Years later, the ‘Gilly’ effect is still being felt

I started watching cricket in the early 1990s, when the role of a wicketkeeper in a Test team was to be good with the gloves and contribute some useful runs with the bat.

Australia had Ian Healy, who was a brilliant keeper and also was a useful bat down the order, at a time when teams were happy with keepers contributing 20s and 30s, with the occasional 50.

All that changed on November 21, 1999.

Chasing 369 to win against a strong Pakistan at Bellerive Oval, Australia had lost half their side for just over a 100.

Justin Langer was holding up one end and Adam Gilchrist, in only his second Test having replaced Healy, came in to join him in the middle.

The Pakistan bowling attack was a strong one, comprising Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. Even though Gilchrist had made his ODI debut three years earlier, no one could have predicted what followed over the next 24 hours.

Gilchrist scored a brilliant, unbeaten 149, Australia chased down the total, and the legend was born. For the next nine years, Gilchrist tormented bowling attacks around the world.

Gilchrist was brilliant behind the stumps too, was excellent keeping wickets to the legendary Shane Warne, and he had an amazing ODI career as an opener.

This success made teams world over realise how important the role of a good wicketkeeper-batsman can be, and in an effort to find their own version ended up compromising the primary skills of many a keeper.

The only other player who did well as a keeper in the ’90s was Andy Flower, but again, he wasn’t as destructive as Gilchrist.

Mark Boucher was brilliant for South Africa and was decent with the bat. Alec Stewart was good for England, as were Adam Parore and Dave Richardson, but none came even close to the impact Gilly had for Australia.

In the 2000s we saw Kumar Sangakkara, AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum and MS Dhoni – all brilliant for their teams – but again, none had the impact of Gilchrist.

Sangakkara and De Villiers found keeping and batting hard to combine, and gave up their gloves to concentrate on batting. Dhoni was a good keeper but was not effective with the bat overseas. McCullum played just 52 Tests as a keeper before becoming a frontline batter for his side.

From the current generation, possibly Quinton de Kock comes close, but he has a long way to go before he can be compared to the Aussie.

Gilchrist not only averaged 47.8 with the bat but also scored those runs at an enormous strike rate of 81.95 – a deadly combination that saw him turn Test matches multiple times during his career.

Adam Gilchrist set a trend that teams the world over are struggling to follow to this date.

Link to my original article

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.

Bowlers need to be nurtured, can BCCI step up?

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Since 2000, India has had embarrassment of riches as far as fast bowling talent is concerned. From no good fast bowling option in the previous two decades, India ended up with too many in the last 15 years or so. Even though we had lots of bowlers except for Javagal Srinath and Zaheer khan, none of the Indian fast bowlers managed to go past 200 test wickets in the last 20 years. India has always found it difficult to manage fast men, in spite of the overseas bowling coaches, the ability of the bowlers after a promising starts dwindles away after a year or so.

The fitness is an issue, they drop pace and in some cases they lose their swing too. The list is endless, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Nehra, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma etc. all fall under the same category. The recent interview of former Indian bowling coach Joe Dawes was interesting. He mentioned that the Indian bowlers bowl too much. The format they bowl in is also pertinent information. The 2 months of grueling IPL season followed by endless ODI games and then the CLT20 at the end of this year saps whatever energy the bowlers might have to be available for test cricket. Till the 90’s fast men used county cricket as their learning ground and were fairly successful at that.

India’s best two fast bowlers of the last 20 years Srinath and Zaheer owe their turnaround to county cricket. Srinath who was a one dimensional bowler until mid-90’s played a full season for Gloucestershire in 1995 and came back as a different bowler. Zaheer Khan who had lots of fitness and consistency issues came back a changed bowler after a full season of county cricket with Worcestershire in 2006. That trend has come to a halt now. Except for couple of short stints by Sreesanth and Agarkar, Indian players haven’t been allowed to play in county cricket by BCCI.

