India’s home season

India’s long home season ended with a brilliant series win over touring Australian team. India were brilliant throughout the season and it was a dominant home performance. India also reached the top of the rankings table during the season and have taken a nice lead over the second ranked team. The team had lots of positives over the season which spanned 13 tests none more satisfying than the performances of the pacers. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami were excellent and provided timely breakthrough’s throughout the season. They both were pacy and kept their intensity whenever they were called up on by the captain. Bhuvneshwar Kumar also was brilliant in the chances he received and pocketed couple of 5 wicket hauls on wickets which assisted him. Ishant Sharma did not play a lot during the home season but he did give his all whenever he made the X1.

The spin combination of Ashwin and Jadeja were devastating throughout the home season. Ashwin was brilliant in West Indies as well when India toured last year for a 4 match test series. Jadeja though kept improving throughout the season and ended up as the number 1 bowler in the world at the end of it. The left-armer was brilliant with the ball and by the end of the season was contributing with the bat as well. The duo was also received good support from Jayanth Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav in the games they made the X1. The biggest positive for India though was the fact that they played as a team throughout and most of the wins were a thorough team efforts. There were many instances of young players stepping up to the challenge and putting in match/series defining performances. Jayanth Yadav’s maiden test hundred against England, Karun Nair’s triple hundred and Kuldeep Yadav’s 4-fer all were extremely important in the context of the match and the series.

The senior members also stepped up to the plate when required. The captain himself was brilliant throughout the season except for the Australian series. Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Saha, Ashwin, Jadeja, Lokesh Rahul all made crucial contributions throughout the season. The all-round contributions from Jadeja and Ashwin, gave Kohli the opportunity to play 5 bowlers when required. The solidity which Saha discovered during the home season also gave Kohli a great chance to experiment with the X1.

Now that the home season is done and dusted, the team would know that they are in for much tougher challenges in the coming year or so. Overseas tours are not something new for this bunch. Most of the members from this present team were part of India’s long overseas season from 2013-2015. The team already knows what to expect and would hope to be better prepared this time around. Kohli’s first challenge obviously would be to defend India’s Champions Trophy crown which would be right after the IPL. This Indian team has shown that they could compete on any type of wicket and now they would want to put in more consistent performances overseas. Things are really looking exciting for team India under the leadership of Virat Kohli and as Ashwin had mentioned in his interview, hope he can take India to the newer heights in the coming years.

Young players will be under the spot light for India

India has never played a bilateral ODI series in Australia before, so this will be a new experience for the Indian team. The Australian team is always difficult to beat at home and India traditionally hasn’t done well in Australia. The Australian team is the current world champion and it will take a huge effort by this young Indian team to compete in this series.

The Indian team is young but has a seasoned leader in MS Dhoni. This tour will be a new experience for the youngsters in the team and they will be under spot light throughout the tour. Let us look at the Indian ODI squad for picked for this series:

ODI squad: MS Dhoni (capt), R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh, Rishi Dhawan, Barinder Sran

There are some new faces in the squad and with Shami’s injury Ishant and Umesh will be expected to lead the pace attack. The batting will depend on the experience of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Ajinkya Rahane who has been in great form will also be expected to contribute in the middle order for the team. With 5 batting spots already taken there are two open spots in the middle/lower order ODI series. One spot is for sure going to an all-rounder. The front runner for that spot should be Rishi Dhawan. Rishi Dhawan has done well in the practice games ahead of the series and has some experience playing in Australia representing the emerging players X1 for India. He is expected to get a look in in the first ODI. The number 6 batting slot will be a tossup between Manish Pandey and Gurkeerat Singh.

Manish Pandey batted brilliantly in the warm up game and also is a brilliant fielder. Gurkeerat Singh also is a very good young player and he offers India with an option of an additional spin bowling option. So this will be an interesting decision. Also it will be interesting to see if India will go with 2 bowling all-rounder option with Ravi Jadeja and Rishi Dhawan. Ashwin will most probably be India’s lone spinner for the first ODI and with injury to Mohammed Shami, Ishant and Umesh are most likely options to take the new ball. If India opts to go for 3 pace bowling option then Barinder Sran is most likely going to make his international debut at WACA.

