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Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand

Finally the fans have gotten what they wished for, an India-Pakistan game. Just two days to go for the mother of all games and the hype surrounding the same is unbelievable. An India-Pakistan encounter is a very rare occurrence these days, so every game carries huge expectations among the fans of both the countries. The politicians, the movie stars, the business tycoons all will be in attendance at Mohali on 30th of March for this mouthwatering contest.

The teams though would not want to fall into this hype. They would want to keep this game simple and concentrate on their performance on the field. They would want to stay away from all the commotion which surrounds this semi-final game. I pity New Zealand and Srilanka as they have hardly got any attention ahead of their semi-final game tomorrow. So let’s take a look as to how the two teams stack up for the game on Wednesday. Both India and Pakistan have had their ups and downs during this world cup. Pakistan though contrary to the pre-tournament predictions has had a wonderful world cup. Except for the one slip up against New Zealand, they have done exceedingly well. Their bowling has clicked almost in every game and their batting has contributed enough to take them through.

Their win against West Indies in the quarters shows how well they have gelled as a team this tournament after all the off field issues they had prior to the same. Gul and Afridi have been brilliant and the addition of Misbah and Younis in the middle order has given the solidity the team was lacking over the last few months. So the Pakistani team would be quietly confident regarding their chances in the Wednesday’s semi-final game. The batting will be under the scanner and they would know that their bowlers cannot have an off day.

The Indian team on the other hand has had a mixed tournament. Their bowling and fielding has struggled and the batting has been inconsistent during the course of the tournament. The bowlers have failed to defend 300 twice in this tournament and the batsmen have collapsed from great position twice. The Indian bowling has heavily relied on Zaheer Khan who has been brilliant in this world cup. He has been the second highest wicket taker in the world cup and along with Harbajan Singh has been India’s consistent performer. Ravichandran Ashwin’s inclusion though has given India a definite edge over the past couple of games.

The Indian top order has been in great form and Raina’s inclusion ahead of Yusuf has given the team the necessary depth in batting. India would take a lot of heart from their performance against the Australians where their bowling and fielding was top notch. The Indian fielders put on an incredible performance to restrict Australia to an achievable total. The bowling was also pretty consistent and it was probably their best performance on the field in the entire tournament. That shows that probably the Indian team is peaking at the right moment for an important tournament like this. The Indian batting too showed that they have the necessary depth and quality to chase down a difficult total on a tough wicket.

Sachin, Ghambir, Yuvi and Kohli all looked in excellent touch. Sehwag coming back from an injury did not look that comfortable against the Aussies but knowing him, he will be very much ready for a contest as big as this. Raina who was included at the last minute showed amazing maturity to play a great short innings under pressure to guide India to victory in the quarterfinals. The win against the Aussies for sure would have been a great confidence booster for Dhoni’s men. On paper though you would say that the Indian team should win 9 times out of 10 but strength or form counts for nothing in India-Pakistan encounters. It’s the performance on the day which matters.

Indian management’s decision to not allow the players to interact with the media is a masterstroke as this will keep them focused on the game. It’s unfortunate that the Indian government is trying to make this a political game by inviting the Pakistani prime minister. This puts a lot of pressure on the players in the middle. I don’t know when the politicians will realize that this is just a game of cricket and politics has no place in sports. The pressure on the players is enormous as it is and they would appreciate a little respite.

Just couple of days to go for the D-day and fans from both the countries would want their team to win this game. I don’t even think anybody is worried about the finals as of yet as this game is as good as the final for the people of both these countries. I just hope that this game lives up to its billing and produces a wonderful contest. C’mon India!!!

The test series came to an end earlier this week with a convincing win from the home team. India virtually demolished the Kiwis in the final test to win the series 1-0. New Zealand though hung in well in the series until their wings came off in the final test. It seemed like they had given it all till then in the series and did not have much to contribute in the final test. But Vettori’s men should be proud of what they achieved in India after their disastrous campaign in Bangladesh. Playing against the number 1 team in the world they gave quite a scare to the home team in the first test, only to be denied by Harbajan Singh’s brilliance.