The Indian fast bowlers play in IPL instead which doesn’t help their development as test bowlers in any way. The jam packed international calendar means that the Indian bowlers don’t get to play in domestic first class games either. No wonder the Indian pacemen find it difficult to make an impact in the longer format as they have no experience bowling for that long. India’s current spearhead Mohd Shami who made his first class debut in 2010 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 12 are tests for India. Varun Aaron whose first class debut was way back in 2008 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 5 are tests. Mohit Sharma has 24 first class games to his credit, Ishant Sharma has 88 (61 of them are tests for India), Bhuvneshwar Kumar has 58 (First Class debut in 2007, 12 of 58 are tests) and Umesh Yadav has 40 (First class debut in 2008 and 12 of them are tests). So we see a pattern here.

Indian bowlers are over bowled in meaningless T20 games and ODI games which leave them no time to work on their chinks. The bowlers get paid hefty sum to get hit around the park in IPL, so they hardly have any motivation to work on their bowling at the test level. If India has any hopes of unearthing at least one good fast bowler, they need to keep these bowlers from playing in too many meaningless tournaments. After a long time India has finally found 3 bowlers who can bowl in upwards of 140 KMPH regularly with Aaron able to touch 150 KMPH. This is the right time for BCCI to invest in these bowlers and make sure they don’t fall by the wayside. India also has some young exciting fast bowlers like Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh who need to be nurtured.

It will be helpful for these bowlers to play in county cricket on helpful pitches to learn their trade rather than getting hammered around in the meaningless T20 leagues on flat pitches. These are exciting times for an Indian fan as for the first time we have bowlers who can bowl really fast but unless they are taken care properly we might lose them quicker than we realize. India’s international season starts right after the IPL and hopefully we will have the fast bowlers fit and available to be picked for India. The board and the coaches need to step up and work on keeping these bowlers fresh for international games. IPL is a good launch pad for young and upcoming players from domestic arena and it should stay that way. BCCI has enough finances to keep these young bowlers away from the T20 leagues and allow them to play more first class games which is the only way these bowlers are going to improve their skills. Let’s hope that things will change and the current crop can actually achieve what they set out to do and don’t become another Irfan or RP Singh.

Cricket World Cup 2015 – Selections, Controversies and omissions

India announced their squad of 15 for 2015 cricket world cup to begin in Australia/New Zealand next month. While everyone agrees that 13 out of the 15 pick themselves there are few questions raised about couple of spots in the squad. Let us first look at the 15 member squad picked.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny

Let us look at the controversial picks and the questions raised about a few who were not picked in the squad.

The controversial pick:

Stuart Binny (ODI – 6, Runs – 40, Ave – 13.33, wickets – 9, Ave – 13.0, Best – 6/4):

Stuart Binny’s selection has been the most controversial and most discussed one in the squad of 15. Even though the theory is that the Indian team is looking for a medium pace all-rounder, the argument against it is that India already have 3 bowling all-rounders in the team and would have done well to go with an extra pacer. Binny has played 6 ODI’s for India and to be frank except for the Bangladesh ODI series he hardly bowled in the other ODI’s he played for India. MS Dhoni seemed to lack any confidence in the bowler and did not bowl him enough in New Zealand earlier this year in the ODI series. MS Dhoni used him sparingly in the test series in England too when he was picked as a bowling all-rounder. But Stuart Binny does provide an interesting choice for India on the hard wickets of Australia and New Zealand where India are likely to play only one spinner.

The controversy obviously is stemmed from the fact that Stuart’s father is part of the selection committee and also due to his underwhelming performance in the little chances he got but again all is not lost as he can still prove his detractors wrong.

The Non-Selection:

There were lots of eyebrows raised when the following players did not make the Squad.

