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.

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.

BCCI advisory board making the right noises

BCCI had recently announced an advisory board for the national team comprising of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. It wasn’t clear what the actual role of these greats were as a part of the advisory board. The advisory board though has started making recommendations within weeks of their appointment suggesting that improvement of the national and domestic scene would be their primary role.

Here are some recommendations made by the board to BCCI:

Identify a pool of 30 bowlers:

This is probably the most important recommendation of all. Bowling has been a major trouble for team India over the years and this if implemented probably will help towards correcting that. The recommendation was to identify 15 pacers and 15 spinners from domestic as well as U-19 and U-23 cricket and appoint mentors for both disciplines to take care of them. But it is not clear as to what taking care means. Whether they will coach them actively or will these bowlers be part of some sort of camp is not something which is mentioned yet. It will be great if these bowlers are also kept away from IPL and are only played in domestic/A-tours. BCCI selection committee will be responsible to identify these 30 bowlers and it will be interesting to see who makes it to the final list.

Increase the number of A-tours:

This is something BCCI has been already doing. India does play quite a lot of A-tours. The recommendation though suggests that BCCI should schedule A-tours few months ahead of an international away series. This will be a good one as this will allow players to get acclimatized to the conditions ahead of time and will help them to plan for the tour. BCCI did do this last year with A-tour to SA months before India toured there for 2 tests but this isn’t something which is happening more frequently.

Renew the Talent Resource Development Wing (TRDW):

This was something which was introduced way back and was scraped for some reason. The new advisory board wants to renew or reinstate the TRDW again. The Talent Resource Development Officers (TRDO’s) used to attend domestic games and identify bright talents across the country. The primary role of the TRDO’s was to just do that but again this idea was scrapped and this is no longer happening. I read somewhere that the match referees are doubling as the talent scouts which does not make sense. So this seems like another good recommendation.

So these are some interesting developments after the BCCI initiative with the advisory board. The board has made some important recommendations but again it will be interesting to see how and when BCCI implements these. It is great to see the advisory board taking their role seriously but again unless these recommendations actually take effect we cannot read too much into them.

IPL 2015 – Young talent makes IPL an interesting watch

IPL evokes mixed emotions among fans across the world. Some people call it great entertainment whilst the others call it a meaningless slogathon. The only thing as an Indian fan which compels me to watch this long drawn out tournament is the young Indian players. In the past the only way to know about a young talent is when they made the Indian team. In the last 15 years or so television has brought domestic games closer to us but still not a lot of us get time to follow them. The IPL though is something which sheds light on these young talents. The current IPL is no different. Performances in the IPL need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Even though there are some great bowlers taking part in the tournament, flat pitches and small boundaries kind of negate any sort of impact they might have on the batsmen. In spite of all that it takes a special talent for an uncapped player to perform in front of record crowds and against some international greats. So here is the list of players that impressed me this season. I am only including their list A and FC records as a yardstick as I don’t think performances in IPL should be taken into account when selecting players for ODI’s and test cricket.

Shreyas Iyer (FC: 50.56, LA: 54.60)

Of all the young players this season none impressed me more than this 20 year old. Shreyas Iyer opened the batting for Delhi Daredevils and has performed brilliantly with the bat. Shreyas represents Mumbai in first class cricket and has made an impressive start to his career. He already has 2 hundreds in 10 first class games and averages 50. His List A record is also impressive as he averages 54 with a hundred already to his credit in 6 games. Shreyas looks primed for India debut sooner than they would have imagined but again it will be interesting to see if the selectors go for him in the upcoming tour to Bangladesh. Shreyas looks like a test prospect for India and I hope he is not thrown in too soon in that format.

Deepak Hooda (FC: 50.63, LA: 40.60)

Here is another youngster who has had an impressive beginning in first class cricket for Baroda. Deepak Hooda has 2 first class hundreds in 8 games at an impressive average of 50.63. He had a brilliant start to IPL for Rajasthan Royals but has fallen off the grid as the tournament progressed. Hooda has brilliant hand eye coordination and has shown that even at the age of just 20 he can hit long balls. Hooda looks a perfect middle order prospect for ODI/T20 format for India as he can bowl part time off spin if needed. Hooda is another brilliant find this season by Rajasthan who lead the way in unearthing good Indian talent.

