Category Archives: Dhoni

Can India Beat Australia?

I have that sinking feeling again. Look, I know I’ve been wrong in the past, and I shouldn’t behave like a fair-weather fan. For whatever reason, I’m stuck in the 1990s and, to safeguard myself against inevitable heartbreak, I like to believe India won’t win, only to feel the customary thrill when they do. But what fan of this team could reasonably conclude India stand a chance of beating Australia in the quarterfinal?

Do not consider the record on paper, or batsmen’s averages, or anything like that — just look at the tournament performance so far. Going into the World Cup, we knew India’s weakness was its bowling. So far, that’s been about right: without Zaheer Khan, or the occasional help from a spinner, we’re not doing too well. Unfortunately, neither is our batting: we have a strong top-order, but a weak lower one. Meanwhile, Australia’s pace strategy can go awry (as it did against Pakistan), especially when Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson form two parts of the chair. Together, though, they are a fearsome pack, out to crush toes. And I fear an intangible element is missing in India’s campaign. There isn’t the same momentum we saw in 2003, or the sheer will to win in the T20 2007 cup. I don’t know if it’s the quality of the opposition, but India doesn’t seem to have lifted, and they don’t look like winners (whereas South Africa and, weirdly enough, Pakistan, do). Will Harbhajan Singh bowl well? Will Yusuf/Virat perform? Will Brett Lee destroy India?

So, I’m taking a huge risk here and calling it: India lose in a couple of days. Achettup, please, prove me wrong. Comfort me now! (Again, just to protect myself against angry comments, I’m obviously rooting for an India victory. I’m just not convinced so far that it’s on the cards. I’m scared as hell.)

The Value Of Yusuf Pathan

Nitin Naik ponders the utility Yusuf Pathan, and where he has done best in the line-up:

Like the great Australian wicketkeeper batsman Adam Gilchrist, who hardly ever performed in Tests when the team was say 450-5 and almost always delivered when they were in a 150-5 scenario, Yusuf too revels in a crisis. If you look at all his important knocks, they have come whenever India have badly needed them.

Naik ends with two slightly conflicting conclusions — Pathan performs well under pressure and when there’s nothing to lose. You’d think pressure exists precisely because of the expectation of performance, leaving plenty to lose, especially loss of face (i.e., Pathan failed; what good is he?) Otherwise, Naik has a solid hypothesis: don’t send Pathan in as a pinch-hitter; treat him as a solid lower-order batsmen a la Michael Bevan or Ajay Jadeja. It’s a step up for Pathan, who was seen early in his career as parimarily an accelerent and little else. (I imagine this is why Dhoni sent him in at No. 4 against South Africa in the first place: to make sure India had 100 runs off the last 10 overs and keep up the pace.) On that note, I agree with Naik — send in Kohli and Yuvraj Singh when there is enough time in an innings; keep Pathan at No. 6/7 as a partner for the tail.

Sreesanth Is Annoying A Lot of People

Via Times of India, M.S. Dhoni talks about his advice to Sreesanth:

“I am very specific to him and told him that he should not cross a few boundaries. It is better that you do not cross those boundaries. If you want to irritate someone that should be the opposition and not your side,” Dhoni said of the Kerala bowler, who has a reputation of losing his cool and coming up with animated gestures in the heat of the moment.

Hilarious. Sreesanth shows why it can be so difficult to captain; he seems incapable of change or listening to his superiors. Add to this mix an arrogant prick like Harbhajan Singh, and you see why Sachin Tendulkar felt managing a pack of mortals was harder than scoring 50 centuries.

My Terrible, Nervous Condition As An India Fan

When India lost eight wickets in the Mohali Test, still needing 80 runs for victory, I gave up. Even when India were only 30 runs away, I still thought we were finished. In fact, before the final day even started, I had Australia with the higher odds. I just didn’t believe India could do anything heroic in the 4th innings.

