Wednesday, December 31, 2014

MS Dhoni’s test career ends, Captain Cool shockingly retires

MS Dhoni, the most successful captain of India in all forms of the game, has called time on his test career with immediate effect. The third test of the Border-Gavaskar series that was played in Melbourne and had ended in a draw was the last appearance in whites for the veteran wicketkeeper. He would not be playing in Sydney and its Virat Kohli who would be leading India there.

Dhoni himself did not announce his retirement to the media. He addressed the media earlier today and talked about the third test, but, he did not drop any hints that his test career was over. It’s actually the Board for Control of Cricket in India which released a statement for the media later on that the Indian captain had left the game with immediate effect and in the final game of the series; India would be going with a new captain and a new wicketkeeper batsman.

People are trying to guess what could have been the factor behind this sudden departure of the Indian captain, but, it was more or less on the expected lines. Dhoni knew his time was up. He is a guy who, all through his life, has put the team ahead of the personal interests and once he was convinced that there was somebody who could do the job better than him, he was never going to try to stay on.
Virat Kohli would now get the permanent job, but, the young man should not be expected to take India up in the test match rankings very quickly because the team that he is going to get from his predecessor is nowhere near as experienced as ideally needed. The batting department, in particular, is so young. It’s good that Sydney test is going to be India’s last overseas test in a while and Virat will be able to find his feet as test captain in home games. Captaining this young side in overseas conditions straightaway would have been very tough for him.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

India relying on Vijay again in Melbourne

Murali Vijay returned to the Indian dressing room unbeaten on 55 when the bails were taken off by the umpires at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this evening. This is Vijay’s 4th 50 plus score in 5 innings on the Australian tour. Out of the last three fifties, he converted one into hundred. He would want to convert this one too into a three-figure score.

Vijay has been out in the nineties quite often on overseas tours in the last one year. In South Africa, he got a wonderful 97 against the fiery trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. That knock could easily have been a hundred. Then, in England, at Lord’s where India secured a famous win courtesy Ishant Sharma’s spell on the 5th day, Vijay was caught behind on 95. He had played so well to reach that score and then, a little bit of a misjudgement outside the off stump cost him. In Australia in Adelaide, batting on the final day, he was just one away from his century, but, again luck went against him. A gentle off spinning delivery from Nathan Lyon, which Vijay would knock past square leg for a single 99 out of 100 times, actually hit him on the pad and he was out leg before wicket.

Vijay would not like another score in the nineties to his name, that is for certain. And, it’s important from India’s point of view too that he makes it big tomorrow. Because for the visitors now, winning this game is almost impossible. The best they can do is to save it and for that, they must ensure that they don’t let Australia take a big lead in the first innings. One thing that the Indian team management would be happy about is that on this pitch at MCG, there is not as much of pace and bounce as it was at Gabba.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Raina might play the third test

The Indian team management is supposedly thinking about bringing the left handed batsman Suresh Raina in the playing XI for the Melbourne test match that is starting on the Boxing Day i.e. 26th of December. Raina is likely to replace Rohit Sharma who has had a highest score of 43 in the 4 innings that he has played in this Border-Gavaskar series. It’s not only these failures; Rohit has actually had failures on every overseas tour that India has been on in the last one year. Whether it is South Africa, New Zealand, England or Australia, Rohit just hasn’t looked good enough to be a good test batsman overseas.

However, Raina doesn’t make a much stronger case either. He might be very good in One Day Cricket, but, he hasn’t had a good track record at all playing test cricket overseas. He is still vulnerable against the short balls. Yes, while facing softer old white ball on slower pitches in ODIs, he has executed the pull and hook shots alright, but, when he would be up against Johnson and the other Aussie fast bowlers facing red cherry on fresher pitches, he would need to be spot on with his back and across movement.

