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.

Give Ashwin an extended run

When Anil Kumble retired in 2008 everyone expected Harbajan to easily slip into the role of India’s lead spinner. Unfortunately 4 years since then Harbajan finds himself out of the Indian test team and fighting for a spot even in the ODI/T20 teams. Harbajan has had a long run in the Indian team and can still make a comeback with age on his side. But for the moment, Ravi Ashwin has done a great job for the Indian team in all formats. His test performances at home have been brilliant. He also has consistently contributed with the bat averaging 39 at number 7 which is an added bonus.

He just had one away tour of Australia and he did not perform well. Australia isn’t a great place for young spinners to tour and sometime for even experienced ones. Murali averages 75 in Australia and almost all visiting spinners average in mid to late 30’s there. So Judging Ashwin on just one away tour to Australia is not fair. The experts crying about Ashwin’s performances in Australia need to realize that Harbajan himself hasn’t done anything of note on recent away tours.

Harbajan was given an extended run in the Indian team after his breakthrough series against Australia in 2001 and Ashwin deserves similar run as India’s premier spinner. So far he has done a good job and needs to be persisted with for now. He needs to be given the confidence that he will not have to worry about his place in the side. Harbajan is 32 now and is not getting any younger and India needs to keep the future in mind. Bajji can still make a comeback but at the moment he hasn’t done anything of note to displace either Ojha or Ashwin in the test team.

Currently though his partnership with Ojha has been good for India in home tests and there is no need to tamper with that combination. Harbajan needs to prove himself again by playing few first class games and force his way back in. As of now let Ashwin lead the Indian spin attack for the next 10-15 tests and then take a call on his place

Heavy weights clash at Wankhede

The two strongest teams in this year’s competition take on each other at Mumbai. Delhi Daredevils have been strengthened by the addition of Kevin Pieterson and Mahela Jayawardane and look a very strong outfit. Mumbai Indianshave a brilliant bowling side but without Sachin at the top of the order their batting relies heavily on Rohit Sharma to guide them which will be a huge set back against a good Delhi bowling attack. It will be interesting to see if Sachin will take the fieldtomorrow for Mumbai Indians as his presence for sure gives them lots of stability in the batting.

Wankhede stadium has always had good bounce for both spinners and pacers. It has always been a true wicket when good batsmen can play shots on the up and the bowlers will get some movement under lights. Both the teams have somegood pacers and they will get lots of pace and bounce from the wicket. The average score might be in the range of 150-160 and anything more than that will be a winning total.

Team News/composition

Will Sachin play? This is the question on everyone’s mind at the moment. Mumbai Indians batting has generally been inconsistent while he is not been there at the top of the order.Delhi Daredevils have had a good start to the season and have emerged as one of the strongest teams of IPL V. They have an explosive batting and bowling lineup and with Kevin Pieterson and Jayawardane in the middle order theyhave got the necessary experience in the middle order.
Both the teams have excellent bowling attacks and it will be M Morkel versus Malinga and whoever wins the battle between the spearheads might win the contest.

Both Delhi and Mumbai will want to go to the top of the pile with a win in Wankhede. The teams are very well matched in all departments with Delhi holding a slight advantage in the batting. The bowling units of both the teamsare extremely strong. Mumbai defeated Delhi in both the games last season and the wrecker in chief was that man Lasith Malinga. It will be interesting to see how the new batting lineup will handle the threat of the Sri Lankan. Mumbai Indians will also wantsome consistency in the batting as their reliance on Rohit Sharma to pull them out of the woods has been quite frequent this season. Ambati Rayudu and TL Suman (If Sachin does not play) will want to get going for the hosts.

Delhi Daredevils: NV Ojha, V Sehwag, KP Pieterson, DPMD Jayawardane, RE Van Der Merwe, Y Venugopal Rao, Y Nagar, IK Pathan, M Morkel, U Yadav, S Nadeem

Mumbai Indians: RE Levi, TL Suman/SR Tendulkar, RG Sharma, AT Rayudu, KA Pollard, KD Karthik, JEC Franklin, Harbajan Singh, SL Malinga, PP Ojha, MM Patel

Team Quotes:

“It’s fantastic, I’m sure any team in the IPL would love to have him in their team. It’s great for Mumbai Indians that he is with us. He is great in all four overs that he bowls up front or [at the] death. He is a vital elementin our side.”

Franklin stresses on the importance of Malinga to the Mumbai Indians side.

“He has been the backbone of our team’s bowling attack for the last three matches. He brings the team to a position from where it is easier for us to bowl.”

Nadeem speaks about the importance of Morkel to the Delhi side.

