Pathan or Raina

March 27, 2011

As we await the India Pakistan semi final, the one question that keeps coming to mind is who, between Pathan and Raina will make it to the playing XI on Wednesday. Raina played calmly and efficiently against Australia in the company of Yuvraj to see us through. However, given the presence of spinners in the Pakistan team, will the Indian team management continue with Raina or will they bet on Yusuf to deliver the goods against the spinners. I would plump for Yusuf.

On similar lines, given the ineffectiveness of Munaf and Nehra, will Kirsten and gang opt to bring in Sreesanth for the semi final ?. Given the frailties of the Pakistani batting, I would be tempted to give Sreesanth a go in this match. The pitch at Mohali is also likely to favor a Sreesanth type aggressive medium fast bowler. It is also tempting to imagine that some of the new found maturity evident in Yuvraj would have rubbed off on Indian cricket’s “bad boy”. The poise with which Yuvraj is completing his quota of overs and the presence of capable part timers like Yusuf (or Raina), Sachin, Sehwag or even Virat offers sufficient insurance in case Sreesanth happens to have a bad day. Additonally, opening the attack with Ashwin and Sreesanth will also enable Dhoni to have enough of Zaheer’s overs with the older ball and during the death overs. An attack comprising Zak, Sree, Ashwin and Bhajji sounds a lot more potent than what we have had on display till date in the WC.

It is also revealing that only one of the qualifiers from the supposed “group of death” made it to the semi final. In fact, the rest went down to their respective opponents without even much of a fight. But for the fielding errors, Sri Lanka are looking a very dangerous side. The intent with which they batted during the run chase makes them, to me, the favourites for the cup.

It is not very often that I look forward to any particular bilateral one day series. Most times they end up being a forgotten adjunct to the test match series. But the forthcoming India – Australia series should be different.

For a start there are no tests to steal the thunder from the seven match series. The Australian one day squad seems to be fine fettle and they have left no one in doubt about who the No. 1 side in the world is. And when they are on a roll, like they are now, the Australian juggernaut is wonderful to watch, jingoism notwithstanding.

Relevantly, they will be coming to India with a slow bowler who is quickly learning and developing into a fine finger spinner. For all its much vaunted spin playing capabilities, India have struggled against good off spin bowling. The last time around when the Aussies were here for the test series, Jason Krezja gave a fine account of himself and this time around expect Hauritz to play a significant role in proceedings. Harbhajan, always keyed up whilst playing the Aussies, vs. Hauritz will be a compelling watch. In Bracken, they have a bowler who has done well in the sub-continent and he will be a welcome addition to the attack. Considering the form that the rest of the bowlers Lee, Johnson and Siddle are in, this bowling attack should be one of the most exciting to come to India in recent times.

On the face of it, the batting appears over reliant on Ponting. This does not seem to affect Ponting though and in the recent past, senior batsman like Hussey, Clarke and the relatively inexperienced players like Watson and the absolute newcomers like Paine and White have been more than adequate in supporting Ponting. This tour of India will be a chance for the Aussie batting line up to come of age. The fans will definitely miss the stature of Hayden, Gilchrist, and Symonds but their combined absence should make up to some extent for the inconsistent Indian bowling and ensure a more level playing field.

The Indian batting should be considerably bolstered by the return of Sehwag. India needs him to fire at the top. Along with Gambhir, Sachin, Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj (will he be back from injury) this makes for a formidable line up on paper, on paper being the operative word. I do not see a pace for Dravid, however hard it may be to say this, Virat Kohli or Yusuf Pathan. For the life of me I cannot understand how Virat Kohli or Abhishek Nayyar are picked ahead of Rohit Sharma. Rohit is as good a fielder as Kohli, so it cannot be the fielding which is tilting the scales. This series is going to be crucial for Raina to cement his place in the side. He has been too inconsistent in the past and it is about time that he plays to potential. A batting line up along these lines affords Dhoni an opportunity to pick five specialist bowlers. If the team chooses to be defensive Yusuf could sneak in as insurance.

In spite of its recent under performance, the bowlers pick themselves. Considering the form of the quicker bowlers and the opposition, it may not be a bad idea to start the series with two specialist spinners in Harbhajan and Mishra. Again, I am not sure if Zaheer is match fit. In case he is, I think Sreesanth should share the new ball with him. Enough and more has been said about his attitude. But his replacements in the side have not exactly covered themselves with glory on the field and the zest that Sree brings to the table may be just what the doctor ordered for the Indians (it is not just Ravi Shastri who uses such antiquated cliches). Given his recent performance, the search for the third bowling option should stop with Nehra. The only thing that Dhoni will have to do in this case is to ask Ashish to bowl 10 overs on the trot and subsequently banish him from the ground. After all, if he comes onto bat the match is as good as lost.

There is not much point talking about the fielding. It has reached a point where I am wondering about the futility of the retainer that I guess must be being paid to Robin Singh. If anyone knows more about the KRAs and KPIs against which his performance is being measured, I would love to be enlightened. Just as one believes that things can only get better from here, the team digs a new, deeper nadir.

