End of Deodhar Trophy?

The BCCI canceled the Deodhar Trophy for 2009-10 season because of a tight schedule.

Its an interesting move and a sure sign that with the rise of T20 cricket something has to give. The big question is whether this is an isolated instance or a sign of trend that the 50 over game is slowly making way for the more trendy and fast paced T20.

Team India: Down and Out of the T20 World Cup Semis

Team India crashed out of the T20 World Cup. Dhoni and his boys have gone from being superstars to failed stars overnight. Here are some thoughts on Why India failed and some possible solutions.

Players Hiding Injuries

Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan were not fully fit for this T20 World cup. Between the BCCI, the team management and the players themselves, their lack of fitness was allowed to be overlooked. There should an investigation, followed by some firings. The players themselves must be banned from playing for India for a year. In this day and age, with so much financial benefits (among other things) at stake, the players and all those involved need to be strongly reminded that hiding injuries is simply not acceptable and will be dealt with in very harsh terms.

Dhoni’s Growing Pains

After a successful honeymoon period, India’s Midas man who has never captained a team before he earned the most demanding job in world cricket, seems to be suffering from growing pains. After he stepped into the job, he phased out the seniors, brought in young blood, and led from the front with impressive personal performances. Unfortunately, like most players he seems to have hit a lean patch in his batting of late. His team failed to make the final of the IPL. Many youngsters around him have started performing better than he himself. His aggressive out of the box moves have started to fail more often than succeed. His cool and calm at the post-match interviews has been replaced by irritability, annoyance and other such emotions.

The fact remains that Dhoni had an excellent team on paper but it fizzled on the field. Its all part of Dhoni growing up on the job. Thus far he has shown great talent, skill and the resolve needed to make a very good captain. At the same time he has shown fleeting signs of insecurity (promoting himself ahead of other in form players a la Dada), desperation to prove his point (playing the same team for the last match against SA despite being a turning track), and the rumored clash with Viru and its aftermath (a PR fiasco raising more questions than providing answers). However, it would be foolish and premature for India to pressurize him or even contemplate replacing him in the short term.

Player Rotation

Gary Kirsten was probably right when he said the team was tired and exhausted after non-stop cricket over several months. Unfortunately, in this day and age of “fast-buck” cricket, this is no longer a valid excuse. India is bursting at the seams with talent. Manish Pandey, Virat Kohli, Praveen Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, Pradeep Sangwan, Abhishek Nayyar, are just a few of the many talented players on the sidelines. There is no reason why the same set of players should be doing the rounds in all forms of the game. Why not have separate teams with a few common players in all forms of the game?

Thoughts on IPL 2.0

After a couple of weeks of the IPL in its new avatar in South Africa it is hard not to admit that it is far more exciting than the inaugural version held in India last year. If there is one glaring downside it is the size of the crowds.  A match played in front of 20,000 people is very different from  one played in front of 80,000+. Barring the size of the crowds IPL 2.0 is definitely far more exciting.

Bowlers Have a Chance

Unlike IPL 1.0 which was played on India’s dead pitches, the pitches in South Africa appear to have plenty in them for the bowlers. This is obvious when you look at the scores. Any score above 160 is huge plus. Besides, spinners have had a terrific run this time around. A veteran like Anil Kumble has become a force to reckon with. The duel between him and the hard hitting Yuvraj Singh was cricket at its best.

Matches Are Down to the Wire

One of the big pluses of this IPL has been the fact that most matches have come down to the wire making it that much more exciting.  If you miss the first 15 overs, the last five overs are bound to be worth watching especially in a close game.

Experience Counts

While veterans like Sachin, Dravid and Kumble have seen a fair amount of success the IPL, some of the newbies who had a great run last year like Asnodhkar, Dhinda, Gony and others have struggled. It is possible that their lack of success is result of limited exposure and inability to adapt quickly to the South African pitches/grounds. It is also possible that these youngsters will get their act together as the IPL progresses.

Wasted Big Bucks

Pieterson and Flintoff are easily the biggest disappointments among the big stars who were introduced for the first time in the IPL. Pieterson doesn’t recovered from his English captaincy mess and awarding him the BRC captainship was probably a wrong move. Flintoff seems to be eternally plagued by injuries. He never really clicked with the bat and it was embarrassing to seem him tonked around by the likes of Abhishek Nayar, a relative newbie.

KKR’s Downward Spiral

KKR’s damage was done well before the season started – John Buchanan’s blatant attempt to sideline Ganguly, the Fake IPL blogger, SRK’s clash with Gavaskar, the unavailability of Ponting etc. etc.  — all contributed to KKR’s poor performance this IPL. SRK has done little to help matters either. A post season clean up seems surely on the cards and seems necessary.