The Harbhajan conundrum

Harbhajan Singh is India’s premier spinner, there are now two ways about it. A veteran of almost 100 tests and over 400 wickets, he is one of the best spinners in the world over the years. When Anil Kumble retired in 2008, Harbhajan was expected to take over the mantle as India’s number 1 spinner but for some reason things did not turn out as expected for the genial sardar.

Harbhajan Singh has had a very inconsistent 2-3 years in International cricket and it is hard to determine the cause for the same.

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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 T20 update – Sehwag’s injury a definite blow to the Indians

Virendar Sehwag ruled out of World T20

With just a week left for the start of World T20, India received a body blow when Virendar Sehwag was declared unfit due to a shoulder injury. This is indeed a huge setback for the Indians as Sehwag is a key member at the top of the order along with Ghambir. Sehwag had missed the 2009 version of the tournament too under similar circumstances.

Sehwag absence means that Murali Vijay gets a chance at the top of the order. Vijay has been in brilliant form for the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL III but I am not sure whether he would be able to replicate the same at the international level. Sehwag played all the games for the Dare Devils in the IPL III, so his shoulder injury is kind of a surprise to me. He couldn’t have suddenly picked up the injury, so he should have been having it for a while. This raises the question as to whether the franchises should be more careful with the Indian recruits when they have a major tournament coming up right after the IPL.

IPL is a long tournament and I would be happy if the Franchises kind of rotate the Indian team players over the course of the series. I don’t think it is necessary for the players to play the entire tournament. Especially when the Indian team is going to participate in a major tournament right after the IPL, the team management needs to be little bit careful. I know that an injury can be picked anytime as we have seen players getting injured on the morning of the match while training but with a hectic tournament like IPL the possibilities are more.

With number of games increased for the next year’s edition, the teams have to be more careful about player fatigue. Resting major players in the team for few games in between shouldn’t hurt I feel. Indian Players representing CSK (Chennai Super Kings) and Mumbai Indians hardly get any rest before they fly to WI and will have to immediately get going. India does not even have breaks between matches as both their games are back to back in the World T20.

There is just couple of games left for the conclusion of the IPL and I hope that none of our bowlers get injured in the process as Vinay Kumar, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer and Bajji will be playing over the next two days. Sehwag’s injury should be lesson to the team management and the Franchises as representing India is more important.

Sehwag’s absence was felt in last year’s world cup when the youngsters struggled against short pitched bowling. Whether Vijay will be able to step into the shoes of Sehwag is something we have to wait and see. Ghambir will have the added responsibility of guiding the youngster through in a major event like the World T20. Hope that the rest of the team can pull their weight and guide the Indian team to their second title.

India crush Aussies to go one up

India crushed the world champions to win the second test and go one up in the series. The Indians will be really pleased with the win as this was a total team performance and was not achieved on a typical dust bowl. Almost everyone in the team contributed to the win with Dhoni brilliantly leading from the front. Dhoni had temporarily taken the responsibility of captaining the team in the absence of injured Kumble and proved that he is ready to take over the reigns when the great leggie steps down.
The Indians dominated the proceeding starting with the toss on the first day. A great start by the openers, fantastic century by Ganguly, good batting from Sachin and Dhoni made sure that India got to a competetive 469 in the first innings. Sachin and Sourav both reached singnificant landmarks during their respective knocks in the Indian first innings as Sachin became the higest run getter in tests and Sourav passed 7000 test runs.
The Indian bowlers complemented their batsmen splendidly by bowling out the Australians for 268 giving a lead of 201 runs. Zaheer and Ishant were impressive at the start with Mishra and Harbajan running through the middle and lower order. Amit Mishra had a fantastic start to test cricket grabbing 5 wickets on debut. He finished with 7 wickets in the match and seemed ready to take over the baton from Kumble whenever he decides to call it a day.
The Australians chasing an impossible 516 for a victory after yet another great batting display by the Indians in the second innings collapsed to a dismal 195 to hand a 320 run victory to the host. Ishant and Zaheer again among the wickets with Harbajan and Mishra combining well again in the second essay. Australians though will be really dissapointed with their performance as none of their top order batsmen were able to stay long enough to string a partnership and their bowlers were clueless against the aggressive Indian batsmen.
All in all it was a excellent display by the Indians to go one up in the series. It seems like Kumble will be back in the third test which means that Mishra would not be playing. Mishra has taken a gaint step towards the Indian test team with his performance which will stand him in good state once Kumble decides to hang his boots.
Even though the Indians have handed the Aussies their largest defeat in over a decade, they should not let complacency to set into their games. The Australians are still the number one team and it requires just one good innings or one good spell to reverse the situation for the visitors. Indians should continue their same ruthless approach in Delhi too and make sure that the series is won when the reach Kanpur for the final game.