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.

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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.

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How good is Rashid Khan?

While they are not yet there in terms of constantly troubling the top teams, Afghanistan have gained respect in one-day cricketing circles with their enthusiasm and passion.

Afghanistan also have produced some good cricketers in the recent times, with the latest addition to that impressive list being Rashid Khan, a young leg spinner with immense talent.

In his short career, Khan has become an integral part of Afghanistan side with some mind-boggling numbers. While the top eight nations are battling for the Champions Trophy, Afghanistan are taking on the West Indies, and in the first ODI between the nations, Khan claimed 7/18 in a crushing win for his side.

The West Indies batsmen were clueless and struggled to pick his variation in an abject capitulation in the first ODI. Khan also bowled brilliantly in the second ODI, which his side lost, to pick up three more Windies wickets.

At just 18 years of age, Khan has played 28 ODI games, claiming 63 wickets, with an amazing average of 14.74. These numbers may be skewed due to lack of games with the top nations, but are still remarkable.

Khan is an extremely accurate spinner with a great googly to boot.

Playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL this season, Khan’s 17 wickets was second only to Bhuvneshwar Kumar for their club.

Afghanistan, as a cricketing nation, is still in its infancy, but having stars like Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi will surely help them to grow.

The series against West Indies might not get much media attention, but it’s an important series for Afghanistan, as they now stand a chance to actually win a series against a Test-playing nation.

Khan is one of the best leg spinners in world cricket at the moment, and he surely can become the best with more exposure and games against top cricketing nations.

What do other cricket fans think of this bowling? How good is he compared to other spinners around the world?

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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.

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Batting boosts India’s chances of title defence

India came into the Champions Trophy 2017 with a team that looked great on paper but was extremely low on match practice.

Rohit Sharma hadn’t played in an ODI game for India for about eight months. Yuvraj Singh was not in India’s one day scheme of things until England ODI series earlier this year where he played three games.

Shikhar Dhawan played in the England series earlier this year but was dropped for the third game after failing in the first two.

Dinesh Karthik who is India’s other middle order option hasn’t played an ODI game for India since 2014.

Kedar Jadhav who is a newbie in the middle order doesn’t have too much experience playing overseas. The only match practice any of these players had before the Champions Trophy was in the IPL.

Completely different format and conditions to what they would face in England.

The Indian team were banking on the return to form of Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh in particular. Yuvraj Singh gives India the much needed impetus in the later stages of the innings and Rohit Sharma lends solidity to the top order.

The last time India won the Champions Trophy in England in 2013, the opening partnership of Dhawan and Rohit did a stellar job.

The opening combination was little short on confidence and it showed in the way the batted in the first few overs. Both Rohit and Dhawan looked nervous at the start of the innings.

Rohit was beaten couple of times in the first over and Dhawan batted at a strike rate of 50 until about the fifth or sixth over. Both the batsmen understandably took their time in setting up a platform which helped Yuvraj, Kohli and Pandya to tee off in the final few overs.

Even though India would have been happy with the opening combination returning to form, the biggest relief for India would have been the return to form and fitness of Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj – as Kohli pointed out after the match – is a game changer.

There were lots of questions over his fitness and form ahead of the game and the genial south paw answered his critics in the best way possible. Yuvraj played one of the most important innings for himself and for the team’s confidence in the tournament.

Yuvraj Singh plays in the crucial position for India in ODI and his returning to form gives huge boost to India’s chances.

Even though Indian bowling is very good this time around, the batting always gives them the confidence in the major tournaments. India began their defence of the title with lots of question marks around the team selection and the batting form of some of their players but after the first game, India has ticked lots of the boxes.

A firing batting unit is crucial for India’s campaign and the first game has shown that all is well in that regard for team India.

My Original Article @The Roar

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.

Can England finally end their 50-over title drought?

England are the only team among the top eight test-playing nations to not have a 50-over title to their name.

England for a long time did not take ODI cricket seriously. Their style of play and their strategies were outdated and they struggled to compete in the modern game. For years they failed to recognise that as a problem until yet another poor performance in the World Cup 2015 gave them the jolt they needed.

England realised that they were way behind the rest of the world in the shorter format, and so they’ve changed their ODI team and their approach towards the shorter format. England now have an explosive ODI team. They finally have a team that can break the jinx of not having a 50-over trophy.

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