Tag Archives: Test Series

Team selection defies logic

The Indian team for the first two tests against the visiting English team has been announced and as usual there are some surprising inclusions in the squad. This is the first international series for the newly appointed selection committee and everyone was keen to know how they will go. Looking at the team for the first couple of tests it seems like they are no different from the selection committee they just replaced. They did not make a great impression with the selection of the India A squad which played England about a week back.

The new leadership hasn’t brought about any major changes in the selection of the team. So let us look at the picks. Out of the 15 members selected 10 players pick themselves due to their performances in the recent home series. The only spot which was up for grabs was the number six in the batting order. Raina was preferred in the home tests against West Indies and New Zealand but did not make any impact in both the series. Yuvraj with his good performance in the first tour game for India pretty much sealed the spot. He also provides variety to the bowling attack with this part-time left arm spin. Raina is left out of the 15 which is perplexing as he was persisted with for about a year and now suddenly he finds himself out of favor.

Murali Vijay makes a comeback to the squad due to his performances in domestic cricket this season. This is where it gets confusing. India has Gambhir and Sehwag as the openers and then has Rahane as backup in the squad. The selection of Vijay completely defies logic, that too only for the first two tests. I don’t see a reason to pick 4 openers for a home series. The best logical selection would have been someone like Manoj Tiwary who would have added extra strength to the fragile middle order. Manoj Tiwary seems to find himself out of favor for some reason with the selection committee, no matter who heads them. The guy just scored 90 odd against the touring English side but still finds out of the test team.

The other selection which makes no sense is inclusion of Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan has done nothing of note in recent times and his recall to the Indian side just shows the complete lack of good spinners in domestic cricket. The fact that Ashwin and Ojha are sure starters for the first test makes Harbhajan’s selection even more perplexing. It would have been better for Bajji to play in domestic cricket to regain some form instead of sitting in the dressing room and carry drinks. Unless India is planning to play three spinners (Which I doubt considering India don’t have a pace bowling all-rounder in the squad) and 5 bowlers this selection isn’t making any sense at the moment.

Ishant Sharma as the third pacer also is an interesting selection but we can give benefit of doubt to the selectors on this as he has been India’s third seamer for about a year now. Bowling in home conditions which doesn’t encourage any swing, his type of bowling might be more suited. Even though the squad is mostly on the expected lines, the selectors have basically regressed and made some populist choices without keeping Indian cricket’s future in mind. Let’s just hope that when they sit down to select the team for the final two tests they do make the correct decision and include some good young players in the squad.

The playing X1 though would be a strong one and wouldn’t differ too much from the team which beat New Zealand couple months back.

India X1 (first two tests): Sehwag, Gambhir, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni (Capt. Wkt.), Ashwin, Zaheer, Yadav, Ojha

12th Man: Rahane

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.

Australian tour – An acid test for Dhoni

Few months ago, the Indian team was at the top of the world. Number 1 test team, World cup winners and the captain Dhoni could do nothing wrong. One English tour later everything came crashing down. Even though India are still one of the top 3 teams in the world, the old quote “Tigers at home, paper tigers abroad” came to fore again. The English tour was an absolute disaster, an organization nightmare and the entire Indian cricket management needed to take the blame, not the cricketers alone.

The biggest factor on the English tour was the sudden spate of injuries to key Indian players. In spite of majority of them missing the West Indies series for rest, most of them ended up injured during the important English tour. The lack of practice games were another reason as the team had no time to acclimatize to the conditions. It seems like the Indian selectors and management have learnt the lesson the hard way. This time the players are there sooner and will be playing two practice games and will have enough time to get used to the conditions.

This tour is very important for the Dhoni and Fletcher combination. English tour scars still fresh in their minds, they will be keen to prove that the performance on that series was merely an aberration. The team this time is well prepared and most of the members are available for selection. Zaheer will be back to spearhead the attack, which is extremely important. The team management will be observing his fitness very closely as the English tour emphasized how important he is for the team. We have Ishant and Umesh to add to the pace department, literally speaking. Ishant too had a mild injury scare in the practice game but the team management has assured it wasn’t serious. Ashwin will lead the spin attack and the batting will be back to its full strength. India are coming into this tour with a good home season which started with blanking England 5-0 in a ODI series and winning the test and ODI series against the Windies.

Even though the injuries to Praveen Kumar and Aaron are a great setback, the team needs to move on with whatever resources they have. As Dhoni said ahead of the series, lack of practice cannot be the excuse this time and he is absolutely right. A series win here will restore the confidence the team might have lost during the disastrous English tour. A reputation which was built brick by brick by the Sourav Ganguly team since 2000 of a fighting unit away from home is something Dhoni would like to restore. The seniors will once again be the key and the middle order of Dravid, Sachin and Laxman for one last time will be back battling the Aussies in their own den.

A contest which has become a memorable battle since one of the greatest series in cricketing history took place in 2001. The series will be exciting and both teams have a lot to play for. The tour has already began on a good not with Dravid’s excellent speech in Bradman’s oration which was received with a standing ovation. The only thing Indian cricket fan would hope for is that India return with their first ever series win Down under. Dhoni and Fletcher know that this is their best chance and hopefully the team will click together to make that happen.

