Tuesday, August 10, 2010

India - Sri Lanka Test Series Review

The sun has set on yet another test series between India and Sri Lanka. There have been many pluses and minuses over the course of the tour for India. The biggest being Virender Sehwag's all round performance in this series and a look at two new comers to the test fold being Abhimanyu Mithun and Suresh Raina.

Coming to Virender Sehwag, in 5 innings Sehwag managed to pile up 348 runs at an average of 69.60 but more importantly at a strike rate of 97.47 being almost a run a ball. The rate at which this man scores runs in test cricket make him deservedly today the most feared opening batsman in test cricket. Why Sehwag has been unable to translate this phenomenal test record into ODI and T20 success is beyond me.

Gautam Gambhir had a forgettable series which got him 2 runs and lasted only 5 deliveries thanks to Lasith Malinga. Yuvraj Singh on the other hand got a century in the warm up game, a 50 at Galle and due to illness was out of the second test, which opened the door for Suresh Raina who grabbed the opportunity with both hands and got a Century on test debut at the SSC, Colombo in the second test. Further Raina played a crucial role in the chase in the third test where he ably partnered VVS Laxman after Tendulkar's dismissal. Raina in his innings in the third test never let the Sri Lankan bowlers get on top of him and mixed caution and aggression perfectly to guide India to a memorable test win.

Sachin Tendulkar had an outstanding series as well, he scored a double century at the SSC which ensured that India would not lose the match and kept the series alive and set up the stage for a wonderful test match at the P Sara Oval in Colombo.

Rahul Dravid did not manage to score an aggregate of 100 runs in the 5 innings that he played, further his batting average in the series was less than that of Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun. If you look only at the stats you would think that Dravid was out of form. But seeing him play, he never looked uncomfortable, except when he figured out ways to get himself dismissed. He was reasonably fluent in his stroke making, but bad decisions and poor running contributed to his dismal performance in this series. However, i have no doubt that he will bounce back stronger in the next series.

VVS Laxman played a fighting innings in the first test with the tail, attempting to save the match, but again fell prey to his running between the wickets and ran himself out and buried india's chances. However, he made up for that in the 4th innings of the third test with a typical VVS century which eventually led India to the win. It is amazing how, despite all his accomplishments, he is still the most under rated test batsman in the Indian team.

Lastly coming to MS Dhoni, his batting form was quite dismal during this series, and to a certain extent i think it was a product of spending hours and hours behind the stumps and it is well known that he his having problems with his fingers and his hands due to his wicketkeeping duties. But despite all that he has to start showing up with the Bat more often in test cricket, as he is too good a batsman to not make his mark on this form of the game.

All in all the series was a successful one for the batsmen, barring the collapses in the first test, the bowlers on the hand had only 1 good session all series long. India has to do a lot of searching, firstly for a fast bowler who can bowl 140 kmph and above consistently and bother international test batsman.

Secondly, coming to the spin department, the gap between the spinner we have and say a world class retiree like murali was shown in the 1st test match itself. Murali managed to bag 8 wickets in 2 innings, while the Indian spinners (Harbhajan and Ojha) got not a single wicket between them and the only spinner to pick up a wicket for India in the 1st test was Virender Sehwag. In my view, Harbhajan has not managed to fill Anil Kumble's shoes in test match cricket. Bhajji was outstanding as the second spinner, but in my view has failed miserably as the leader of this bowling unit. He seems to go on the defensive too quickly in test cricket and must slow down his pace and flight the ball much more if he wants to pick up wickets consistently.

The bowling cupboard looks quite bare and the selectors are going to have to look far and wide for a bowling unit which can take 20 wickets per match consistently, if India is to maintain its current test rankings and reputation.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The New Guard

It might be slightly premature to be talking about the new guard of Indian cricket,  however, this Tri-Series between India, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe has given us a preview or more so, a glimpse into what our one-day team will look like a few years from now, once Tendulkar, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Bhajji, Zaheer head towards greener pastures.

What is apparent to me is that our batting as always, seems to be in good hands. Despite Murali Vijay's performances thus far, i am pretty confident in saying that the man has talent, oodles and oodles of it in fact and if he can convert that talent into results, in Vijay we have a bastman who can handle all three forms of the game with comfortable ease. Rohit Sharma has been since the 2007 T20 World Cup a prospect for the future, and unfortunately three years since, continued only being a prospect and hasn't really done much against the bigger teams and on the bigger stage. Mostly that has been a problem of selection mishaps when he is in good form and entry into the team when he is out of form. However, seeing the way Rohit Sharma has batted off late, the Indian batting seems to be in good hands.

Suresh Raina, is another person, who i feel has the potential to be a long time contributor to the Indian side. The only problem with him is his batting against the short ball. Even though his weakness was highlighted in 2009, his progress has been extremely slow and he doesn't seem to be at peace when the ball is rising towards his chest and upwards. At best he seems shaky, unlike his fearsome batting against the fuller delivery.

My major concern is with the bowling department. The simple fact that the Indian bowling could not defend 289 against the Zimbabwe squad is a cause for concern. The Indian bowling seems to be extremely brittle, and at most times completely hapless and there doesn't seem to be any respite in the coming future. What further exaggerates the problems of the Indian bowling line up is that the younger bowlers come in make an impression (eg. Ishant Sharma) and then fall away as quickly as they rose to fame. From the battery of fast bowlers (misnomer in the case of our bunch of fellows) there hasn't emerged a stalwart of the likes of Zaheer Khan who can lead the pace attack. Think of a few names from the past 5 years and you will realise how many seamers have been tried out and eventually discarded. RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, S Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma just to name a few have been utter disappointments in the International arena off late.

