India in NZ: The third and final test is just over and I’m glad that it ended in a draw. This may sound odd coming from an Indian supporter but I felt a) A gallant , outgunned NZ side deserved some reward for the stout fight they put up and for the exemplary sportsmanship they displayed throughout the series and b) India did not try hard enough to win .
What a contrast between the New Zealanders and Ponting’s Aussies! NZ tried hard and ,even though they lost both the ODI’s and the Test series, they still retained their poise. This is a young side and I wish them all success in the future. As for India , Dhoni did all the right things except at the tailend of India’s second innings. After Yuvraj Singh departed, I thought Dhoni would go for some quick runs , set NZ as large a target as possible and declare ASAP. Instead, he dithered for an axtra 30-45 minutes during which his strike rate actually went down.It was well-known that rain had been forecast on the fifth day and I thought Dhoni should have kept this in mind and given his bowlers enough time to bowl out NZ. Dhoni has been an exceptional captain espescially in the ODI’s and T-20 matches but , in the Tests, he often seems playing “not to lose” rather than to win. He was not always thus.Perhaps this is a reaction to the expectations of the fickle Indian public and press which treats every loss as a disaster.
Though India won both the ODI series and the Tests, the achievement was somewhat tarnished by the docility of the pitches. Surprisingly, the pitches were placid featherbeds that posed few challenges to the Indian batsmen, accustomed as they were to such pitches back home. Consequently, the team still has questionmarks .For instance,how good are our batsmen on fast, bouncy pitches like the ones in South Africa or Australia ? We still don’t know. What was proven was that Yuvraj , even at this stage in his career, is just not a Test batsman. He’s fine for the ODIs and he’s formidable in the Twenty20 format but he just doesn’t have either the footwork or the technique against spinners to be consistently successful at the Test level. Sachin, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman performed well but ,once again, it was against a mediocre attack in friendly conditions.I’m very glad that Rahul Dravid got the record for the Most Catches ( career) and I hope it nudges him into retirement. For a couple of years now, his form has been on the decline. Even when he scores a fifty or a hundred, he doesn’t play too many attacking strokes and his strike rate is abysmal. On the other hand the Indian pacemen , espescially Zaheer Kan, performed heroically. Munaf Patel, who still looks lackadaisical, provided valuable support at the other end though I expected a bit more from Ishant Sharma. Harbhajan far exceeded my expectations as the #1 and only spinner in the side. I wish though that ,once the ODI series was decided that the reserves had been given a chance. It would have given them experience and encouragement and we ‘d have found out what they’re capable of. As it was, Ojha,Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni did not get a sniff and we don’t know how good they are. What we do know is that Dinesh Kartik is not a keeper; time to try someone else. Parthiv Patel ? Wriddiman Saha?
Dhoni, Sehwag and the captaincy. Dhoni, Graeme Smith and Ponting ( in no particular order) are the three best captains in the world and it is no surprise that their teams are at the top of the table. Captaining a cricket team is a lot more demanding than being a team captain in any other sport. In soccer, volleyball, US football or other sports most of the decisions are made on the sidelines and the overall boss is the team manager or coach, not the captain. Not so in cricket where the player-captain has to make all the decisions in the field. He may have the benefit of the manager’s and coaches experience when it comes to decisions like whether to bat first or when to declare the innings but when it comes to things like field placements and bowling changes he is on his own. Dhoni has a remarkably cool head on his shoulders, commands the respect of his players, makes all the right decisions and seems to know exactly what is to be done in a given situation. He is a cheerleader who gets the best out of his men. He is not afraid to take chances and it helps that they almost always seem to pan out. He is the one indispensible man on the team, a fact that became apparent when he was sidelined by injury and Virender Sehwag captained the side for the Second Test. What a disaster ! The team just wasn’t the same and we were lucky to escape with a draw. The only positive about the match was that the players, for once, did not throw in the towel when placed in a difficult position. They showed considerable backbone in battling to a draw from what appeared to be a certain loss with a day and a half to go. Even here Sehwag ‘s performance as a batsman was reprehensible ;more sobecause he was the acting captain nand should have set an example. In the first innings, facing a 600+ total, he batted as if it was a Twenty20 match and threw his wicket away. He repeated that performance in the second inning when India were following on and batting to save the match. His field placings, bowling changes and man management have been roundly criticised by sportswriters and I won’t say any more about them. What this one test proved is that Sehwag is not fit to be a vice-captain, let alone a captain. The trouble is that there is hardly anyone else in the side that could step into Dhoni’s shoes in a pinch. Tendulkar and Dravid ? Been there , done that, don’t want to any more. Laxman and Harbhajan don’t have the temperament. Zaheer Khan and the other pacemen get injured from time to time and can’t be relied on. Other than Gautam Gambhir, there is no one else whose place in the side is assured . One more reason for some of the seniors to retire/be eased out so that we can get in some new blood and groom the next captain. As it is , if M.S. Dhoni is injured, we are sunk.
There has been a lot of criticism about Sehwag’s irresponsible batting. At one time , he was somewhat more patient in his Test innings and that’s when he amassed his big scores. Now he seems to have reverted to the ‘old’ Sehwag ,determined to knock the stufing out of the ball, a la Afridi. It is tue that when he’s on song, he can be a matchwinner . However, he equally capable of throwing his wicket away . Has the time come perhaps to keep him for the ODIs and T20 and try someone else ,less spectacular but more reliable, in the Tests? I think so, particularly because Gautam Gambhir has developed into a genuine opener in all phases of the game, curbing his natural aggression and playing according to the needs of the situation. His spot seems to be setand we can afford to look for a proper partner for him.We keep hearing about the wealth of talent in India ; why not give someone among them a chance ? Virat Kohli ? M.Vijay?
Australia- SA ODI series. Anyone out there want to hazard a guess as to the winner ? The Aussies won the first match without breaking a sweat and South Africa returned the favor in the second. I’m rooting for South Africa but , no matter who wins, this is one humdinger of a series. It looks as though reports of the Aussies decline were greatly exaggerated. They look as strong as ever and Symonds , Shane Watson and Lee are waiting to come back in and make them even stronger.What gets me is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of talent they seem to have. South Africa too; this Wayne Parnell seems like a real find. I note that Parnell made his debut in the U-19 World Championship just a couple of years ago and is already making his presence felt at the senior level. The Indian juniors won that championship and we have nobody ?