The Indians are keen to rekindle their bond with county cricket in England

It certainly won’t be a hyperbole to say that the game of cricket undergoing significant changes right from the advent of day/night test matches to the countless franchise-based Twenty20 leagues popping-out every now and then. It is a time when national loyalties are fading away and test match cricket has for the country has taken the backseat. Continue reading “The Indians are keen to rekindle their bond with county cricket in England”

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Twenty20 and the rising cult of freelance cricketers

There was a time when having an illustrious cricketing career was all that mattered for a cricketer. Back in the 1990’s and the early 2000s, if cricketers didn’t have a successful international career, it used to be the end of the road for them. It was a time when playing cricket for the country was on top of a cricketer’s priority list. It was a time when test match cricket dominated the international cricketing scene and it was a time when pride was way more important than money. Continue reading “Twenty20 and the rising cult of freelance cricketers”

Decoding Ravi Ashwin…

The game of cricket has transformed by leaps and bounds. From Test Match Cricket to 50 over matches and now, from 50 over matches to the bang-bang Twenty20 matches. Cricketers need to adapt. They need to perform well across different conditions and formats. The pressure to perform consistently has never been this high. Being a good batsman isn’t enough; you need to be an excellent fieldsman and a more than useful bowler as well.

The Indian National Cricket Team’s so-called ‘never-ending’ search for a genuine test all-rounder seems to have finally ended. The transformation of the tall and lanky lad from Chennai (Ravi Ashwin) has been nothing short of exceptional.  The thing that makes him one of India’s most valuable cricketers is the fact that the bowler in him can think like a batsman, anticipating what the opponent is trying to do. Furthermore, the handy batter in him can think like a bowler, avoiding treacherous deliveries.

Ashwin has been appreciated by cricket pundits all over the world his wicket-taking abilities. He has further gained appreciation from critics for his ability to make valuable contributions down the order, but his inability to replicate this prolific run on foreign soils has been criticized.

You can’t be called a complete cricketer just because you pile of the runs and pick wickets on your home soil. Don Bradman, one of the greatest cricketers ever to have played the sport, isn’t considered by some cricket pundits to be a complete cricketer for having played in only two countries.

Ashwin’s rise as a genuine all-rounder has a variety of reasons. First of all, his ability to stay firm at one end while batting. Secondly, his technique, which is quite okay (remember he’s a guy who bats at seven or eight). Thirdly, he is someone who has almost all the orthodox shots in his kitty. While he has the ball in hand, his variations make him a lethal weapon capable of destroying even the world’s best batting line up.

Of late, he has found a lot of success in the longer format of the game. With 44 scalps from 8 test matches, 2017 has been Ashwin’s year. But, his form in the limited overs format has gone for a toss. The 31-year-old could hardly come to terms with the flat decks on offer during the 2017 edition of the ICC Champions Trophy in England. A dip in form in white ball cricket saw him being replaced by the likes of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuz Chahal. In his bid to widen his skill-set and prepare for the upcoming tour of England, the 31-year-old flew all the way to England to try his hand in English County Cricket to play county cricket for Worcestershire.

The key to understanding and realizing Ashwin’s value lies in understanding the evolution he has gone through. He started his career as a batsman who could bowl occasional medium pace. Now he has transitioned into one of the finest off-spinners the game of cricket has ever seen. He was the first one to realize that his physique isn’t built for seam bowling. He isn’t the quickest guy on the field but has spent considerable time ensuring he has a safe pair of hands when it comes to catching.

Ashwin has altered his bowling technique on more than one occasion. From the time he starts from the mark, builds the momentum towards the crease, then loads up, pivots up and releases one of his many deliveries.

Talking of records, Ashwin is the quickest to reach 200 test wickets. He has amassed 292 wickets in 52 test matches with 26 fifers (as of October 2017). That is sheer greatness. His all-round displays are an asset. The man who seems to have perfected the art of bowling a ‘carrom ball’ does not believe in going after records. He keeps on dismissing batsmen and the records keep tumbling as well.