For the home team though this wasn’t the performance they would have hoped at the start of the series. India was starring down the barrel in the first test only to be saved by Laxman and Bajji and their bowling looked listless in the second test after claiming a huge first innings lead. So to be frank the final test win would have been more of a relief to Dhoni and India. India came into the series with a chance of improving their ranking points but ended up losing one point due to the final margin of victory. The good thing for India was that even South Africa did not have a great time in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan where they drew both their tests.

The series though had some positives for the Indian team. Rahul Dravid getting back to his best was the best thing for the Indian team ahead of a touch South African tour. Ishant Sharma getting his form back was another highlight of the series. Even Sreesanth gradually improved as the series wore on and was bowling brilliantly at Nagpur along with Ishant. It was heartening to see Ishant bowling quick and accurate after a long time. Gautham Ghambir also returned to some sort of a form in the final test and Dhoni’s runs should also give the Indians some confidence.

The other positives include Bajji’s batting, even though he could have taken more wickets as he himself admitted after the conclusion of the series. Laxman and Sehwag have continued their good form with the bat which will also be one of the major positives from the series. There were lots of good induvidual performances in the series but as a team they could have performed better. Their fielding for instance, as the captain himself mentioned after the series wasn’t special as there were far too many drop catches. The bowling from the spinners wasn’t that special either. Both Ojha and Harbajan did not look like running through sides at any time in the series.

All in all a convincing performance in the final test of the series but overall the team management will be disappointed with the victory margin. The focus now shifts to the ODI series which is all set to begin on Sunday and Ghambir has been named the captain for the first couple of ODI’s. The decision to rest the senior members of the squad for the one-day series is definitely a good move by the selectors as they could do with some rest before an important series against the proteas.

The second test between India and New Zealand just concluded at Hyderabad earlier this week and it was another boring draw. India, who were expected to roll New Zealand over considering the huge difference in the rankings have found this series pretty hard till now. With two draws in two games, the kiwis will be swelling with pride as none of the teams baring South Africa have gone away from India with a drawn series in recent times. The major problem for the home team has been the pitches and the lack of bite in the bowling department.

India has always been a tough place to tour for the western teams but in recent times with pitches getting flatter, teams have started to adapt much better. New Zealand has always done well in India as their previous tour was also a drawn series. Did the Indian team expect an easy series? Probably yes. Even though all the Indian players came in the media and claimed that they were not taking the Kiwis lightly, I am sure in their minds they thought it was going to be a piece of cake. The intensity was missing and the players seemed to go through the motions. It was just couple of brilliant innings from Harbajan which has helped India from trailing in this series.

So two draws in two games, which has been a very rare sight in the past year or so in India. Almost every series has produced a result and most of the games have been result oriented. So if we analyze closely, the problem is that both the teams have struggled to bowl out the opponents on flat pitches. Indians always have had issues with their bowling and it has shown through in this series. Harbajan has struggled to pick wickets, Sreesanth has been very inconsistent, and Ojha has been steady but doesn’t seem like someone who will run through sides. New Zealand again is a one man bowling team, in spite of an inspired spell by Martin in the first test; they still rely heavily on Vettori to pick wickets. Indian bowling though has been really disappointing, especially in the second test.

India was 122 runs in front of New Zealand with two days to go and you would expect the number 1 team in the world to win from that position. Indian bowling looked toothless and did not look like taking any wickets in the absence of Zaheer. Zaheer has been India’s stand out performer for Indian over the last 2 years and without him the bowling looks toothless. The below table shows the Indian bowling performances over the past couple of years:

Performance of Indian bowlers over the last 2 years

If you look at the list you will see that Zaheer has been exceptional, considering that India has played most of the games in the subcontinent. But the rest have been pretty ordinary. India’s premier spinner Harbajan averages little over 35 and the rest to put it mildly, have been mediocre. So how have India been winning games? Well the answer is pretty simple, the batting. Indian batsmen have been in supreme touch over the past couple of years and they have racked up huge scores. When India batted first they have scored big and even when they had to chase a big score they have matched the opponent or scored more than them. So the Indian bowlers have had the luxury of picking up wickets at an expensive average. So on an average the Indian bowling combination (Zaheer, Sreesanth/Ishant, Ojha and Harbajan) has to concede 374 runs for their 10 wickets going by their record over the last 2 years. It’s Hardly a mark of a top ranked test team.

