The 5 bowler strategy will be tested

Virat Kohli has been vocal about the 5 bowler strategy since he took over the test captaincy in Australia. India tried Harbhajan as the 5th bowler in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka hoping that Ashwin, Mishra and Harbhajan can compensate for the 7th batsmen in the team. The biggest problem for India though is that they haven’t found a reliable bowling all-rounder yet to successfully incorporate the 5 bowler strategy.

The other problem the team management will face is the batting combination. It is clear that the team think tank supports the selection of Rohit Sharma in the X1, but with the arrival of Pujara the debate begins once again. Rohit played at number 5 in the second and third tests in Sri Lanka and did reasonably okay at that spot. It is certain that Murali Vijay and Shikar Dhawan will reclaim their spots as the openers in the first test against SA which will push Pujara to number 3 in the order. Virat Kohli will bat at number 4 and Rahane at number 5.

This makes the selection very interesting. Considering Indian think tank still wants to employ 5 bowlers strategy that leaves only one spot open which will be taken by a wicketkeeper. So it will be interesting as to what combination India will play in the first test. The selection of Rohit Sharma is just one end of the stick. The other issue which India will face is getting a bowling all-rounder to occupy the number 7 spot if at all they decide to go with 5 bowlers.

India employed Stuart Binny for the last 2 tests in Sri Lanka. Binny did okay in those games but again he will not be that effective on Indian pitches. He might score some runs but his bowling will not be that effective on pitches which will be aiding spinners in all probability. In Indian conditions the team would need a spin bowling all-rounder to occupy the number 7 spot. India already has Ravichandran Ashwin who is a decent bowling all-rounder and Amit Mishra showed that he can handle the bat competently to score some useful runs down the order. Now the options for a spin bowling all-rounder is minimal.

Couple of years back Ravindra Jadeja was a certainty in the Indian team but his form has gone south in the last couple of years. His performance in the one off game against Bangladesh A was nothing to write home about. The other option India has is Karn Sharma. Karn’s performance in Adelaide on a turning track does not inspire much confidence on his test match bowling ability. His batting too wasn’t too flash in that game. The last and final option India has is Axar Patel. Axar has done well for India in limited opportunities he has received in the shorter formats but his credentials as a test match bowler is questionable.

So considering the above options for the 5th bowler, it will be interesting to see if India does decide to go with the 5 bowler option at all for the tests against SA. The return of the injured players and the arrival of Pujara back in to the X1 leaves the think tank with more headaches than they could handle. The batting combination needs to be worked out and the decision of Pujara or Rohit needs to be made ahead of the first test. This could also mean that India could ditch the 5 bowler strategy and play both Pujara and Rohit in the X1. If they decide to drop Rohit and play an all-rounder, it will be interesting to see whom they will pick. There are plenty of things to worry about for the Indian think tank ahead of the test series against South Africa. It will be interesting to see what combination Kohli & Co will go for in the test series.

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.

India VS New Zealand – India needs to rethink their team composition

The Indian team has been on the road for the past couple of months and they are yet to win an international game. The major concern for India is their bowling and batting has failed collectively in the one day games. The bowling after the new ball has struggled to maintain any sort of control over the scoring and the spinners haven’t been able to exert pressure in the middle overs. The only silver lining for the Indian team was that Shami and Bhuvneshwar bowled well in the death overs in the first ODI in Napier.

India needs to revisit their team composition. The batting has struggled against short pitched bowling except for Kohli and Dhoni and the bowling has struggled with control. Ishant Sharma has struggled to exert pressure with the ball. His spell completely negated the great start India had with the new ball. Ishant needs to be replaced with Varun Aaron. Ishant has struggled over the past couple of months and his economy rate is too high to be in the ODI team at the moment. Varun Aaron has pace and he had shown in the past that he can be accurate too.

The other position India need to look at is the all-rounder spot. Jadeja had done that effectively in the past but India needs to pick between him and Ashwin as the lone spinner in the team. Stuart Binny needs to get a look in as the bowling all-rounder. Binny bowls seam up and is a handy hitter down the order. He might give India the variety Dhoni has been looking for in these conditions. Dhoni needs to realize that it was bowlers like Binny who did wonderfully well in the New Zealand teams of the past. India has Rohit Sharma and Raina to bowl some part time spin if needed.