It occurred to me, as I was chatting with the Twitter fraternity, that I’ve yet to recover from the 1990s. I first started following the game during the 1996 World Cup, when India famously crashed from 90-something with Tendulkar, to 120/8 without Tendulkar in the semifinals. And it’s happened again and again, through the Ganguly, Dravid and Dhoni eras. There have been victories that should counteract my nervous condition (the Mohali Test, especially), but for whatever reason, they haven’t.

Maybe this is just my personality (I’m a nervous ninny in real life). But I wonder: do different generations breed different types of fans? Do we ever recover from defeats of the past? (English fans gearing up for the Ashes, I ask you: do you really feel lucky?)

India’s Selection Woes

Two contrasting analyses on India’s selection issues from Cricinfo. The first, from Harsha Bhogle, on India’s no. 7 (all-rounder) problem:

India’s wish list is pretty obvious really, and a first reading will expose the biggest problem with it. Ideally this is what I suspect Kirsten and Dhoni and Srikkanth would be looking at the evening before the first game: SachinTendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar or Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha. Eleven of those 12 names look settled, but for India to be strong at the World Cup, No. 7 needs to be identified, and at the moment Irfan Pathan has gone underground.

Sure, there’s a problem there, but for the most part, the team is settled. Now, the preview of India’s game against Sri Lanka tomorrow:

India’s questions are several: Is Ravindra Jadeja good enough? Is there an in-form allrounder who can replace Jadeja, or should the part-time spinners fill the role of the fifth bowler in the subcontinent? Is medium-pacer Abhimanyu Mithun good enough? Should Virat Kohli play in the middle order, or should Rohit Sharma be persisted with? Will Ishant Sharma’s form dip further if he is looted for runs in this format? And how long will Dinesh Karthik continue to squander starts?

Injuries obviously complicate the picture, as do the selectors’ decision (the right one, I believe) to rest some key players. Still, the relative merits of Kohli, Sharma and Karthik will determine India’s lineup in the long-term — and I’m not sure it’s an issue easily settled.

Let India Go Home

Sure, I’ll watch this latest tri-series concoction between New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka. I don’t have much of an option — I’m a cricket addict, and illegal, sketchy, pop-up leaden illegal streaming sites are very good enablers.

No, I’d be just as happy if the Indian team returned home and relaxed before their more taxing assignments begin this year (South Africa, eep). We just played an Asia Cup in Dambulla, before the Test series that just concluded. If we have to organize so many tournaments featuring India, then at least have the courtesy to develop tiers of teams to develop the bench talent. (And please, please, give M.S. Dhoni a break — if his fingers can’t handle things, let ’em head off to the southern coast of Sri Lanka and enjoy the beach.)

A final note: if India fares badly in this contest, be it resolved that no one should care. Really. If they want to go out there and play like idiots, let them. Let ’em have some fun.

The New-Look India Test Team

The Old Batsman wonders what the Australian team will look like if they planned a bit more for the future (or if they want to beat England this summer).  I wonder the same thing for the Indian national team, whose Test side has remained largely stable while the ODI team has changed immensely in the last few years.

So what would they look like sans Tendulkar, Laxman, and Dravid? Gambhir and Sehwag stay as openers, but a team with both Raina and Yuvraj makes me shudder (besides, I think Yuvraj at this point may need to look at the writing on the wall and focus on ODIs and T20s, where he is most needed). Let’s pick Raina ahead (for now), and bring in M. Vijay (who really impresses me, though I’d like to see him play outside India more), and S. Badrinath (whose relative experience at the first-class level might be a virtue).  That leaves one more spot — but for who? Rohit Sharma (too inconsistent)?  Virat Kohli (too much of a one-day player)? Manoj Tiwary? I see there’s a Twitter campaign to bring in C. Pujara.

So: Gambhir, Sehwag,  Badrinath, Vijay, Raina, Dhoni — how do we feel about that line-up? Are there other top-runners you think should be included?

Tony Grieg Is Talking Nonsense

It’s far too late here in the United States to be watching cricket, but I can’t sleep. And in such a mood, Tony Grieg is not very easy to handle. As a general rule, I like Grieg; he more or less introduced me to cricket when he was part of the 1996 World Cup commentary team. He does have one major flaw: he’s unbelievably, ridiculously opinionated.

Take this flap over the URDS. Burned by a few previous incidents, India said they didn’t want it this Test series, even though Sri Lanka, the home team, did. Now, we can disagree about this (and we have; see here). But I think it’s ridiculous to make assertions about which team made the right decision based on one successful appeal within the first half-hour on the first day in the First Test. That is, however, precisely what Grieg just did, after A. Mithun gave a good shout for LBW against T. Dilshan. “That would have been one for India,” Grieg said. “Maybe they made the wrong decision.” (Maybe, but the sample here is very, very small.)

He then went on to say that the “ICC needed to get its act together,” and allow home teams to choose the URDS if they wanted. Again: ridiculous. Yes, some teams haven’t figured out the URDS, but it may just be that captains, already burdened with a long array of choices, do not want to confront another one (should we appeal the umpire’s decision? Where did that ball land? Should we save them?). Besides, it’s not as if the URDS is perfect; there have been more than a few quibbles that batsmen can be found both in and out on the same ball depending on how inconclusive TV replays can be.

And finally: cricket home teams have curators, audience, the ability to quickly  call in substitutes — why on earth would you want to give them something more?

India’s Rookie Mistakes

I don’t know why, but Zimbabwe has always had India’s number, especially when the South Asians are on tour. You can find the entire record on Cricinfo’s unbeatable statistics page, but they paint a depressing picture: the Zimbabweans twice beat India in Test matches (and won a series in 1998/1999). The ODI scorecard is more lopsided in India’s favor (39-10), but even as late as 2002, the Zimbabweans picked up victories.

What’s different here is that this Zimbabwe team is not the team of the 1990s, when the likes of the Flower brothers and Heath Streak prowled the field. Obviously, they’ve come a long way, and it’s heartening to think that all those years in non-Test wilderness have borne some fruit (if not proper cricketing equipment; Harbhajan Singh apparently had to donate kits after he saw what his counterparts were working with at the T20 World Cup).

But India has also been a tad hopeless. Suresh Raina can no longer be called a rookie, with nearly 100 matches under his belt. Still, in the first match against the Sri Lankans, he had to be reminded to tell the umpires he wanted to call the Powerplay after the first ten overs. This is how we breed talent in the Indian team: we get them young, out of the domestic leagues, and then ship them off to Australia or Zimbabwe to learn, sink-or-swim style. (We did the same in 2009, when a young Dhoni led an even younger team to victory against the Australians in the ODI series.)

So, don’t think of this series as India v. Zimbabwe. Think of it as another Ranji match; look at the youngsters learn. In any event, a few years from now, they’ll be gone too.

Lay Off Dhoni And The IPL Parties

During the press conference after India’s defeat to Sri Lanka, Dhoni said the following:

“The IPL is not just about cricket,” Dhoni said, towards the end of his press conference in St Lucia. “There are lots of things going around it,” he added, as a sudden hush descended on the hall.

“The players have to respect the body, give it time to recover. There have been day-night matches, then parties, and early morning flights too. All this, including the travel, takes a toll. But if you are smart, I don’t think 45 days of cricket will drain you,” he said.

This is from the Times of India, under the incredibly ludicrous, misleading headline: “IPL parties pooped us: Dhoni’s bouncer leaves board fuming.” The article quotes a number of Indian cricket’s has-beens and nobodies (Madan Lal; Mohammad Azharuddin; some guy called Syed Kirmani. This is Lal:

Who was forcing them (players) to attend these IPL parties? They could have said ‘no’. I don’t think they should say all this. These are silly excuses. The fact is they had gone there to win the World Cup and they just weren’t good enough.”

Here’s what’s wrong with this picture: first, it’s completely wrong to suggest that Dhoni said IPL parties led to India’s defeat. (In fact, on numerous other occasions, he’s explicitly stated the opposite.) Second, even if you look at his quote, he said the IPL as a whole (the day-night matches, the long trips around the country, the parties, included) takes a toll. There. A commonsense answer. Leave it alone.