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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Desrving Duo

The climax of the Chepauk test has been sweet for Team India. Most of the boxes ticked well. Spinners were expected to do well on a turner and they did extremely well right from day 1. Ravichandran Ashwin reascertained his position as the leading spinner of the country after a dry series against England. Unlike the Poms, the current lot of Aussies is also a team in transition much like Team India. The absence of heavyweights in Ponting and Hussey hurt the Australian side much than they presumed.

The middle order of Pujara, Kohli, Tendulkar and Dhoni performed exceedingly well. While Pujara may not have got a big score, he looked solid and confident during his stay. He has a long way to go in his career but is one man whom India can rely upon to fill the big shoes of Dravid in future.
Kohli was back in groove after missing against England and in the subsequent ODIs. Given his success in limited overs and his temperament, Kohli is likely to be the nucleus of Indian batting in days to come especially once the big fish Tendulkar quits.

Dhoni was magical at No 6. His technique may not be best suited for longer format and may be found out in tougher conditions but cometh Home pitches he is a batsman with few comparisons. He snatched the match away from the Kangaroos in the most brutal manner possible. With his captaincy under scrutiny and his batting under the scanner, MSD has now responded with two innings at Nagpur and Chennai that he is still worth his place in the side for batting alone. Promotion to No 6 has helped him to deliver and in the final context he has left his critics including yours truly jaw struck with two different yet extremely effective innings.

Tendulkar in his 23rd year of career is still a treat to watch. He was batting like his twenties and the two boundaries and two sixes of the first two balls he faced in two innings was treat after a long time. Given his imminent retirement any time in a year or so, every innings from the great man from now on will be crucial in the team’s context.


Pacers did not have much to do and are likely to be doing the same job in coming tests too. Ishanth as usual bowled his hearts out without any success. Bhuvanesh might not have made his ball talk but he made a stellar contribution of holding the other end when the skipper went bizarre at the young Australian attack.

Harbhajan in his 100th test was expected to do much than he actually did. Despite the second innings performance, the Turbanator has to mentor the young spinners with all his experience. Jadeja failed with the bat and not too great with the ball.

The only gray areas were the openenrs. Virendar Shewag being Shewag can have a good day or bad. But in the recent times he has not made any telling contribution barring the first test at Ahmedabad against England. Having lost his place in ODIs, it is high time he makes another knock with his stamp approval or face the situation of being mooted out from the Test team as well.

Vijay’s selection to the Test side was debatable. His Ranji season was a big failure. Infact Mukund was better in Ranji’s compared to Vijay. But two knocks in Irani Cup, at the start and end of the season won him the place in the side. At home ground, he had a wonderful chance but Pattinson made him look a pauper in both the innings.


Jadeja was another controversial pick. Picking him in place of Pragyan Ojha was a great disservice to the Hyderabadi. Ojha was the pick of Indian spinners against England and has been doing his job as the second spinner to both Ashwin and Harbhajan with distinction in home tests.

Jadeja might bring in some batting strength to the side and is a far better fielder than Ojha. He did have a scintillating season in domestic cricket. He deserved the inclusion in the Test side without doubt. But in the context of playing XI, he is did not seem a right choice to me. Harbhajan is in the XI for his record against the Australians and Ashwin is our lead spinner. Neither do Jadeja bring in a variety compared to Ojha nor do we direly need a seven batsman formula at home tests direly.

Another big omission from the side is Ajinkya Rahane. A man with 60 plus average in FC cricket, Rahane has done well whenever given a chance. He has been waiting in the wings for a long time. And he with Kohli and Pujara is expected to form the next generation of batters for Team India. This was a good chance to test him in Whites.

Jadeja may not be adequate to face the rampant South African bowlers at the end of the year. We will need an extra batsman and Rahane looks to be the best bet. He has got technique to succeed in difficult conditions but needs to be groomed. India missed a great opportunity here. What more can a man do?