India now needs to win the final game at Nagpur to win the series which is not the situation the team would have assumed at the start of the series. The team bowling combination has to be looked at seriously with an important series against the saffers looming large next month. The Indians would also be hoping that Zaheer is fit for the all important series as he has been our premier bowler over the last couple of years. I hope that we do better in the final game and win the series against New Zealand which will give us some confidence going into the next series against South Africa

Here is the second installment of my team India preview for the world cup 2011, this time we take a look at our batting. As we saw India’s bowling resources are thin and pose quite a lot of selection headaches, the Indian batting though has no such issues. This is one discipline India is quite settled ahead of the world cup. The batting order picks itself and even though Sachin Tendulkar hasn’t played in too many ODI’s this year, he will automatically return to the top of the order with Sehwag. So this means that Ghambir will have to fall to number three in the order. Sachin returning also means that Virat Kohli has to step aside from the X1 unless India decides to go with 7 batsmen.

Yuvraj in all probability should return to his customary number 4 spot followed by Raina and Dhoni. The reserves should be Kohli, Karthik/Uthappa (Any one of them can be keeping back up for Dhoni if the need arises) and probably Vijay or Pujara as the other backup. India has a settled top 6 and the number 7 spot is where the team management will be in a fix. The confusion would be to whether play Jadeja/Ashwin as the all-rounder or to play an extra batsman at number 7.

Even though such decisions can be based on the pitch conditions, this will be something which India needs to think about in the coming months. Ravindra Jadeja has hardly done anything spectacular with the bat and Ashwin is rather untested at this level. So this will be an interesting selection. The best way to determine who of these two will be the best fit is to give them chances in all the 5 ODI’s against New Zealand. Since most probably Bajji will be rested, it will be a great opportunity to play both Jadeja and Ashwin in the X1 together. It will also be important to give both these players an opportunity to bat in these games to see who can handle pressure at this level.

Now let’s look at the reserve batting options, Kohli sure will be in the squad and is actually very unlucky to miss out from the X1. In a big tournament like the world cup you surely need a keeping backup for Dhoni and the options in that case is very limited. Since Dhoni has hardly missed a game, none of the probable options have been tested. The only option who has played few games is Dinesh Karthik who opened the batting a few times during the absence of either Sehwag or Ghambir. The other interesting option is Robin Uthappa, who offers an attacking option with the bat and is decent behind the stumps. With Kohli sealing one spot in the batting, there might be just enough space for another player in the squad which will be an interesting pick. Vijay has struggled in the ODI’s and so has Rohit Sharma. The dark horse though might be Cheteshwar Pujara who impressed one and all with his match winning fifty against the Aussies. So again a lot can change in 3 months and some new candidates can emerge for contention.

But unlike our bowling the batting though looks pretty much settled with 7 batsmen almost sure of making the squad. India’s strength over the years has been their batting and they have bailed out the team very many times after an insipid bowling display. So even in this World Cup, India’s trump card will be their batsmen. If the batting clicks, India has a very good chance of giving the title a shot, but the bowlers have to do their bit too for that to happen. A great bowling performance in a tournament like the world cup can lift any side and India will be looking for such a hero in the 2011 edition.

