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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bangladesh, the game of cricket needs you…

They’ve been taking giant strides on the cricket field. They’ve been playing quality cricket over the past couple of years. The team from Bangladesh showed immense character and promise when it participated in the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Successive victories in the bilateral series against the likes of Pakistan, South Africa and India reiterated the fact that the Bangladesh has transformed as a cricketing nation.

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IPL auction 2017: Of English flavours and Afghani spices

Ben Stokes, Bought by Hyderabad For Rs 14.5 Crore, Becomes IPL's Most Expensive Foreign Player Ever

Seeing more than 350 players going under the hammer is exciting. It really thrills me out when I see bids being placed and players from across the globe going under the hammer (the auction hammer, I mean). The auction for the 10th season of the cash-rich Indian Premiere League saw two different flavours.  On one hand, players from England attracted a lot of bids. The auction saw Ben Stokes, England’s star all-rounder in white-ball cricket, being sold for INR 14.5 crore to the Rising Pune Supergiants  (That’s insane). Stokes would certainly be the happiest person on earth right now. Everytime I look at his (Stokes) price tag, it baffles me.

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Decoding Ravi Ashwin…

The game of cricket has transformed by leaps and bounds. From 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. Pressure of performing 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 batsman in him can think like a bowler, avoiding ploys and traps.

Ashwin has been appreciated by cricket pundits all over the world for his exceptional strike-rate of five wicket hauls. He has further gained appreciation for his ability to make valuable contributions down the order, but his inability to replicate this prolific run on foreign soils has been criticized.

ravichandran-ashwin-jamaica-.jpg. 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 hungriest cricketers to ever pick up the piece of willow, 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 we are talking about 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.

The key to understanding Ashwin’s value lies in unlocking the many successful transformations 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 speed. He won’t be able to beat most of his teammates in a sprint. He 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 occasions. 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. Ashwin does not merely live cricket, he loves it. And it appears as if the game of cricket is loving him back.

Talking of records, Ashwin is the quickest to reach 200 test wickets.Since January 2015, he has completed  five wicket hauls 14 times in 20 tests. That is sheer greatness.His all round displays are a case in  point. He has thus far won an identical six Man Of The Match and Man Of The Series awards in test match cricket this year. 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. Presently, Ashwin has 72 test scalps from 12 test matches he has been a part of this year, making him the highest wicket-taker this year.

Ashwin has already had some stellar performances to his credit. Considering his rising stature and the kind of form he’s in,  the best may just be round the corner. A long home season awaits Ashwin as he’ll be seen flexing his muscles against the mighty Aussies in the spring of 2017. We’re surely in for a tour de force or two from this prodigiously gifted and talented all-rounder.