Yuvraj Singh:

Yuvraj Singh was the most high profile omission from the World Cup squad. Yuvraj Singh was India’s player of the tournament in the successful 2011 campaign, so most questioning his exclusion are pointing to his ability as a match winner. Yuvraj being in brilliant form for his state in Ranji Trophy is also a reason for the uproar. The reality though is that Yuvraj Singh hasn’t been part of the Indian ODI plans for some time now. Yuvraj’s last ODI for India was about a year ago and has not been part of the ODI set up since then. Yuvraj had a nightmare ODI series at home against the Aussies and has been in indifferent form since his comeback to the team after he was diagnosed of Cancer after the world cup 2011. Yuvraj Singh has played 18 ODI’s since world cup 2011. He has scored 278 runs in those games at an average of 18.93 with just 2 fifties. So to be frank the questions over Yuvraj’s exclusion have been mostly emotional rather than based on performances.

Murali Vijay:

Vijay has been the toast of the nation over the last year or so. His brilliant performance in test cricket overseas has made the fans and experts question his exclusion as the possible 3rd opener in the ODI squad. Murali Vijay has played few ODI’s for India and has not done particularly well. I don’t think his performance in test cricket automatically warrants a spot in the CW2015 squad. Murali Vijay was never in the radar for the ODI team and he hasn’t played too many games for India in recent times to demand a selection in a high profile tournament like the world cup. His non-selection is less controversial when compared to few others.

Bowling (Pacers: Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron, Spinners: Karn Sharma and Amit Mishra):

The world cup this year is going to be held in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian squad contains three spinning all-rounders in the team. Ravichandran Ashwin will be leading the spin attack and we have Akshar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja as other two spin options. Question needs to be raised at the selection of both Ravi Jadeja and Akshar in the squad as both of them are similar type bowlers. Both of them are left-Arm spinners and left-Handed bats. The both are similar bowlers and don’t provide any variation from each other. The selection of 3 spinners is not an issue as the big Australian grounds could provide a great opportunity for the spinners to be effective but selecting two spinners so similar to each other is the problem. If India wanted 3 spinners, they could have gone with Amit Mishra or Karn Sharma who would have provided a variation to Ashwin and Jadeja.

The selection of an extra pacer would have been a better call rather than similar spin option. Varun Aaron who impressed one and all with his pace in Australia could have been a good addition to the squad even though he has been found to be little bit of a spray gun. Mohit Sharma who has done a good job for India in little opportunities he has received could have provided the much needed control to the pace attack which can leak a lots of runs on the hard surfaces in Australia.

Apart from the above few selections the rest of the squad ended up on expected lines. The Indian ODI team over the last couple of years has been stable and the squad which won the ODI series in England has been retained. The final X1 for the first game will be really interesting. Will India play Binny and Ashwin in the squad? Or will they go with Jadeja and Ashwin in the X1 will be an interesting predicament for the Indian think tank. Akshar Patel who has been brilliant in the home games could get a look in ahead of Jadeja in the squad too. The tri-series in Australia could provide the Indian think tank with all the answers, since they will be playing in Australia where the 2015 world cup is going to be held. India should use this series to test out various combinations to arrive at a possible X1 for their first game for the world cup.

Rohit Sharma – An enigma of epic proportions

The first time I saw Rohit bat was in the game between India and South Africa at Durban. The setting was inaugural World T20 and this was an important game for India on a fast bouncy pitch. India was reeling at 61/4 in 10 overs. A young Rohit Sharma batting with enormous composure for a young player stitched a match winning partnership with the captain to get India to a competitive 153. India won the match and went on to win the World Cup. Few months later in a similar setting but on a less menacing pitch, India was facing Australia in the CB series finals. Chasing a modest 240 to win, India found themselves in a bit of bother at 87/3 when Rohit walked in and joined Sachin Tendulkar. Again Rohit batted brilliantly to score 66 in a 100+ partnership with the little master to win the game for India.

