Butt kicks for Indian cricket team, time hopefully for a wake-up call

Pak beat India fair and square at the Eden Gardens, one of India’s best grounds, at the momentous occasion of the platinum jubilee of the BCCI. If this comprehensive defeat is not enough for a reality check, I don’t know what is. Hats off to Salmam Butt, a very calm, composed and talented player with a bright future ahead of him.

The only thing consistent about the Indian cricket team are its consistent defeats. For a team that is packed with talent and plenty of bench strength, its clearly a sad state. Here are some thoughts on a new look towards approaching selection of the one-day team for India.

  • Full time keeper an absolute must: Dravid as the keeper has to stop. Whenever Dravid is the captain, he always brings in a specialist keeper. There is no better proof that India’s star batsmen does not approve of the 7 batsmen formula. The formula is no longer working and its about time its abandoned.
  • Kumble permanently out of one-day games: Bhajji is clearly a better choice for one-dayers. Then why bother with Kumble in the 15. If Bhajji is out of form, as a replacement, Murali Karthik is always a proven option who can perform as well as Kumble if not better. Or hunt the country for some fresh talent.
  • Laxman out of one-day games(though he faired decently in this match): VVS is by no means a great fielder, a poor runner between wickets and his batting form is not the best currently. Most importantly, I think he is a mis-fit in the one-day game. He can always be brought back into the test team, provided his form is predictable.
  • Time to kiss good-bye to Agarkar: Can someone tell me what on earth this guy is still doing in the team today? He has had enough opportunities to prove himself and barring that one test performance in Aus and a century at Lords, he has nothing to show for all these years in international cricket. Time to send him packing.
  • Captaincy change: Ganguly appears to have lost his magic and it might be worth re-thinking the overall captaincy issue. Undoubtedly, Ganguly has a record as good or better than any Indian captain. In fact, he has groomed a fighting unit unlike no other captain in Indian cricket history. At the same time he has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for all the recent defeats. To be fair, I think the selectors should influence Ganguly to re-think the overall team strategy. If he continues to be totally inflexible and hell bent on simply repeating the same old strategy, retaining him as skipper will simply mean more of the same thing.

In my opinion, the reason Australia is able to perform to the highest quality so consistently, is that they never compromise on quality or form. In other words, only the best make it to the team. Can you imagine someone like Katich being dropped after his recent performance? If he were playing for India, he would be a fixture in the team for a min of 5 years after such a performance! Unlike test cricket, there is little room to recover in one-day games, once errors are made. So if India were to dream of winning with some level of consistency, then they have to be brutally honest in its assessing players. One easy way to look at it is to assess each player against the four aspects involved: Bowling, fielding, batting and current form. Based on assumptions derived from these aspects, let us analyze the team competition.

Criteria 1: If possible all 11 players should be top notch fielders and excellent runners between wickets. If you strictly apply this criteria: Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble, Nehra are all candidates who won’t make the cut. Zaheer Khan is also a borderline case.

Criteria 2: 6 batsmen and 5 regulars bowlers who can consistently be counted to bowl their full quota is the ideal formula. The 7 batsmen-makeshift wkt keeper-4 bowlers formula has failed miserably. If you apply the criteria that all 5 bowlers must be counted on to complete their quota of 10 overs. Agarkar is certainly the first one to not make the cut. Nehra having been axed based on criteria 1, plus the fact that he has been injury prone, plus the fact that he has very few noteworthy performances, opens up two bowling slots.

Criteria 3: The team needs five rock solid batsmen, plus one wkt keeper batsmen. Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif are automatic first choices because they clearly are not impacted by criterias 1 and 2. Dinesh Karthik is the current choice for keeper.

Criteria 4: If possible all players in the team must be in peak form. This not always possible. Besides, its not good to disrupt the team by tossing players in and out. But there has to be some basic ground rules. Ideally, I think there should be a 3 strikes and your out rule. That is, fail in 3 successive games and you are out the door for a break. Several domestic stars who deserve to be consider for the team could be beneficiaries of the three strikes rule include: Badani, Sriram, Venugopal Rao, Ambati Rayudu, among others.

Criteria 5: India needs an allrounder, ideally a heavy-hitting allrounder, the elusive Kapil Dev replacement. Romesh Powar looked like an option, but the guy was hardly given an opportunity. Other press stories indicate he was out of favor with Ganguly. In any case, a player who fits this profile is an absolute must in the team. This player must ideally be able to bat in the last 15 overs or sent up the order for pinch hitting. Currently, the only players who are capable of big hitting in the Indian team are Sehwag and Ganguly (Shahid Afridi, Flintoff, Symonds, Abdul Razack, Ricardo Powell, Chris Cairns or examples from other teams).

Based on the above analysis, Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif, Karthik, Zaheer, Irfan, Bhajji make the top 9. Also, it means that, the two remaining slots have to be players who can be counted to deliver 10 overs in every match. In other words, ideally they should be bowlers who can also bat. If its a turning track, Murali should take one spot as a specialist bowler. If its not a turning wicket then one of the many bowlers (Salvi, Bhandari, Balaji, SS Paul) should take this spot. The other spot is the allrounder spot which in my opinion is completely up for grabs. Until India can find one, maybe Ganguly should take this spot, continue as captain with a new strategy, and drop down the batting order. If he is hell bent on batting up the order, then Sehwag has to drop down the order to play the role of the big hitter. Lastly, it should be made clear to Ganguly that time is running out for him and he has to deliver. The other alternative is to pick a captain from among the top 9 players and rotate the all rounder big hitter spot among currently available talent across the country. My pick would be to give Ganguly another 4-5 matches to revise his strategy. What would your pick be?