If not for Jadeja, a swap for Vijay could have got the Mumbaikar his due. Rahane has been opening in ODIs and T20s and is a top order batsman. He is used to face the new ball and could very well be the opener with Sehwag for India. Again he was mooted out for Vijay who is trying to play stylish cricket without having a sound technique.

With Pujara almost confirming the No 3 slot to be his for a long run, Rahane is not someone suited to bat at No 6. Tendulkar and Kohli at No 4 and No 5 will not be moved out for sure. Hence the best place to slot in Rahane would have been opening and a straight swap with Vijay is the best option available. Another failure at Hyderabad could shut the door for Tamil Nadu opener and in such case; Rahane must open for the best interests of the side.

All in all, the likely squad for Hyderabad test would be perfect if we can see Rahane coming in for Vijay and Ojha for Jadeja. Let us not forget the fact that Ashwin is no pushover with the bat and averages in mid thirties despite batting at No 8. So a promotion to No 7 for the offie could not be a bad bet.

Harbhajan himself has two centuries including one at the same ground two years ago and the two offspinners considerably strengthen the lower order. So India can afford to play with five batsmen, five bowlers and Dhoni. That would serve the side in the long run. But Alas! MSD is MSD and we will see two good potential stars sit out for lesser talented individuals. All the Best Team India!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Calypso Mutation

The latest edition of World T20 has got us new Champions. The West Indies team was among the dark horses for the course though there were many who considered them to be favourites. The over haul of the side began with the welcoming back of Gayle into the main fold and the resurgence of newer T20 specialists in the past four years.

It was the Champions League 2009 when Trinidad and Tobago took the stage by storm to enter the finals. Since then the West Indian T20 stars have been among the most sought after ones in the Domestic Leagues worldwide. Few like Gayle, Pollard and Bravo have played almost everywhere from India to Australia, South Africa to England, Srilanka to Bangladesh. The Calypos have been traversing the world with raised stocks in the recent times. This victory adds crown to their value.

While this cannot be called as the resurgence of West Indies cricket, it is surely a step in the right direction. Still an ugly face off continues between the Board WICB and the player association WIPA. The egos at the top are bloated and it has been hurting the side in past few years. A win at this stage provides them a breather.

It has been 33 long years since West Indies won World Cup in any format. However the difference between the previous champions and the current one is starling in every possible manner. The current lot is a complete rehaul of how the Calypsos were presumed earlier.

The previous era was an era of classism. They had classic orthodox legends that have left their mark in the game so strongly. Clive Lloyd’s side was a complete package of classic batting and fiery bowling. The recently released and much sought after documentary “Fire in Babylon” is ascertains their supremacy in the Seventies and Eighties.

The squad opened by one of the greatest opening pair in Greenidhge and Haynes had in itself some classy batsmen like Kallicharan and Clive Lloyd. They had a man of destruction in Richards but then is n’t he an All Time great respected for his batting powers? Colin King, Murray, Dujon added weight to their batting.

Bowling was led by a battery of pacers in Marshall, Roberts, Garner, Holding and Croft. Each of them was a master in his own right and they terrorized the opponents everywhere they bowled. No wonder this bowling attack is christened to be all time best in Cricket. They were well supported by Richards himself and never needed a spinner’s job given the completeness of their pace attack.

However one grey area in their armour was the lack of a quality spinner in their ranks. Though they did not need the spinner’s service much, still this is a blot in their armour that will stay. Compared to the Australian attack around the turn of the millennium (another one for the all time best in McGrath, Lee, Gillespie and Warne) or the Pakistan attack of late eighties and early nineties (Akram, Younis, Imran, Qadir/Mushtaqs) the Windies lacked a spinner of quality like Warne or Qadir or Mushtaqs.

Until 1995 when they lost the crown to the Australians they had a bowling attack to gloat over. Ambrose, Walsh, Bishop, Patterson were not far behind their predecessors and made life difficult for most sides. However the dreath of quality batsman apart from one Legend in Lara and another warrior in Chanderpaul, they lacked a batsman of respect in their line up. Sarwan wasonly other name than the two and rest just made numbers. Their bowling lacked its potency since the pair of Ambrose and Walsh left the scene and no wonder they became the whipping boys in the circuit.