Time is running out for Sreesanth to stake his claim for a world cup berth

World Cup 2011 is back in the sub continent and while everyone is hoping this to be the magical farewell Sachin deserves let’s look at India’s chances in a two step exercise. The first major discipline the Indian team most often struggles is their bowling. India has failed to get a consistent bowling partner for Zaheer over the past couple of years thereby putting lots of pressure on our premier bowler. Zaheer to his credit has responded incredibly well but let’s look at the possible bowling combinations India could try in the lead up to the World Cup.

Even though we have struggled in the bowling department, India has still managed to find some sort of consistency in the selection of the ODI squad. Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra have done a commendable job over the past year in the absence of Zaheer Khan. There have been few others tried in the meanwhile with limited success. So going by the latest trend, India might open the bowling with Praveen and Zaheer with Nehra being the first change. Since the world cup takes place in the subcontinent, I feel that pace is a very important factor rather than the swing. Unless we are playing in the northern part of India under cloudy skies, I don’t see the bowlers getting too much of swing. Praveen Kumar might have a lot of struggle under conditions which are not favorable to the bowlers.

So who could be the backup options? Ishant Sharma is one of them and of course Sreesanth might be in the squad too. Both of them have the pace but both of them are way too inconsistent to bank on. The unfortunate part is that Ishant Sharma got injured when he was looking like getting back to some sort of rhythm against the Aussies and Sreesanth who replaced him for the next game looked very rusty. India has around 10 ODI’s to try various combinations and I hope we do try everyone who might be part of the squad in all those games and make sure that the main bowlers are fit for the major event.

So currently the pace bowling list looks like this, Zaheer, Ishant, Praveen, Nehra and Sreesanth. There are other names too in the list who have played on and off in the team like Munaf Patel, Abhinav Mithun and Vinay Kumar. Since the world cup is in the subcontinent I am thinking that we will not be looking at more than 4 pacers in the 16. I wouldn’t want to be one of the selectors for sure when they sit down to pick the team for such a major event. A home tournament means that you at least have easy access to replacements when someone gets injured. The spin department too throws quite a lot of names with Bajji being the only settled bowler in the X1. The other spinners who could make the 16 are Ashwin, Ojha, Mishra and Jadeja. The chances of Ashwin and Jadeja being the second spinner is more likely as they both are in the squad as the allrounders. The BCCI’s plan of sending the Indian test squad early to South Africa to get acclimatized to those conditions would mean that the selectors can try out different combinations in the home series against New Zealand.

Even though we should have identified our combinations by now, it seems like we have fallen little back on trying out few players. Ravichandran Ashwin has just played couple of ODI’s till date and Ojha has never gotten a consistent run in the team. Mishra too has not been part of the squad for a considerable length of time. This probably shows that we are one of the most underprepared team right now among the favorites in the bowling department. With teams like South Africa, England and Sri Lanka playing with almost settled squads for close to a year now, India is still looking for the right combination ahead of the world cup.

Captain Dhoni said in his latest interview that he will be looking to play the full team in the ODI series against the proteas, which leaves the selectors with just the ODI series against the Kiwis to experiment. With various combinations to try and with bowlers like Vinay Kumar and Mithun in the wings, I am not sure how we are going to pick a 16 at the moment. Except for Zaheer, Nehra, Bajji and Praveen the rest of the bowling just looks like a lottery at the moment. It will an interesting selection and the coming months will give us a clearer picture. Whatever may be the squad, I just feel that the selectors have left this too late for comfort. We just have to hope that the prime contenders hit form at the right moment for the big tournament.

Dinda has been very disappointing in the ongoing tri-series in Zimbabwe

The ongoing tri-series in Zimbabwe has proven one thing for sure that India will continue to struggle with the bowling well into the future. When Ishant Sharma made his debut he looked the part. He troubled the best of the best and bowled with pace and accuracy. There was never a doubt that he had enormous talent. The only frustrating part is that he let it all go within the matter of a year.

This has been the problem with the Indian bowling over the years. They all come in with a bang but fade away in couple of years. The list is endless; Nehra, Pathan, Munaf, Sreesanth, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma etc. have followed the same pattern. But looking at the current set of bowlers in Zimbabwe, they seem well short of International standard. None of them have even troubled a Zimbabwe team who has hardly played any international cricket.

This shows that we don’t have any good prospects coming up in the near future to take over the bowling mantle. So with the Indian team having a busy schedule ahead of them this year we surely need Ishant and Sreesanth back to their best. With India playing tests against Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa this year, we need one of these two to be back to their best. Even though BCCI had a noble thought of playing almost an A team in the Zimbabwe series I feel that they missed a trick by not having an experienced bowler to guide these youngsters.

If not Zaheer, they should have at least had Irfan or RP Singh as it would have also given them a chance to make a comeback to the Indian team. With all the bowlers being new and with zero international experience, they have come well short of expectations. Losing to Zimbabwe two games in a row is unacceptable even for an Indian A team.

Umesh Yadav, even though looks promising is way inconsistent to bowl at the international level, so is Dinda. With the spinners also disappointing in the current series it seems like it will be difficult to look past Bajji for some time to come. India needs to really unearth a potent combination soon as they have few important series coming up.

So it will be interesting to see what the bowling combination would be for the upcoming series in Srilanka and the Asia cup. I am expecting Zaheer and Bajji to be back in the test team but the rest of the attack is still undecided. I guess it’s time to go back to Ishant and Sreesanth and hope that they hit form.

Rahul Dravid castled by Jeetan patel in India's warm up game against NZ

Rahul Dravid castled by Jeetan patel in India's warm up game against NZ (Courtesy Cricinfo)

Captain MS. Dhoni will have a lots to think about between now and Saturday when India take on a buoyant Pakistan team in the first match of the ICC Champions trophy. India played NZ in their only warm up match before the tournament started and were badly beaten by 101 runs. The problem for India was again the bowling. India for sure has one of the worst bowling line up among the top 7 teams (excluding WI) and it’s going to certainly diminish their chances of winning the Champions Trophy.

Ishant, RP and Praveen yesterday were pretty ordinary and went for more than 7 an over. Only Mishra, Yusuf and Raina were economical which again puts the Indian captain under lots of pressure. Spinners being the best bowlers might force the captain to go with Mishra and Bajji in the lineup compromising a fast bowler. Praveen might be shown the door after yesterday’s performance but the rest aren’t that great either.

Ishant Sharma has been really poor over the past year and has consistently gone over 6 runs per over. He has never been able to restrict the runs or take wickets. Nehra after his comeback had a good WI series and bowled well in patches but again lacks consistency to lead the pace attack. RP Singh has just made a comeback after injury and is yet to regain his pace and swing. So India has to totally rely on Bajji and the part-timers to restrict the run flow if they decide against 2 spinners.

The batting also seems a little bit rusty but expecting them to chase 300 every time is expecting too much. The Indian batting is strong but they can collapse once in a while like they did yesterday. Yeah agreed that Sachin wasn’t playing but to rely on just one player is taking the team back by 10 years. The news from the team management is that Ghambir isn’t 100% fit, which is a shock as he has been picked in the squad. I don’t know why you would pick a player for an important trophy if he not 100% fit.

I think that they have to think about Yusuf Pathan’s position in the team too. He hasn’t done anything significant with the bat in the 50 over game and has bowled okay in the chances he has been provided. I guess Irfan will be a better all rounder for India in limited overs format. Looking at the current scenario the Indian team is long way away from being the number 1 team in the world. Probably in the current scenario we are good enough to be number 3 team but unless we improve our bowling we can’t claim to be the world’s best.

As far as the champion’s trophy goes, India will be hard pressed to beat Pakistan and Australia who have a good batting lineup and much better bowling lineup than India. I will not be surprised if we don’t make it to the semis. It all depends on how our batsmen play against the Aussie and the Pakistani bowlers.

