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

Strategic Break, really?

Yesterday’s game between KKR and RCB was interrupted by rain. The game was on hold till the rain stopped and the ground was ready for play. The game stopped when RCB were 100/3 in 14.1 overs. After the match resumed, the bowling team just bowled 5 balls and the umpire called for strategic break. Are you kidding me? Why would either team want to strategize when they had just spent about an hour in the dressing room with the coaching staff.

What is there to strategize after just 5 balls when nothing much had changed? If BCCI wants to give an advertising break, why not just call it that? It is funny that BCCI dictates and forces teams to take a break when they don’t want to and thereby cause unnecessary break in play. If BCCI wants to sell airtime to make money they should call the break as advertisement break. If they really want to give the teams a strategic break, it should only be taken when the teams want to take it.

It was extremely funny when teams had just come in after a 45 minute break and within 5 deliveries had to go back in to strategize nothing.

Virat Kohli – Right attitude but does he have the right personnel?

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 advisory board making the right noises

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.

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.

Bowlers need to be nurtured, can BCCI step up?

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Since 2000, India has had embarrassment of riches as far as fast bowling talent is concerned. From no good fast bowling option in the previous two decades, India ended up with too many in the last 15 years or so. Even though we had lots of bowlers except for Javagal Srinath and Zaheer khan, none of the Indian fast bowlers managed to go past 200 test wickets in the last 20 years. India has always found it difficult to manage fast men, in spite of the overseas bowling coaches, the ability of the bowlers after a promising starts dwindles away after a year or so.

The fitness is an issue, they drop pace and in some cases they lose their swing too. The list is endless, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Nehra, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma etc. all fall under the same category. The recent interview of former Indian bowling coach Joe Dawes was interesting. He mentioned that the Indian bowlers bowl too much. The format they bowl in is also pertinent information. The 2 months of grueling IPL season followed by endless ODI games and then the CLT20 at the end of this year saps whatever energy the bowlers might have to be available for test cricket. Till the 90’s fast men used county cricket as their learning ground and were fairly successful at that.

India’s best two fast bowlers of the last 20 years Srinath and Zaheer owe their turnaround to county cricket. Srinath who was a one dimensional bowler until mid-90’s played a full season for Gloucestershire in 1995 and came back as a different bowler. Zaheer Khan who had lots of fitness and consistency issues came back a changed bowler after a full season of county cricket with Worcestershire in 2006. That trend has come to a halt now. Except for couple of short stints by Sreesanth and Agarkar, Indian players haven’t been allowed to play in county cricket by BCCI.

The Indian fast bowlers play in IPL instead which doesn’t help their development as test bowlers in any way. The jam packed international calendar means that the Indian bowlers don’t get to play in domestic first class games either. No wonder the Indian pacemen find it difficult to make an impact in the longer format as they have no experience bowling for that long. India’s current spearhead Mohd Shami who made his first class debut in 2010 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 12 are tests for India. Varun Aaron whose first class debut was way back in 2008 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 5 are tests. Mohit Sharma has 24 first class games to his credit, Ishant Sharma has 88 (61 of them are tests for India), Bhuvneshwar Kumar has 58 (First Class debut in 2007, 12 of 58 are tests) and Umesh Yadav has 40 (First class debut in 2008 and 12 of them are tests). So we see a pattern here.

Indian bowlers are over bowled in meaningless T20 games and ODI games which leave them no time to work on their chinks. The bowlers get paid hefty sum to get hit around the park in IPL, so they hardly have any motivation to work on their bowling at the test level. If India has any hopes of unearthing at least one good fast bowler, they need to keep these bowlers from playing in too many meaningless tournaments. After a long time India has finally found 3 bowlers who can bowl in upwards of 140 KMPH regularly with Aaron able to touch 150 KMPH. This is the right time for BCCI to invest in these bowlers and make sure they don’t fall by the wayside. India also has some young exciting fast bowlers like Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh who need to be nurtured.

It will be helpful for these bowlers to play in county cricket on helpful pitches to learn their trade rather than getting hammered around in the meaningless T20 leagues on flat pitches. These are exciting times for an Indian fan as for the first time we have bowlers who can bowl really fast but unless they are taken care properly we might lose them quicker than we realize. India’s international season starts right after the IPL and hopefully we will have the fast bowlers fit and available to be picked for India. The board and the coaches need to step up and work on keeping these bowlers fresh for international games. IPL is a good launch pad for young and upcoming players from domestic arena and it should stay that way. BCCI has enough finances to keep these young bowlers away from the T20 leagues and allow them to play more first class games which is the only way these bowlers are going to improve their skills. Let’s hope that things will change and the current crop can actually achieve what they set out to do and don’t become another Irfan or RP Singh.

Do the Indian bowlers actually care?

Ishant Sharma has been extremely poor in all forms of cricket for India over the last few years

Ishant Sharma has been extremely poor in all forms of cricket for India over the last few years

It is very disappointing when your young pace hopeful goes back to India after the team’s 4-0 drubbing in New Zealand and says to the media that he is excited to take part in IPL 7 and he was disappointed missing the last couple of seasons.  Varun Aaron is a young quick bowler who spent more time recouping from injuries than playing cricket on the field. He did make a comeback in the New Zealand tour but was really wayward, even though clocking really high speeds.

India was hammered 4-0 in the ODI series and the performances of the bowlers was really disappointing. India conceded over 6 runs per over in almost every game and put enormous pressure on the batting line up. The Indian bowling has never been brilliant but the bad part is that it has gotten worse over the last couple of years. The Indian pacers have struggled to get teams out even on pitches that are aiding fast bowling. The bowling has lacked intensity and purpose and it does not seem to be improving. The BCCI does not seem to care about the current situation and is busy making more money.

The IPL has done a lot of damage to the Indian bowling and the young bowlers don’t seem to care about their performances at the International level. Ishant Sharma after reaching 150 wickets has expressed his joy on doing the same. His averages 38 with the ball in test cricket after 50 tests and he should consider himself extremely lucky to be playing for India with such mediocre stats. The Indian team is currently struggling in New Zealand to take 10 wickets leave alone taking 20. The bowling and fielding has been mediocre and it looks like they are on the way to losing another test overseas.

The bowling issue needs to be tackled soon if India wants to be at the top of the pile in world cricket. Varun Aaron’s recent interview suggests that he is more excited playing for IPL and says that he has lots of cricket coming up before the IPL to prepare for the season. This is all that is wrong about the India bowling attack. As a fan you sometimes think if these bowlers even care about improving themselves. India would be travelling to England and then Australia later this year and it does not look good for the team at the moment. The drubbing the team is currently receiving from a team ranked 8th in the world is a huge wakeup call. If India needs to preserve these bowlers they need to keep them away from IPL and have them play lots of four day cricket. The BCCI have the finances to take care of these bowlers and keep them fresh and ready for international cricket.

It is hard to imagine India competing overseas without a decent bowling attack. The bowlers seem to not worry too much about improving themselves after making the Indian team. Sometimes you question, are they working hard to play for the country or they just want to represent the country so that they will be considered in higher pay packet during the auction for IPL? This is a question which only the Indian bowlers can answer. Hopefully BCCI will finally wake up and realize that India needs a good cricket team and the organization is there to ensure that and not just to make money.