The batting also has struggled a bit with the start. Rohit Sharma who was in great form before the SA tour is really struggling at the moment. India needs to consider the possibility of pushing Rahane up the order. Rahane is a very good player of short pitched bowling and has been in great form. Dhawan showed some glimpses of regaining his touch in the first ODI and hopefully he can cash in on the same to play a long innings in the second game. Kohli has been in great touch and so has been the captain Dhoni.

The Indian team has played with the tried and tested combination over the past couple of months and it has not worked. The team needs to bite the bullet and take some harsh decisions. The current combination isn’t working and it is only prudent to change the team according to the conditions you are playing in. It will be interesting to see if Dhoni and Fletcher do make these changes for the important second ODI. Indian needs to win the second ODI to remain at the top of the rankings and this will be an important game for the visitors.

India gear up for New Zealand challenge – ODI series preview

India kicks off their New Zealand tour at Napier tomorrow where they play their first ODI against the hosts. India had a pretty disastrous ODI series against South Africa. The bowling completely disintegrated and the batting struggled to stand up to South African pace attack. The disappointing series could have been attributed to lack of practice prior to the ODI series but the team does not have such excuses this time.

The Indian squad has some changes for the New Zealand tour from the team which lost to South Africa earlier last month. Bowling again is going to be of great concern for the Indian team considering the small grounds and short boundaries. Let us look at the ODI squad selected for the New Zealand tour:

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Ishwar Pandey, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron

The squad is pretty good and except for Yuvraj the batting is almost the same as the one which toured South Africa in December. The absence of Yuvraj means Rahane and Rayudu fight for a single spot. Ajinkya Rahane was one of the bright spots for India in the South African series and is also a great fielder. He will most probably play in the first ODI ahead of Rayudu. The rest of the batting is expected to remain the same. Dhawan and Rohit would want to forget the South African series in a hurry and would want to put up a better performance at the start. The middle order is almost settled with Kohli, Rahane/Rayudu and Raina. Jadeja will play as the all-rounder and it will be a tossup between Ashwin and Binny.

MS Dhoni has always been fascinated with a medium pace all-rounder, so it will be interesting to see if he will play Binny ahead of Ashwin. The New Zealand pitches will aid seamers and Binny will be a useful option. India already has Jadeja and can use Rohit Sharma and Raina as off-spinning options if needed. The other interesting selection will be the pace bowlers. Varun Aaron makes a comeback to the squad after almost 3 years and provides a quick bowling option for the Indian captain. Shami Ahmed will be a sure starter for the first ODI but it will be interesting to see who will take the new ball with him.

Ishant Sharma is in the squad but I expect Bhuvneshwar Kumar to play ahead of him. Ishant had a pretty bad tour in South Africa and India would benefit playing a completely fresh attack in New Zealand. Ishwar Pandey is another option India has to mull over ahead of the first ODI in Napier. It will be interesting to see what combination India will play in the first ODI.

This is an important tour for the young team. They are ranked number 1 in the world and they are expected to beat the 8th ranked New Zealand team comfortably. Dhoni will hope that the team can step up to the challenge and put up a good performance. It will be an interesting series and it will be great to see the young team battling out in conditions unfamiliar to them. The batting came out with flying colors at the end of the South African tour and now it is time for the bowling to step up.

South Africa Test series – India team report card

The short and quick tour of South Africa comes to an end and India leave the SA shores with continued concerns with the bowling attack. While Kohli, Pujara and Rahane did exceedingly well with the bat, the Indian bowling continued to struggle to take 20 wickets overseas. The Indian lower order is also a cause for concern as Dhoni and Jadeja do not look reliable number 7 and 8 in tests. Below are the ratings of Indian players based on their performances in SA test series.

