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.

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.

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.

Champions Trophy – Top order and Bowling a major concern for India

India takes on South Africa in couple of days in Sophia Gardens and they still have few issues to address before the big game. The team selected for a major trophy like the Champions Trophy has a few gaping holes which might prove to be India’s undoing in the tournament. Murali Vijay has failed in the two warm up games and so has Dhawan. Rohit Sharma’s continued lackluster showing at the international level isn’t helping India’s already inexperienced batting lineup.

The batting entirely depends on the experience of Dhoni, Raina and Kohli. Dinesh Karthik has shown excellent form in the two warm up games and Dhoni will be hoping that he takes that form into the tournament. The opening combination of Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan does not inspire a huge amount of confidence at the moment. It seems like Dhoni will not open with Rohit in the Champions Trophy which means that India has to stick with the Vijay/Dhawan combo for the tournament unless they push either Pathan or Karthik to the top of the order.

The bowling too lacks experience in the absence of Zaheer. Ishant Sharma isn’t consistent enough to lead the attack and Irfan Pathan isn’t the same bowler he was at the start of his career. It will be interesting to see the combination India go in with for the first game against South Africa. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has done enough to retain his place in the squad and I am thinking that Umesh Yadav will share the new ball with him. Ishant’s good performance against the Aussies in the second warm up game will help him hold on to the third pace bowling spot. Jadeja is almost a certainty for the all-rounder spot in the X1 and Ashwin might just hold on to the specialist spinner spot in the team ahead of Mishra.
The top order is still a concern for India and so is the death bowling. The Indian bowlers were carted all over the park by the Sri Lankan batsmen in the first warm up game. Even though the bowlers made a great comeback in the second game, the concern still remains. The consistency of the pace bowlers and the spinners is to be questioned. Dhoni will hope that the Indian bowlers hit their straps when they take on South Africa in the opening game of the Champions Trophy.

The top order has crumbled in both the games only to be saved by Kohli/Karthik in the first game and Dhoni/Karthik in the second game. Vijay and Dhawan have both failed to get going in both the warm up games and it will be one of the areas of concern for the think tank. India found themselves 62/3 in the first game and 55/5 in the second. The top order need to get their act together if India is looking to progress to the Semi-finals. Rohit Sharma also hasn’t spent any time in the middle and has thrown his wicket away at least once in the two games he played ahead of the Champions Trophy.

This will be a difficult tournament for both Dhoni and Fletcher. The team is inexperienced and also it will be difficult for the players to shun all the commotion which is happening currently in India post IPL. Dhoni has been in the center of it all and he along with Duncan Fletcher has to make sure it does not affect the team performance. This will be an interesting tournament for the Indian team and it will be interesting to see how the youngsters perform at the highest stage. Champions Trophy is a tournament where there are no easy games and the teams need to hit their straps right away. India will know that and will be looking for a good start against South Africa.

The ODI series should mark the start of transition

The disastrous test series is finally over and with yet another overseas whitewash there have been calls for sweeping changes in the team. The fact is that this time it is kind of justified. The Indian middle order which has been the pillar of strength for the team over the years has started to crumble. Changes are meant to happen and this is the right time to do it.

The final test in Adelaide could have been used to blood Rohit Sharma in the middle order an opportunity which I felt was wasted.

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