McGrath on the Bench!

Delhi’s decision to bench McGrath is baffling. The best part is that the team has done exceptionally well without him! Perhaps its  part of a plan to unleash him in the later games?  Nannes, Nehra and Sangwan have performed creditably throughout so its hard to justify dropping any of them. At best McGrath for Nehra perhaps?

An Indian Captain for an IPL Team Makes More Sense

Unless you have a captain known for his captaincy prowess (like Shane Warne), it makes no sense whatsoever to have a non-Indian captain.  Firstly,  each team can have only four non-Indian players.  Many non-Indian players have more experience playing T20 cricket and it makes sense to rotate those players and get the best out of them. KKR is now stuck with McCullum in the playing 11 though he has barely had any success with the bat.  Secondly, language and culture has a lot to do with leading the team. Some of the Indian players are not comfortable speaking fluent English. Its hard to imagine how a foreign captain can communicate effectively with them unless he has some gifted captaincy skills like Shane Warne seems to have. Thirdly, an Indian captain is bound to know local players much better. Kevin Pieterson for instance chose to repeatedly use Kallis to bowl at the death. Kumble on the other hand chose to bowl the penultimate over himself. Also, Pieterson barely used Vinay Kumar as a bowler in the match againts Punjab, though he is primarily a bowler, while Kallis bowled his full quota of four overs for a whopping 51 runs!

Ultimately, T20 is a crap shot

In the IPL any team can beat any other team (and this includes KKR, btw).  T20 is completely unpredictable. Unlike Test cricket and ODI cricket where performance has to be sustained over a longer period of time, T20 can change in the space of an over or two. There is little or no time to recover after the odd false move. Success in T20 calls for a huge slice of luck more so than in any other form of the game.

Specific strategies (multi-captain theory for instance, opening with a spinner, shot over the keeper) per se are still being worked out as this form of the game gains maturity. Dhoni has so far shown that his capataincy instincts can be equally brilliant in the T20 format. His move to bring in Suresh Raina in the CSK-Punjab was a master stroke. Shane Warne is brilliant as always. His one over to Badrinath on a turning track was an absolute treat from the master of spin bowling.  It was confirmation that given the right settings there is still room for sheer traditional cricketing class in T20s.  It will be interesting to see RR under Graeme Smith.

Balaji’s Return A Welcome Sign

The selectors in a surprise move replaced the injured Munaf Patel with the “smiling assassin” Laxmipathi Balaji. This move is no doubt remarkable for so many reasons. Most importantly, it is a sign that domestic performances count for selection to the national team. Balaji has performed exceptionally in the domestic circuit and has worked his way back to the team.

Secondly, its a welcome sign than those who have performed at the highest level of the game are not ignored when they are hit by major injuries. After a fine performance on the Pakistan tour a few years back, the promising Balaji has struggled to get back from his injury and prove that he is capable of still performing at the international level. There was no question that he had the promise and the potential. Unfortunately, he was hit by major injury and has been in the wilderness for the last three years (barring his performance in the IPL). Coming back after being away from the game for a long time is a challenge in itself. Being constantly ignored can make it worse. The selectors and captain Dhoni deserve credit for recognizing Balaji’s return to reckoning.

Last but not the least it keeps the current crop of fast bowlers in the Indian team on their toes, knowing that the bench strength is constantly knocking on the doors. I can’t remember the last time when India had a fast bowling bench strength of the likes of R.P. Singh, Sreesanth, Gony, Umesh Yadav, to name few.

Dhoni Leads India’s Rise to the Top

It is not a mere coincidence that Dhoni lead India in both the Tests that India beat Australia in the recent cricket Test series. As one avid Indian supporter rightly said, “Dhoni made it happen”.

Dhoni has already displayed captaincy skills thus far not seen in Indian cricket. Comparing his captaincy style to that of Ganguly (as Dada says himself) would be a disservice to the young man. He absolutely leads from the front unlike most other Indian captains. In his short stint as captain he has shown repeatedly that he is different and far better than all those who have captained India in the recent past.

Here are a few of his moves that come to mind.

