Cricket shambles? Pak on the verge of 4-2…

India have moved from one poor display to another in the last four games. I write this before the end of the game, but with our fate nearly sealed. It’s pretty sad that we had to lose four games on the trot, losing a 6 match series being 2-0 up. All the more a problem, in front of Manmohan and Musharraf, particularly because India-Pakistan games are not just cricket, but more! The team is certainly not playing as poor cricket as the scoreline suggests, but Pakistan has come a long way (however cliched that sounds) in this series. It’s been a close one for sure. 5 overs in Bangalore. 1 ball in Ahmedabad. One session of resistance in Mohali. But the rub of the green has gone Pakistan’s way. Well played guys.

Though we tend to read in too much into defeats, there is some doubt even in my mind if this team is kind of unsettled. The bowling’s not been very bad, but it’s not going to win matches. The batting has been really poor in the absence of some top order fire, particularly in Jamshedpur and Delhi.

I guess it’s real time to do some soul searching as far as our ODI cricket goes. We’ve almost been improving in tests, thanks to Dravid, Kumble and some others, but in ODIs, we’ve been underperforming a lot after the World Cup, excluding, perhaps, the series in Pakistan. With Wright leaving the stage, we need some real good thinking to go into our game. I am particularly dissatisfied with Sachin opening the batting, particularly with this form. Sehwag is a natural choice for one opener. Sachin or Ganguly must come in at 4, and Dravid may come in at 5. Yuvraj needs to temporarily play at 3, with Dhoni as a finisher. It’s time to do something drastic, ‘cos our performance has indeed come down drastically. I think changing captains didn’t help either! No mud slinging (which will come from all corners, including experienced writers as Ayaz Memon) is going to solve this problem. Let’s acknowledge losing to a better team, but get in rightaway to rebuild our team and form.

As for the positives from the series, it’s Dhoni certainly, the rediscovery of Zaheer’s form, some good death bowling in patches, Sehwag’s improved ODI form, the not-so-new but consistent-as-ever Dravid (actually a minus, as he’s being given the responsibility too often). Looks like it’s long enough to give the impression that we did not play badly, but no, we did play bad enough to lose to this Pakistan team, that’s on the rise.

Come on guys, pick up. 2007 is far enough, but to win, we’d need to begin building right away. And the ICC super series is also there late this year. There’s sufficient time to prepare for the next series (tri-series Ind-SL-WI in SL in August), and let’s not get into a slumber as we did last season, when we had a long break after the Pakistan tour.

Afridi cleans India up

102(46), Shahid Afridi. 21(46), Salman Butt. That says it all. Wonder what’s Afridi’s jinx with 102. Recall 102(37)? 250 may have been a competitive score without Afridi’s knock(out). But just like Ijaz Ahmed pummelled India in the third game of the Pakistan tour, this was another unbelievable blitzkreig. Balaji probably lacked the imagination, but even none of the others who bowled well were spared. An uncharacteristic Afridi knock, with fewer mishits, there were no chances till a no-ball off Dinesh Mongia was caught at short fine leg by Yuvraj. Afridi also slammed his 200th ODI six during the game.

As for the Indian innings, it was one more of the early-morning-juice pitches, and it turned out to be an excellent toss to lose (maybe Dravid should have kept quite, see the previous post). We goofed it all in the ten overs. This could have happened in the other games too, but the belligerence of Sehwag, Tendulkar or Dhoni caused the bowlers to bowl garbage at them. In the absence of all those gymnastics today, Pak bowlers, Rana particularly, bowled class deliveries at our batsmen. The only thing not explained is the double bounce that existed in the track. Yuvraj’s wicket was to a ball that kept low enough. Sehwag did not get behind the line of the ball, but it seamed. Sachin also had a pretty good delivery bowled at him. Dhoni should not have been sent up the order on this kind of a track, but hindsight is of no use! Ganguly’s bowling might have been of use on this track, but if Afridi was destined to play this knock again, Ganguly’s figures may have read more like 1-0-24-0 than the usual 1-0-12-0 (except those games where he does bowl well!).

I wonder what trick India need to pull off in Delhi. It’s a new pitch apparently, so let’s see. But given the size of the ground and the form of some of the Pakis, we might need to put up 360! In any case, I guess we’ve more than underperformed in this series. 3-3 can save our face, but the pride’s already taken a beating. Can’t see it becoming 2-4 though, and that would be the greatest disaster! Come on India, pick yourselves up. And Ganguly, we want you back!

“We’ve decided to bat first, mate!”

It was a really hilarious start to the Kanpur game with Ravi Shastri making a goof on the toss. Dravid spun the coin, spun it a long way too! That probably distracted Ravi who said “Heads is the call (it’s obvious the visiting captain calls) and tails it is!”. He then walks up straight to Inzi and congratulates him for winning the toss. As Inzi is giving his expert view on the pitch and toss, Rahul walks up to Chris Broad (who apparently was dumb till then, as we all know by now) and then Broad pulls up Ravi clarifying that India won the toss! That’s funny. And then Rahul says, “We’ve decided to bat first, mate!”. Ravi was his usually funny self thereafter, asking Dravid about his lack of practice with the coin, which made him spin it so far! A couple of changes in the Indian side, good to leave out Nehra, the way he’s been fielding, and poor Saurav, thanks to the board’s idiosyncrasies.

A tale of two captains (and a third?)

Ganguly and Inzamam. One in pathetic form and the other, consistent as ever. One always with ideas, and one often without, but still on the winning side in more occassions?! Ganguly leads by sheer aggression, while Inzi hardly makes his presence felt on the field, though does his job fantastically well as a batsman.

A captain is a position of such honour and it does seem that neither board does respect their captain enough, BCCI being marginally ahead till today, when they let Ganguly down. Certainly, this could not have happened to Sachin or anyone else. It’s so much that public opinion, which is usually wrong, and out of ignorance that’s been behind this. People want an excuse to knock Ganguly’s head off. It’s boring to repeat, but no country treats a captain with such less respect. And Pakistan, culturally very similar, keep asking for the captain’s head after every series loss, and change coaches every month. If Stephen Fleming can be the captain of NZ, there can be no reason to ask for the head of any other captain!

It’s sad that most boards in the world are top-heavy, arrogant, un-understanding and indifferent. Most of them bathe in money and fill their coffers, giving the players a more than raw deal! What a difference it can make to India or Pak if BCCI or PCB were headed by people who are more concerned about cricket and cricketers rather than money, sponsorship and other sundries.

And the third captain, the Wall. It’s really amazing that he’s been captaining more by default, whenever Ganguly is unfit or banned. But he does a good job all the same. Possibly, he’d never get to be a real captain of India, considering that he’s batting too well for anyone to tamper with it, adding more responsibility to his already-burdened shoulders! It’s really nice to have so many senior class players in your side, who are still away from retirement (except for the fact that they have their contemporaries as a very very strong Australian side!). Must make good use of it India.

Brilliant Pakistan upstage Sachin’s all-round efforts

India have never lost a 50 over match, scoring over 300 (294?). And that remains still. It’s our second loss scoring 300 in a shortened match (the previous one being at Sydney, when Brett Lee stroked Balaji for a six, with a rain-shortened target (Ind played 50 overs though), after Yuvraj blitzed to a 139(124), scoring 22 off a Harvey over.

How often has Sachin done these? Bowled the last over of a close game? Scored a hundred and end up on the losing side? Scored a hundred after a string of single digit scores?

This match again is testimony to the fact that it’s dangerous to give a good start while you are defending even a tall target. Recall India’s starts in any of our many 300+ chases. And particularly recall a game at the same venue, Ahmedabad, against West Indies, when we made a mockery of a total of 324, chasing it with 14 balls to spare! I can remember a fellow watching the match alongside me, remarking, at the conclusion of the WI innings, “Arre yaar! Aur do run banathe tho record thod sakthe hain!”, to hint that if WI had made two more runs, we could have at least broken a world record!

But the real credit for winning the match must go to Malik, Inzi and all the other batsmen who made sizeable contributions around them, without messing up the run rate! The match was certainly not won in the last ball or over, but before. Unless you’re going to be defending more than 6-8 runs in the last over, or the chasing team has only a wicket in hand, there’s hardly a history, possibly, of the defending team winning.

I don’t think we must be too hard on India for losing this one. It was a well-fought game, with class batsman dominating from either side. It was won by the batsmen more than lost by the bowlers, though discipline remains an increasingly forgotten discipline as far as our bowling is concerned! We certainly need a dibbly-dobbly bowler who’d just stick to line and length rather than fire it in short or pitch it up full! And Nehra, for heaven’s sake, must improve his fielding, or he’ll soon find himself carrying drinks.

Finally, something on poor Tendulkar. What an innings it was? But is he not as fit as we think he is? Sachin should not be cramping up even in a long innings, but maybe the conditions were too harsh. But his fielding was testimony to his fitness, so maybe nothing to worry! His sixer of Kaneria that hit the cameraman was sach a Sachin shot. Pitched way outside the legstump, down the track diagonally, hit almost again the spin, straight, more towards long on, than long off. 88* to 94*. The other six was less spectacular, but vintage Sachin again. And the down-the-track slog over midwicket off Razzaq, wow! That was great too. Though you probably don’t want to be MoM, on the losing side, it was funny that Inzi got it ahead of the centurion Sachin, who also picked a wicket, took a catch, bowled the last over and fielded brilliantly. Oops, Sachin did all but win! Better luck next time, mate!