This is going to be an interesting series for India and the young players will be under pressure to perform and make an impact. Gurkeerat Singh and Manish Pandey have been waiting in the wings for some time now to make it to the ODI X1 and this will be a perfect launch pad for them to stake their claim. MS Dhoni would be hoping that India can turn their ODI fortunes around at the start of 2016 and his leadership will play a crucial part in this series. The experienced top order will be expected to make consistent contributions if India is going to push Australia in both ODI and T20 series. Below is the likely X1 for the first ODI at the WACA. I am expecting Jadeja and Axar to miss out from the X1. I don’t think the Indian team is going to play two spinners at the WACA. The closest tossup will be between Gurkeerat Singh and Manish Pandey but I think Gurkeerat might get the nod as he is a decent spinner as well.

Indian X1 for First ODI (Likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey/Gurkeerat Singh, MS Dhoni (capt), Rishi Dhawan, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Barinder Sran

Even though this will be a tough series for the young team, I expect them to give a good account of themselves and may be even win the series with contributions from the senior players.

Test series – Indian Team Review

South Africa has been the best traveling team over the past decade or so. They had hardly shown any weakness over the years irrespective of the surface they play on. The South African team of the past had stalwarts like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher who were wonderful players. This team though lacked the experience and class of the SA teams of the past. It was always clear when the series began that it will be a battle between the Indian spinners and the SA batsmen. This time though the visitors fell well short and got hammered 3-0. For Indian team and Kohli though this was their second consecutive test series win and a step in the right direction.

So let us look at the good and the bad from the series as far as the Indian team is concerned.

The Good:

Ravichandran Ashwin (Matches – 4, Wickets – 31, Ave – 11.12, 5 wickets – 4):

When we are talking about the series we cannot look past Ravichandran Ashwin. He has been phenomenal for the team this year and once again was the highest wicket taker for India. He bowled beautifully and troubled the SA batsmen throughout the test series. He picked up 31 wickets at a ridiculous average of 11.12 and overall has a record of 176 wickets in 32 games. He has had an amazing run in Indian colors and within a short period of time has become India’s spearhead. Kohli and the Indian team would be hoping that he continues to do well for India in all formats.

Ravindra Jadeja (Matches – 4, Wickets – 23, Average – 10.82, 5 wickets – 2):

When the series began everyone knew that the all-rounder spot was the most crucial part of the X1. Virat Kohli’s 5 bowler theory meant that he needed someone who not only could bowl well but also contribute with the bat. Jadeja did that brilliantly throughout the series. His bowling was outstanding and his batting was decent enough. He made few crucial contributions later in the order to help India to decent totals. This biggest asset of Ravi Jadeja is his accuracy, he hardly gives anything away. Especially on pitches which help the spinners it is almost impossible to score of him. His economy rate of 1.76 is an able testimony to his accuracy and when you add 23 wickets at an average of 10.82, it becomes a deadly combination.

Ajinkya Rahane (Matches – 4, Runs – 266, Ave – 53.2, Hundreds – 2)

Ajinkya Rahane was the star of the Indian batting this series. He was the highest run getter in the series overall and was the only batsmen to score hundreds in this series. Rahane along with Kohli and Vijay was India’s mainstay during the overseas tours last couple of years but for some reason he never found his range in India. This series has hopefully changed that trend. Rahane was brilliant in Delhi where he batted amazingly well in both the innings to notch up back to back hundreds. He ended up with most runs with an amazing average of 53.2.