Daniel Vettori being congratulated by his team mates on reaching 300 test wickets

Daniel Vettori being congratulated by his team mates on reaching 300 test wickets

Daniel Vettori became just the 8th player in the history of cricket to have achieved the double of 3000 runs and 300 test wickets in test cricket. He completed the double in his 94th test. Congrats to Dan on this fabulous achievement. He has been one of the most underrated spinner in the world and one of the most unassuming character’s in cricket.

Below is the list of cricketers who have acheived this feat in the past (Courtesy Cricinfo):

List of Players who have achieved this feat in the Past

List of Players who have achieved this feat in the Past

Dhoni with the trophy after India completed a 1-0 win in the test series against the Kiwis

Dhoni with the trophy after India completed a 1-0 win in the test series against the Kiwis

41 years of wait finally ended as India completed 1-0 series win in New Zealand. This win will be particularly sweet for the seniors in the team as they have been on the receiving end on more than one occasion. It was a fantastic performance by the Indian team and was a total team effort.

I was little bit disappointed that we were unable to close out the 3rd test and win the series by 2-0 margin. When the rain halted the proceedings on day 5 with New Zealand on 284/8 the only thing which came on every Indian supporter’s mind was If only we had 10 more overs. If we look back at the 4th day’s play India batted too long I thought. We should have probably given NZ a target of 550-575. I don’t think that the Kiwis would have had a realistic chance of scaling that score against the Indian bowling attack.

Anyways that’s just in the hindsight. Nothing should be taken away though from the team as they have completed another major victory. They just have two more mountains to climb, Australia and South Africa. If they can achieve this while Sachin, Dravid and Laxman are still in the team it will be really great. Yeah there is one more location India hasn’t won that often which is Sri Lanka. Twice in last ten years we lost the series after going in to the final test with 1-1 score line.

For India to win in Australia and SA they have to improve their fielding and catching as this let them down badly in New Zealand. If Ishant hadn’t spilled a sitter of Ian O’ Brian of Sachin India probably would have won 2-0. So that’s one area which we have to work on. The second area of concern is the third seamer. I would prefer Sreesanth to come into the squad in the place of Munaf. Munaf is a good bowler but sometimes he looks lifeless on the field. I am not even talking about his bowling but just his body language which sometimes is not that encouraging.

Well overall this has been a fantastic series for the Indians. Winning the one-day series 3-1 and later winning the test series 1-0 will give lots of satisfaction to the Indian captain. There were some great individual performances from Ghambir, Zaheer and Harbajan. Sachin, Dravid and Laxman also batted brilliantly and gave consistent performances throughout the tour. Dhoni’s captaincy throughout the tour was excellent and aggressive. All in all a fantastic performance and a great win by Team India.

India are on the verge of winning their first test series in New Zealand as the hosts are struggling at 167/4 at the end of Day 4 chasing an impossible 617 to win. The Indian batting and the bowling has been far superior to the Kiwis in this tour which was far more evident in this test match. The Indians got to 379 in their first innings thanks to the lower order batting.

The Indians were reeling at 204 for the loss of 6 wickets at one point but a brilliant partnership between Dhoni and Harbajan got the visitors over 300. Both of them scored half centuries. Harbajan and Zaheer continued the agony for the Kiwis as India ended up with 379 in their first innings. The Kiwis though in their response were rolled over for 197 due to a brilliant spell of swing bowling from Zaheer. Zaheer was ably assisted by Harbajan who picked up vital 3 wickets.

The Indians batted well in the second innings riding on a brilliant hundred from Ghambir to set 617 to chase for the Kiwis. There are few criticisms on Dhoni as he batted on longer than required on the 4th morning but I guess he knew what he was doing. I guess even if we had 18 more overs in the day we couldn’t have gotten much further. Probably New Zealand would have ended up with more on the board.

Even though there is forecast for rain tomorrow, I hope that we get enough overs in to dismiss the Kiwis as it will be a well deserved victory for the Indian team. This will also be the 100th test win for the Indians and their first test series victory in NZ in 48 years. I guess there is lots of history in the making tomorrow and a well earned series victory in sight for the men in blue.


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