Batting boosts India’s chances of title defence

India came into the Champions Trophy 2017 with a team that looked great on paper but was extremely low on match practice.

Rohit Sharma hadn’t played in an ODI game for India for about eight months. Yuvraj Singh was not in India’s one day scheme of things until England ODI series earlier this year where he played three games.

Shikhar Dhawan played in the England series earlier this year but was dropped for the third game after failing in the first two.

Dinesh Karthik who is India’s other middle order option hasn’t played an ODI game for India since 2014.

Kedar Jadhav who is a newbie in the middle order doesn’t have too much experience playing overseas. The only match practice any of these players had before the Champions Trophy was in the IPL.

Completely different format and conditions to what they would face in England.

The Indian team were banking on the return to form of Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh in particular. Yuvraj Singh gives India the much needed impetus in the later stages of the innings and Rohit Sharma lends solidity to the top order.

The last time India won the Champions Trophy in England in 2013, the opening partnership of Dhawan and Rohit did a stellar job.

The opening combination was little short on confidence and it showed in the way the batted in the first few overs. Both Rohit and Dhawan looked nervous at the start of the innings.

Rohit was beaten couple of times in the first over and Dhawan batted at a strike rate of 50 until about the fifth or sixth over. Both the batsmen understandably took their time in setting up a platform which helped Yuvraj, Kohli and Pandya to tee off in the final few overs.

Even though India would have been happy with the opening combination returning to form, the biggest relief for India would have been the return to form and fitness of Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj – as Kohli pointed out after the match – is a game changer.

There were lots of questions over his fitness and form ahead of the game and the genial south paw answered his critics in the best way possible. Yuvraj played one of the most important innings for himself and for the team’s confidence in the tournament.

Yuvraj Singh plays in the crucial position for India in ODI and his returning to form gives huge boost to India’s chances.

Even though Indian bowling is very good this time around, the batting always gives them the confidence in the major tournaments. India began their defence of the title with lots of question marks around the team selection and the batting form of some of their players but after the first game, India has ticked lots of the boxes.

A firing batting unit is crucial for India’s campaign and the first game has shown that all is well in that regard for team India.

My Original Article @The Roar

Team selection has a few surprises

India tour Australia for a 5 ODI and 3 T20 series in January 2016 and the team for the same was announced last week. There were lots of surprises in both the squads and the biggest of them was return of Yuvraj Singh in the T20 squad. Yuvraj Singh who has been in brilliant form for Punjab in the Vijay Hazare trophy has been recalled into the Indian squad for the T20 games in Australia. Yuvraj who found himself out of favor after a disappointing performance in the World T20 in Sri Lanka in 2014 has made it back with good performances in the shorter format. Harbhajan Singh retains his spot as the second spinner in the T20 squad and Ravindra Jadeja returns to the team in both the formats.

The other surprising inclusion was of Ashish Nehra who makes a comeback into the T20 squad. The most surprising exclusion from the ODI squad is Suresh Raina who finds himself out of favor after some inconsistent performances this year. There were also lots of good selections in both the squads and few youngsters have been rewarded for their excellent performances in domestic cricket. Mohd Shami as expected makes a comeback. Since we already know a lot about the players already discussed let’s look at the young players who made the squad and learn about them in little bit more in detail. Let’s first look at the T20 squad.

T20I squad: MS Dhoni (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Harbhajan Singh, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra

Hardik Pandya (T20 Squad) (All-Rounder): (Age: 22, T20 Games: 28, Runs: 503, Wkts: 17)

Hardik Pandya had impressed one and all when representing Mumbai Indians in the IPL. Pandya has pace and is a decent bat lower down the order. He is the only all-rounder picked for the T20 games and we can understand the thought process on the same. We surely needed a pace bowling all-rounder for Australia and Pandya fits the bill perfectly. The only thing I am worried about Pandya is that he hasn’t bowled that much in domestic cricket for an all-rounder. He does average about 3 overs out of possible 4 in T20 games and 9 overs in OD cricket. So I guess he bowls good number of overs for Punjab/Mumbai in shorter formats. He does have the talent but lacks experience with the ball. It will be interesting to see how he goes on the bouncy tracks of Australia.