Ashwin has already had some stellar performances to his credit. Considering his rising stature and the kind of bowler he is, best may just be around the corner. A long home season awaits Ashwin as he’ll be seen flexing his muscles against the mighty Proteas in January 2018. We’re surely in for a tour de force or two from this prodigiously gifted and talented all-rounder.

 

Lazy elegance and the rise of Rohit Sharma

I still remember the day Rohit Sharma made his Twenty20 International debut for India against a high-flying South African side in the ICC World Twenty20 2007 and that too, in their own backyard. It was a do-or-die game for the men in blue. They had to beat the formidable South African team during a high-voltage Super 8s clash in order to make their way into the semis. After winning the toss and electing to bat first, the Indian side was reduced to 61/4, courtesy of some disciplined bowling by Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.

Continue reading “Lazy elegance and the rise of Rohit Sharma”

Decoding Essex’s rise to glory

Essex County Cricket Club’s journey from being a mediocre club to lifting the championship title this year has been nothing short of extraordinary. On only four instances, including this one, did they get an opportunity to play in Division One of the County Championship, since 2000. Each of the last three times they gained a promotion, they were relegated the year after. Following their promotion from Division 2 in 2016, they finally won the County Championship for the first time since 1992.

Continue reading “Decoding Essex’s rise to glory”

MS Dhoni@36: The old, wise ‘Yodha’ in a team of youngsters

As the Indian selectors set their sights on building a core group of cricketers as part of the team’s preparations for the 2019 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the men in blue have begun solving ‘The Riddle of the Middle Order’. A few experiments have been undertaken, a pool of players including KL Rahul is being rotated, and some of them are being assigned specialized roles. Indian skipper Virat Kohli too, told the cricket pundits across the globe to expect an array of changes in the days to come as the team plans to chart-out a roadmap for the marquee event. Continue reading “MS Dhoni@36: The old, wise ‘Yodha’ in a team of youngsters”

India’s over-reliance on Virat Kohli quite similar to that on Tendulkar

I remember watching Sachin Tendulkar bat when the Indians toured England way back in 1996. The first test match at Edgbaston saw the Indian batters running for cover against a potent English pace attack led by a man who belonged to this historic county of Lancashire. Dominic Cork, his name was. He charged in at speeds exceeding 90 Mph and made the Indian batsmen hop and jump on a typical English batting strip. Continue reading “India’s over-reliance on Virat Kohli quite similar to that on Tendulkar”

Pakistan: Beautifully unpredictable…

No team plays with the ‘unpredictable’ tag as much as Pakistan does. On some days, they can annihilate perhaps the most formidable team if their bowlers stick to tighter lines. And then there are days when monumental batting collapses see them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Pakistani team symbolises the two extremes. One moment, they’re formidable, the other, they’re helpless. The outcomes keep hovering between these two extremes and the emotions of their fans keep fluctuating like those numbers on a heart-rate monitor. Continue reading “Pakistan: Beautifully unpredictable…”

India versus Pakistan: Rivalries, sub-plots and cricket…

The moment people hear about an India-Pakistan cricket match, blood starts gushing through their veins. Cricket freaks across the globe have their hearts pounding in their chests. Work gets sidelined, with emails piling on at a rate of knots in mailboxes, and all of us are there, with our eyes glued to the TV screens, desperately waiting for a miracle to occur out of nowhere. Every time Virat hits the ball all the way to the fence, the entire nation erupts in jubilation. The entire nation is there, hopping and jumping in excitement. There’s anticipation wherever you look.

Continue reading “India versus Pakistan: Rivalries, sub-plots and cricket…”

English County cricket: Is it reserved only for the greats?

+It certainly won’t be an overstatement to say that the Indian test side is at the very peak of its prowess. The Indians have had an emphatic home season, handing comprehensive defeats to the likes of New Zealand, England and Australia. The test side looks solid and stable with the top-order piling on the runs, the middle order adding significantly to the contributions made by the top-order. Of late, the Indian seamers have also been performing reasonably well. ‘What about the spinners?’, you’d be thinking. Ah, Ashwin’s contributions speak louder than words. Have to call him a contemporary great.