The resurgence this time has been a complete mutation of their previous self. The bowling today is led by a phalanx of medium pace all rounders and battery of mystery spinners. A pacer of repute is lacking and it is the spinners who are winning matches for the side.

In Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree they have two spinners who weave a web around the batsmen. Their armoury is filled with mystery balls and they are difficult to put away with. Even the test side has two good spinners in Bishoo and Shillingford. Bishoo was a star in his debut World Cup last year and Shillingford is slowly making names.

The batting too is a total change from the past. Gayle is a man unseen before. He is a complete destruction in one bat put together. Samuels, Bravo, Pollard are all flamboyant and hitters of terrific strength. The classic textbook style is completely replaced by the new version which is brave, attacking and destructive. The current squad of champions are more suited for the coloured clothing and most of them will be founded out in quality test bowling.

Another major change has been the face of pace bowling. While the previous generations symbolized West Indies with ferocious pace bowlers the current one are all medium pacers of gentle nature. Bravo, Pollard, Sammy and Russell are no way half as quick as their ancestors. They are all medium pace all rounders. The side is blessed with a group of such players which worked in their favour in Lanka.

Rampaul and Edwards are two remaining quicks but neither do they or the others like Roach and Taylor have the class of Marshall or Ambrose era. They are more reliant on their spinners to win matches than the pacers. The bowling facet is now lit with a quick bowler with few medium pacers to take the shine of the ball before spin sets in.

Even the pitches in the Caribbean have undergone a sea change from being quick and hard to spin friendly dust bowls. The last few years in West Indies tours have shown pitches favouring the slow bowlers and pitches that were sluggish and batting friendly. Gone are those days of having the opposition batsmen’s head in peril.

The previous era was lit with classism, pace, aggression and orthodoxy. The current one is destructive, guile and spin and gentleness and unorthodox methods. The calypso remains but the fierce fights have been replaced with Gangnams. This is complete Mutation of the sides. While most teams have adhered to their tradition like aggression of Asutralia, Pace of South Africa, spin and batmen of India, bowling strength of Pakistan the West Indies have gone a complete makeover.

They may still be clogging to make good in tests. They may still lose matches at the outset. They may still receive whitewashes. They may still be the whipping boys. But they have taken a right step forward for resurgence with their mutated variant from the past era.

Probably Genetics may add a new Mutation to the list. This time it is “Calypso Mutation”. However the joy of watching the Calypso remains unaltered. Long Live the Calypso Kings!!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Opening Blues

The advent of a newly charged Indian side in the early years of the millennium and their subsequent victory in the first edition of World T20 in 2007, rise to the top of the World rankings in Tests by late 2009 and finally the ultimate crown of World Cup at home in 2011 have all been built about the strength of their batsmen. There are very few sights as fascinating to watch as this Indian batting line up sending the opposition bowlers to doldrums.

 The immense depth of the team’s batting has always been a cushion for their rather fragile bowling attack and all the bowlers had to do was to provide a decent fight to supplement the batsmen. However the case was n’t the same when the millennium began. Even though India had a wealth of four classy batsmen guarding their middle order in tests and some nonchalant strikers like Yuvraj and Dhoni providing imputes in coloured clothing, the completeness was achieved only when the Delhi duo set itself at the top.

With Gambhir’s return to the squad in 2007 and Sehwag finding back his song in 2008; it set a foundation for three year glory led by their rock strong batting line up and Zaheer Khan with the ball. The issues stared post World Cup glorywith the injuries and subsequent loss of form of the openers. The subsequent white washes in Australia and England have been built by the batting failures and the scratchy form at the top has been a headache.

Since 2007, one slot the Indian selectors had no second thoughts in deciding was the openers. The Delhi duo when available was formidable terrorizing the bowlers from any place. Sehwag’s swashbuckling methods were wonderfully complimented by Gambhir’s super strong technique and ability to play subdued support and take the reins as the situation demands. The result was the most productive times for Team India. It gave the time and mindset for the middle order batsmen to set the ship rolling.

But since last year, the worrying causes for Team India have been a plenty. The top one is the form of the openers. Neither Sehwag, nor Gambhir remind us of their original self in recent times. Sehwag being Sehwag goes for some big ones and soon loses his wicket for his arrogance or method of play as one chose to name it. He tends to play the loose ones as usual but has developed the habit of losing his wicket to deliveries that normally will be played comfortably by lesser talented batsmen.

His average has considerably dipped aftermath the World Cup. In tests, his returns in Australia were meagre and recent ones in scores at home against New Zeland was neither good. His average has dropped down to 30 compared to a career one of 50 plus. More worryingly there has been a dearth of tons which he churns out with rather ease.

The ODIs are no different story. He averages marginally better than his career one of 35 but bulk of those has been from one innings of 219 he scored against the West Indies. That apart he had barely managed an average of 20 with just one fifty. The T20s are no different story with an average of just 11 runs per innings (though only 3 matches is all he played).

The surprising element is not that he is struggling but rather he is unable to sustain his long innings game. He does get starts in most matches but fails to consolidate. The strike rate remains the same.
Here are the returns of Sehwag since World Cup 2011.
ODI (Without the 219 innings Vs WI)

Comparing it with his returns in Pre World Cup matches shows how big has India lost out.

If Viru is hit by dip in form, Gambhir has completely lost it. He has not only lost his form but his game has suffered by leaps and bounds. He is caught fishing outside off stump and loses his wicket to dabs and inside edges. What once used to be his strength (those cuts and dabs to third man region) is now proving to be his nemesis.

It was Gambhir’s entry that fast forwarded the rise of Team India and he enjoyed a golden period from 2008 until World Cup. Since then injuries have added to his woes and runs have dried up. Unlike Viru who still plays his natural game, Gautham seemed to have lost his skill and is now a walking wicket almost. That certainly adds to India’s Pandora ’s Box of troubles.

In Tests since World Cup he averages just 24 against his early fifty averages before. More worryingly he has scored just 3 fifties and no tons since World Cup. The ODI story is lot better with an average of 41.83, marginally ahead of his career one of 40 and he has 2 centuries and 8 fifties. However the number of sub 10 innings has increased considerably with 3 ducks in the period. In the shortest format he still does better but recent form has been alarming.

Gambhir after 2011 World Cup;

Comparing to his pre World Cup returns, his form in Tests are alarming as the table indicates.

Another aspect of India’s headache is the dip in their partnerships. Earlier India had strong foundation laid by the Delhi duo has now become a routine to see the No 3 and No 4 in the crease before 100 is reached. Here is an analysis of their opening partnerships.

They average 31.05 in 18 innings in tests since World Cup with just 5 fifty partnerships; In ODIs their average 45.66, but detecting the one game where Sehwag made his double, the partnership averages a meagre 19.6; In T20s the situation is nothing better with an average of 21.33.

Previously they held their sway and their records were thus: Tests were their forte with a superb average of 59.33 in 68 innings that included 10 hundred and 19 fifty plus scores; ODIs saw them pile an average of 53 runs per innings in around 30 innings they got to open, inching ahead of legendary pair of Tendulkar and Ganguly too. It included 4 partnerships reaching three figures. In T20s too, they averaged 38 runs per innings.

Its quite clear now that the woes for Team India begins at the head. Time is ripe for the selectors to make a rational call. With next big assignments at home coming up, it would n’t be bad to try a different combination at the top and slot one of these veteran batsmen in the middle order. Rahane has been knocking the door for long time. Mukund did a decent job given the tough time at England. Unmukt Chand is a fresh candidate with an Under 19 World Cup win under his belt.

India needs a strong opening combination, now that the middle order is fragile with new comers replacing Legends. Tendulkar, the one link between the olden times and present generation is too at the fag end of his career and may not last long. The likes of Pujara, Kohli and co must be given a cushion to develop their game. For that alone India needs its openers to fire. It makes us wonder, “Is the Opening Blues back for Team India?”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Men who matter at World T20 - Part I

The unpredictability of the format, lack of clear favourites, and the frenzy nature of the game all make this World T20 a fascinating times ahead for the cricket fraternity. The premier competition of the shortest format has arrived with a thumping win for the hosts against Zimbabwe. Here in I look into the key players for each of the Top 8 sides in two series.


          This is one format where the best side of the last decade has never been at home. This time they have an inexperienced side under George Bailey and will depend a lot on their experienced top order. The side is brimming with exciting pacers and will look to win one World title eluding them for long. Their ranking below the Ireland will surely drive them to come out and prove. Their key performers would be:

Shane Watson: The burly allrounder is a cricketer of highest quality and is a complete package. His form at the top of the order will be the key for them to get god head starts and his bowling is handy. If Watto fires at the top, expect their middle order to capitalize.

Glenn Maxwell: The newbie in the circuit is an exciting prospect and will be inching to make his name in his first litmus test. His ultra powerful strikes at the lower order will be as critical as his off breaks in their bowling think tank.

Pat Cummins: The tall pacer from Down Under will be keen to prove his worth in this format. He had a sparkling test introduction and has made name as one to be followed. If he can get a wicket or two at the first six overs, Australians will be better served.


          The defending champions are coming under a new skipper in Broad and miss the biggest name in their armoury. Pieterson’s absence from the middle order given his powerful strikes and rich experience in these conditions is a big hole though they want us to believe the contrary. Yet they do have a decent combination to compete. Key men for their defence would be:

Eion Morgan: The Irish man is the only one in their line up capable of replacing KP’s match winning abilities and he has a good experience in these formats. His role in the middle order san KP that includes relatively unproven Bairstow and Hales is likely to be more critical. If they are to proceed beyond the Super eights Morgan must fire for he is one player who can combat the spin challenge.

Graeme Swann:  One of the top notch spinners, Swann has not made big name in the Asian conditions. But the Englishman will have to make hay if Poms need to defend their title. His strength is his accuracy and it will be testes especially by the natural players of spin from Asia.

Stuart Broad: Broad has come a long way since Yuvraj belted him for six sixes at Durban night in the first edition. Broad now leads the defending champions and has to play a major role in driving the side without its talisman in the title win last time. His bowling needs to fire for all the experience he has. Else the calls for the comeback of KP are going to grow.


          The winners of the First T20 have been underachievers since then. This time the juggernaut roles at Sri Lanka where they have the most success away from home. With the conditions being friendly, their batting will be at home. If India’s bowling can fire, MSD can add one more feather to his crown in October. Key players will be:

Virat Kohli: The ODI player of the year award from ICC is right now the hot cake in cricket esp in coloured clothes and his presence in their middle order is a big boost given the scratchy form of their openers. If Virat fires, there is going to be no stopping of the Blues.

Ravichandran Ashwin: Ashwin is India’s lead spinner since the last world cup. His carom balls will pose threats to the batsmen and his role is the key point to India’s progress in the competition. He is also a reliable lower order batsman and has to fire. Given Dhoni’s reluctance to play 5 bowlers, Ashwin will have to take the lead.

Irfan Pathan: The younger Pathan’s comeback to the limited overs side has solved a lot of problems for India. His bowling is finding back its groove and his batting has added depth to their strong batting order. If he can pull his boots up with a decent bowling efforts, India’s progress will be lot easier. Given their fragile bowling attack, Pathan’s role is very critical for Team India.

New Zeland

          The perennial under achievers have managed to pull beyond their weight in the ICC competitions. Here too they come with a decent team that has given India a shock in their last T20 game. With the experience of some of their players in the domestic leagues in the continent, they can be a challenge to the favoured sides. Key contestants are:

Brendon McCullum: The hard hitting Kiwi is a proven T20 giant and on his day can send any attack to gallows as India learnt recently. His form at the top order will drive the Kiwis towards a staunch total. His form is good coming into the trophy.

Jacob Oram: A limited over specialist was recently unplayable in SLPL and will be their key bowler in middle overs. His batting skill is a known entity and if can accelerate in both his pedigrees, Kiwis could make their opponents sweat.

James Franklin: A former fast bowler has now graduated into a fine all rounder and he is an experienced hand in T20s. His street smart batting in the slog is a big strength to the Kiwis and his bowling as was seen against India last week will be tough to negotiate. Franklin in their lower middle order will be the key to me.

...To be continued...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cricket and an Olympian Dream

As yet another Olympics draws to an end, India is yet again left high and dry gasping for increasing the medals tally. The previous edition at Beijing gave us one Gold in the name of Abhinav Bindra. This time London Olympics saw India ending up with 2 Silver medals and four Bronze. Despite being a meagre tally this is still a better performance compared to our previous conquests.

Every time a sport debate especially pertaining to individual sports rake up, one constant argument has been India’s inability to win Medals in the competitive games. While lot of reasons have been put forth it is usual to see a few coming up with the blame that Cricket as a sport is killing the development of other sporting events in India.

Before going on to the Cricketing aspects, let us remember the basic fact that in the major event in these Games namely the Athletics and the marquee track events is never our cup of tea. The developmental makeup of Indians is not suited for track events as much as the Africo Americans who are ruling the sprint events. Our best choice is to compete in longer runs for which the stamina is a big factor. It is here our athletes lack in a big way compared to the Africans or Americans.

Indian athletes face lost of hurdles before they can compete in their events. Before facing the 110 metre Hurdle an Indian athlete would have faced a lot tougher situations in life.  Right from proper practise facilities available to the selection and qualifications, an athlete has to go through lot of fights. The life of an athlete in general and a sportsman in particular is never easy apart from few elite sports like Cricket or Tennis or Chess in India.

The authorities are culpable for this situation. The selfish motives and murky politics involved in the organization of Indian sports was evident to the World in the way we conducted the Common Wealth Games in our capital Delhi, couple of years back. While it should have been a great spectacle to show cause our organizational skill to the world, our men in power made sure that they filled their pockets making India a laughing stock in the process. Was n’t the head of Indian Olympic Committee jailed for the scams involved? What bigger shame can a nation beget than this?

The Government run Sporting bodies in India are perfect examples of how a sporting body must not function. Right, from the top most position to the lower hierarchy,  corruption prevails. Politics, factionalism, regional bias, favouritism and what not do we miss in these processes? The authorities concerned have been totally negligent of their duties to the players, sports and nation in general. They have been solely aimed at making their purse grow at the expense of the sports. A sportsman to get a job or an admission through the Sports quota must have considerable backup, money and his talent is least required for display. While not generalizing, this has been the situation prevailing in India predominantly.

Our national game of Hockey is perfect example of attrition in the organization. While we ruled the world in Hockey few decades ago, we are nowhere a force to reckon with now. The consistent blame games and hatred has led to the downfall of the National Sport. No wonder Hockey has very few takers today.
Coming to the female sportswomen, lesser said the better. It might not be much reported but there is no denying the fact that they are treated more shabbily. The advantage of their being weaker sex is well exploited. Sania Mirza was not wrong when she alleged the male chauvinistic attitude recently. The personal egos of established stars paved way for the losses in Tennis this time. The authorities instead of mending the situation played their part in deterioration.

At this juncture it has been a common habit to blame the one sport that thrives in India i.e Cricket as the reason for all the ills. The Indian Cricketing body is the strongest in the game right now and more often than not acts as a “Big Brother” and bully. BCCI holds the key of International Cricket and has its own share of controversies and scams. Neither are its Heads a saint nor is its functioning transparent.
Yet the Cricket board has achieved in its role of developing the game in India. From the time Kapil’s Devils piped the mighty West Indies in 1983, the game has been in an ascent. The advent of gentlemen legends like Tendulkar, Kumble and Dravid played a major role too. The team was built around the committed stars and the performance gained heights.

Meanwhile Dalmiya and his slew of successors hit the right spots in marketing the game. The game became a part of the national schedule with perfect marketing strategy. The commercialization of Cricket might have dented the soul of the game but the sport has evolved and reached the masses like anything.
If today a mediocre performer like Ravindra Jadeja or a Rahul Sharma enjoys a wealthier life than a proven star of other sport like a Vijay Kumar or a Sushil Kumar, the credit goes to the authorities at BCCI who marketed the game. The media has always been about sensations and hits; Cricket provides them a wonderful one.

Blaming the fans for being partial towards cricket is not always right. A common man will always go towards the best product and Cricket is the one sport in that bracket in India. Whose mistake is it that Mary Kom’s Bronze is highlighted lesser than India’s T20 selection? Can a fan be questioned on his sidelining? Frankly how many of us know the basics of boxing when compared to the batting average of Rohit Sharma?

The social condition in India is also not so conducive for the development of sports. We are still a nation known for our academic excellence. High proportion of Indian professionals in Multi National Corporate across the globe is a simple indication. A common parent will always love to see his ward being an academician rather than a sportsman, thanks to the socioeconomic conditions prevailing in India.
A sport like Chess has always been a game of elites and is still being one. Just recently is it expanding its horizons to involve the middle classes? Tennis also falls under this category. Whereas an athlete usually comes from the lower socioeconomic conditions predominantly faces much hurdles to even develop his own game, let alone make a living.

Here Cricketers had been nurtured by the public and media following the heels of proper marketing by the Board. An average cricketer today is assured of a decent living once he breaks through a First Division or First Class Level. The attitude of the Board has been left a lot to be desired in many fronts but BCCI had made sure that their game hogs the limelight and treated special.

One this very reason alone, we need to salute the BCCI. They have made sure there is alteast one sport where India holds the ace, where India dominates. Cricket is one sport where we can say with pride “We are World Champions” (Right now, are n’t we?). Our team may go through tumultuous period now, but India is the favoured destination for the professionals today. We have broken the barriers and have come atop. BCCI have won where most other Sporting bodies in India failed. Olympics may be a dream but let us feel happy for being World Champions in one game atleast. For this reason alone, Long Live the BCCI!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Committed to Competition - All Time Zimbabwe Test XI

The joy of watching an underdog in action is always unbound. The instances of David slaying Goliath have filled the rich history of Cricket from the early days of the game. The advent of Limited overs cricket made a remarkable turnaround in the so called “Upsets” where in the lesser fancied team manages to come on top of the favourite.

The perennially weaker sides are indeed a treat to watch since they more often than not act as banana skin to the stronger opponents. Among the ten test playing nations, one side that has possibly managed to compete if not win on a consistent basis is Zimbabwe. The African side was the ninth addition to the test playing nations and has a modest record. However a peep into their history for the first decade of their test history proves to be different.

The selection of All Time XIs for each team has mostly been an exercise limited to the Top 8 Test playing Nations. However the sides like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh do add a certain charm to the glorious game of cricket and they boast of their own set of fantastic cricketers. This is an attempt at picking an All Time Best XI for Zimbabwe side.

The side has been plagued by the long time dispute between the Government (Board) and the players who revolted against the situation prevailing in the nation. With the other nations stepping in, Zimbabwe withdrew from Test Cricket in 2005 only to return with a bang in 2011 winning the match against fellow underdog Bangladesh. The side is essentially packed with the stars that sizzled during its golden period of 1997 – 2001 when they had some class performers with high reputation in international cricket.
As one browses through the annals of the Zimbabwean cricketing history, he is likely to come across few players who ‘ld automatically walks into the XI. However the competition for rest of the places is quite intense. My XI would be a conventional one with 5 batsmen, 4 bowlers, 1 allrounder and 1 wicket keeper. Here is the squad:

Grant Flower
A predominantly middle order batsman, younger Flower was fixture in the side for almost a decade. Batting right handed, he had a temperament of steel and made some impressive scores in Test matches. Flower was an opener at the start of his career before shifting to the middle order. Given the paucity of quality openers in their history, he opens my XI. His debut innings against India and double century against Pakistan leading Zimbabwe to their first test win are just indications of his ability. He was a useful spinner and a classy fielder in the infield. He even made a comeback in 2010 to International cricket and had for long been a veteran in English county cricket.