Pawan Negi (FC: Bat – 27, Bowl – 42, LA: Bat – 6.00, Bowl – 33.66)

The Delhi left arm spinner who plays for CSK does not have enough FC experience at this point. The 22 year old though has shown enough spark in the T20 games to suggest that he could be a good back up for Ravi Jadeja in the shorter formats. Pawan is a good lower order bat and a good left arm spinner who has done well for CSK in IPL games. He needs to play more FC games for us to judge if he can represent the Indian team beyond T20’s and ODI games. Pawan has shown great talent with the bat which augurs well for India in the shorter format. Let’s hope that with experience he can become a good bowling all-rounder for India in all formats.

Sarfaraz Khan (FC: 23.75, List A: 29)

Young Sarfaraz is all of just 17 years of age and has been a revelation for RCB in IPL 2015. He has played couple of crucial innings for RCB this season and looks like a great prospect for team India in the future. Sarfaraz hasn’t played too many FC games to take his stats seriously. He is just 17 and has few more years to find his feet at this level. His talent is apparent but we need to make sure that he is not rushed to international cricket. Sarfaraz needs few years in FC cricket before he can be considered for Indian team and I hope that he gets there.

Yuzvendra Chahal (FC Bowling: 40.06, LA Bowling: 23.28)

Chahal is a good young leg-spinner who has held his own this season for RCB. The Haryana leg-spinner does not have earth shattering FC record but has a very good LA record. With India looking for a good leg-spin option in shorter format, Chahal can fit the bill. He has great control for the shorter formats and his economy rate of 3.98 in LA games show that he can be miserly as well. A bowler who can pick wickets and also keep the lids on the scoring is a perfect recipe for shorter format. The Indian selectors need to keep a close eye on him for the future as he can be a useful addition to the Indian ODI/T20 bowling line up.

Shreyas Gopal (FC Bat: 34.86, FC Bowl: 23.55)

Okay Shreyas Gopal hasn’t played many games for Mumbai Indians this season. In fact he just played one game at the start of the season and has not been considered again for MI in this season. Shreyas is a brilliant prospect for India in all formats. A leg-spinner with good control, Shreyas provides great variation the Indian team is looking for in the bowling lineup. Not only Shreyas is a good leg-spin option he also has 2 first class hundreds to his name at an average of 35 which makes him a very good option in tests and ODI. I included Shreyas because he is very talented even though we hardly saw him play this season. Hopefully the selectors are keeping an eye out form as he has performed brilliantly for Karnataka in Ranji trophy.

Honorable mention: Anureet Singh (FC Bowl: 26.67, LA Bowl: 23.36) and Jagadeesha Suchith

The above players might get a look in sooner if the selectors are going to send in an experimental squad to Bangladesh earlier next month. There are also others like Sanju Samson, Suryakumar Yadav, Sandeep Sharma and KM Jadav, who are consistent performers for their state sides over the years and have also performed excellently in the IPL who will be hoping to get a look in, in the upcoming tour. It will be interesting to see what team the BCCI decides to send to Bangladesh. The performance of Bangladesh against Pakistan at home would probably sway BCCI to send much more balanced squad this time but again there is scope for some experimentation. It will be interesting to see if any of the youngsters find a place in the ODI team. Sanju Samson, Sandeep Sharma, Anureet Singh and Kedar Jadav will be in the top of the pile as some regulars are expected to miss out.

CW2015 – India get their combination right

Mohit Sharma has been the key to bring the much needed discipline to the Indian pace bowling in the middle overs.

Mohit Sharma has been the key to bring the much needed discipline to the Indian pace bowling in the middle overs.

After a crushing win against South Africa in their second game of 2015 world cup, India have strengthened their hold at the top spot of Pool B. India now has won two important games and would be harboring thoughts of finishing at the top of Pool B. India now take on UAE in their next game at Perth and would be hoping for another clinical win against the team from the middle east.

India once again got their basics right against South Africa. Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat once again. The Indian batsmen once again obliged and batted sensibly to post their second 300+ score in the world cup. A chase of over 300 was always going to be difficult at MCG. The bowling and fielding rose to the occasion and delivered a massive 130 runs win, their first win against South Africa in world cups. The South African team on the other hand looked pretty rusty and after a not so impressive win against Zimbabwe this loss should sound as a wakeup call to the pre-tournament favorites.

For India though things seem to be falling into place. All the tinkering Dhoni & co did in the tri-series preceding the world cup seems to be bearing fruit finally. The Indian team seems to have identified their core group. The team has the right combination and baring few changes here and there this should be the team which will play most of the games.

