Category Archives: Ishant Sharma

India’s Youth Transformation Has Been A Long Time In The Making

When India won the Champions Trophy, Nasser Hussain (and a few others) marveled at how quickly India has filled the holes left behind by out-of-form/retiring legends (such as Yuvraj, Sehwag, Zaheer, Tendulkar). I’m not sure “quickly” is the right word — since at least the 2007 World Cup, India’s official policy (first formed by Greg Chappell) has been to find and support younger players. A number of players currently at the top of their games — Dhawan, Karthik, Jadeja, Rohit Sharma — are on second-run tours in the national team, and it took a fair while before India dropped non-performing seniors (both in the Test and ODI formats of the game).

Am I merely quibbling with an off-hand remark? My point is that other teams in search of new batting talent (like Australia and Pakistan and the West Indies) should not think that India’s current largesse is the magical inevitability of having millions of dollars and a large supply of potential players. That certainly helps — as Dhoni said in his acceptance speech, one reason Indian fielding is so good now is that players aren’t deathly afraid anymore that they’ll die diving on brown maidans. But India has succeeded now because of many failures in the past (8-0 overseas, 2-1 against England), and giving youngsters time and space to perform is a messy, chaotic process.

I will say that it’s much more fun to watch a team of hungry youngsters win than a pack of entitled (but truly awesome) veterans. Watching this team, I was reminded a little bit of the 2007 World Cup T20 lads (of whom only Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Karthik remain) — the naive self-belief and the raw (but untested) talent. During the final, I was amazed to find myself feeling that India, even with its top and middle order largely gone, would still achieve a good score, and that some bowler — Jadeja, or Ashwin — would take the wickets at the right time. That expectation of victory…well, it’s downright Australian. Time will tell where this team goes from here — will they follow the path of the WCT20 squad, or somewhere else?


Untangling the Duncan Fletcher Factor

Is Duncan Fletcher behind India’s recent selection decisions? Since the BCCI has erected an electric forcefield to keep him from the media, we can only speculate. Take it away, King Cricket:

Umesh Yadav is a Fletcher bowler and we’ll doubtless be seeing more of him after he took 3-23 in West Indies’ first innings. As England coach, Fletcher erred towards the workmanlike spinner, but he’s blessed with more options in India and both Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin have done enough to justify Harbhajan Singh’s exclusion. Was that another Fletcher move?

A couple of things have irked Indian fans lately. First: why drop Praveen Kumar after his solid performance in England? And second, who the hell is Rahul Sharma? I’m not sure what I feel about either (Is Praveen really a Test bowler? Would he be able to swing it all that much in Australia?). But the question left unresolved thus far is what exactly Fletcher (and the Indian think tank) learned from the England 4-0 debacle. Was it just a freak breakdown unlikely to ever be repeated? Was it just that the English planned better? Or was it simply that we need to manage injuries better?

It’s hard for Fletcher — or anyone — to believe that the Indian batting line-up will fail as woefully as they did in England. Even if he does belief that, Fletcher can’t change the batting line-up at this point (since Dravid/Tendulkar/Laxman/Sehwag/Gambhir/Dhoni all pick themselves, leaving just one spot to fight among Raina/Yuvraj/Rohit Sharma/Badrinath?/Pujara?/etc). He does have some leeway with the bowling, which explains the current experimentation with Ohja/Ashwin (instead of Harbhajan) and Yadav/Aaron instead of (or as part of an attack featuring) Ishant and Zaheer. Picking Yadav so soon into his career seems strange, until you realize that this is just the way Indian selectors work. Why waste young fast talent on crappy Indian pitches, when shiny ones beckon in Eng, S.A. and Aus?

All things said, as long as the Indian team doesn’t ruin Yadav/Aaron the way it ruined Ishant and Irfan Pathan and RP Singh and L Balaji (and so on), this team has a fighting chance. It helps that the Australian team isn’t nearly as good as they used to be (and they’re certainly not as good as England at home). There’s hope for you yet, Fletcher.