A tour of missed opportunities for the men in blue

Yusuf pathan was the biggest positive to emerge out of the ODI series for the Indians

The Indian team is back after a grueling two month tour to South Africa, where the team drew the test series and lost the close ODI series. The team will be a bit disappointed with the result though. Even though the tour started with a humiliating innings defeat in the first test, India was in the best position to win their first test series in South Africa. The biggest gain of the series was India’s back to the wall comebacks throughout the tour. After the humiliating loss in the first test, the stunning comeback by the team in Durban was an amazing effort. The bowling which looked toothless in the first test performed brilliantly to level the series.

Even though the series was a hard fought one, the Indian team will be really disappointed with their efforts in the third test match. With the scores even after the first innings in the third test, India had the hosts 130/6 in the second innings. India was unable to dislodge the Boucher/Kallis pair to let them stretch the lead to over 300. I would probably say that this was our best chance of a series win in South Africa with all the greats still in the team. I am sure that Dhoni will consider this as a missed opportunity.

The series was once again a brilliant one for Sachin Tendulkar as he emerged as our best batsmen along with VVS Laxman who has now made rescuing his team under pressure a habit. The biggest positive to emerge out of the series was the response of the Indian bowling unit after the thrashing in the first test. The bowling of Sreesanth and Harbajan Singh were the stand out and obviously Zaheer was very consistent. Cheteshwar Pujara, even though did not score any runs looks like a player who belongs at this level and needs to be persisted with. The biggest disappointment of the series was Ishant Sharma; never in this series did he look like picking up any wickets.

The ODI series too was really close and in the absence of Sehwag, Ghambir and Sachin, it kind of gave us an insight on future of Indian cricket team. The insight though was not that pretty to be honest. The Indian batting struggled to counter the pace attack of the South Africans. The top order batting with the exception of Virat Kohli struggled.

The ODI series also followed familiar pattern to that of the test series, big loss in the first game and stunning comeback in the second. India went into the fourth ODI with a chance of winning their first ODI series in South Africa and once again the bowling and fielding let us down. With South Africa 117/5, JP Duminy did a Kallis on India this time. India was unable to separate Duminy/Botha pair who played brilliantly to rescue the home team to a match winning 265 from a precarious position. The Indian batting once again collapsed losing the game comfortably and thereby squandering a chance to win the series.

The one thing which was noticeable with the Indian ODI performance was that young Indian batsmen, baring Kohli did not have the necessary patience to hang in there. For example in the third ODI, Kohli and Raina had formed a decent partnership and Kohli had just hit a six earlier in the over. Raina, who was under no pressure to go for a big hit, charged the bowler and got stumped. There were various scenarios in the series where some patience was necessary in the middle and the Indian batsmen played some atrocious shots to hand their wickets. The biggest plus for India was the form of Yusuf Pathan who almost singlehandedly won the series for India with a brilliant hundred in the final game and also the bowling form of Harbajan Singh and Munaf Patel who performed brilliantly throughout the series. Yusuf’s performance has almost put paid to the all-rounder debate at least for the world cup.

Overall this wasn’t a bad tour for the Indians as they came unscathed in the test series with a 1-1 draw. The ODI series was disappointing though very close. The biggest worry for Dhoni was lack of form his batsman displayed. With just a month left for the World Cup we have 3 batsman who lack practice (Sachin, Ghambir and Sehwag), 3 who are out of form (Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj) and one in crackling for but cannot get into the X1 (Kohli). So there are plenty of headaches for Dhoni and Kirsten when they sit down to pick the X1 for their first game against Bangladesh. Will they play Kohli and drop either Raina or Yuvraj? We have to wait and see.

Dhoni’s safari, his biggest challenge yet

Dhoni (right) and Kirsten (Left) know that this will be a make of break series for the Indian test team

We are just a week away from India’s first test against South Africa at Centurion and Dhoni is about to face his biggest challenge as a captain. Since he took over as the Indian skipper in 2008, he has been only on three overseas tours and two of them have been in the subcontinent. Whatever the world says, Dhoni does have an impressive resume as a captain. He hasn’t lost a test series and has lost very few games as a captain of the Indian team.

India does not have any practice game ahead of the first test which is a worry but the BCCI did the right thing by sending the test specialists ahead of the schedule to get the feel of the conditions. The Indian coach Gary Kirsten and the bowling coach Eric Simmons being South Africans might be the trump cards India need. Their combined knowledge of the conditions there might help the Indian bowlers and the batsmen to prepare for the South African challenge. So does India realistically have a chance to topple South Africa in their home turf? I think they do.

When India visited South Africa in 2006 they were expected to be rolled over and after a 4-0 drubbing in the ODI series it did not seem otherwise. India on the contrary rolled over the hosts in the first test and South Africa had to dig deep to come out of that hole. South Africa finally won the series 2-1 and if not for the poor batting on the 4th day of the final test, the result would have been otherwise. That series showed that India can compete on those pitches and looking at the current team they can in fact do more than just compete this time. The biggest advantage for the visitors this time is their pace attack. In 2006 it was just Zaheer and Sreesanth, the third pace option (VRV Singh) wasn’t that effective which was a huge setback with the lack of all round option in the team. This time though we have three in form pacers in the squad, Sreesanth and Zaheer are back with Ishant as the third seamer.