ODI squad: MS Dhoni (capt), R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh, Rishi Dhawan, Barinder Sran

The ODI squad has few more youngsters compared to the T20 one but we are only looking at the 3 who haven’t played for India at this level. Manish Pandey already represented India in ODI’s in Zimbabwe.

Gurkeerat Singh (All-Rounder): (Age: 25, LA Games: 46, Runs: 1555, Wkts: 11)

Gurkeerat Singh is probably the most expected of all selections in the ODI Squad. He has been in brilliant form with both bat and ball in the recent times. He impressed one and all with his performances against “A” teams of Australia and South Africa few months ago. He has excellent records in first class and list A and would be an excellent fit in the Indian middle order in ODI. He is also in line for the test middle order spot in the future.

Rishi Dhawan (All-Rounder): (Age: 25, LA Games: 53, Runs: 1070, Wkts: 70)

Considering India’s struggles to find a good pace bowling all-rounder in shorter formats the selection of Rishi Dhawan is going cause a lots of interest. If you look at his FC records people would think why this guy is not already playing for the country. He has an excellent batting average of 41 in FC and a brilliant bowling average of 25. If that is not enough his ODI record of 39.62 with the bat and 31.6 with the ball is equally fantastic. He has been in line for a debut for a long time. He has repeatedly done well in the “A” games for India. His performances will be closely watched and everyone will be hoping that he succeeds and if he does India’s prayers for a pace bowling all-rounder will be answered.

Barinder Sran (Bowler): (Age: 23, LA Games: 7, Wkts: 15)

He is the least know of the new faces in the Indian squad. His selection is the direct reflection of India’s desperation to find a good left-arm pacer after Zaheer’s retirement. Barinder has the talent and is a bit raw as he hasn’t played too many games for Punjab yet. He does come in with high praise so a lot of expectation has been placed on his young shoulders. It will be interesting to see how he does if he gets picked in the X1. I wish him best and I hope he comes out with flying colors. India could do with some variation in the pace bowling department.

Considering that we are playing Australia in their home these probably are some bold selections. The selectors have made it clear that they want to move on and they are looking at young players in the shorter formats. This also sends out and SOS for established players like Suresh Raina to get their act together and they cannot take things for granted. The tour will begin on January 12th and I hope the cricket is at the highest level. Even though it is very hard to beat Australia in Australia, the Indian young players have the capability to put up a good fight. The series will also cause lots of interest in terms of the personnel’s selected for both the squads. So I wish the youngsters all the best and hopefully each one of them will have a great series and help India win the series.

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.

World T20 – Key players for team India

The 2012 World T20 is just few days away and the Indian team once again enters the competition with lots of hopes. The team though hasn’t played a lot of international T20 this year and will have to make the most of the two warm up games ahead of the competition. India is about to play first of their two warm up games in few days and let us look at few of India’s main players in this year’s competition.

Virat Kohli (M: 11, RS: 278, Ave: 34.75, SR: 134.29)

There is no doubt that Virat Kohli is India’s best player this year across all formats. He has been in scintillating form throughout this year and will be the key for India’s progress in the world T20. Kohli would be hoping to carry on his good form into this competition and will be hoping to make an impact. It was interesting to see Virat opening the batting against New Zealand and it is unclear if that is what the Indian think tank has in mind for the world cup.

Suresh Raina (M: 27, RS: 658, Ave: 32.90, SR: 137.94)

Raina is probably India’s most experienced player in this format. Considering that he has played in all 5 IPL’s for Chennai Super Kings and hasn’t missed many games, he probably has played the most T20 games by an Indian. His explosive style of batting with his amazing fielding makes him a very important member in the T20 squad. He also has India’s only hundred in the International T20 and will be again a key member in the top order. Suresh Raina also provides Dhoni with an extra bowling option. His strike rate and Average in this format is excellent and he will be a huge impact player for India again in 2012 edition of World T20.

