwin will be leading the spin attack and we have Akshar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja as other two spin options. Question needs to be raised at the selection of both Ravi Jadeja and Akshar in the squad as both of them are similar type bowlers. Both of them are left-Arm spinners and left-Handed bats. The both are similar bowlers and don’t provide any variation from each other. The selection of 3 spinners is not an issue as the big Australian grounds could provide a great opportunity for the spinners to be effective but selecting two spinners so similar to each other is the problem. If India wanted 3 spinners, they could have gone with Amit Mishra or Karn Sharma who would have provided a variation to Ashwin and Jadeja.

The selection of an extra pacer would have been a better call rather than similar spin option. Varun Aaron who impressed one and all with his pace in Australia could have been a good addition to the squad even though he has been found to be little bit of a spray gun. Mohit Sharma who has done a good job for India in little opportunities he has received could have provided the much needed control to the pace attack which can leak a lots of runs on the hard surfaces in Australia.

Apart from the above few selections the rest of the squad ended up on expected lines. The Indian ODI team over the last couple of years has been stable and the squad which won the ODI series in England has been retained. The final X1 for the first game will be really interesting. Will India play Binny and Ashwin in the squad? Or will they go with Jadeja and Ashwin in the X1 will be an interesting predicament for the Indian think tank. Akshar Patel who has been brilliant in the home games could get a look in ahead of Jadeja in the squad too. The tri-series in Australia could provide the Indian think tank with all the answers, since they will be playing in Australia where the 2015 world cup is going to be held. India should use this series to test out various combinations to arrive at a possible X1 for their first game for the world cup.

Bowling continues to be a major concern for India

Another overseas tour comes to an end and the Indian bowlers come under the scanner as usual.The Indian bowlers struggled to get wickets and except for the first innings in Wanderers they struggled to bowl out South Africa. The Indian pacers took 18 wickets at an average of 47.94 and at a strike rate of 82.1. The biggest disappointment is the economy rate, SA batsmen scored at the rate of 3.50 against the Indian pacers. There were no 5 wicket hauls by the Indian pacers. This is a major cause of concern for the Indian team.

Shami Ahmed was playing his first overseas tour but there is no such excuse for Zaheer and Ishant. The Indian team almost lost the first test trying to defend a humungous 458 in the 4th innings. The bowling lost its sting and looked completely clueless against the South African batting. Ishant Sharma is a major enigma in Indian cricket. The guy has played 50 test matches and still isn’t the bowler India wants him to be. It is strange that he continues to make it to the Indian team in spite of mediocre performances. He plays in the team only based on his experience but I guess time has come for India to look past Ishant as a test bowler.

Zaheer Khan is on his last legs and agreed that he was coming back from a long break from cricket but lot was expected of the veteran fast bowler. Zaheer was expected to lead a young bowling attack in South Africa but he lost his steam after the first test. India needs a firing Zaheer if they have to groom the young fast men. It is good to see that Ishwar Pandey has been selected for the New Zealand tour and the selection of Varun Aaron for the ODI games is also a welcome move.

The New Zealand tour gives India with an opportunity to play a completely new attack and test out these youngsters. Varun Aaron should play in the ODI team along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed. India needs to play Umesh Yadav in the test team ahead of Ishant Sharma. India needs to find a way to give Ishwar Pandey few chances in the series and not just have him to carry drinks. This series gives them a great chance to test out some young bowlers and hope for couple of them to come through.

India have a chopper block schedule this year and with IPL and Champions trophy thrown in India needs to make sure that their bowlers are fresh and fit for the 2015 world cup. Since India will be on the road throughout the year, it is going to be mentally and physically taxing for the bowlers and India needs to take care of that. This year also gives Dhoni and Fletcher ample opportunities to test some new bowling talent and India needs to rotate their bowlers to keep them fit and ready.

New Zealand series is going to be an important one. Even though India did not win anything in South Africa, they showed fight and application which was rarely seen during the 8-0 whitewash in Australia/England in 2012. The young Indian team will be hoping to carry on with their good performance with the bat and will be hoping for the bowling to step up. This will be a good series and I hope that the Indian team can unearth couple of good bowlers for the future.

Time to think ahead for team India

The Indian test team has hit a road block and has pretty much gone downhill over the past year or so. In spite of the high of winning the world cup in 2011, the Indian team has for sure taken a step back in test cricket. The legends Sachin, Dravid and Laxman are at the cusp of retirement and we still havent got any replacement tested at this level. The big three have been great servants for the Indian team and with more than 35000 test runs and close to 100 centuries between them they have been one of the best players in the world. Replacing them is going to be hard task for the management. Let us look at some possible candidates for the middle order.

Please click here to read the full article

Bowling worries for India ahead of the first test

India is about to begin their test series against Australia in few days and as it was in England earlier this year; the team is struggling with injuries. India had lost Varun Aaron and Praveen Kumar already before leaving the Indian shores and now it seems like Ishant Sharma would also struggle to make to the test team. If Ishant misses out India might field a very inexperience attack unless the replacement/cover is Irfan Pathan.

This scenario makes the presence of Zaheer very important for India throughout the series.

Click Here to read the entire post

Australian tour – An acid test for Dhoni

Few months ago, the Indian team was at the top of the world. Number 1 test team, World cup winners and the captain Dhoni could do nothing wrong. One English tour later everything came crashing down. Even though India are still one of the top 3 teams in the world, the old quote “Tigers at home, paper tigers abroad” came to fore again. The English tour was an absolute disaster, an organization nightmare and the entire Indian cricket management needed to take the blame, not the cricketers alone.

The biggest factor on the English tour was the sudden spate of injuries to key Indian players. In spite of majority of them missing the West Indies series for rest, most of them ended up injured during the important English tour. The lack of practice games were another reason as the team had no time to acclimatize to the conditions. It seems like the Indian selectors and management have learnt the lesson the hard way. This time the players are there sooner and will be playing two practice games and will have enough time to get used to the conditions.

This tour is very important for the Dhoni and Fletcher combination. English tour scars still fresh in their minds, they will be keen to prove that the performance on that series was merely an aberration. The team this time is well prepared and most of the members are available for selection. Zaheer will be back to spearhead the attack, which is extremely important. The team management will be observing his fitness very closely as the English tour emphasized how important he is for the team. We have Ishant and Umesh to add to the pace department, literally speaking. Ishant too had a mild injury scare in the practice game but the team management has assured it wasn’t serious. Ashwin will lead the spin attack and the batting will be back to its full strength. India are coming into this tour with a good home season which started with blanking England 5-0 in a ODI series and winning the test and ODI series against the Windies.

Even though the injuries to Praveen Kumar and Aaron are a great setback, the team needs to move on with whatever resources they have. As Dhoni said ahead of the series, lack of practice cannot be the excuse this time and he is absolutely right. A series win here will restore the confidence the team might have lost during the disastrous English tour. A reputation which was built brick by brick by the Sourav Ganguly team since 2000 of a fighting unit away from home is something Dhoni would like to restore. The seniors will once again be the key and the middle order of Dravid, Sachin and Laxman for one last time will be back battling the Aussies in their own den.

A contest which has become a memorable battle since one of the greatest series in cricketing history took place in 2001. The series will be exciting and both teams have a lot to play for. The tour has already began on a good not with Dravid’s excellent speech in Bradman’s oration which was received with a standing ovation. The only thing Indian cricket fan would hope for is that India return with their first ever series win Down under. Dhoni and Fletcher know that this is their best chance and hopefully the team will click together to make that happen.