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 Their style of play and their strategies were outdated and they struggled to compete in the modern game.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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Rohit Sharma – An enigma of epic proportions

The first time I saw Rohit bat was in the game between India and South Africa at Durban. The setting was inaugural World T20 and this was an important game for India on a fast bouncy pitch. India was reeling at 61/4 in 10 overs. A young Rohit Sharma batting with enormous composure for a young player stitched a match winning partnership with the captain to get India to a competitive 153. India won the match and went on to win the World Cup. Few months later in a similar setting but on a less menacing pitch, India was facing Australia in the CB series finals. Chasing a modest 240 to win, India found themselves in a bit of bother at 87/3 when Rohit walked in and joined Sachin Tendulkar. Again Rohit batted brilliantly to score 66 in a 100+ partnership with the little master to win the game for India.

So it is understandable that everyone thought that Rohit is going to be the mainstay of Indian middle order for years to come. The hype surrounding Rohit wasn’t misplaced either as he was an extremely talented youngster when he made his debut for India. It is very hard to imagine that it is the same Rohit Sharma who plays cricket for India currently. The Rohit Sharma who plays currently looks fidgety all the time at the crease. He looks sublime when he is batting and then plays an ugly slog to lose his wicket from nowhere. Rohit Sharma’s issues are not technical but temperamental. He is highly successful on Indian pitches as his lapse in concentration is less likely to cost him his wicket but when he plays abroad where the ball does a little bit he is more likely to lose his wicket.

In the 90’s a wiry young bowler made his debut. It was none other than Ajit Agarkar. Ajit rose to instant fame and was the fastest bowler in the world to reach 50 ODI wickets. He even won few games with the bat in his first year of international cricket. When we thought that India have finally unearthed a good bowler, his career never took off to the next level. Don’t get me wrong in spite of all the ridicule Ajit gets for his performances he is one India’s best ODI pacers. He has close to 300 ODI wickets at an impressive average and strike rate. Rohit Sharma is a bigger enigma than Ajit ever was.

Rohit Sharma’s career is taking similar route to Ajit Agarkar and needs to sort it out before it is too late to do anything. He needs a break from international cricket. He needs to spend lots of time playing in domestic cricket or possibly county cricket if he gets a chance. Playing in county cricket might be very beneficial for him. He will benefit from being away from international cricket and just concentrate on scoring lots of runs. Put his head down and work on his temperament and just score loads of runs which will again put him back in the right frame of mind for test cricket. Rohit is extremely talented and there is no two ways about it. There is hardly any player who makes batting look so simple like he does when in full flow.

He is still very young and has lots of time on his side. If he works on his chinks, he can come back to the team and serve Indian cricket for a long time. I hope that he does that and fulfills the potential which we noticed when he made his debut in 2007. He is still a good player but we all know that he can be better. A middle order of Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Rohit will be a fantastic lineup which can pile up loads of runs in the future.

Catching troubles for team India

The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.

The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.

As the old adage in cricket goes “catches win matches” and obviously that holds true for all formats of the game. Catching has been a big problem for this young Indian side. There was a time when Indian slip cordon consisted of the Dravid and Laxman with Sehwag, Sachin ET all making up the other slip. The catching was brilliant and it was the main reason for India to climb in the rankings. Yes there were few drops here and there but mostly all catches were taken.

It was not only the slip catching but overall the Indian fielders were good in taking catches. The one criticism that Indian team had then was that their ground fielding was really poor. Now with the current team India faces quite the opposite problem. The Indian ground fielding is one of the best but the catching overall has been very poor. Over the last few months the Indian fielders have dropped some crucial catches which has changed the course of the game. The slip catching has been tentative and the overall catching has been casual. Statistics say that India has tried as much as 5 fielders in the first slip in the last 19 tests and as much as 8 catches have been dropped in the slips by India in the last 7 tests. This is a very revealing stat and something which has been completely ignored while blaming our bowling.

The Indian bowlers aren’t world beaters and they require all the assistance they can get from the fielders. The drop chances have really hurt India and their chance to win few games. The Wellington test comes to mind immediately, the drop chances of Williamson and McCullum cost India the test which they were well on the way to win. In the first test at Lord’s Rahane dropped Robson but luckily for him the batsman did not make most of that chance. India let a chance slip of Gary Ballance in the first innings and he went on to score a hundred. Alastair Cook was dropped in the first innings of the 3rd test which allowed him to get of the wretched form he had been under to post a career saving 95. The captain Dhoni himself hasn’t been a safe catcher himself in the recent times.

Young players like Jadeja, Rahane and Kohli have been pretty bad and have dropped some crucial takes over the last few months. Virat Kohli has been the biggest offender among the young brigade. His casual attempt at nabbing Brendon McCullum’s feeble drive at short mid-on in the second test cost India dearly. Jadeja has dropped couple of crucial ones. Dhawan has been a reluctant first slipper and has hardly shown intent to go after difficult takes. Rahane has dropped a few in the slips.

This has been a disturbing trend for the young Indian team. The young players who have been brilliant in saving runs and effecting run outs have been poor catchers in the slips as well as in the outfield. This problem has not only been in tests but also has been in the ODI’s and T20 games. India needs to arrest this problem fast if they have to compete at the highest level. Good players will always make you pay if you give them a second chance. India has found that out in the recent times to a devastating effect. The team needs reliable slip fielders and the outfield catching needs to be sorted out too.

India has two more tests after the current one at the Rose Bowl in this series and then they travel to Australia later this year. India needs to take all their chances to compete in these games. Top teams will make you pay if you drop catches. The coach and captain need to find a way to get through to these young players and figure out what is going wrong with the catching. If they do not arrest this trend soon, India will be finding themselves chasing the leather most often than not and the only ones to suffer will be the bowlers.

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.

Mysterious Indian selection

Rohit gets a chance again, so what’s new? you may ask. Rohit Sharma had an extremely poor 2012. The guy averaged 13 in 2012 and gets picked again in the squad for the series against England. The reason given by the selectors was that there were no alternatives due to the injury to Manoj Tiwary. Now Ajinkya Rahane who seemed to be the first choice opener for India in the ongoing ODI series against England gets the boot from the team only after 2 failures.

It is interesting scenario as players like Rahane and Manoj Tiwary don’t enjoy the same sort of support Rohit does. It might be frustrating for these youngsters who will be thinking what they have done wrong to deserve this treatment. Rohit now walks back into the X1 replacing Rahane and scores a match winning 82 and seals his spot in the X1 for few more games. This means that neither Tiwary nor Rahane stand a chance to make it to the X1 for the upcoming ODI games.

It will be great if the selection of players in the X1 is fair for all. Young players need time to succeed; you cannot drop them based on couple of failures. I just hope that all youngsters get a fair run in the team instead of getting a boot for couple of poor innings. You cannot expect players like Rahane to play with the pressure of being replaced every time they walk out to the middle. It would have been great if the Indian think tank had persisted with Rahane for the entire series but that is not to be. I am very disappointed with Rohit’s selection, no matter what he did today with the bat. He did not deserve to be in the squad for this series leave alone the playing X1.

Sehwag gets the axe as Pujara receives maiden ODI call up

The team for the upcoming ODI series against England was announced yesterday and the selection committee dropped Sehwag for the first 3 ODI’s. Sehwag has been pretty poor over the past year and has been rightly dropped for young Ajinkya Rahane. Since the double hundred against West Indies in December 2011, Sehwag averages just 23 from 11 games. Rohit Sharma retains his spot in the squad in spite of having a poor 2012. Rohit averaged just 13 over the last 14 games which makes his selection pretty perplexing. The selectors said Rohit’s selection was due to lack of alternatives. Manoj Tiwary’s injury also was another reason for Rohit to retain his spot in the squad. 

Cheteshwar Pujara received his much deserved maiden ODI call up after some great performances in domestic cricket. The rest of the squad which recently lost to Pakistan was retained for the first 3 ODI’s against England.

The performances of B Kumar and Shami Ahmed meant that they retained their spots for the England series too. Ishant was India’s second best pacer in the series against Pakistan behind B Kumar and seemed to have gotten his groove back. R Jadeja too retained his spot with a good all round show in the final ODI against Pakistan. Dinda and Mishra who were in the squad against Pakistan were also retained for the series against England.

The biggest concern for India has been their batting over the past few months and the addition of Pujara to the lineup seems to be an effort to strengthen the fragile top order. It will be interesting to see though if he gets in to the X1 though. Sehwag’s absence means that Rahane will open the batting with Gautam Gambhir. Kohli will come in at number 3 followed by Yuvraj, Dhoni and Raina. Jadeja and Ashwin will be the specialist spinners in the squad followed by B Kumar, Ishant and Shami Ahmed.

India will hope that their batsmen get into some sort of form against an English attack which got better of them in the just concluded test series. Virat Kohli’s form will be a big concern as he was India’s best player over the past two years in the 50 over format. The bowling looked in decent shape against Pakistan in the just concluded series and the bowling of young B Kumar and Shami Ahmed was particularly impressive with the new ball.

This will be an interesting series as England is not known to be a great ODI squad but have had a great 2012 in terms of results in the shorter format. India though had pretty mixed 2012 and hasn’t begun 2013 on a great note. Both teams will go all out and it will be interesting to see how the Indian batting lineup fares against a good English pace attack.

Indian Squad:

MS Dhoni (capt), Cheteshwar Pujara, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Amit Mishra.

Probable X1 for the first ODI:

Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni(Capt), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, B Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Ishant Sharma

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!!