Ishant Sharma and Hero Worship

Sriram Veera snags an interview with man-of-the-moment Ishant Sharma, who got his groove back during the series against West Indies. Unlike most exchanges with athletes, this interview makes for a fascinating read, particularly Sharma’s ruminations on his time in the “wilderness” — by my count, the period extending from his attack on Ricky Ponting at Perth until this last series. Take this little revelation:

I was trying to copy Zaheer Khan’s action. No doubt he is a great bowler, but I guess I shouldn’t have tried to copy his action. We are entirely different in styles. […] When South Africa came to play in India, I started to copy him. I wanted to be a swing bowler. I was forgetting my natural strength of bounce and hitting the deck. When I bowl with my natural style, the ball automatically starts to inswing. That was my strong point, and I should have just stuck to that. That was my greatest mistake.

At first, I thought Sharma was completely and utterly daft for thinking he could become successful by simply copying another bowler’s action. I  thought a bowler’s action was sacred stuff; each one has his own signature (and each with his own tell). For Sharma to think he could just be like Zaheer by, um, being Zaheer betrays a comically childish perspective. It’s common among teenagers and cricket fans to copy the greats during pick-up games; to see an international player do the same is kind of shocking.

But, but, but: I stopped this train of thought in its tracks when I read Sharma is only 22 — a baby in both the athletic and real worlds. Imagine being that age and having colleagues like Khan, Tendulkar, and so on. What does that do to your psyche? How do you cope with the pressure and the inevitable failures? Consider also the particular charm of this confession. In the age of bowling coaches and video training and biomechanics and what not, Ishant Sharma has just confessed to changing his action because he wanted to be like his idol. That’s a beautiful thing — modern athletes rarely betray such naivete and wish-fulfillment. I guess we all have dreams.

The New Men In Blue: India Tour Of The West Indies

Never too early to start rampant selection speculation, no? The Times of India is a-flutter because all the major players of the Indian team — Dhoni, Khan, H. Singh, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag — expect to sit out the West Indies tour in June. Their proposed list of replacements makes sense (based purely on 3/4 IPL matches), and could include some second-acts and surprises. Questions:

1. Will the selectors really go for P. Valthaty? This could be a beautiful thing.

2. Don’t know why, but D. Karthik, V. Rao, and A. Rayadu have never inspired confidence. On the other hand, I have irrational cricket crushes on R. Sharma and R. Uthappa. Go figure. (And the Times misses out the greatest cricket crush of all time, M. Kaif — who’s doing little to nothing in the IPL, I suppose?)

3. The bowling department looks a bit better: Praveen Kumar’s back. L. Balaji returns from the cold? Don’t know a thing about I. Abdullah; don’t care for I. Sharma in ODIs, and I’ve liked P. Chawla since those World Cup warm-up matches.

All in all, not bad options. Should be a good series. Will S. Raina captain?

Hear Me, Fickle India Fan On The Verge Of A South African Defeat

Sigh. Another first Test abroad, another shambolic performance. (Is ‘shambolic’ a word?)

A number of excellent takes on India’s poor performance so far: read this excellent smackdown on India’s bizarre bias against warm-up games; or this wonderful attack on India’s strange selection policy. It occurs to me that India have tried more fast bowlers in the last year than Australia have tried leg-spinners. At one point during play, a South African commentator asked, “I’m trying to see [in Unadkat] what the selectors saw. I don’t know what his stock delivery is.” He said this, mind you, an over before the end of Day 2. That’s a problem.

I’ve said before that I’m a nervous ninny, but things are getting bad, people. We still don’t have a credible fast bowling attack. (After Zaheer, who? Munaf? Balaji? Pathan? Nehra? Praveen?) No, scratch that — we don’t have a credible spin bowling attack either. (After Harbhajan, who? Ohja? Mishra? Chawla?) And meanwhile, our one core strength — batting — is one to two years away from a wave of retirements that may relegate us to Aussie downfalls (After Dravid, who? After Laxman, who? After…Tendulkar, who? I’m as excited about Pujara and Murali Vijay as anyone, but I’m still scared, dammit).

Bowlers Are Such Delicate Creatures

Nathan Hauritz offers a self-evaluation on his performance in the Mohali Test. Really, it’s more of an explanation for his sub-par performance:

“I have been working on a few different things, to try to attack the stumps a little bit more from a wider angle,” Hauritz told AAP. “Generally I’ve been a little bit tighter towards the stumps throughout my career, and we just spoke about trying to get the ball at a wider angle, sort of like what Harbhajan [Singh] does, trying to get the ball to drift in, instead of drifting away. That stuffed me around a little bit with my body and my rhythm.”

