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.

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.

Chennai 1999 – Sachin’s gem and a standing ovation

Re posting another of my Sachin Article as a tribute to the legend

My Thoughts

Sachin Tendulkar is arguably one of the greatest ODI players ever to grace the cricket field. He gave joy to countless cricket fans over the years with his breathtaking stroke play in the limited overs cricket. He has finally decided to close the curtain’s on his illustrious ODI career. A career which spanned for 23 years and yielded 18426 runs at a brilliant average 44.83 with 49 hundreds. He was for sure the best ODI player of his times. The only time I saw Sachin bat live was the game against Pakistan in a test match in 1999. Even though this is not an ODI innings, I have decided to post this as this was one of the most memorable moment of my life as an Indian cricket fan. This is first of my many tributes to my favorite cricketer. A player I have grown up watching. A player who…

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Technology will never be perfect

UDRS (Umpire Decision Review System) was introduced by ICC in 2009 as a measure to improve the umpiring decisions at the international level. There has been call for the use of technology for ages in cricket and the ICC haven’t done anything for ages since “Third Umpire” came in to play for run outs and stumping’s. That was way back in early 90’s. The ICC has been always reluctant to introduce new technology for the most part of last 2 decades.

The UDRS primarily consists of 3 major technologies combined into one, the Hot Spot, the Snickometer and the Hawk-eye. Of all the three technologies Hawk-eye is the most debated and the most controversial one. There are various theories on the same and obviously like all technologies Hawk-eye isn’t perfect. The ICC needs to make sure that there is research constantly going on and they don’t get fixated on these three technologies for ever. Things need to evolve and improve and I hope that is taken into account as well.

But I am not going to talk about that at the moment. The BCCI has constantly opposed the use to UDRS since its inception but the problem is that the rest of the cricketing world has no problems with it. The fact is that no technology is going to be perfect and if we are looking for 100% stable technology we may never have one. The Hawk-eye isn’t a perfect technology and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The bottom line is that it will for sure bring down certain howlers in cricket at the moment. The Hawk-eye should at least be used to check if the ball pitched within the stumps or if the impact was outside off-stump for LBW decisions.

The Snickometer and hotspot aren’t that controversial but the recent test between SA and Pakistan has raised a few questions about Hot Spot too. The other concern for the BCCI has been the cost involved in implementing UDRS. The ICC doesn’t take care of the same which is the reason for the technology not being made mandatory. The ICC obviously needs to step in and possibly cover a part of the cost. This is probably a valid concern from the BCCI.

Even though there are some valid concerns over the technology, the use of it should be made mandatory. The ICC needs to step in to achieve the same even if it means that they cover part of the cost. No technology has ever been perfect and it will be very hard to implement one which will please everyone. The BCCI should bite the bullet and try the technology out for a while before opposing it completely.

Chennai 1999 – Sachin’s gem and a standing ovation

Sachin Tendulkar is arguably one of the greatest ODI players ever to grace the cricket field. He gave joy to countless cricket fans over the years with his breathtaking stroke play in the limited overs cricket. He has finally decided to close the curtain’s on his illustrious ODI career. A career which spanned for 23 years and yielded 18426 runs at a brilliant average 44.83 with 49 hundreds. He was for sure the best ODI player of his times. The only time I saw Sachin bat live was the game against Pakistan in a test match in 1999. Even though this is not an ODI innings, I have decided to post this as this was one of the most memorable moment of my life as an Indian cricket fan. This is first of my many tributes to my favorite cricketer. A player I have grown up watching. A player who was the reason I developed this deep love towards this wonderful game. This is the account of the brilliant game which took place in my home town Chennai as I remember it.

This was in 1999 when Pakistan and India met in bilateral series after a hiatus of 12 years. There was a lot of hype around the series and the first test was held in my hometown, Chennai. As a young cricket fan I had two wishes, one to watch my idol Sachin Tendulkar score a hundred live and the other to watch team India win a test match.

The Chennai test was an incredible one, completely worth of all the hype surrounding its start. Pakistan team was filled with great bowlers and incredible batting line up and India prior to this series were unbeatable at home. The battle of Sachin with Waqar, Wasim and Saqlain was much talked about prior to the series. The game began and both teams were neck and neck after the first innings. India gained a slender lead of 16 after the first innings and Saqlain Mushtaq enhanced his reputation of being the best young spinner in the world at that time with a 5 wicket haul.

Pakistan began their second innings on a positive note and in spite of losing wickets at regular intervals, it seemed like they would set India a huge total to chase. Afridi was great with a brilliant hundred and with useful contributions from Ijaz and Inzamam, Pakistan was well on course for a huge total. At 275/4, already leading by 259 India’s chances seemed glum when Venkatesh Prasad probably bowled one of the best spells of his career. He took 6/33 as Pakistan collapsed to 286 as their last 6 wickets fell for just 11 runs. India began their second inning needing 271 to win with more than 2 days to go.