Virat Kohli (Captain) (Matches – 4, Runs -200, Average – 33.86, Hundreds – 0)

Virat Kohli as a batsman alone had an okay series even though he ended up as 4th highest run getter for India in the series. Virat as a captain though he had an outstanding series. The way he marshaled his resources on the field was very commendable. The way he kept attacking, his bowling changes, his field placements were all brilliant. He has had a dream start to his test captaincy. Even in Australia, even though we did not win, his captaincy was good. His conviction on using 5 bowlers at all cost is also helping India to be more attacking and have more options. He now has a weight of expectation on his shoulders and when India tour again, everyone would expect them to do better than what they did last year.

Murali Vijay (Matches – 4, Runs – 210, Average – 35, Hundreds 0)

Murali Vijay once again was India’s pillar at the top of the order. He started of brilliantly with crucial contributions in both the innings of the first test. He did go off the boil a bit at the end of the series but his contributions in the first couple of tests cannot be taken lightly. He once again proved that he is one of the linchpins of India batting and had a decent series as the opener under some touch conditions.

Honorable Mention – Cheteshwar Pujara.

The Bad:

Indian Batting Overall:

Even though there were some bright spots in the Indian batting department overall there were too many cracks. The Indian batting struggled and often collapsed from good positions to let SA back into the game. This was noticed in the Sri Lankan series too. India needs to look at a reliable opening partner for Vijay. Dhawan had a very poor series with the bat but probably deserves one more series before we look for a replacement. Rohit Sharma was disappointing with the bat again. He hasn’t been consistent in this format and the management must be running out of patience with him. Finally Wridhiman Saha who has a wicket keeper is brilliant but as a number 6 batsman he falls short. India needs to rethink the 5 bowler strategy if we have Saha as the keeper. Even though he looks good enough to make some useful contributions down the order but does not look like someone who would make big scores. Number 6 looks little high of a position for him in the batting order. He would be a good number 7 if we are playing 6 batsmen. Something for the Indian camp to think about before their next tour which is not for a while.

The use of Pacers:

Even though Virat Kohli has a lot of faith on his fast men, they hardly bowled in the 4 test series. Let us just look at the number of overs each pacer bowled. Ishant bowled 62 overs in 5 innings in this series which amounts to 12 overs per innings. Yadav bowled 42 overs in 4 innings which amounts to an average of 10 overs per innings. Aaron bowled 20 overs in 3 innings which amounts to roughly 7 overs an innings. These are poor numbers. The bowlers did well in the limited opportunities they got. I understand that the pitches were not conducive to fast bowling but again to underuse fast bowlers so much is not going to be good in the long run. In the 90’s India did something similar where the pacemen were just in the team to bowl with the new ball and then disappear for hours before they are brought back to give the spinners some break. We surely don’t want to go back to that era. Javagal Srinath mentioned in his recent interview how that strategy was detrimental to India’s performance overseas while winning in India was easier.

So overall it was a good series and a win against the number 1 side in the world will be sweet for the young team. They now have a long break from this format and few things to ponder over before they play test cricket sometime in 2016. Till then it has been a decent year for the Indian test team. Winning a series in Sri Lanka after 22 years and beating the number 1 side in the world should cap off a good year for Virat Kohli as the test captain.

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.

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.

Bowling a major concern on an already disappointing tour

Mahindra Singh Dhoni

Dhoni will be hoping for a better performance from the young team in the test matches

The ODI series was a major disappointment for the young Indian team. The Indian team which reached the New Zealand shores as number 1 in the world was knocked off the perch by the spirited hosts. The Indian team struggled on the field with the ball and their much celebrated batting lineup failed to get the team out of the hole this time. The bowling attack has been extremely disappointing and as Dhoni said the team is still not certain about the bowling combination for the world cup in 2015.

The pacers were not able to stem the flow of runs and the spinners were not able to get the breakthroughs in the middle overs. Mohd Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar started all the games well with wickets at the top but lost steam in the middle and later overs. The third seamer was extremely disappointing too. Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma both went for plenty of runs and it is extremely difficult to imagine who will be part of the Indian team in a year’s time.

