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.

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..

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.

Sehwag gets the axe as Pujara receives maiden ODI call up

The team for the upcoming ODI series against England was announced yesterday and the selection committee dropped Sehwag for the first 3 ODI’s. Sehwag has been pretty poor over the past year and has been rightly dropped for young Ajinkya Rahane. Since the double hundred against West Indies in December 2011, Sehwag averages just 23 from 11 games. Rohit Sharma retains his spot in the squad in spite of having a poor 2012. Rohit averaged just 13 over the last 14 games which makes his selection pretty perplexing. The selectors said Rohit’s selection was due to lack of alternatives. Manoj Tiwary’s injury also was another reason for Rohit to retain his spot in the squad. 

Cheteshwar Pujara received his much deserved maiden ODI call up after some great performances in domestic cricket. The rest of the squad which recently lost to Pakistan was retained for the first 3 ODI’s against England.

The performances of B Kumar and Shami Ahmed meant that they retained their spots for the England series too. Ishant was India’s second best pacer in the series against Pakistan behind B Kumar and seemed to have gotten his groove back. R Jadeja too retained his spot with a good all round show in the final ODI against Pakistan. Dinda and Mishra who were in the squad against Pakistan were also retained for the series against England.

The biggest concern for India has been their batting over the past few months and the addition of Pujara to the lineup seems to be an effort to strengthen the fragile top order. It will be interesting to see though if he gets in to the X1 though. Sehwag’s absence means that Rahane will open the batting with Gautam Gambhir. Kohli will come in at number 3 followed by Yuvraj, Dhoni and Raina. Jadeja and Ashwin will be the specialist spinners in the squad followed by B Kumar, Ishant and Shami Ahmed.

India will hope that their batsmen get into some sort of form against an English attack which got better of them in the just concluded test series. Virat Kohli’s form will be a big concern as he was India’s best player over the past two years in the 50 over format. The bowling looked in decent shape against Pakistan in the just concluded series and the bowling of young B Kumar and Shami Ahmed was particularly impressive with the new ball.

This will be an interesting series as England is not known to be a great ODI squad but have had a great 2012 in terms of results in the shorter format. India though had pretty mixed 2012 and hasn’t begun 2013 on a great note. Both teams will go all out and it will be interesting to see how the Indian batting lineup fares against a good English pace attack.

Indian Squad:

MS Dhoni (capt), Cheteshwar Pujara, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Amit Mishra.

Probable X1 for the first ODI:

Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni(Capt), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, B Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Ishant Sharma

New Zealand test series – Team selection on the expected lines

The team for the test series against New Zealand was announced earlier today and there weren’t many surprises in the squad. As expected Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman return to take their middle order spots. Sehwag and Gambhir will open the innings and Virat Kohli will take the number 5 slot which he made his own in Australia earlier this year.

C Pujara will most likely occupy the number 3 position vacated by Rahul Dravid. Pujara has been in brilliant form with the bat and made a huge impact in the India A tour to West Indies earlier this year. Rahane also finds a spot in the squad and so does Suresh Raina. Even though it is unlikely that either of them will make it to the final X1. The bowling though had couple of surprises. The selection of Piyush Chawla is a major surprise. He hasn’t been considered for selection for quite some time now and his inclusion is for sure a surprise. The selection of Ishant Sharma also is something which is unexpected as it was said that he hadn’t fully recovered from the ankle injury he had sustained after the Australian tour.

Ravi Aswin and Pragyan Ojha will handle the spin department and Zaheer will share the new ball with Umesh Yadav. It will be interesting to see what combination the Indians will employ in the first test. Ishant has been out of cricket for a long time and has had no match practice. In all probability India will go with 2 spin, 2 pace attack in the first test.

The batting also will not have many changes, except for Pujara taking the number 3 slot. Rahane might have a shot at number 3 but it is highly unlikely he will make it to the X1. This is probably the best available squad at the moment and the only absentee is Rohit Sharma who travelled with the test team to Australia. Rohit did not do himself any favor by performing poorly in the ODI’s this year and also did not do well in the India A tour to West Indies.

The team looks quite strong for a home series and considering the recent performances of the Kiwis in test cricket it will be hard to bet against the hosts to win convincingly. The New Zealand team also will be without their ace spinner Dan Vettori and it will be interesting to see how this inexperienced team will fare in the tough subcontinent conditions. This will be an important series for both the teams. New Zealand will want to put up a good show after their disappointing performance in West Indies and India would want to begin the season on a winning note. The Indian ODI team had a winning start to the season and it will be interesting to see if the test team follows suit.

Probable Indian X1 for the first test:

Sehwag, Gambhir, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni (Capt., Wkt.), Ravi Aswin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha

Reserves:

Piyush Chawla, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina

The A tour raises more questions about the Indian batting reserves

The India A tour to West Indies started off with lots of promise. The series was supposed to showcase the best of Indian talent. With the retirement of Rahul Dravid, his replacement in the test team was of paramount importance. The selectors will be happy that Pujara gave a good account of himself throughout the series to emerge as the prime contender for the number 3 spot in the test team. The major disappointment though was the performance of Rohit Sharma.

Since his debut in 2008 Rohit has been considered as a player with enormous talent. He has represented India in the shorter format for about 4 years now and it does not seem like he is ready to make the step up. He started off the tour with a great 94 in the first innings of the first unofficial test but that was about it. He continued to struggle with his control in the longer format. He continues to throw his wicket away with ridiculous shots after getting set. More importantly he continues to disappoint his fans. It seems like Rohit has to work very hard in order to stake the claim for the test spot.The other person to disappoint this series was Ajinkya Rahane. Another player with brilliant technique and great domestic record who failed to impress on this A tour. Rahane struggled to get of the blocks most of the times in this series and seems to have the same issue as Rohit.

Pujara though was the only success of this test leg of the tour. The man once again proved the gulf between himself and the rest of the pack who are vying for a test spot. He played a brilliant innings in the first test to single handedly win the game for his team and scored runs consistently throughout. The batting was the big issue for the Indians in this A tour and the struggle of these youngsters against West Indies A team is not a good sign for the future. The West Indies gained more from this series than India. The other batsman to impress a bit was Tiwary who looked good in couple of innings. Saha did well with the bat in couple of knocks but none of them were consistent. Mukund was another player who disappointed throughout the series.

It seems like once the shorter format started the youngsters are back in their elements. Rahane and Rohit looked their part in the two T20’s which followed the test series. Does this mean that these players are just good enough for the shorter format? We will not know for sure unless we test them out longer. Is the IPL making these players lose their technique? This can only be answered by the players themselves. It will be interesting to see how these youngsters bounce back from this debacle. All these players are talented but to be able to succeed in test cricket talent alone isn’t enough. The will to fight it out in the middle when the chips are down is something these youngsters need to learn. For now though a test spot seems to be long way away for these youngsters.