Shikhar Dhawan- (Matches: 2, Innings: 4, Runs: 76, Ave: 19, HS: 29) – (Rating: 2)

Shikhar came into this series with some very good performances in ODI’s. Even though there were some concerns over his technique, he was expected to make some runs on this tour. Dhawan had some starts on the tour but failed to convert any of those. His struggle against short pitched stuff would have been noted by bowlers of the other countries. He should be ready to be tested a lot on his upcoming tours. Shikhar will be extremely disappointed with his performance on this tour and will be hoping to correct the same in New Zealand next month.

Murali Vijay – (M: 2, Inn: 4, Runs: 148, Ave: 37, HS: 97) – (Rating: 6)

Murali Vijay showed that he has the technique and patience required to succeed overseas. He did an excellent job seeing off the new ball and played with lots of conviction against Steyn, Morkel and Philander. Vijay though will be extremely disappointed that he did not convert his starts to big scores and he loses some points for that. He would like to correct that in the upcoming tours. Being an opener, he needs to make most of the good starts and score big hundreds as it would take some pressure off the middle order.

Cheteshwar Pujara – (M: 2, Inn: 4, Runs: 280, Ave: 70, HS: 153) – (Rating: 9)

Pujara was one of the success stories on the short tour to South Africa. The youngster once again showed that he has the technique and temperament to carry the Indian batting forward for years to come. He showed excellent technique against the new ball and also proved that he can attack once the bowlers were little tired. His innings of 153 was an absolute gem and the way he attacked the SA bowlers in the final session was great to watch.

Virat Kohli – (M: 2, Inn: 4, Runs: 272, Ave: 68, HS: 119) (Rating: 9)

Before the start of this tour, Virat was the only Indian batsman with a test century outside subcontinent and was expected to lead from the front. Virat did that with flying colors in the first test with a brilliant ton against Steyn, Morkel and Philander on a pitch which was swinging and seaming a lot on the first day. Virat looked extremely comfortable and once against proved that he is one of the best young players in the world at the moment. Along with Pujara, Virat held the Indian batting together in both the tests and with an average of 68, he was one of the rocks of Indian batting on this tour.

Rohit Sharma – (M: 2, Inn: 4, Runs: 45, Ave: 11.25, HS: 25) (Rating: 2)

Rohit Sharma had an extremely poor tour and there is no two ways about it. It is not that he is not talented but his penchant for chasing wide deliveries outside off stump came back to haunt him again in this series. An average of 11.25 with a high score of 25 shows the predicament India find themselves with Rohit. He was the in form player at the start of this series and a lot was expected of him in this series. Rohit would want to quickly forget about this tour and would want to make an impact in the upcoming New Zealand tour. The only reason he gets any ratings at all is because he took couple of catches in the slips.

Ajinkya Rahane – (M: 2, Inn: 4, Runs: 209, Ave: 69.66, HS: 96) (Rating: 9)

Ajinkya Rahane was the surprise package of the tour. Everyone knew that this young man was talented but the ease with which he played the South African pacers was something unexpected. Rahane showed that he is one for the future and can serve the Indian middle order for a long time. Most of the times in the series he ran out of partners, if not he would have scored more runs. India needs to stick with him and along with Virat and Pujara; he can form a great middle order for years to come.

MS Dhoni – (M: 2 Inn: 4, Runs: 87, Ave: 21.25, HS: 29, Cat: 3) (Rating: 4)

MS Dhoni will be extremely disappointed with the way he batted in this series. It is a known fact that Dhoni isn’t a reliable batting option overseas but on this tour he was guilty of throwing away few good starts. Especially in the first innings of the Durban test when India were 320 odd for 5, Dhoni had a great opportunity to drive home the advantage with a good partnership with Rahane but it was not to be. Knowing how fragile the Indian lower order is, India cannot afford to have a non-performing Wicket keeping option. Dhoni needs to contribute more with the bat overseas if he wants to continue as the Indian wicket keeper. His captaincy too came in for lots of criticism and his usage of bowlers were bizarre in the first test while India were pressing for victory.

Ravindra Jadeja – (M: 1, Inn: 2, R: 8, Ave: 4, HS: 8, W: 6, Ave: 25.66, SR: 62.3) (Rating: 7)

Ravindra Jadeja played in the Indian team in the second test as the specialist spinner and as an all-round option. He was brilliant with the ball and troubled the South African batsmen. He was kind of a lone warrior in the first innings in Durban where he picked 6 wickets while the rest of the bowling struggled. He has probably sealed his spot as the premier spinning option overseas with this performance. The only thing which will concern the Indian think tank is his batting. His irresponsible batting in the second innings in Durban when India was looking to save the test was shocking. He had Rahane batting beautifully at the other end but decided to attack Peterson and got caught. Considering how poor Indian lower order has been India needs substantial contribution with the bat from Jadeja who is playing in the team as an bowling all-rounder.

Ravichandran Ashwin – (M: 1, Inn: 2, R: 18, Ave: 18, HS: 11*, W: 0) (Rating: 2)

Ashwin began this tour as India’s premier spinner but at the end of the series has lost out to Jadeja. Ashwin did not have any redeeming factors in the first test. He did not bowl well and his batting too did not set the world on fire. He did bowl economically in the second innings of the first test but as the premier spinner he was expected to take wickets which he did not. It will be interesting to see his role in the future tours as Jadeja looks a sure starter in the first test against New Zealand next month.

Ishant Sharma – (M: 2, Inn: 4, W: 5, Ave: 62.60, SR: 108.0, BB: 4/79) (Rating: 3)

It was yet another frustrating tour for Ishant Sharma. An average of 62 and a Strike rate of 108 will do a batsman proud but for the premier bowler of a team with 50 tests behind him those are shocking numbers. The only reason Ishant finds himself in the team is because of his experience and I am not sure how long the selectors will continue placing faith in him. India needs to look past Ishant as he has been mediocre over the years. He needs to get back to the basics and probably spend couple of years in domestic cricket. The only reason he gets a rating is because of his good spell in the first innings of the first test.

Zaheer Khan – (M: 2, Inn: 4, W: 7, Ave: 45.71, SR: 75.8, BB: 4/88) (Rating: 4)

This was the comeback series for Zaheer and much was expected from him as the leader of the back. Zaheer has been with the Indian team thrice to South Africa prior to this series and was expected to use all of his experience to guide an inexperienced team on this tour. He started off well in the first test but lost steam by the time India reached Durban. The veteran though went past 300 test wickets becoming only second Indian pacer after Kapil Dev to reach that number. Zaheer will be hoping to do better in the New Zealand test series where he has a brilliant record in the past. We need him to guide the Indian pacers in some vicinity, if not a player at least as a consultant.

Mohammed Shami – (M: 2, Inn: 4, W: 6, Ave: 43.83, SR: 75, BB: 3/107) (Rating: 5)

Shami was the least experienced Indian bowler on this tour and even though his numbers don’t show it, he bowled with great heart. He was the only bowler who looked threatening and was always attacking the stumps. Shami needs to be persisted with and hopefully he will become a reliable bowler India has been looking for a long time. India would be hoping that he will continue to develop and will lead the Indian bowling for years to come after Zaheer hangs up his boots.

Asia Cup squad – Seniors return as expected

Mahindra Singh Dhoni will want a good performance from the team after the debacle at the World T20 and Zimbabwe

The team for Asia cup was announced earlier this week and as expected the seniors have returned to the squad after being rested for the tri-series in Zimbabwe. The experiment of playing an A team in Zimbabwe back fired badly as India crashed out without making the finals losing twice to Zimbabwe. The Indian bowling was poor and the batsmen were inconsistent. The star performers from that tri series have been retained though in the squad to Srilanka for the Asia cup (The other two teams being Pakistan and Bangladesh).

Rohit Sharma who made two centuries in Zimbabwe makes the squad, so does Virat Kohli. The selectors have given another chance to Dinda who was ordinary in Zimbabwe and also Ravichandran Aswin who turned in a decent performance in the only chance he got on the tour. Ravindra Jadeja has been retained in the squad after he scored couple of valuable 50’s on the tour, even though his bowling and fielding has been largely disappointing.

Yuvraj Singh has been dropped for the Asia cup due to his poor form and fitness. He was one of the members in the squad pointed out by Gary Kirsten as being unfit to play any form of cricket. Yuvraj’s form has deserted him since his return from injury and I hope that he takes this break on his stride and really works on his fitness and form. He is a brilliant limited overs player and India would want him fit and firing for the World Cup next year in India.

Sachin Tendulkar has been rested for the Asia cup as per his request to be able to spend more time with his family. The rest of the squad pick themselves with Dhoni returning as the captain of the team. Ghambir and Sehwag will return to the top of the order with Raina, Kohli and Rohit forming the middle order. The all-rounder spot will be up for grabs and will be a tossup between Aswin and Jadeja. Dhoni will be back donning the gloves followed by Bajji, Zaheer, Praveen and Nehra completing the X1.

Saurabh Tiwary makes his India debut after a brilliant IPL for the Mumbai Indians. I doubt that he will make it to the final X1 though unless there is a injury or a dead game where India can experiment. I hope that he gets a chance though as he is an exciting talent.

All in all a decent job by the selectors considering the options they had. The onus will be on the experience of Sehwag, Ghambir and Dhoni. The bowling even though experienced might do okay on the slow Lankan pitches. Bajji will be crucial and so will the part-time spinners. I hope that we put up a decent performance this time and hopefully will reach the finals.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Pragyan Ojha, Ashok Dinda, R Ashwin, Saurabh Tiwary.

Tactical errors cost India a place in the semis

India crashed out of the World T20 this Sunday after they lost to England by 3 runs at Lords. Needing 154 to win, the Indian batsmen made 150/5 to lose the game to England. The Indian top order was found out by the WI pace bowlers in the previous game when they bowled short pitched stuff to Rohit, Ghambir and Raina who looked unsettled against the same.

England used the same tactics and was successful again. I know that there was only a day between the two matches but why didn’t Indian coach and captain find a way to counter it. It was a given that the English bowlers would try the short pitched stuff again. The overall captaincy of Dhoni in the World T20 was strange and sometimes hard to understand. He made too many tactical errors which cost India at crucial times.

First of all Yuvraj being the senior member in the team, should have always batted at number 4. I don’t understand why you need to hide a batsman who is the best in the side and could have made the English bowlers nervous. Sending Jadeja ahead of Yuvraj was baffling to me.

The other striking error was not bowling RP Singh at the death. RP Singh replaced Irfan Pathan for this crucial game and bowled a brilliant first spell just giving away 13 runs in his first 3 overs for the wicket of Luke Wright but still Dhoni decided to bowl Ishant and Zaheer who were more expensive. It’s a known fact that Ishant is not a good bowler at the death but RP Singh is. Ishant and Zaheer went for too many runs in the end giving England an easy passage to 150 when they had no chances of getting there at one stage.

England scored 53 runs in the last 5 overs and they did not have to take any risks. Harbajan bowled 2 wides which went for 4 and that too in the crucial last over when the first 5 balls had only yielded 2 runs and a wicket. The only thing Bajji had to do it to bowl straight and India would have won the game. The extra 5 runs given pushed the score beyond 150.

Overall the batting and the bowling in the campaign for India was too inconsistent to say the least. Well all in all it was a pathetic performance and India for sure will be hurt by this. The next series will commence pretty soon against the WI where we play 4 ODI’s and hopefully we can do well. The Indian youngsters need to work hard against the short pitched bowling as WI has a good pace attack.

It seems like Sachin might not go to WI which will be a huge blow to the Indian chances. Sehwag might come back to the side which will boost the top order and I hope that we get back Sreesanth in the team along with Munaf. WI pitches are slow and low and we need bowlers with pace in the team. Zaheer might also not play in the series due to injury.

India plays SA later today in their final game of the ICC WorldT20 and they have nothing at stake but the pride. I am sure that Dhoni and his men would want to end the tournament with a win which will give them some confidence ahead of the WI tour.