Two things: first, Hauritz, don’t try to copy Harbhajan. And don’t try to experiment when your captain is searching for his first Test win in a country. If you get another chance, I suggest you work on doing what you do well. Just saying.

But secondly, my Lord, why are bowlers such unbelievable prima donnas? Hauritz tried to change the drift of his ball, and that completely shot his rhythm? Ishant Sharma said something similar recently, when he blamed a snag in his run-up — I think he said he lost two steps, or something small like that — for his terrible form.

OK. No doubt, athletes are precious creatures, who need to take care of their bodies. And, yes, bowling is a mysterious art (known only to members of the Commonwealth, it seems). But in this era of hyper-coaching and video review, I think bowlers should keep one piece of advice — taken from the scriptures of Sehwagology: see wicket, bowl wicket.

How Many Indian Cricket Players Are Jerks, Exactly?

Two interviews — with Venkatesh Prasad (former bowling coach) and Yuvraj Singh (former, uh, batsman) — offer hints into dressing room drama, and my long-held suspicion that cricketing fame is wasted on 20-somethings.

First, Prasad. The Cricinfo article makes for a depressing read:

During his India stint, he said, he found the bowlers’ work load in the nets to be inadequate. “I was very disappointed with the amount of bowling that was going in nets. And with the amount of training: they weren’t training hard, the bowlers weren’t pushing themselves.”

Bowlers – he did not name any – could not be pushed to put in more than 20 minutes in the India nets, and he said that, as a member of the support staff, he could not be after them every day. “I can’t keep saying, ‘Come on XYZ, whoever they may be, bowl for one hour.” He said he did so on many occasions but it wasn’t always appreciated. “It’s a thin line. There were lots of players who, when you told them something, didn’t like it.

Prasad only praises three bowlers explicitly — Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and S. Sreesanth. One is on the perpetual edge of being dropped; one is a ODI specialist, and the other has a dodgy shoulder.

OK, but these are the bowlers, who don’t usually win India’s hearts and minds as much as the team’s batsmen. For that, we turn to Yuvraj, who sees himself as much wiser and older now that he’s been dropped, injured and out of form:

I see a lot of youngsters like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who are very talented and flamboyant. As a senior I tell them not to make the same mistakes I made, and try to guide them to a better tomorrow…They don’t listen, especially Rohit and Virat. [Suresh] Raina still listens a little bit, but Rohit and Virat always argue with me.

This raises a bigger question: if you had to choose between an excellent batsman with a crappy attitude, or a capable batsman with the right one, which would you pick? And, secondly, why does India persist in selecting young ‘uns? Spending a few years in the wilderness — a la Gambhir — builds character.

In Defense Of Billy Bowden and Ian Gould

Unbelievable Test match. Well worth my decision to stay up past 4 a.m. and risk disaster at work tomorrow. But I want to say a word or two about the umpires in this Test, who all sides agree were absolutely atrocious. Michael Hussey received a shocker from Ian Gould; Billy Bowden seemed to have it out for India (and Ishant Sharma and Gambhir in particular), until he gave Ohja a shocking reprieve.

The decisions elicited two responses online: 1) India really, really needs to implement the UDRS and allow players to review decisions. 2) Cricket umpires are really, really terrible. Let’s focus on the first one: I understand the impulse, and nearly fell to it during the game, but now I reject it. Didn’t this game precisely show the dramatic effect umpires can have in cricket? Didn’t those errors introduce much-needed plot twists and turns?

I understand people would rather not let games that match skill and talent fall on error. And it’s a noble thing to seek 100 percent accuracy (which I believe is still impossible with current technology). But that’s just not what cricket is about. I’ve long argued that what makes cricket exceptional is its acknowledgement of chance and fate, and the larger limits of human agency. The umpire is a part of this theme; he is a fallible tragic figure whose decisions sway results, not out of malice (well, not usually), but because humans are fallible. Just as we don’t allow substitutes (Laxman forced to bat with a bad back), just as accept the weather’s turns and the pitch’s conditions, we accept the umpire.

This may not sound satisfying to most people. But ask yourself this: didn’t something in you relish the moment when all eyes turned to Bowden after the Ohja LBW appeal? You saw the ball hit the batsman’s stumps and it looked out — admit it! — but there was still one more thing left to consider: fate.

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.