Something needs to be done about our pace bowling attack as well as our batting against the short delivery. The solution comes back to the cliche'd remark about domestic pitches. However, i think the solution is beyond that, these were the same domestic pitches which produced batsman like Sachin, VVS, Dravid, Dada and Sehwag or bowlers like Kapil Dev, Srinath and Zaheer. 

Another problem i foresee in the future is that our dominance at home in tests etc. will soon be coming to an end. Players all over the world are playing a lot of cricket in India, thanks to the packed ICC tours program as well as the IPL. They are getting a hang of playing in Indian conditions and against Indian spinners and soon the day will come where the assumption that India will win a test match at home against most teams will be hard to maintain and the Indian team will have to display a lot more quality than previously required to win a game in the dust bowls of Indian Cricket.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What direction will the IPL take?

The IPL is currently contemplating a shift from their current tournament format, which is, each team plays every other team twice, once home and once away. In the current format, a total number of 56 games are played in the group stage, 2 semi-finals, a third place play-off and the finals, which would bring the grand total to 60 games over a short period of time. Upon the addition of two new teams i.e. Kochi and Pune, the total number of teams would be increased to 10 and the total number of games to be played in the group stages, under the current format, would be increased to 90, plus 2 semi-finals, the third place play-off and the final would take the grand total to 94 games.

This is inherently the problem facing the IPL for its upcoming year. 94 T20 games in a period of 30-40 days would be next to impossible to organize, and even if organized, would result in great attrition and strain on the current pool of players, and the criticims of tiring out international players, prior to international duty would return with greater force and some major decisons would have to be made especially by the current crop of Indian cricketers who represent the international team on a regular basis. In my view, some of the cricketers would necessarily have to take a stand, similar to the ones taken by certain Australian and English cricketers to put their international careers ahead of their desires to make some (read lots of ) quick money by playing in the IPL.

However, the IPL can simply not afford such a situation to happen in India. The Indian public may not care if Ricky Ponting, Michael Clark, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Broad and the likes do not participate in the IPL. However, if you have similar Indian stars, such as M.S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag etc. opting out of the IPL to save themself for international duty, it would cause panic amongst the franshisees as well as the governing council of the IPL and would inevitably be the first nail in the coffin on the IPL experiment.

There are too many vested interests and too large an amount of money invested to allow such a situation to come about. Therefore, the IPL has already announced the decison to do away with the current format and try to adopt a different format which would allow for a lesser amount of games to be played.

Coming to the issue of this different format, news reports are stating that the IPL may adopt a modified version of the NBA schedule. The NBA schedule, to all those who follow American basketball, is quite a strenuous one. There are 30 teams divided into two conferences, Western and Eastern, which are further sub-divided into divisions (Atlantic, Central, Southeast, Northwest, Pacific, Southwest). Each NBA team plays a total of 82 games, where they play an opponent in their own division 4 times, an opponent in their conference but not in their division is played 3 or 4 times and opponents in the other conference are faced twice. The regular season starts in November and ends in the last week of April. The many games to played are spread out over this period with a break some-time in February for the All-Star Weekend. The Post-Season (Playoffs) begin in late April and end sometime in June where 16 teams from the pool of 30 qualify and face each other in a knock-out style tournament, where each match-up is a best of seven series.

Now its quite obvious that the IPL will not follow the NBA format in its strict sense. What the IPL, in my view intends to do is split the 10 teams into two groups, wherein teams from the same group face off twice (home and away) and face a team in the other group only once. The top two teams from each group would qualify for the semi finals and so on. This would result in 65 games being played during the group stages and 4 more thereafter, which take the total number of games up to 69 which would be marginally more than the 60 already being played but considerably lesser than the 94 which would have to be played in the event the current format is retained.

However this format does face certain inherent problems. How to split the teams into groups. The NBA does it on the basis of location of the teams, however this would be a problem because we dont have enough teams to split on the basis of conferences and further the teams are not spread out eventnly across the country to enable conferencing of the like practiced in the NBA. A solution to this problem may be to have a lottery pool and decide the groupings on the basis of a draw of lots. Another problem faced by this format is that, it is theoretically possible and mostly inevitable that two teams in different groups may not wind up facing off against each other during the course of the IPL. I dont know how well this would go down with fans and franchisees alike, but this problem would have to be addressed by the powers that be who shall decide the fate of this tournament in the future.

Another possible format is one in where each team plays the other only once, which would result in a total of 45 games in the group stage and with the additional games thereafter, bringing the total to 49. Such a number of games would be infinitely manageable and better on the players as they would not be subjected to the same amount of wear and tear as they have in the past. But again, this format has certain problems which may prove to be deal breakers. Firstly, due to the decrease in the number of games, the IPL would stand to lose a large amount of its advertising revenue. Secondly, the teams would not be able to play home and away, which would lead to problems in deciding who gets home games against which teams. 

Having stated the various difficulties in the new possible formats, it must be said that a change in format is inevitable, 94 games are just not possible or plausible, and any change in format is bound to bring about protests from different corners. It is now upto the IPL to build a consensus within the governing council and amongst the franchisees and decide in which direction they wish to steer the financial bohemeth we know as the IPL. 

As a conclusion i would like to make a final observation that it is as plain as the light of day, that whatever the change may be, the number of games should ideally be reduced or as a last resort marginally increased. If the IPL governing council continues expanding the league without expanding the time window in which the games are to be played, they will in effect begin the process of killing the goose which is laying the golden eggs.