Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What now for Team India ??

So in the end, the miracle did not happen !!. Australia squeaked home with two wickets and thus marched into the Champions Trophy semi-finals and in doing so, dashed the hopes of millions across India. Not that the hopes would have been too great, since an honest Indian fan will admit that India got out of jail on Monday, saved by the thunderstorm that hit Centurion. Therefore, Indian fans had no real business wanting Pakistan to win. Our team was clearly not amongst the top four teams in this competition and hence are on their way back.

And once they do come back, Dhoni and co. have some thinking to do. Hopefully, they would not walk into a more-than-neccessary adverse reaction. The team at an overall level are still amongst the top four teams in world cricket and they were missing three of their main ODI players. But the fact remains that for the second time in four months, India have failed to qualify for the last four in a major ICC event. Shades of South Africa anyone ? Hope not !!!

Two questions will be uppermost on the minds of Dhoni and the selectors when they meet to select the team for the next (meaningless ?) ODI assignment - 7 ODI's against Australia starting October 25th. The first would be the vexed question of what to do know with Rahul Dravid ??? He was recalled after seeing the young brigade jumping like a cat on a hot tin roof in the T20 World Cup, in the expectation that pitches in South Africa would be similar in nature. Instead, what we encountered were slow turners, first in Sri Lanka (expectedly) and then in Centurion (not so expectedly). And our man has managed returns of 14, 47, 39, 76 and 4. Not bad at all, though some people can still be harsh on him in saying that the 76 could have been scored slightly quickly. But now the question begs, what next with him ? Do we again push him back in the ODI wilderness (especially once Sehwag and Yuvraj are back) or keep him until he calls it a day on his own terms. It seems that the former is the more distinct possibility. I guess when the throw hit the stumps directly some time back (in the game against the Windies), Rahul Dravid himself realized that he had ran himself out of the Indian ODI squad. And that would be a sad end to the ODI career of one of India's best servants.

The other question is that of the pace bowling. Ashish Nehra apart, the rest looked plain ordinary in South Africa. Zaheer was, of course, missed but the form of Ishant Sharma is worrying. His honeymoon is clearly over and, given his limited batting and fielding ability, some time away from the ODI team might do him a world of good. With RP Singh also struggling, the pace bowling cupboard looks bare again. Sreesanth must be seeing the Indian team recall closer than ever. When it comes to spin bowling, things are not that better either. We need to develop an alternative to Harbhajan, and the ODI version might be the best place to start. Mishra performed creditably in the Australia game, but we need others to step in. Piyush Chawla faded away after some promise, but the boy has age on his side and must be persisted with. Ditto with Pragyan Ojha. Its time that Bhajji is rotated along with the other spinners in the ODIs and T20. And of course, our search for that successor to Kapil Dev continues !!! First Agarkar, then Irfan Pathan and now Yusuf Pathan. But like a mirage, that dream keeps running away from us.

So it is quite a task for the selectors. And just to put myself in their boots, here is my 14 member squad for the Australia series (assuming Yuvraj and Zaheer not fit till then):

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar (to be replaced by Yuvraj when fit), Suresh Raina, VIrat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, S Badrinath, MS Dhoni (C and WK), Abhishek Nayar, Ashish Nehra, S Sreesanth, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha

Of course, performances in the Challenger Trophy starting October 8th can change the above !!



Monday, September 28, 2009

Drama galore in the Rainbow nation..!!

So the Champions Trophy is a week old and before you know it, it will be over as well !!!. In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of the CT in preserving the 50-over game. On the evidence of the eight matches so far, it has certainly been successful in doing so. And maybe there is a lesson there for the ICC. Short tournaments (involving only the best teams in the world) being held regularly (maybe every year) might be the next big thing. In fact, it was widely believed that this would be the last CT. I guess that is no longer certain now. Who knows, the ICC might just schedule one next year !!!.

And the cricket in South Africa has been of quite a decent standard. The results have been nothing short of shocking. The hosts have, yet again, been found wanting in a home event. The team that was virtually written off before the tournament started as a second string side have performed quite creditably. And another team that lost six of seven games in the last fortnight has suddenly become the team to beat. Maybe this is England's best chance of bagging its first ever ICC ODI title. The fate of the other two favourites, India and Australia hangs in the balance, with both of them facing off in a virtual QF later today. All in all, no one can be certain who will be holding aloff the trophy come next Monday at the Centurion. And that is just what the doctor ordered for the fifty over game.