If the tracks are pace friendly these three can trouble any batting team. Ishant bowling brilliantly against New Zealand in the third test should give the Indian team management loads of confidence ahead of the much important series. The biggest worry for Dhoni though will be the spinners. Harbajan’s form with the ball will be a huge worry for the team management and he bowling well in tandem with the pacers for me will decide the series. I am not sure if Ojha will get any chances in the series but he did not look that threatening either in the home series against the Kiwis. Even though the SA series is all about the fast men, spinners are equally important as well to keep the pressure up.

The Indian batting though hasn’t changed that much since the 2006 tour. The core of the team still remains with Sehwag, Sachin, Laxman and Dravid still in the team with the welcome additions of Ghambir and Raina/Pujara. The Ghambir/Sehwag opening combination will be very important for the team against the South African new ball pair of Steyn and Morkel. I am not sure who their third pacer would be but the new ball bowlers from the home team will attack the Indian openers. India has loads of experience at 3, 4 and 5 followed by the edgy Raina at number 6.

Sourav Ganguly did a brilliant job at number 6 in India’s previous tour and after his retirement the team management has failed to find an able replacement for that spot. After trying Yuvraj unsuccessfully for few games, the management has now kept faith on young Suresh Raina. They probably expect his enormous ODI experience to finally show through in tests as well. Raina though had a disastrous home series against New Zealand and his frailty against the short pitched stuff will surely be exploited by the South African fast bowlers. He needs to figure out a way to counter the barrage. If he fails to do so, I am thinking that Dhoni has to seriously consider replacing him with much more technically sound Pujara. The other important batting spot will be the captain himself at number 7. He needs to shed his poor form and perform consistently for the team with the bat at that position and of course his leadership on the field will be very important.

The Indians will be entering this series as the best side in the world and a win would give them tremendous boost and confidence. Dhoni and Kirsten will be aware that in case of a slip up, their rankings will be questioned again. They are playing a team who are second in the rankings and have been fantastic over a sustained period of time. They are a hard team to beat anywhere, especially at home. Their pace attack will be a threat and their batting led by Amla and Kallis will be hard to dislodge. The Indians will be very much aware that they will face much sterner test of character than the just concluded home series against the Kiwis. Dhoni I guess has all the ammunitions this time to turn this series onto a memorable one for the Indians. If they manage to win the series they will for sure be undisputed number 1 team in the world and I hope that Dhoni and his men put up a great performance in this series.

Series gone wrong for the home team

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

Sri Lankan tour – No surprises in the test squad

After the brilliant win over Sri Lanka last week in the Asia cup finals, India now will face up to the same team in a 3 test series. The Indian squad for the series was selected on Saturday and the team was very much on the expected lines. The selectors did not go for any new names except for couple of surprises thrown in.

As expected Dravid and Laxman return to the squad in the middle order and so does Sachin. With Ghambir and Sehwag settled at the top of the order, it just leaves one vacant spot in the middle order at number 6 which is still unclaimed. Even though Yuvraj has occupied that spot over the last couple of series, he has hardly made an impact to warrant an immediate selection in the test team. There were few more names thrown in before the selection like Pujara, Badri etc but the selectors have gone with Raina who has had a brilliant year in the shorter formats.

Yet another disappointment for Pujara as the youngster has been piling on the runs in the domestic as well as on the A tours. I hope that he gets a chance soon. Vijay retains his spot as the backup opener, even though Dhawan and Mukund are right on his heals with brilliant performances on the A tour. Dhoni remains the skipper and the number one keeper for India on this tour. Dhoni’s back up though left everyone surprised as Saha was selected out of the blue.

Karthik has been Dhoni’s backup for a long time now and considering his experience one would have expected him to join the team to Sri Lanka but was not to be. Karthik will be really disappointed as he was pretty good with the bat in the Asia cup, winning the man of the match in the finals. The bowling too lacked any surprises as India went with the experience of Zaheer, Ishant and Sreesanth in the pace department and Harbajan, Mishra and Ojha as the spinners.

Sreesanth and Ishant get a call back after both of them were overlooked for the shorter formats. This begs the question as to why these two did not get picked for the A tour to England or to Zimbabwe for that matter. Both these bowlers haven’t had any competitive cricket for a while and getting some games on the A tour would have helped them to get some confidence back. BCCI’s planning is lot left to be desired as they would have known way before that these two have very good chance of partnering Zaheer in the upcoming test series.

All in all I feel that this is a decent team with the experienced hands returning to their favorite format. I hope that Dhoni and his men put up a great performance and win the series which has been eluding us for 17 years now. As Dravid said India will not worry about Mendis anymore as he seems to have been worked out by the Indians. Still the batting needs to be careful as Mendis and Murali in Sri Lanka will be more threatening than their exploits earlier in India. Hope for a great contest and a win to the Indian team to maintain their status as number one team in the world.