Naved turns it on for Pakistan

318 is often a winning score, but no longer in India. Though India did well at the death to contain Pakistan, after the real acceleration in the middle overs, Naved bowled a real class spell. Possibly our pacers did nothing to exploit what was there in the track. Just bending their backs a bit, Sami (what a ball to Dravid!) and Naved bowled really well.

Butt is talented and scored a century pretty nonchalantly. His century in that BCCI jubilee match was also pretty good. Seems to be a good talent for Pakistan, but should hopefully not end up forgotten like an Imran Nazir or a Yasir Hameed, who promised and performed but where forgotten.

Irfan played a saving grace knock, but Kaif disappointed a lot. It was ideal for him to strike form in a lost game, considering the important games that were coming up. Zaheer also seems to be in good batting form. Hopefully, we should end up with a good tail. Harbhajan has degraded beyond all expectations though, as a batsman!

Some thinking needs to go into our bowling. And always, an improved shot selection is welcome!

Dhoni and Sehwag steamroller Pakistan…

Tosses in India sometimes win matches. I do not wish to take any credit away from Dhoni,Sehwag and co., but on such flat tracks, with testing weather, you’d rather that yourcaptain wins the toss and gets you in, rather than field in the scorching heat for hours together!

Dhoni’s innings was certainly not a surprise. It was expected, though he probably took it too far. Kudos to him for his approach to batting and cricket. It now appears that there is only one approach to cricket — the Sehwagian way of life! “Go Fetch”. Every ball needs to be sent to where it rightfully belongs — the stands. It is rather amazing as to how such batsmen have begun to flourish the world over, like say, a Gilchrist.

An important thing which a lot of people would have ignored is the last 5 overs of our innings (which is all the cricket I watched yesterday). The partnership between Zaheer and Balaji made a lot of difference between a comportable win and a close win or maybe even a loss! Those 3 6ers further dented Pak’s confidence and took us beyond 330, which was the last gettable target on this wicket. I hope that was planned, and not an accident, that we managed to stay 50 overs. We need our tail to use their head, once in a while, too!

As for the bowling, I read that Nehra bowled an awesome length and was unlucky to get hit for so many runs, but in the end, it was the 4 wickets that would count more and he did deserve them.

You can never demarcate between luck and acumen, as far as a captain is concerned (maybe except for the toss!), but today was a day when every move worked for Ganguly. Nehra was told to open the bowling instead of Zaheer, and he picks Afridi second ball. Yuvraj was brought in as a surprise, and he rids us of the `so-called dangerous’ Razzaq. A run-a-ball innings would never make an impact in a match where the opposition had a guy with 75(40)! Or more so, 148(123)!

Youhana did play a great knock, but probably got half of what his team needed him to get.

Overall, it was a great win for India. But let’s be wary of the toss next time around. Let’s have better pitches where there would be a more equal opportunity for both teams, particularly the team that does not bat first!

Good Luck India. We need to get 3-0 up as soon as possible! And with Sachin raring to contribute, after two failures on the trot, so also Yuvi and Kaif, things only look ominous for Pakistan!

p.s. I have taken care not to overlap much with Sriraj’s comments, which follow (I particularly enjoyed the molestation of Afridi!):

Welcome to the Dhoni Show – Lead vocalist and Guitars – M.S..Dhoni, Drummer – V.Sehwag, Bass guitarist – R.Dravid. Album – Tonk the Pakis. Rating – 5 star, popularity chart – # 1. Its a Best Seller!
I reckon the time has arrived for the old guns to sit back and watch the young turks manhandle and dismantle the opponents with sheer disdain. It was probabably a long deserved treat dished out today with humanity and compassion to our “revered neighbours” in sport.

Dhoni is gonna be no flash in the pan, he has scored about 5 centuries this season in the Ranji and not to forget the breathtaking assault in the Challenger series- to be noted critically, cause he created severe damage with one leg almost in a cast. His phelgmatic attitude is bound to pave way for his stardom, his catch today to dismiss Razzaq of Yuvi provided us an insight into the other feature of his game – wicketkeeping, his primary trait.

The stunning ease with which he bludgeoned “Afridi – chief wrecker in Bangalore” to the different corners of the stadium with a few hits almost reaching the shipping yard were the moments of irrepressible happiness that would remain for durations undefined but also raising some questions to be answered – how fast did Afridi age today?:):)

I can only hope he does not fizzle out like Sadanand Vishwanath, who was of the similar kind with keeping levels in a dimension that transcended normal human mental faculties.

Henceforth the Pak’s would surely suffer from multiple nightmares Sehwag, Dhoni and not to forget the thorn whose pain after the prick stays for the longest – Dravid. But sometimes some unexplainable events could occur, like a Sachin Blitz or a Saurav Blaze to glory, whichmight seem like a dream presently though the line that divides it from reality is not far off.