The spin department struggled to get wickets on this tour. Jadeja and Ashwin comparatively were economical to the rest of the attack but they hardly picked any wickets in the 5 games they played. Even though Ashwin and Jadeja lengthen the Indian batting order, their primary job is bowling and it seems like they would not be that effective overseas. India needs to find spinners who can pick up wickets in the middle overs along with containing the batsmen. The New Zealand batsmen were never in any pressure to accelerate as the bowling was extremely pedestrian and allowed the batsmen lots of freebees to score their runs from.

The batting too was extremely disappointing. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan struggled throughout and so did the middle order of Rahane and Raina. India dropped Raina in the later part of the series and Rayudu was reasonably okay but never kicked on after starts. The Shining lights of Indian batting again were Kohli and Dhoni. The both of them were the reason why India got closer in all the games. This has thrown lots of Indian plans haywire as this series has shown that the Indian ODI side is not as effective overseas as they would have imagined.

India would be defending their title in less than year in New Zealand and Australia and this series should mark as a wakeup call. The bowling attack needs to be seriously looked at and it will be interesting as to what changes we can see for the next all important tour to England. The test series which begins in a day will give the young Indian team to perform better and salvage something from an already disastrous tour. The batting has a chance to redeem themselves in the test series but the bowling will be the one on the scanner again.

It will be interesting to see who will partner Zaheer Khan and Mohd Shami in the first test. Umesh Yadav should be in the top of the pile to be considered for the first test. Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishwar Pandey will be fighting for one spot if India plans to go with 4 pacers. India would also be picking from Ashwin and Jadeja as the lone spinning all-rounder in the squad. Jadeja was excellent in South Africa and the only concern for Dhoni will be his batting. Ashwin hasn’t bowled well in the last couple of months so it will be a hard decision for the think tank to make.

The test series will begin tomorrow and India need to perform well to salvage something out of this tour. India got very close to winning the first test in South Africa and Dhoni will be hoping that the team would bounce back from the disappointing ODI series. The Indian test team looks more settled than the ODI team. The inclusion of Pujara will be very reassuring for the middle order and Rahane might get pushed up the order to accommodate another pacer in the squad. It will be an interesting series between two young sides and both teams would be hoping for great performance in the coming few days..

India Vs New Zealand – Can India fight back?

New Zealand team is on a high. They have just knocked India off their perch and are sitting pretty in the series with a 2-0 lead. Their batting and bowling is doing great and they have the Indian team under pressure. The Indian team though has been struggling with both bat and ball. The only reason they came close in both the ODI’s is because of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni being in great form.

The bowling is a bigger concern. Except for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami, Indian bowling has been really poor. They haven’t been able to keep the runs down nor have they been able to take wickets. Ishant Sharma has been really poor and India needs to drop him for sure. He has not been able to keep the lid on the scoring after good opening spells by Kumar and Shami. He hasn’t picked up wickets either. Varun Aaron finally might be able to get a look in.

The spin bowling too needs a rethink from the Indian think tank. Ashwin hasn’t picked up any wickets over the last 2 months and he hasn’t been too economical either. It will be prudent on the part of the think tank to include either the seam bowling all-rounder Binny or replace Ashwin with Mishra. India has Rohit and Raina already who can bowl some good part-time spin if needed. It will be interesting to see if Dhoni does change the combination in this all important game.

The opening also been a concern. Dhawan and Rohit have been really slow at the top putting tremendous pressure on the middle order. Rohit has been really slow at the top of the order and he hasn’t been able to capitalize on the starts either. Rohit’s strike rate outside Asia is a poor 72.03 and his average also is a modest 35. India needs to make a decision whether to push the inform Rahane to open with Dhawan and pushing Rohit to the middle order.

This is a crucial game for the Indian team and the think tank needs to make some harsh decisions. Dhoni has been really adamant with his team selections and it hasn’t worked out for him till now in the 5 overseas ODI’s. This is a must win game for the Indians and it will be interesting to see how the young players respond.