The Bowling:

The Indian bowling has finally found it’s mojo in the shorter format with excellent help from the fielders. Shami and Umesh have been great with the new ball and Mohit Sharma has brought the much needed control as the first change. The spinners too have done very well in the middle overs and have been able to take wickets at crucial times in both the games. The Indian bowling still needs to be flexible and I think that the games in Perth might see Binny replacing Ashwin in the X1. Also when India plays in New Zealand we might see Bhuvneshwar Kumar replacing Yadav as he is more suited to those conditions. I think Dhoni trying out all the bowlers in Australia prior to the world cup has very clear idea about the ability of the bowlers. Dhoni himself would be pleasantly surprised with the control the pacers have shown in the first couple of games and would want it to continue for the rest of the tournament.

The Batting:

The batting order seems to have a settled look and most of the top order batters have had a decent knock in the middle. It seems like India are using Rahane and Raina as the floaters in the order and it seems to have worked perfectly for them in the first couple of games. Virat Kohli is playing the anchor role to perfection and we all know what he is capable of with the bat. Shikhar Dhawan has been brilliant with the bat and so have Rahane and Raina. The only concern for India would be Rohit’s form and they would be hoping that he will be back to form in the game against UAE. The other concern for India would be the batting in the final 5 overs. In both games they have batted, India were at least 20-30 runs short of what they could have achieved. Jadeja has struggled with the bat and so has Dhoni. India would probably want to have them bat up the order against UAE to give them much needed time in the middle.

Overall the team looks good and it seems like they would put up a decent attempt at defending their crown. The biggest plus for India has been their fielding and that is something which will be very important for them on the huge grounds of Australia. The Indian team now has some important games coming up and couple more wins would almost secure the top spot for them in the Pool B. A top spot finish would give them a relatively easy quarter final game. There is still a long way to go but the Indian team would feel quietly confident and would not want to drop their intensity no matter which team they play.

CW2015 – Bowlers the key for India

Shikhar Dhawan

The return to form of Shikhar Dhawan will be a huge sigh of relief for the Indian camp.

The one thing that the India-Pakistan game showed us was that if the bowlers bowl with pace and accuracy, you can cause lots of trouble to the batsmen on these wickets. The Indian bowling led by Mohammed Shami bowled with pace and aggression to dismiss the Pakistani batting line up for 224 runs thereby defending their total of 300 at the Adelaide oval last weekend.

The Indian bowlers need to maintain that intensity throughout the tournament if they harbor any thoughts of getting close to defending their title. MS Dhoni though will be extremely pleased with the efforts of the top order batting. The batsmen except for Rohit showed excellent application and developed partnerships to get India to a good total. The one thing he would disappointed is the collapse in the final 5 overs which rendered India 25-30 runs short of what they could have achieved.

Coming back to the Indian bowling, the combination India used against Pakistan might form the crux of the Indian attack for the world cup. Mohammed Shami will expected by Dhoni to lead the pace attack in the absence of Ishant Sharma. Dhoni will be hoping that he does what Zaheer did for India in 2011 world cup. Umesh Yadav, even though wayward, still bowled with lot of pace. He needs to work on his accuracy with the new ball. The other positive for India was the bowling of Mohit Sharma. Mohit bowled at the right pace and kept a good line throughout his spell. He was difficult to get away and was rewarded with two wickets for his efforts.

The spin bowlers also came to party. Ravi Ashwin bowled really well and was clearly the best spinner on view in the first game. Ravi Jadeja looked rusty but his batting and fielding along with his accurate bowling almost makes him a certainty in the X1. The Indian X1 currently looks much more settled than the one which played the tri-series and the warm up games preceding the world cup.

MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher will know that for India to progress in the world cup the bowling needs to click. The pace bowlers need to bowl well and keep the pressure on with the new ball. It is very important for India to stick to a combination and back their bowlers to deliver. The other heartening thing in the first game was Dhoni’s captaincy, which was brilliant and he was attacking throughout. The fielding also was fantastic and the Indians for sure looked much more ready for the world cup than the Pakistan team.

The team combination looks settled and I don’t think that there is going to be many changes for the upcoming games. Ravi Ashwin and Stuart Binny might be playing musical chairs for the second all-rounder spot in the X1 based on the conditions. The batsmen coming back to form and the timely runs by Shikhar Dhawan means that India will breathe a sigh of relief as they don’t have to tinker with the batting order at the start of the world cup.