Harbhajan Singh (M: 23, W: 18, Ave: 30.5, ER: 6.44)

Even though Harbhajan Singh hasn’t been seen in Indian colors for almost a year, he is expected to play a very important role in the world T20. Ravichandran Ashwin, who is a key component in the Indian ODI and test squads, surprisingly hasn’t done much in the 20 over format. Harbhajan who was part of India’s winning campaign in 2007 is still probably is India’s best spinner in this format. Harbhajan has the experience and his economy rate of 6.44 is brilliant over 20 games. Harbhajan seemed to be getting back to form in his last few games in county cricket and the warm up games will give us more information about his form. Harbhajan will be an important member in the Indian team and I expect him to play most of the games in this tournament.

Zaheer Khan (M: 13, W: 14, Ave: 25.28, ER: 7.75)

Even though Zaheer’s T20 record is nothing to write home about, he is still India’s premier bowler with the new ball. Zaheer’s presence in the team is for sure a great advantage for the Indian team. He is brilliant with the new ball and the Sri Lankan pitches help bowlers who can swing the new ball. He can be handful bowling under lights and India would be hoping for some early wickets from him.

Irfan Pathan (M: 19, W: 23, Ave: 21.60, ER: 7.88)

The return of Irfan to the Indian team earlier this year was a welcome relief. Irfan has been brilliant with both bat and ball since his comeback. He has got his swing back and has been bowling with decent pace. He was just involved in a series in Sri Lanka and the experience would help him a great deal. He has also been striking the ball beautifully with the bat making him the vital member of the team. He will be sharing the new ball with Zaheer and will for sure cause a lot of problems for the batsmen with his late swing.

Yuvraj Singh (M: 24, RS: 601, W: 8, BTAve: 31.63, BLAve: 26, SR: 150.25)

Yuvraj Singh can be called as the superman of cricket. When last year the news broke out about his cancer people were worried about his career. The man though has great heart and the way he has made a speedy recovery shows his dedication and courage. Even though people called the selection of Yuvraj as an emotional one, his presence in the T20 team is a huge bonus. He batted without much match practice against New Zealand and scored a brilliant 36 and it seemed like he had never been away from the team. He also gives Dhoni an option with the ball and also is a fantastic in-fielder. You cannot go wrong with selecting Yuvraj in any short format and he will be India’s trump card in this tournament.

Others players who could make an impact:

G Gambhir (M: 28, RS: 755, Ave: 30.20, SR: 122.56)

Gambhir was India’s premier batsman in 2007 victorious campaign. Gambhir has been struggling for form recently in all formats. He along with Sehwag has struggled to provide good starts at the top of the order. India would hope that both the openers come back to form in the T20 world cup. Everyone knows Gambhir’s expertise against spin and he can be devastating if he gets going. India would be looking to play both Gambhir and Sehwag in both the warm up games and would hope to see them scoring some runs. Gambhir has an impressive T20 record and would want to turn it on at the biggest scene.

The comeback man:

Lakshmipathy Balaji makes a comeback to the Indian team after 5 years. He would most probably be fighting for the one spot with Dinda in the X1. Balaji makes the squad due to his brilliant performance in the IPL 2012 where he was extremely economical and also picked up wickets for KKR. It will be interesting to see how he goes in this tournament. A good performance in the World Cup might give him a decent run in the Indian team again.

The rookies:

Manoj Tiwary and Ajinkya Rahane will be the rookies for the Indian team this tournament. Extremely talented neither of them will be first choice pick in the X1. Rahane impressed one and all with his brilliant batting as an opener in England and Tiwary has done extremely well in the middle order in the limited opportunities he has received in the ODI team. Tiwary will be battling for one spot with Rohit Sharma and Tiwary has a difficult task of competing with Sehwag and Gambhir.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Rohit Sharma form the rest of the squad who could make a huge impact. Both these players are extremely talented and have done very well for their franchises in the IPL. For Rohit Sharma though this might be the make or break tournament and would want to make solid contributions to the Indian middle order. Ravichandran Ashwin’s case is pretty confusing as he is India’s premier spinner in ODI’s and his struggle in T20I’s is rather perplexing. He has done extremely well in the IPL for CSK and it will one be a matter of time before he translates that success to T20I’s. For now though I guess Harbhajan might beat him to make the final X1 considering his experience and current form. MS Dhoni will be India’s captain and wicket keeper. He has struggled to make an impact in this format with the bat and would want to correct the same. His leadership in the shorter format this year has been brilliant and his calm demeanor on the field will be extremely important in a high profile tournament like this.

India has a very balanced squad and has a great chance of repeating 2007 success. So I wish the team best of luck and I hope they put up a good show in the World T20.

Batting Power play – An enigma

Captains should take Batting PP seriously to take advantage of the concept

Captains should take Batting PP seriously to take advantage of the concept

Batting power play is the latest innovation by the ICC to spice up the 50 over format. Over the past year when this new concept has been in place it seems like the teams have found this hard to comprehend. It seem like the teams have found it hard to determine how to use this new concept to their advantage. Previously the ODI format had a 15 over field restriction rule when the batsmen can go berserk trying to muster as many runs as possible within that period. This gave birth to the pinch hitters and unconventional openers in the mid nineties.

The 15 over rule has been there for ages now and it seems like the teams are still stuck in that time in spite of the latest changes in the power play rule. The current power play (PP) has been extended to 20 overs with 15 bowling PP overs and 5 batting PP overs. The first 10 overs of PP are continuous but the bowling captain can choose when to take the rest of the 5 bowling PP overs. Then there are 5 PP overs which the batting team can take as and when they please within the 50 overs. If the batting team fails to take it by the end of the 45th over it is automatically applied or forced on the batting team.

Sounds simple enough but when you look at the ODI games in the recent times, it seems like the concept is more complicated for the captains then it actually looks. The bowling team takes the easy way out by taking the PP at a stretch for the first 15 overs keeping the older format in mind. So it works out simple for them, since the captain need not strategize and is happy to get the PP away. But the batting PP is the one which has got the teams napping. In the recent times most of the teams have been either forced to take it or have taken it one or two overs too late.

I guess the problem comes with the age old adage in ODI cricket that the slog overs start from the 40th over. The teams wait till the 40th over to decide whether they want to take the PP or not. Sometimes it works but most of the times the teams lose too many wickets which makes the PP almost useless. For example in the recent ODI between India and Pakistan, India was 190 odd for the loss of 5 wickets with two settled batsmen at the crease. The required RR was just over a run a ball and a perfect time to take PP. Suresh Raina was taking risks with the fielders on the boundary which made no sense as the PP was available for the Indians to take. India for some strange reason wait and Suresh Raina gets out and by the time India decides to take the PP they are 7 wickets down, virtually making the PP useless.

So what is the ideal time to take the batting PP? This is something the teams should discuss in their meetings prior to the games. They have to work out a strategy as to when they should take it and in what situation. The best situation as far as I am concerned is when two batsmen are going strong and are well set take the PP and score 40-45 runs which will put enormous pressure on the fielding team. The best example for timing was again a game involving India, when Sachin and Yuvraj where blasting the NZ bowlers earlier this year. They decided to take the PP as early as 22nd over and blasted 69 runs in those 5 overs. Brilliant decision whoever made the call to take the PP that early. India ended up with 392 on the board.

But these things are easier said than done. It’s very difficult to determine what goes through a cricketers mind when he is at the middle and yes there are team instructions to follow as well. We don’t even know if the players in the middle are actually allowed to take that call or not. Probably the coach sends out a message to take the PP. whatever may be the scenario if we take a sample of 50 odd games in the recent times, we will see that most teams have wasted the batting PP. If the ICC isn’t smart about it, this concept will also die down as the super sub did couple of years ago.