So it is understandable that everyone thought that Rohit is going to be the mainstay of Indian middle order for years to come. The hype surrounding Rohit wasn’t misplaced either as he was an extremely talented youngster when he made his debut for India. It is very hard to imagine that it is the same Rohit Sharma who plays cricket for India currently. The Rohit Sharma who plays currently looks fidgety all the time at the crease. He looks sublime when he is batting and then plays an ugly slog to lose his wicket from nowhere. Rohit Sharma’s issues are not technical but temperamental. He is highly successful on Indian pitches as his lapse in concentration is less likely to cost him his wicket but when he plays abroad where the ball does a little bit he is more likely to lose his wicket.

In the 90’s a wiry young bowler made his debut. It was none other than Ajit Agarkar. Ajit rose to instant fame and was the fastest bowler in the world to reach 50 ODI wickets. He even won few games with the bat in his first year of international cricket. When we thought that India have finally unearthed a good bowler, his career never took off to the next level. Don’t get me wrong in spite of all the ridicule Ajit gets for his performances he is one India’s best ODI pacers. He has close to 300 ODI wickets at an impressive average and strike rate. Rohit Sharma is a bigger enigma than Ajit ever was.

Rohit Sharma’s career is taking similar route to Ajit Agarkar and needs to sort it out before it is too late to do anything. He needs a break from international cricket. He needs to spend lots of time playing in domestic cricket or possibly county cricket if he gets a chance. Playing in county cricket might be very beneficial for him. He will benefit from being away from international cricket and just concentrate on scoring lots of runs. Put his head down and work on his temperament and just score loads of runs which will again put him back in the right frame of mind for test cricket. Rohit is extremely talented and there is no two ways about it. There is hardly any player who makes batting look so simple like he does when in full flow.

He is still very young and has lots of time on his side. If he works on his chinks, he can come back to the team and serve Indian cricket for a long time. I hope that he does that and fulfills the potential which we noticed when he made his debut in 2007. He is still a good player but we all know that he can be better. A middle order of Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Rohit will be a fantastic lineup which can pile up loads of runs in the future.

Catching troubles for team India

The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.

The Indian slip catching has been poor in the recent times and has cost India in tests.

As the old adage in cricket goes “catches win matches” and obviously that holds true for all formats of the game. Catching has been a big problem for this young Indian side. There was a time when Indian slip cordon consisted of the Dravid and Laxman with Sehwag, Sachin ET all making up the other slip. The catching was brilliant and it was the main reason for India to climb in the rankings. Yes there were few drops here and there but mostly all catches were taken.

It was not only the slip catching but overall the Indian fielders were good in taking catches. The one criticism that Indian team had then was that their ground fielding was really poor. Now with the current team India faces quite the opposite problem. The Indian ground fielding is one of the best but the catching overall has been very poor. Over the last few months the Indian fielders have dropped some crucial catches which has changed the course of the game. The slip catching has been tentative and the overall catching has been casual. Statistics say that India has tried as much as 5 fielders in the first slip in the last 19 tests and as much as 8 catches have been dropped in the slips by India in the last 7 tests. This is a very revealing stat and something which has been completely ignored while blaming our bowling.

The Indian bowlers aren’t world beaters and they require all the assistance they can get from the fielders. The drop chances have really hurt India and their chance to win few games. The Wellington test comes to mind immediately, the drop chances of Williamson and McCullum cost India the test which they were well on the way to win. In the first test at Lord’s Rahane dropped Robson but luckily for him the batsman did not make most of that chance. India let a chance slip of Gary Ballance in the first innings and he went on to score a hundred. Alastair Cook was dropped in the first innings of the 3rd test which allowed him to get of the wretched form he had been under to post a career saving 95. The captain Dhoni himself hasn’t been a safe catcher himself in the recent times.

Young players like Jadeja, Rahane and Kohli have been pretty bad and have dropped some crucial takes over the last few months. Virat Kohli has been the biggest offender among the young brigade. His casual attempt at nabbing Brendon McCullum’s feeble drive at short mid-on in the second test cost India dearly. Jadeja has dropped couple of crucial ones. Dhawan has been a reluctant first slipper and has hardly shown intent to go after difficult takes. Rahane has dropped a few in the slips.