India will now travel to MCG where they will take on South Africa who is one of the favorites like always. South Africa has explosive batting and great bowling attack. They are also one of the best fielding sides in the tournament. India would need to be at the top of their game to compete against a strong South African outfit. India would be hoping that their bowlers keep their good work going. The batting which is looking in good touch needs to fire and keep putting up good totals for the bowlers to defend. It will be an interesting game and India would be hoping to keep their winning form going. A win here against South Africa would be a huge confidence booster for a team who has had a nightmare series down under preceding the world cup.

CW2015 – India needs to decide on the team combination soon

The Indian team hasn’t had a great start to the ODI Tri-Series. After losing a hard fought game to Australia in the opener, they have been hammered by England in the second game. While the first game was marred by poor lower order batting, the second game had a complete batting failure.

With the World cup just a month away India seem to be having a boat load of issues with the team combination. Let us look at the problem areas for the team ahead of the marquee tournament.

The Openers:

India played 2 different combinations in the first two games and Shikhar Dhawan has struggled to score in both those games. After an underwhelming test series with the bat Dhawan seems to be struggling to put bat to ball in his favorite format of the game. It seems like India needs to take the harsh decision and give the Rohit/Rahane combination a chance in the remaining games. Rohit scored a hundred in the first game and Rahane looked good in the second before throwing his wicket away to a poor shot. The opening combination is the most important thing in Australia/New Zealand and it can make or break a team. India need to decide on what combination they are planning to field in the world cup and play that duo in the upcoming games in the tri-series and in the warm up games leading to the world cup.

 The Middle Order:

India has experimented quite a lot in this area as well. Virat Kohli who was India’s permanent fixture at number 3 has been pushed to number 4 for some strange reason. Ambati Rayudu was used at number 3 at the Gabba. Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni complete the Indian middle order. Virat Kohli should bat at 3 in all games, as he is India’s best ODI player. Suresh Raina will bat at 5 followed by MS Dhoni at 6. So that leaves Ambati Rayudu at number 4. The positions of Raina and Rayudu can be changed based on the team situation but India ideally should play Kohli at 3 and Rayudu at 4. India does not have too much room for experimentation in this regard as they haven’t picked another middle order batsman. Rahane who can double as a middle order batsman may have to open since Dhawan hasn’t been scoring any runs.

The All-rounders:

This is a very interesting spot for the Indian team. India has picked potentially 4 all-rounders. 3 of them are spin bowling all-rounders and one a medium pace all-rounder. It will be interesting to see which combination India will play at the world cup. Stuart Binny did a decent job in the game at Gabba scoring 44 runs with the bat and picking up the only wicket to fall. Once Ravi Jadeja is fit, I don’t think India will be playing Akshar Patel in the X1. The tussle for the one spin all-rounder will be between Jadeja and Ashwin. India might play both of them in venues which might have some help for the spinners and play one of them in the combination of Binny in the other venues. Jadeja has been Dhoni’s go to man in ODI’s, so it will be fair to assume that he will be India’s first choice spinner in the world cup.

The Bowling:

This will be the most talked about combination for India ahead of the world cup. Looking at the squad selected for the world cup, it is pretty hard to imagine how India is going to take 10 wickets in the game. The bowlers as seen in the test matches don’t have any control over the scoring with the new ball, which is going to be crucial in the world cup. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami haven’t been the most economical bowlers for India and haven’t been that effective with the new ball. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has struggled in Australia and hasn’t been able to pick up too many wickets. This leaves just Ishant who hasn’t played in the on-going tri-series due to an injury and might not take part in the rest of the series as well. This will mean that India will struggle to find the right bowling combination for the world cup. Ideally India should play Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant and Shami/Umesh. India cannot play both Shami and Umesh in the X1. Even though Ishant and Bhuvneshwar might not get you too many wickets, they can at least give you some much needed control with the new ball building up some pressure. Shami is good with the old ball which might help Dhoni to keep him for the middle and later overs.

So all in all it does look like a very tall order for the Indians to defend the world cup in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian bowling has relied a lot on spinners over the last year or so but in Australia/New Zealand they wouldn’t be that effective. India did not pick a wrist spinner in their squad which might work against them in the world cup. The batting too looks unsettled and with players looking out of form. Things do not look great for Dhoni and Fletcher ahead of the world cup at this point. India needs to decide on their best X1 in the upcoming couple of games as they don’t have too much room to experiment anyways with the World Cup Squad. The non-selection of an additional middle order bat and an additional pacer might work against the team in the world cup.

Below is my X1 for the world cup. The below X1 is the best combination I feel India can put up from the squad selected for the world cup.

India X1 (WC): Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli (VC), Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (C, WKT), Stuart Binny, Ravi Ashwin/Ravi Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami