Category Archives: Dhoni

All Hail, Chennai Super Kings

Unlike Samir Chopra, who recently posted his IPL loyalties, I didn’t have a dog in this season’s fight. I don’t know why; each time I think I could back a team as a reasonable fan, I found reasons to dislike it.

But each season, I’ve been relatively happy with the winners: the Rajasthan Royals were just too darn cute not to root for (what, with their knack of winning each game in the last over); the Deccan Chargers never hurt nobody (except V.V.S. Laxman) — and this year, the Chennai Super Kings proved themselves competent enough for the title (granted, the Mumbai Indians should have won given their performance in the round robins, but so what — it helps when you have a certain Sachin Tendulkar pushing the scales). In a perfect world, the Royal Challengers Bangalore would have taken the, uh, bottle, if only because Anil Kumble deserves all the limelight in the world.

As for player reviews: you have to be very, very happy with Suresh Raina, whom I think has clearly settled any dispute about whether or not he’s the leader of the next generation. Rohit Sharma didn’t do awfully (he finished in the top 10 batsmen with 400-odd runs), but Raina did spectacularly (461 at 46, a full 13 ahead of Sharma). No player review post of mine would be complete without a whoop-dee for Irfan Pathan, my one true love. One day, the cosmos will realign and do justice by this man; until then, I have to be satisfied with top 5 bowling statistics and not too bad with the ball either. If this guy played with a better team, he would be heading to the Caribbean (okay, okay, I exaggerate).

Speaking of which! Let’s move on to the real thing, the Twenty20 World Cup; the thing that got all of us interested in the format to begin with. I’m rooting for Bangladesh and Afghanistan. No, really!

India’s Younger Generation

Give them time, I say. M. Vijay threw away good starts, as did S. Badrinath, but they both looked solid enough to merit places in the squad. I’m still unsure how the team will accommodate them as time goes on; I’d rather not have a situation where Dravid and Laxman are missing again at the same time.

Perhaps if Laxman moves up to No. 3 when Dravid eventually retires (he’s 37 now), that will give the younger ‘uns space to breathe in the middle order, nuzzled among the likes of Tendulkar and Dhoni. But these newbies will have to answer a generational challenge that few have matched before. Across the world, we will soon see the end of Kallis, Ponting, Dravid, Tendulkar. Is this the end of the batting wave? Will bowlers finally have their time on the pitch?

India All Set To Lose

That’s right, it’s a cricket prediction! I hope I’ll eat my words, but I’m very, very worried: South Africa just won the toss, and for whatever reason, India went with Ishant Sharma over S. Sreesanth. I don’t like the latter all that much, but he has a certain mysterious ability to get wickets, and that’s what you want when you face a must-win situation.

Don’t Make Any Cricket Predictions, Gentlemen

Jaywalking With Jaunty, one of my favorite bloggers, began a post on Day 2 (before the Indians caved, that is) thusly:

I apologize for the mixed metaphors but the SAffers are just that – a relic, a cliché that belongs to a bygone era of Test cricket.

Before Mark Taylor began the modern trend of batting first and batting fast to bat an opposition out of the game, the practice used to be to pile up runs at a “safe” pace before setting the bowlers loose to exploit the pressure induced by the sheer weight of the run chase. A combination of flatter pitches and more aggressive batsmen has caused teams to revisit what constitutes a safe total. Apparently, South Africa did not get that memo.

Eep. I’ve made worse predictions that went wrong (e.g., after the South Africans destroyed India at Ahmedabad, I said the Test would go down as the moment when the Big Three started to retire. Not so.). But they’re still fun to make: so far, the consensus goes that India will lose the first Test, either on Day 4 (likely) or Day 5 (somewhat less likely). There’s fringe hope for either a repeat of the magical Calcutta Test (sans Rahul Dravid or V.V.S. Laxman), or for Napier. For that to happen, however, M. Vijay or Badrinath will have to score their first Test century (that latter too on debut).

Very unlikely. Count me for an Indian loss. And feel free to make fun of me and make me eat crow if India somehow draws.

Was India’s Test Success Just A Mirage?

There’s an argument developing online, contra my and Eye On Cricket’s take, that the Steyn battering proved that India’s recent success is just a mirage, built on results against middling teams like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and England. Here’s Prem Panicker, for instance:

It may not seem like it at the time, but this series is already proving to be a blessing – we can finally put our sense of notional superiority aside and find out exactly where we stand in terms of being a high quality Test side, and start work on building the sort of team that doesn’t require a buffet of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to climb ranking ladders.

This isn’t exactly fair. First, Sri Lanka isn’t that bad a team; we lost to them in Sri Lanka not too long ago. And neither is England — they just beat the Australians at home, and they nearly did the same to South Africa in South Africa. Second, India have also done well against South Africa and Australia (the only two other ‘quality’ teams, apparently). We drew with South Africa when they last visited, and we comprehensively beat Australia when their turn arose. Third, India has also done well outside of India, including in New Zealand, once a very serious no-go zone for Indian batsmen. (In fact, take a look at the Napier scorecard for hope in this Test — the Kiwis scored 600+ runs in the first innings; India followed-on, only to bat through to a draw.)

During this time, India faced Mitchell Johnson, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini, Stuart Broad and Dale Steyn, all currently among the top 10 best Test bowlers. It’s ludicrous to think the Indians had not played ‘real’ pace before Steyn’s burst yesterday. (Besides, keep in mind that Steyn is ranked no. 1 — it’s one thing to play good bowlers, it’s another thing to play against the best in his prime form.)

The point here isn’t that India’s the best. No, they’re not, and Panicker rightly points out the flaws — a pace attack short of one good fast bowler, and a weakness against raw pace and swing. But, as E.O.C. noted, every Test cricket team has some weakness or the other, and they’ve all been exposed: South Africa couldn’t beat back England at home (at home!); Australia lost to South Africa in Australia, and South Africa lost to Australia in South Africa. Things are in flux, and no one dominating team has emerged.

Dinesh Kaarthik Needs To Calm Down

What’s wrong with Dinesh Kaarthik that he always messes up spectacularly when pushed into the limelight? He’s lucky India won the third ODI, or that fumbled run-out of T. Dilshan (and the near-fumbled stumping of K. Sangakarra) would have landed him in serious danger.

But Kaarthik, believe it or not, isn’t all that bad a wicketkeeper, and he’s not at all a bad batsman either (I still remember him opening against England in England a couple of years ago, dealing with swing and a fiery R. Sidebottom).

On the other hand, you have to appreciate Kaarthik’s predicament: he only gets to play when he’s replacing M.S. Dhoni, India’s captain and best ODI batsman for some time now (and recipient of a Padma Shri award, apparently). That’s enough to add some pressure, not to mention Kaarthik’s unfortunate ability to look like a naive waif begging to be bullied (as his own teammate Ashish Nehra did during the IPL).

Exclusive: Rajkot A Batting Paradise

Around 35 overs, with India just past 300 runs and looking set for 400, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan had this to say: “Rajkot must be a nightmare for bowlers. It’s a paradise for batsmen.”

Huh. He may be on to something.

The Coming Ishant Sharma Backlash

It’s already started, after that lackluster ODI series against Australia, but the backlash will get worse after Ishant Sharma’s performance on Day 2 in the Motara Test. There’s nothing worse than seeing his mouth open, contorted into a grimace that reveals all his teeth, after being called for yet another no-ball. It’s unbelievably frustrating, not least because the umpire calls it out loudly, and he has to repeat deliveries with a very long run-up.

It’s sad, because only a year ago, this man was heralded as the much-needed ammunition for a flagging pace attack. Since then, he’s lost his pace and intimidation, even though his in-swinger looks intact for now.

Sharma’s problems remind me of Irfan Pathan’s earlier, and both players’ experience suggest Team India isn’t as good an incubator of talent as it could be. I had hoped that with a younger line-up and a younger captain, things would move past what John Wright encountered in the early 2000s, when senior veterans would have the little blokes fetch tea for them. But perhaps that’s not the case. We need some management consultants here!

A Tale Of Two Australia-India Series

Back in 2007/8, Australia came to India after before a blisteringly controversial Test series to play what turned out to be an unbelievably tame seven-match ODI tournament. India lost 4-2 (with one game washed out), though it would have lost 5-1 were it not for an improbable partnership between Zaheer Khan and Murali Kartik (which ended with an ethical quandary about walking).

The current series has been far more entertaining. Back in 2007, the Australians had yet to be fully knocked off their pedestal, and they still a methodical way of dismantling opposition teams. It was a thing to behold, but not completely thrilling.

That’s all done with. If you look at the 2007 series stats, you’ll note Australia benefited largely from a solid batting line-up that has been subsequently shaken to the core. Symonds, Hayden, Clarke and Gilchrist were among the top 5 batsmen then, and all of them aren’t playing this series (and three of them won’t play internationally again). The new replacements are obviously handling themselves well (and Hussey, Ponting and Watson are in the top 5 in the 2009 series), but they’re clearly not as domineering as the 2007 foursome.

The worrying thing for India is how little it has changed. It’s been two years of “invest in the youth” strategy, and yet, the main players are still the veterans: Dhoni, Yuvraj, Tendulkar. Robin Uthappa is nowhere to be found; KD Karthik disappointed in 2007 (but may appear yet again in 2009); Suresh Raina has obvious potential but has yet to prove himself reliable; Rohit Sharma is gone, as is Irfan Pathan.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the current Indian outfit is better than the 2007 edition, but at this point, I wonder if Australia has proven better at finding and managing new talent. Let me know if I’ve gotten this completely wrong because I normally am the last person to give Australia anything by way of praise.

Cricket Doping Questions

I haven’t closely followed the drug scandals that have respectively plagued baseball in America or seemingly every Olympic sport in the world. That’s largely because I only follow cricket and tennis,  sports that haven’t had much to do with steiroids (so far). But with the WADA-India controversy, I have to ask: is the real problem here not what’s banned, but what isn’t? And should there be a problem anyway?

Again, my first question may only betray my ignorance on the matter, but why should we ban, say, a steroid (or whatever Mohammad Asif was taking), and not the daily injections Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff and Brad Haddin all have recently needed? Why is fake cortisone OK and something else not? I’m not trying to make a slippery slope argument here, but I only want to know: what’s the deciding principle here?

Say you ponder the question and you don’t arrive at an answer. Here’s my second query: what’s wrong with doping? As The Economist recently noted, critics offer two arguments, one based on fairness and the other on safety. Both make a lot of sense: doping is cheating, since it, say, allows one player a superhuman advantage others cannot attain unless they also take a certain substance. The second principle also appeals intuitively: steroids and other drugs have serious physical consequences.

But both principles are less persuasive than they seem. For one thing, what’s fair in sports about matching players with different innate skills against each other on an equal plane? And as for safety, one look at cricket’s recent spate of injuries shows us we’re comfortable asking inhuman things of players, who are more than happy to oblige for higher salaries.

I’m afraid I don’t have a conclusion here. Doping makes the whole enteprise seem artificial and cheap, though I already know in many respects, even cricket is riddled with discrepancies that don’t always make for fair match-ups.