If the videos of Raina’s batting are watched closely, you would find out that quite often he waits for the short balls as he knows that the bowlers like banging it short against him because of his weakness against that kind of bowling in the past. So, he waits back. In One Day Cricket, that technique is okay because generally the ball doesn’t come that fast off the pitch, but, in tests matches, it would come through very fast and thus, he would be in trouble if he plays that way. He would not be able to premeditate in that format.

Let’s see how Raina goes if he finds himself in the Indian XI at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Varun Aaron- India’s first genuine speedster

Varun Aaron has bowled with extreme pace in both the test matches on the Australia tour so far, but, the wickets have not come in clusters for him as they should have come. The reason is his lack of consistency with the line. In his attempt to try and bowl as quick as possible, he loses his direction a bit too often and gets tickled away. But, what’s good is that India is looking to stick with him. Such bowlers, who have raw pace, need the confidence of the captain and the coach. They must be encouraged to try and keep bowling with the same speed and it seems Varun is getting that sort of encouragement from the team management.

In the Brisbane test match, Varun was given the field for bodyline bowling. He came around the wicket and bombarded the Aussie batsmen especially the lower order with his 95-miles-an-hour bouncers. He gave away runs bowling that way. Still, MS Dhoni kept him on and that was an acknowledgement of the fact that the Indian captain considers Varun as someone who can terrify the batsmen. He can get the batsmen out by getting them afraid of being hit.

And, Varun himself has also not looked to cut down his pace at any point of time in this series. Even when he has gone for boundaries, he has continued bowling quick which is a sign that he is temperamentally strong enough and he can be turned into a great product for India with a bit of guidance. He should probably be taken to the World Cup too. Yes, he always makes the captain hesitate a little bit to pick him because he can concede plenty on an off day, but, he can win matches too if he is running in well. So, he is a risk that is worth taking.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dhoni scored 33 on comeback

MS Dhoni played a cameo of 30 odd on the second day of the Brisbane test match and guided India to the score of over 400. It was his first game for India in more than 4 weeks and he showed no signs of being out of nick. He hit boundaries through covers and also straight down the round with the trademark short back-lift of his. The Indian captain, surprisingly, pulled out reverse sweep too on one occasion. However, he would think that he, perhaps, got out at an inappropriate time for his team.

The ball moved a bit in the morning today and Australia had the new ball which they had taken last evening. They only had to find the right channel which they did.  The two overnight Indian batsmen nicked off early, but, Dhoni came and counter attacked and threatened to take away the game. The wicketkeeper batsman was courageous enough to walk towards the bowlers bowling 90 miles per hour. He took a couple of short pitched ball on his body too. Despite that, his approach was the same. The way he went down the pitch to slam Mitchell Starc straight, it was outrageous.

Against the spinners too, Dhoni was confident. Although, he did not get to face that much of spin, but, whatever little he faced, he looked good. Nathan Lyon, the off spinner, bowled around the wicket with three fielders back on the boundary. His attempt was to buy the wicket there, but, Dhoni was too smart to fall in his trap. He reverse swept the ball in the open spaces on the off side to get a four.

The 33-year old was in for another half century, but, unfortunately, he was dismissed while trying to leave one alone. The ball jagged back ever so slightly and before he could take his bat out of the away, the ball kissed the inside edge and the catch was held behind the wickets.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MS Dhoni back, Ashwin might play too

The Indian captain MS Dhoni is back in the thick of things. He will be leading his side in the Brisbane test match that is starting tomorrow. He attended the press conference earlier today and confirmed that he would replace Wriddhiman Saha in the Indian playing XI. Dhoni also dropped hints that his CSK mate and the off spinning all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin would get another game in whites. Ashwin had played the last couple of matches on the England tour and although he had not done much with the ball, he had batted superbly lower down the order and Dhoni talked about the significance of having a handy bat at 8. So, it is being assumed that Karn Sharma might have to leave his place for Ashwin.