Indian second innings did not get to an ideal start as Waqar dismissed both the Indian openers with just 6 runs on the board as Sachin Tendulkar joined Rahul Dravid in the middle. Both these players took India to safety without further loss and it was all set for a brilliant 4th day at the MA Chidambaram stadium. This was when I got a chance to go to the stadium. I had watched the first 3 days on television and my uncle who could not go to the ground on the 4th day, offered me the ticket and along with my cousins I headed to the ground with lots of expectations.

We reached the ground early and watched the players practice. This was my first visit to any international match and it was really exciting to see the players warm up ahead of a great game of cricket. The crowd cheered as Sachin and Dravid walked out to bat, to continue India’s chase. Wasim Akram’s peach on the fourth morning went through the wall’s defenses as India was in early trouble at 50/3. Azhar and Ganguly got out to poor decisions to leave India tottering at 82/5 when Nayan Mongia walked out to join Sachin Tendulkar.

Both these players saw India through to lunch and in a sedate partnership took India to tea with 5 wickets still in hand. The match was in balance and we in the crowd knew that a wicket at that point will mean that India had no chance. After tea though the mood changed, Sachin and Mongia had decided to attack and the runs flowed quickly and India were racing towards the target. It was exhilarating to watch the proceedings as the bowling attack of Pakistan was brilliant and the world’s best player was involved in a fierce battle to win the game for his country. It was a privilege to watch Sachin counter Saqlain on a wicket which was turning square. He was battling back spasm too in the middle of all this which made this innings even greater. Sachin reached one of his best hundreds and I was in the stands applauding. This was one of the best moments for me as a cricket fan.

India was 218/5 with just 53 to get and we could see Pakistan losing hope. They had taken the new ball to no avail as Mongia and Sachin were scoring runs at a fair clip. This is when Mongia decided to display one of the biggest brain freezes of his career. Trying to loft Wasim over the top, got himself caught at mid-off leaving a struggling Sachin to take India to victory along with the tail. Sachin got out to Saqlain trying finishing the game with only 13 needed and the Indian tail collapsed in a hurry as India fell short of the Pakistan total. It was a heartbreaking loss and a very hard one to take as an Indian fan. It was so near yet so far for the Indian team.

When the game was over unlike all the other grounds in India, in spite of an Indian loss the crowd stuck around. Then one of the most brilliant thing happened when even now when I think back makes me proud of being an Indian. The Chennai crowd rose in appreciation of the Pakistan team as the victorious neighbors took a victory lap in India. Who would have thought that it was even possible? It was a brilliant moment as the fans clapped till the end and it was a victory for the game. Chennai is considered as one of the most knowledgeable crowds in India and I saw it with my own eyes for the first time. Even though there was a disappointment of an Indian loss that evening, I was proud as a cricket fan. Cricket is a sport and it’s beyond borders and the crowd that day proved the same. I got one of my wish granted that day but had to wait for another 3 years to watch India win a test match but that memory will forever be etched in my mind.

Can England overcome the Indian spin challenge?

1984/85 was the last time an English team won a test series on Indian soil. It has been a long wait and in that time India had developed into a dominant force at home. India have lost only one series at home in the last decade. But this time though the hosts are the most vulnerable. The Indian team has just lost great players in the middle order and is trying to find the ideal replacements. The bowling too is going through a transitional phase.

The time when Anil Kumble used to torment the visiting teams on turning surfaces are long gone and India are playing with two young spinners who are trying to make a mark. Ravichandran Ashwin has had a great beginning to his career and in partnership with Pragyan Ojha has done a great job in the home tests. The spin partnership will obviously be tested to the fullest against a tough English team. With all due respect to New Zealand and West Indies who toured earlier, this is probably the toughest batting line up to which the Indian spinners would bowl to.

The Indian team will be hoping that their openers fire. The middle order of Kohli, Sachin and Yuvraj will be the key against the English spinners. India will also hope to have a fit Zaheer throughout the series.

The English team too has their fair share of worries. They will be thrilled to have Kevin Pieterson back in the team to bolster the middle order. The English batting line up has struggled to play in the subcontinent on turning surfaces. Even though the Indian spinners are not in the same class as Ajmal, they would be surely a handful on the subcontinent wickets. The English team has a lot to prove and a win in India will surely be a huge step.

The English batting will rely on Cook, Trott and Pieterson to put up big totals and Swann to lead the bowling attack. England will know that batting well in India is extremely important and under these conditions countering the Indian spin attack will be a challenge.

This test series will be extremely important to both teams. This is a start of a tough home season for India and they would want to start that with a convincing win. The English team after faltering in Dubai and Sri Lanka would want to prove that they can play well in the subcontinent conditions. There is no doubt that this series will be decided as who wins the battle between the Indian spinners and the English batsman.

The series takes off tomorrow and the fans would be hoping for a tight contest. The Indian team will want to win this convincingly and the English team will want to deny the hosts the same. Let the games begin!!

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