I guess the best way would be to put the pressure on the captains by saying that they have to take the PP themselves before the 46th over is bowled and will not be automatically applied if they don’t take it. It will be assumed that the team has given up the right to take the PP and it should work to the advantage of the bowling team. I guess if such a rule is put in place, it probably might receive more serious thinking by the teams during their discussions and probably will become part of their strategy. Unless something is done to make it more interesting, I guess the ODI game will still follow the same old adage of 15 overs of field restriction and last 10 overs of slog and the innovations will have no effect.

England return as India prepare for the test series

Dhoni at the practice session

Dhoni at the practice session

The English team have decided to comeback to India to play the 2 test series after the Mumbai blasts. The team had left home following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai after a 5-0 one-day drubbing. Currently the English team is practicing at Abu Dabi before they fly to Chennai to play their first test. The Indian team for the test series has been announced and Yuvraj makes a comeback after the disastrous Australian tour earlier this year. Yuvraj is all set to grab the vacant spot in the Indian middle order after the retirement of Sourav Ganguly. The rest of the squad will remain the same with Sehwag and Gambhir at the top of the order.

Zaheer and Ishant will take the new ball with Harbajan and Amit Mishra  managing the spin department at least for the first test in Chennai. I would put the Indians as the favorites in this two test series going by the recent form and the strength of the squads. England just have two world class performers and would rely heavily on their captain Kevin Pieterson and Andrew Flintoff to have a chance in this series.

This series is very important for cricket in India after the Mumbai blasts. A safe series would go a long way in ressurrecting India’s image among the western countries who are not that keen travelling to the sub-continent. Its funny though to see the entire western community supporting India after the attacks which shows how much impact money can have on cricket and mentality of the respective boards and players. I am sure 10 years ago the same England team would not have returned to India after a terrorist attack of such magnitude. Coming to India is advantageous for the players of the English team as it enhances their chances to be a part of the second edition of IPL.

Whatever may be the reason for the England team’s return its great for Indian cricket. I sincerely hope that this series would be a hard fought one and will be remembered for the performances on the field.

Team selection on Wednesday

Rahul Dravid at the Bangalore Camp

Rahul Dravid at the Bangalore Camp

The Indian selectors get together this wednesday to pick the team for the upcoming test series against the Aussies. Everyone is keen to find out if Ganguly who was left out of the ROI team in the Irani trophy would be considered for the test series or not. The team selection itself proves to be quite interesting if Ganguly is left out of the team which will be the most likely scenario.

The top four for the first test at least pick themselves. Sehwag and Ghambir are most certain to open the innings followed by Dravid at number 3 and Sachin at 4. Laxman might bat at number 5 but there is one spot which will be vacant in the Indian middle order. It will be interesting to see who will replace Ganguly at that spot. There are quite a few contenders fighting for that one spot in the Indian middle order. The two most likely to occupy that spot would be either Badrinath or Rohit Sharma but there are few others with an outside chance. Mohammed kaif with a good knock in Irani trophy could have got himself in contention but his twin failures could work against him. Then there is Virat Kohli who had great Srilankan tour performing with great consistancy in the one day series.

A year ago if some one had asked me as to who would be the likely candidate to replace Sourav in the test team, I would have no hesitation to say Yuvraj’s name. But in the current scenario he has as much chance as the guy we are talking he can replace to make the team. It seems though that either Badrinath or Rohit Sharma might make the test team this time. So I guess the top 6 might look something like this,

1. Sehwag

2. Ghambir

3. Dravid

4. Sachin

5. Badrinath or Rohit Sharma

6. Laxman

The top 6 will be followed by Mahindra Singh Dhoni who will be proceeded by the bowlers. The first test might see Kumble and Harbajan bowling in tandem with Ishant and Zaheer taking the new ball. Munaf might be in the 15 but may not play at least in the first test.

All in all its going to be an interesting selection with a possibility of Sourav still making the team.