Karn would consider himself unlucky if he is dropped. The leg spinner did not have the best of conditions to bowl there in Adelaide. India lost the toss and he had to bowl on the first day pitch which was a belter. The ball was coming at an easy pace and the bounce was also just perfect for the Aussies to play their shots. Then, in the second innings, there were roughs on the wicket, but, they were in the awkward areas for Karn and of course, the Australian players, David Warner in particular, with their use of feet made life tough for him.

The first test match is not easy for any player. There is always some nervous energy in there. Everyone deserves at least a couple of chances, if not more, to prove himself, but, in this case, MS Dhoni is clearly in a mood to drift towards his favourite spinner which is Ashwin. However, if Ashwin doesn’t go well in Brisbane, then, Karn’s name will again pop up for the reckoning in Melbourne.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tempers flied high in Adelaide on 4th day

Things got heated up a little bit yesterday in the first test match between India and Australia as the players from both sides looked to get involved in the war of words. It all started when David Warner was clean bowled off the bowling of Varun Aaron and the Indian team gave him a send off by screaming ‘come on’, ‘come on’ in almost his ears as he walked back to the pavilion. Unfortunately for India, that turned out to be an illegal delivery as the TV umpire found out that Aaron had no part of his feet behind the popping crease as he bowled the ball. So, Warner was called up and as he came back, he started mocking Aaron which prompted some of the Indian close in fielders to have an animated chat with the Aussie left hander.

The second incident took place in the final session of play when Rohit Sharma was bowling. Steven Smith came down the wicket against him and tried to pad a delivery away. Rohit appealed viciously, but, the umpire, obviously, could not give that wicket as Smith was a long way down the wicket. It was almost impossible for the umpire to judge from there if the ball was going to hit the stumps. The altercation arose when Smith tried to gesture to Rohit that he should not have appealed for that. Rohit, who was already frustrated after not having got that wicket, got furious to see Smith gesturing towards him and he screamed loudly ‘what’ ‘what’.

Smith did not respond to that though, to his credit, and got ready into his stance to face another ball, but, that’s when Virat Kohli decided to take it a bit too far. He went to Smith and asked him to stay in his limits and not try to say anything unnecessarily to the bowlers or the fielders. Smith reverted back to him angrily, but, then, the umpires took charge and got it all sorted. It did not look too good on television, but, many experts reckon that it’s actually good that such a thing happened as it would set the series up nicely now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Australia ended first day with upper hand in Adelaide

On a day on which the Aussie players did whatever they could to make their little mate Phillip Hughes smile in the heaven, the Indians were able to  make their presence felt as well right at the end of the day’s play as they got three back to back wickets with the second new ball to make things almost even-Stevens. Winning the toss, the hosts batted first and David Warner was in an absolute hurry. He got some wide half volley which he gladly accepted and peppered the off side fence quite a few times before the Indian stand-in captain woke up and made the first bowling change which controlled things a little bit.

The boundaries still flew though, but, not at the same rate at which they were flowing in the first half an hour. The only spinner that India picked i.e. Karn Sharma was on debut and his nervousness could easily have been felt as he bowled a handful of full-tosses to start with, some of which got dispatched, some didn’t, but, the Aussies absolutely coasted along. Warner was so influential from one end that the fall of two cheap wickets at the other end did not let the scorecard look bad for Australia at any point of time.

Later, Michael Clarke and Steven Smith clobbered their way to fifties too. Clarke had to retire hurt as trying to sway away from the line of a leg side bouncer, he hurt his back and the pain was so much that he was immediately off. The resigned look on his face was not good to see for the Australian fans. It remains to be seen if he comes back tomorrow and resumes his innings or not. Presently, Smith is unbeaten out there and the remaining players who have to bat apart from Clarke are the tail-enders i.e. Johnson, Harris and Siddle.