To add to the exciting cricket has been the drama. The latest incident being Strauss's refusal to allow his opposite number, Graeme Smith, a runner during the late stages of Smith's epic 141 yesterday. While many have lambasted Strauss (no doubt taken in by the high emotion surrounding Smith's heroic effort), I am on Strauss's side. This incident also brings into focus the particulary thorny issue of having a runner in the first place. The reason I agree with Strauss is that cramps do not constitute an injury. Wikipedia defines cramps as 'unpleasant, often painful sensations caused by contractions or over-shortening of muscles.. and excessive dehydration'. Hence cramps are the natural side effects of spending hours on the fields, first fielding and then batting for virtually the entire innings. Therefore a runner should not be allowed for pure cramps. Much as I salute the effort of the South African captain, I do not agree with a runner to be given to him. And the on-field umpires have the final say in the matter, not the fielding captain. Hence it is time that the on-field umpires arrive at a general consensus on when should a runner be allowed (in my book, it should be only in the case of leg injury sustained during the course of play (hence, I am not sure if, earlier in the day, Ryder should have been allowed a runner as well - It seemed he came into the game with the hamstring problem).

Nevertheless, the CT is gearing for an exciting finale !! Hope the last few matches give us an even better spectacle and make this fortnight a time to remember !!.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The test of the ODI format !!

A new season has begun for the Men in Blue (now-a-days just a few days rest is enough to distinguish between two seasons !!) and they start off, like they seem to do quite often, by playing ODI's in Sri Lanka. And playing day-night matches at the Premadasa means that the most important moment of the match happens before the first ball is bowled !! Have some decent spinners in your side and call right at the toss, and you have done more than your bit :). Then back your batsmen to score 300 and only an outrageously good batting performance by the opposition (or some really poor bowling) will get them home. Yesterday, Dhoni was on the receiving end at the toss, maybe he needs to practice tossing the coin more than batting or wicket-keeping before the final tommorow.

After that, Dhoni and boys go to South Africa for the Champions Trophy. On most occasions, this would have been the show piece event of the year (and I am so glad that it will be telecast on ESPN Star, with Harsha and gang in tow). But with the ICC T20 World Cup and the Ashes having just concluded, the tournament has been relegated to the back stage. To add to that is the raging debate about the existence of ODI's itself. The fifty over game finds itself squeezed on both sides. Above it is that purest of forms of cricket, the five-day game. The connoisseurs delight, Test match cricket will always live on since it is highly regarded by both the players and administrators alike. And with contests like the Ashes and Indo-Australia still delivering rivetting cricket, it is still a economically viable proposition, atleast in some parts of the world. Below the ODI format is that brash young upstart, the T20 format. In a little over six years since the first such international game was played, it has taken the world by storm. So much so that we are seeing the unique spectacle (possibly unparalleled in any other sport) of World Cup tournaments in successive years (April-May 2010 will see the teams gathering in the Carribbean for another few weeks of slam-bang cricket). The blockbuster that brings in the moolah, it is inevitable that T20 will soon overrun the ODI format, both in terms of its prominence and popularity. So with both the other formats squeezing it out of the spectator's imagination, where does ODI cricket go from here ?

The events in South Africa from Sept 22 to October 5 will go a long way in providing the answer. ODI cricket, in fact cricket in general, badly needs a good Champions Trophy. And the format could not have been better. Only eight of the best teams (disregarding the plight of the West Indies), only 15 matches, no Super-6's or Super-8s and the whole tournament done and dusted in under two weeks !! It promises action for the entire duration of the event, unlike the 2007 World Cup where most matches of the early round were an exercise in futility. I for one, cannot wait for the long weekend starting September 26th, with India taking on Pakistan that day and then the Aussies two days later (on Dassera day !!)*. It is going to nothing short of a treat !!. But a word of caution. Irrespective of how the Champions Trophy pans out, the ICC urgently needs to bring some innovation to the game. To be fair to them, they have tried quite a lot. The Super-Sub rule, though excellent in theory, was badly executed (the super-sub should have been named after the toss). Now there are still more changes being thought of. Two innings of 25 overs each is the latest and Ian Chappell also mentions a few more in his article on Cricinfo. The ICC needs to implement the best ideas in a better manner in order to revive spectator interest in the 50 over format.

Till then, lets hope that we see some really good cricket in South Africa and may the best team win !!