Predictions on cricket

Lately my predictions have been hopelessly wrong. In fact, the opposite of what I predict usually happens (President Kerry, for instance!). So here are a few:

  1. India will loose the fourth test against Australia.
  2. Sachin will score 50+ in second innings. (Sachin losing magic, When a god called Sachin fell!)
  3. India won’t score more than 150 runs in the second innings of the fourth test.

Democrats in a hopeless state

Boy, that’s quite a defeat for the democratic party. Its party time for Bush and his team. After four years of economic downturn, rising deficit, war etc. etc. the voting patterns across the US don’t seem to have changed despite the “far-right” stance of the Republican party.

I am surprised that the democratic party did not make a more concerted effort to grab one of the states in the heartland. It appears that they completely disregarded these states. From this perspective, in hindsight, it might have been better for Kerry to have chosen Gephardt or some other VP candidate who could deliver at least a state or two.

I think the moral of the story for the democrats is that they better find a Presidential candidate who can carry a couple of red states in the American heartland (a la Bill Clinton) in 2008. Hillary Clinton, perhaps! At least you can be sure that the best democratic campaigner will be out there in full swing.

Aussies vs. Desis

India put up a pretty pathetic show in third test at Nagpur. Needless to say as an ardent cricket fan it was disappointing to see India loos so badly. Our leading batsem have shown very poor form. With the contract system in place I hope that the board and the cricketers develop a better working relationship based on mutual trust and confidence. Right now, you have players literally holding on to their slots in the team even if they are not in the best of form, have injuries etc. This has got to stop. There is so much talent in Indian cricket these days that unless the top players make room for the youngsters from time to time, promising players like Badani, Sriram, Ambati Rayudu, Dhoni, Jadhav, Gambhir and others will never get a chance to play for India while they are still in their prime. Just as Ganguly suggested a pool of fast bowlers it makes sense to do the same for batsmen and wicket keepers as well. Lets hope India puts up a better show in Bombay and most importantly I hope all the youngsters get a chance to play the test.

The Aussies on the other hand have had a great tour except and their hard work and professional approach to the game has paid off. They simply are the best team in the world. Even a world team would find it hard to beat the Aussies today.

It’s President Kerry, I think.

Despite all the media and pundits promising a close race and lawyers lined up to fight the battles in court, I think John Kerry will win the presidential elections and win convincingly. Here are some reasons why:

The Debates: Kerry did a fine job in all three debates winning them 3-0. Until these debates he was relatively unknown. But in these debates he came across as a very knowledgeable on policy issues (on par with Bill Clinton) without the arrogance and over-confidence portrayed by Al Gore. He also showed his lighter side and sense of humor in answering the question about what he had learned from his wife and daughters. Last but not the least he showed that he was a very shrewd politician at heart when he dragged Cheney’ s daughters name into one of his answers.

The Campaign: Despite all the talk about lacking charisma, Kerry did all the right things to run a very inclusive campaign. The important thing was that pretty much everyone in the democratic party was on-board the campaign. Unlike Gore, he took all the help he could from Clinton and signed on as many of Clinton former team as possible. Besides, he ran a campaign that was relatively scandal free (no serious revelation barring the failed swift boat campaign), with no special surprises.

The VP Candidate: Though I think Kerry didn’t really care a whole lot for Edwards, he did the smart thing by selecting John Edwards as his running mate. For whatever its worth, Edwards managed to energize the party base after Dean screamed himself out of steam. There was no chance of Edwards stealing Kerry’s limelight given his relative inexperience. In short, as a team they served each others purpose.

Newspaper endorsements: Kerry landed a number of key newspaper endorsements (not sure how much of an influence these are) like the NYT, Washington Post, Economist, Financial Times etc.

External Support: Michael Moore, and the rest of Hollywood had made a very visible plea to the voters to dump Bush. Again, its hard to measure the impact of that, but it was definitely something that benefited Kerry more than hurt him. To his credit he did a fine job of tapping this support to energize the voters bringing in the actors, singers and other entertainers at the right time to draw the crowds.

Young, first time voters: The amount of money raised online, the number of student volunteers, and the overall presence online was far stronger for the democratic party than the Republicans. John Kerry did a fine job of tapping into the online momentum that the Dean campaign had put in place.

Anti-Bush: There has been an incredible anti-Bush wave in the US and across the globe that one can’t but notice. Several people overseas were hoping that Bush would loose the elections. There were no shortage of people who felt “anybody but Bush”. All these voters will most likely vote in favor of Kerry. While he might not have done anything to win them, I think he made sure he didn’t do anything to loose them!

Lastly, I think Bush and his team have chosen to operate too far to the right all through his first term. Having lived here for over a decade I think the majority of US citizens are uncomfortable with such extreme positions and are more accommodating and moderate. The best proof of this are the results in an election with an all time high turnout.

All in all, I think John Kerry will become President by a comfortable margin.