But hold on, most of these players have only delivered the goods while playing on home soil. These players haven’t really performed during overseas tours. In 2014, the Indians had gone down like a pack of cards when they toured England. They suffered a 3-1 thrashing at the hands of England. As the ‘red cherry’ swung in England, the Indians found it hard to tackle the swinging ‘red cherry’ on the seamer-friendly tracks of England.

The South Africans are scheduled to tour England in 2017. Of the proteas team, quite a few players have been a part of English county sides. JP Duminy has had a stint with Surrey, Vernon Philander has played for Middlesex, Faf du Plessis has represented Lancashire, Hashim Amla has had a stint with Essex. The list is never-ending.
On the contrary, only a handful of Indian players in the current test side have had the ‘privilege’ of representing English county sides. Cheteshwar Pujara had a stint with Yorkshire in 2015 after having failed to attract bidders during the IPL auction. His return to form can be credited to his time with Yorkshire.

When the Indians toured England back in 2007 and made the Englishmen bite the dust, almost all their squad member had enjoyed a stint in county cricket. Sachin Tendulkar (Yorkshire) Sourav Ganguly (Glamorgan), Rahul Dravid (Kent), VVS Laxman (Lancashire), Yuvraj Singh (Yorkshire), Zaheer Khan (Worcestershire) had spent a considerable amount of time playing for English Counties. All of them had enhanced their skills while sweating it out in England.

Playing in Ranji Trophy doesn’t allow Indian players to go out of their comfort zones and get access to those spicy and lively English batting strips. Another problem with the current generation of cricketers is that they’re too busy playing for their respective franchises. Earlier, the summer used to be reserved for playing county cricket in England. But with lucrative and cash-rich Twenty20 leagues coming into existence, playing for county sides seems to have taken a backseat. The charm and the glamour of the IPL are too formidable to be disrupted.

A stint in English county cricket would allow the likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Murali Vijay to get accustomed to playing the short ball.

Raina, in particular, has struggled against short-pitched deliveries fired at him at steaming pace. It has been one of the foremost reasons behind his absence from international Test Match Cricket. Batting against short-pitch bowling can be a challenging experience at first, but it would allow Raina to learn from the mistakes he has committed is the past. Similar is the case with Rohit Sharma. He’s a formidable force when he bats on the slow Indian and spin-friendly tracks here in India, but turns into an ordinary batsman when it comes to performing overseas. A season or two in English domestic circuit would allow him to eliminate his weakness of getting beaten-up against out-swinging deliveries outside the Off-stump.

Then there is this duo of Jadeja and Ashwin. The moment the ball begins to grip and turn, they’re unplayable, but their prowess with the ball in hand can only be seen on Indian turfs. The variations they produce appear harmless on seaming wicket outside the sub-continent. A county season in England would act as an ideal training ground for them to learn the art of bowling spin in varied conditions.

If Virat Kohli wants a taste of victory outside the sub-continent, a pace bowling unit capable of taking 20 wickets in a match. Ishant has some serious pace but has under-performed for the most part of his career. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar can swing the ball both ways but lacks pace. Umesh Yadav is perhaps the best among them. He bowled with renewed vigour and firepower. India’s pace trio would get to learn quite a few skills if they plan to be a part of English counties.

This is something Zaheer Khan did really well. After hitting a rough patch in 2006, Zaheer Khan flew all the way to England to play white-sweater cricket for Worcestershire on the seaming, bouncing tracks of England. He honed his skills and came back all guns blazing into the Indian side.

Some tough calls are the need of the hour if the Indians want to fare well in seaming conditions. Of late, star Indian batsman Virat Kohli opened up and stated he’s keen to stretch is nerves in county cricket as he aims to prepare for his next outing in England in 2018.

So, to top it all, it won’t be wrong to say that county cricket would act as an ideal training ground for our ‘desi’ batsmen. But again, truth be told, they’re too busy flexing their muscles in cash-rich Twenty20 leagues. We need BCCI’s intervention here. If the overseas records are to be improved, we certainly need our players to swing it around for a season or two in county cricket.