  • In the Mohali test, his decision to come in at number three and his ability to push the score along set the stage for India’s victory.
  • In the Nagpur Test, the “8 on the off” fielding strategy was key to India’s victory. I can’t recall the last time an Indian captain displayed an “out of the box” thinking of this nature. Although one could argue that this was a defensive move, its a sure sign that the man is a  thinker and always leads with a clear strategy.
  • Dhoni’s decision to ask Dada to lead after the fall of the 9th wicket was a master stroke. It was a terrific gesture of the kind world cricket has never witnessed.
  • Despite his meteoric rise, Dhoni’s personal life has remained private and low key unlike say, those of the scandal-prone Sreesanth or Yuvraj Singh.
  • His post-match comments appear to be thoughtful, level headed and down to earth. He recently admitted that something was a “fluke”.
  • His decision to phase out the senior players from the ODI side proved to be the right move (despite all the criticism he faced).  Thanks to this decision, India was able to beat Australia on home turf in the ODI series last year.
  • Lastly, Dhoni almost always appears to be calm and composed even in times of intense pressure. In comparison notice Yuvraj screaming at his fielders (in the recent Challenger trophy and in the IPL series).

The victory against Australia in the Test series, following the ODI win in Australia (where Dhoni led the team), could be the turning point in India’s rise to the top as the number one Test team. With Dhoni in-charge and a younger set of players ready to take over from the seniors, the future of Indian cricket could not be better positioned.

At the moment it looks like Dhoni could do no wrong. Some might even argue that he simply has the “Midas touch”. It remains to be seen how far he can sustain his success. Up until now, he has clearly displayed terrific captaincy skills and excited Indian crickets fans the world over with impressive results and unparalleled optimism. For someone who has hardly captained a team prior to this, his accomplishments so are simply mind-boggling.

Hail Dhoni!

Ganguly Quits: Good, Timely Call

Sourav Ganguly announced his decision to retire from Test cricket after the series against Australia. Unarguably Sourav Ganguly was one of India’s better captains and his fighting spirit transformed Indian cricket forever. His infamous clash with Greg Chappell, his ouster and subsequent return provided plenty of drama for the entire cricketing world. He probably won’t be missed any longer given his poor form, but there is no question that he has been a phenomenon in Indian cricket for well over a decade. Given the commericialization of cricket of late, one can be asured the Ganguly will re-appear in other avatars beyond the IPL.

It’s nice to see him bid adieu to the game while still in the Test team. It is the first time since Sunil Gavaskar that a top Indian cricketer has left the cricketing scene while still being a member of the team. Even the great Kapil Dev was dragged along in the team until he reached his record wicket tally. While there has been widespread speculation in the media about the future of the “Fab Four”, the reality is that Ganguly could have dragged along longer if he chose to. A couple of good knocks in the first two Tests would have secured his position for the next tour or two. While its is unclear what triggered his decision, overall there appears to be a fair indication of professionalism on both the part of the selectors and Ganguly himself for how this has all transpired. Hopefully the public will be saved from another media circus in the days and weeks ahead without new revelations of any sort from Ganguly. The new selectors lead by Kris Srikanth deserve credit for giving Ganguly an opportunity to quit while still in the team.

Meanwhile, lets hope that the remaining stalwarts — Sachin, Dravid, and Kumble — plan their graceful exits. This series should be a decider for them. If they fail to perform, they should simply call its quits or plan their exits in discussion with the selectors.  The selectors would also do well to have a chat with these folks to figure out what they have in mind with regard to their continued presence in the team. It is in the best interest of the team that these players phase out over time rather than all at once. Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Badrinath, Kaif, Raina, Pujara, Kohli and many others are waiting their turns and deserve a shot at the highest while they are still at their best.

Dhoni Leads From The Front

MS Dhoni deserves all the credit possible for India’s ODI series win against Sri Lanka. Winning in Sri Lanka is a tall order by itself. Besides, Indian batsmen had been completely foxed by the magic of Ajantha Mendis both at the Asia Cup and the recent Test series. India lost the first ODI even without a fight. But Dhoni inspired an impressive turn around thereafter winning three ODIs in at a stretch.

Dhoni displayed the ability to adapt his otherwise aggressive batting style to the requirements of the team. He overcame the Mendis threat and inspired overall good performances from his team mates. He has highlighted the need to focus on youth and delivered on that promise. Virat Kohli and S. Badrinath, two of his new additions played crucial innings when it most mattered. While Yuvraj, Gambhir, Rohit Sharma struggled, Dhoni was able to step up and haul India out of trouble along with Suresh Raina. He made the right bets on the bowling combination and adapted to the four bowler strategy at the right time.

For the first time we have an Indian cricketer who is getting as much if not more credit for the victories of the team rather than jusr his individual performances. For someone who has never really had any captaincy experience in the past Dhoni’s ascent as captain is truly a revelation. Hopefully, the selectors will give Dhoni more freedom in team selection. After all he has already proven so far that he has the uncanny ability to make the right decisions at the right time.

p.s: It is not a surprise that the Dhoni brand is ahead of even the Sachin brand the days!