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Dhoni in Adelaide, Kohli to be the captain

Finally, the suspense has cleared and it has been officially stated by the Indian team management that the regular captain MS Dhoni would not play in the Adelaide test match. With Dhoni reaching Australia on 6th and then, having a couple of training sessions with the team, a few people were starting to believe that he might opt to walk out for the toss on the morning of the 9th. There were even talks about India playing him as a specialist batsman for his fingers to be protected.

But, Virat Kohli, who will lead the team in Adelaide, told the media that there was never a plan to play Dhoni as a batsman. Whenever he plays, he would play as a wicketkeeper. As per Kohli, Dhoni is fit to bat, but, he is not fit to keep wickets as of now and that’s why, he has been kept out. It’s just a matter of few days for him to be able to start the wicket-keeping drills again and most probably, he would be playing the second test match which is starting from 17th in Brisbane.

This is the first time that Kohli is going to lead India in whites. This is a big thing, butterfly-in-the-stomach type of thing, but, the Delhi batsman is not even close to being nervous or at least he tried to suggest so. Kohli is not planning anything. He says he would act spontaneously on the field on the demand of the situation.  But, one thing that he has promised is the aggression and the ruthlessness.

If India wins the Adelaide test under Kohli, there would be a strong case for him to be retained as skipper in Brisbane even if Dhoni gets fit as he is supposed to be.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pakistan won the first T20 in Dubai

Pakistan beat New Zealand by 7 wickets in the first T20 game yesterday in Dubai. After restricting the Kiwis to a modest total, the hosts were clinical with the bat as they hunted down the target in 19.1 overs to take a 1-0 lead. The second and last game will be played later today on the same ground.

Sarfraz Ahmad, who has been the best batsman for Pakistan in all formats in the recent times, was in top form again as he scored 70 plus opening the batting to get his team to the win. A few people remained awestruck by his improvisation especially with the six that he hit off Matt Henry over square leg. Henry was clocking close to 90 miles an hour, but, that did not make Sarfraz hesitate in playing the sweep shot. He went forward and easily lofted the ball as if he was playing against a gentle medium pacer. The expression that was on Henry’s face after that shot was played was worth seeing. He could not believe that he was treated that rudely by the batsman.

This was not the first time that Sarfraz swept a fast bowler for six. He had done that to James Faulkner, the Australian fast bowler, in the 3-match ODI series a few weeks ago. The Pakistani wicketkeeper has got great eyes and he is gutsy too. No matter however good hand-eye coordination you have, playing such shots takes some guts.

Pakistani bowling also deserves some credit for this win against New Zealand. In the death, the bowlers of the home team were superb, especially Irfan who was bowling the full balls that were tailing in for the left handers and were curving away from the right handers making the big hitting difficult.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

IPL betting case at an interesting point

The IPL betting case has reached a point where it’s impossible for anybody to predict the final verdict. The only issue that the two judges seem to have with N Srinivasan is his conflict of interest. The Tamil Nadu based administrator has clearly been told by the bench that if he is willing to be allowed to contest the president’s election, he will have to show the court that he is not on the wrong side by any means in buying an IPL team while being one of the board officials.

The defence lawyer put forward various points in front of the court yesterday. He told the court that Srinivasan had not voluntarily asked for the permission to become an IPL team owner. Actually, Lalit Modi, the current Rajasthan Cricket Association chief, had made him place the bid. Modi, who was the head of the IPL governing council at that point of time, took the help of the then board president Sharad Pawar and got slight amendment made in the board constitution to clear all hurdles for Srinivasan.

The defence lawyer also pointed out that if the conflict of interest issue is taken seriously, a lot of other people would also come into the picture. Several former players, despite being at some post in the board, have commentated in the previous editions of the Indian Premier League.

However, the judges were not completely satisfied by those points and they asked the lawyer to come up with more details in the next hearing which has been scheduled on 8th of December. According to the legal experts, the verdict is not too far away in this case and it can go in the favour of either of the parties. It all depends on how strongly the defence lawyer argues on 8th.