This has been a disturbing trend for the young Indian team. The young players who have been brilliant in saving runs and effecting run outs have been poor catchers in the slips as well as in the outfield. This problem has not only been in tests but also has been in the ODI’s and T20 games. India needs to arrest this problem fast if they have to compete at the highest level. Good players will always make you pay if you give them a second chance. India has found that out in the recent times to a devastating effect. The team needs reliable slip fielders and the outfield catching needs to be sorted out too.

India has two more tests after the current one at the Rose Bowl in this series and then they travel to Australia later this year. India needs to take all their chances to compete in these games. Top teams will make you pay if you drop catches. The coach and captain need to find a way to get through to these young players and figure out what is going wrong with the catching. If they do not arrest this trend soon, India will be finding themselves chasing the leather most often than not and the only ones to suffer will be the bowlers.

Ravichandran Ashwin – Overseas Blues?

Ravichandran Ashwin

Ravichandran Ashwin is India’s premier spinner and needs to be backed.

Ravichandran Ashwin has played a grand total of 5 tests overseas, 4 of them in the “Subcontinent” spin bowler’s graveyard Australia. Many greats from the subcontinent in the past have struggled to pick up wickets in Australia. Anil Kumble first visited Australia during India’s 1999/00 series when he had already played around 7 -8 years of International cricket. He picked up 5 wickets in 3 tests at an average of 90 and SR of 175.

Mastering the overseas pitches hasn’t been easy for subcontinent spinners especially Indian spinners over the last couple of decades. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are the two major spinners who played for India during that time and both of them struggled overseas. Anil Kumble was never effective overseas until the 2000’s after almost a decade of international cricket. Harbhajan Singh except for few games here and there never mastered the art of bowling on overseas pitches. So why are we expecting Ashwin to be great before he has even played 10 tests overseas?

India isn’t in the Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkat and Prasanna era anymore, those days are long gone. Ravichandran Ashwin’s career is similar to how Anil Kumble or Harbhajan started their careers with team India. They were Match winners at home but ineffective overseas. Anil is an Indian legend and you don’t pick up 600+ wickets without being one but even his craziest of fans would accept that his performance in the 90’s overseas was largely underwhelming. The Indian spinners have struggled to master the right length to bowl on pitches in Australia, England and South Africa especially.

The Indian spinners are used to bowling on Indian pitches which assist them a lot. They don’t have to bowl too full on Indian pitches as bowling short of a length is more than enough as the bounce and turn on Indian pitches will take care of the rest. The reason why most of the overseas spinners struggle in India too is because they bowl too full. The Indian spinners when they go to Australia or England struggle to find the right length. They bowl the same short of the length which they bowl in India and it becomes too short on those pitches as there is no help for them. Batsmen easily pick them off of the back foot. If you look at Anil Kumble’s footage from the 90’s in Australia you will get the gist.

As a good spinner you are supposed to adapt but again you need time. Spin bowling is a difficult art, especially in conditions which isn’t helpful. You need to be able to adjust your line and length according to the pitches you play on. Also spinners mature later than the fast men. It took 10 years for Anil to find the right way to bowl overseas. Once he figured that out he started winning games for India overseas.

I am not saying give Ashwin 10 years to learn the trade but don’t discard him just after 5 tests. He can be an incredible asset for the Indian test team. He bats very well and averages almost 40 with the bat and is a good slip fielder. The Indian team needs to give him confidence and allow him to mature a little bit overseas. Unless he bowls on such wickets he is not going to learn. Anil Kumble got the chance to learn and we should not deny Ashwin of the same. We know Ashwin can pick up wickets; he just needs to know how to do it consistently overseas. It is unfair for the critics to expect magic from him when our last two major spinners had the same trouble overseas.

Ashwin has the talent and that needs backing. He has been brilliant in home conditions and now needs to translate that success to overseas games. He will do that and needs to be persisted with. I hope that the think tank play him on this tour as he would add amazing value to the team and if there is even a little help in the pitch he is bound to provide you with better attacking option.