Team India’s surprise victory in the third ODI

India won their second ODI in a row against Sri Lanka, this time far more convincingly than the first victory. Positive signs for India from this match: Dhoni’s form, Raina’s return to form, Rohit Sharma’s useful contribution with the bat, and India’s early breaks thanks to the fast bowlers, particularly Zaheer Khan. The issues for concern: Yuvraj Singh’s continuing poor form, and lack of a strike bowler/wicket taking bowler.

As for Sri Lanka the two main areas of concern: the repeated failure of the top order and the fact that many in the Indian batting ranks are getting more comfortable playing Mendis. With just rtwo more matches to go, Sri Lanka will be under extra pressure in the upcoming match to keep the series alive. Dhoni and his boys should be eager to wrap this up despite appearing to be the weaker team at the start of the series.

Dhoni deserves credit for choosing to persist with Rohit Sharma. Pathan’s bowling fom has been suspect and in the current circumstance, he is unlikely to suffice as the strike bowler that India badly needs. So its likely that India will persist with the four bowler combination for the rest of this series. Yusuf Pathan with his off-spinners and big-hitting capabilities might have been a useful alternative.

The best part about this ODI series continues to be the nature of the pitches. Bowlers have a very good chance of performing well on these wickets. So batting is a lot harder and hence all matches so far have been low scoring games. Cricket playing countries around the world will do well to prepare such bowler friendly wickets for ODIs and T20s.

Wow! India Actually Won The Second ODI Against SL

Dhoni and his boys managed to scrape through and win the second ODI! It was hardly a convincing victory, but a victory nevertheless. Zaheer Khan’s return to form was timely.

India decided to recognize Badrinath for his consistent domestic performance by giving him a chance to play in the second ODI and he didn’ disappoint. He produced two lovely catches and played a crucial knock. Most importantly he showed that he could take on Murali and Mendis.

The composition of the Indian team raises many questions. It remains a mystery as to why players like Badrinath have to wait so long while others like Virat Kohli are fast tracked to the team. Kohli might be a great talent but it makes no sense to play him as an opener when he is not one. Since he is a middle order batsman, players like Badrinath should get the nod ahead of him. Besides, why has Uthappa not been brought in as a replacement for Sehwag? Why was Yusuf Pathan dumped after one tour? Isn’t India still in search of a reliable all-rounder?

Given that Mendis is still a mystery for many in the team, it might make sense to factor form and ability to play him as criteria for going higher up the order. Yuvraj Singh seems to have serious difficulty facing the spinners. Yet on his day Yuvraj could be a winner. So it might make sense to open with Yuvraj (since there are no regular openers) or send him at number 3 so he can get his eye in well before the spinners step in. Raina and more so Rohit Sharma appear to be in poor form. On the other hand Dhoni and Badrinath seem to be better off in confidence at the moment. Re-working the Indian batting order might be the way to solve India’s batting woes. Its good to see India persisting with five bowlers in the eleven.

The best part about this series so far has been the pitches. Both pitches so far have assisted the bowlers. This ensured that runs were hard to come by, and made these games that much more exciting. Hopefully the remaining ODIs will follow the same pattern. Sri Lanka clearly holds the upper hand at the moment. Do Dhoni and his boys have what it takes to turn this around?

SL India ODI Series: Dhoni Has His Task Cut Out

Sri Lanka first destroyed India’s ODI team at the Asia cup final. They then won the Test series against India rather convincingly. The common factor behind these victories was the new cricketing sensation, Ajantha Mendis. He baffled Dhnoi’s boys in the crucial Asia cup final. Then, he also destroyed India’s fabulous four (Dravid, Sachin, Ganguly and VVS). And now the young turks return. This is easily Dhoni’s biggest ODI challenge since he took on the mighty Aussies after insisting on dumping the veterans from the ODI team.

If Dhoni can win this series against SL, cries for phasing out the Fab four from the Test team are going to increase and understandably so. Dhoni has a lot going for him and his team. Firstly, he himself has had some much needed rest by choosing to skip the Test series. His key batsman, Yuvraj Singh is hungry for runs and understandably deeply motivated to re-establish himself after being dropped from the Test team. Gambhir and Sehwag are in top form and Badrinath, Raina and Rohit Sharma make up a solid middle order to follow Yuvraj. The key to India’s success will revolve around the batsmen’s ability to pick Ajantha Mendis. If he continues to torment the Indian batsmen, India has little hope of winning because clearly India’ bowling is a lot weaker than its batting.

For now Sri Lanka clearly holds the upper hand both on paper and psychologically. Despite starting as the underdogs can Dhoni and his boys turn this around? This should be a very interesting ODI series.