Finally, this series will be a good test for both the captains. Ponting, after the debacles in the test matches, appears to have found a lifeline with the one dayers and he will only be keen to push on from here. Last time he was here, his tactical nous left a lot to be desired and he let the Indian off the hook time and again. He will be keen to set the record straight. Dhoni is going through a captain’s midlife crisis. He has obviously lost his Midas touch. Given the excesses of a home series, this series gives him an opportunity to find his way back into the national consciousness.

There we have, all the ingredients for a thriller. It is a shame that such a potentially enthralling series will need to be watched on Doordarshan and/ or Neo. With their penchant for missing out the first and last balls of the favor, viewers may have to make do with watching just 66% of the action. May actually turn out to be a blessing depending on the commentary team that is assembled to inflict torture on the poor viewers.

A nice little cameo

March 13, 2009

The title for the post is a little presumptuous considering that Aakash Chopra has plenty of time on his hands if he does decide to pursue the next innings of his life as an author. I was reading his “Beyond the Blues” and thoroughly enjoyed doing so for a variety of reasons, and not everything had to do just with the quality of his writing.

For a start, I will read anything that I can lay my hands on which has anything to do with cricket. And to be honest, being in India, outside of Cricinfo and the odd article here and there by Mukul Kesavan, Ram Guha, Rajan Bala or Suresh Menon there is nothing much to lay your hands on. Absence of choice has its own unintended benefits.

The book is a very honest, unpretentious recording of an Indian first class cricketer’s season on the road. It does help that the book is written by “Aakash Chopra” as opposed to “XYZ who turned out for Saurashtra”, as most cricket buffs will fondly recall the brief but effective partnership he forged with Sehwag on the memorable 2003 tour to Australia. In keeping with the title, which incidentally comes out as a nice play on “Beyond a Boundary”, Aakash has resolutely kept away from meandering into the glitzy world of international cricket. Very much like he left deliveries outside the off stump.

For a cricketer, who was dropped and subsequently overlooked inspite of having been one of the better players to pair up with Sehwag during that period, his references to incomprehensible selection policies are without any rancor or malice. Most laudably, he has avoided the temptation of making public the lurid politics which we all know envelopes Indian cricket. An insider’s disclosures of the political or scandalous variety and backroom machinations would have been lapped up by the public and a sure shot route for frenzied sales. The fact that he still harbours ambitions of making a comeback to the national team must have been at the back of his mind.

A daily recording of events that could have ended up being bland and repetitive has been made interesting by juxtaposing the same against similarities to life itself. This ability to think, reflect and analyse, a commendable trait in any human being, is even more valuable in sportspersons who find themselves in competitive and potentially explosive situations all the time. Coming out with a tome that captures what is essentially the daily grind of one’s living and sustain a reader’s interest, cricket fan or otherwise, is not very easily done and this is precisely what Aakash has managed to dowith a fair degree of felicity. Displaying a rare combination of discipline, ability and commitment that is so desperately and consistently required to gather one’s thought at the end of a gruelling day of cricket, to articulate the same and finally commit those thoughts to pen and paper leaves one with a high degree of confidence that Aakash can and will make a fist of whatever he decides to do once he retires from the game. At the same time, as a fan, it is a trifle disappointing that he did not get a chance to represent the country regularly over a longer period. As these are precisely the qualities that a fan likes to see in members of his favorite team. It is a reflection of the extent to which Indian cricket has progressed over the last few years. A little further back in time and it would have been difficult to keep a player of Aakash’s skills and attributes (even more relevant as an opening bat) out of the playing eleven, leave alone the squad.

The book is also inspirational in many ways. It is a definite must read for any young cricketer aspiring for international recognition and glory. It is easy to ignore the agony that precedes ecstasy. The path is arduous and crossing it requires a tremendous amount of grit, determination and, not to forget, lucky breaks. Once having reached the summit, remaining there consumes even higher levels of whatever was required to reach there in the first place. The near-awe with which Aakash describes Ponting, the world’s best all round fielder, sweating it out during a fielding drill in the heat and humidity of Kolkata is testimony to this. The easiest trap to fall into is to rest on one’s laurels.

The fact that the book is written by an active cricketer with legitimate ambitions of representing the country at the highest level, is also a stirring reminder to people that multiple passions can be explored and furthered at the same time. The oft repeated excuse of lack of time is generally a euphemism for pure and simple laziness.

I was left with just one nagging thought as I completed reading the book. At various points, Aakash has made very clear either his admiration, respect and/ or his regard for his Indian team mates like Dravid, Kumble, Sachin (who does not), Laxman, and for his Delhi mates like Gambhir and Sehwag. Why, he has also recorded the immense respect that he has for international players like Ponting, Taibu, David Hussey and the likes. However, and I may be way out of whack here, any mention to Ganguly is very cursory and matter of fact. It is even more surprising considering that it was only under Ganguly that Aakash has ever represented India. Maybe it is my hyper active mind wanting to make more out of it and reading between non existent lines, but it did seem a little weird to me.

Keep them coming Aakash. And all the very best to you in your persevering endeavors in making it back amongst the Men in Blues.