Alistair Campbell
          The Southpaw Campbell is Zimbabwe’s successful skipper during their prime days in 1999. He led the side almost to the Semis of World Cup 1999. In Tests he was another middle order batsman but his few experiments at opening position had been stupendous making him another opener in my XI. Campbell was a powerful stroke maker and had a niche of elegance in his shots. He made two good centuries in Tests and has a terrific ODI record too.

Murray Goodwin
          Having spent his formative years in WACA, Perth, Goodwin managed to play few matches for Western Australia before migrating to his homeland. He soon became a top order batsman for the weak side giving lot of depth to the side’s line up at No 3. He was adept against pace and spin and his cuts and pulls oozed the Aussie flavour. Despite playing few matches he has a respectable average. His career was cut short by family issues but he still will have a place in the realms of Zimbabwean history for all his class and elegance.

Andy Flower
          The Man is in News for leading the English side to zenith of test nations as their wonderful coach. But senior Flower was no less a cricketer in his prime. During the turn of the millennium he was bracketed among the best batsmen in Cricket and for a brief period, he led the rankings too. He is the only man from his country to have a fifty plus average in test cricket. He was a quality wicketkeeper too. Flower was the best batsman from the nation and was the only one who could stand against any attack anywhere. Enough said; he will walk into any Zimbabwean XI as the first name.

Dave Houghton
          Zimbabwe’s first test captain, Houghton was a wicket keeper batsman of high quality who made a mark in their first test itself scoring a century on debut. He still holds the highest test innings by Zimbabwe batsman and led the side valorously in their formative years. He was destructive and defensive and could adapt to the situation quite brilliantly. He will lead my XI for his cricketing acumen despite not so impressive captaincy record.

Guy Whittall
          A true quality allrounder, Whittall was a man any skipper would love to have in his side. He was a middle order batsman with ability of clearing the ropes at will and could anchor the tail to add some respect to the total. His medium pace bowling was street smart and he had the knack of breaking partnerships. In the outfield he was athletic and could easily fill in the all rounder slot.

Tatenda Taibu
A pocket sized dynamite, Taibu replaced Flower behind the stumps so that the latter could concentrate on his batting. The man himself was not a pushover with the bat. He honestly led the side during their tumultuous period. Despite some awful performances and dispute with the Board, he still manages a respectful average in the Zimbabwean standards. He will don the gloves in my XI where he was decent in tests. His thunderous shots were a pleasure to watch given his short stature. He recently quit cricket for serving the religion but will hold a place in the hearts of the cricket lovers for his commitment and enthusiasm.

Heath Streak
          The only bowler of quality to be produced by the African nation was also their skipper before the dispute set in. Streak was accurate and wily with his pace and had some lovely cutters and nippers in his armoury. He stands tall among the Zimbabwean bowlers distancing him from the rest of the crop by miles. He had a lovely action and a good follow through. With Andy Flower, he will command the first name in the XI by any one. Notwithstanding his exploits with the ball, Streak was a more than useful lower order batsman and can be bracketed as an all rounder too.

Eddo Brandes
          Brandes was a veteran when Zimbabwe made their test debut. He learnt his trade in the bouncy South African pitches and had a wonderful out swinger to probe top quality batsmen. He might not enjoy an envious record as his successors but he led their attack in the infancy stages with big heart. But for his age and fragile body, Brandes could have ended up with bigger returns. Nevertheless he will be in my XI as the third seamer.

Ray Price
          In a career spanning a decade, Price is the best spinner produced by Zimbabwe inching ahead of equally good Paul Strang. He had the guile and accuracy of a conventional slow left arm spinner and was very tough to put away. Even when they were not playing Test matches, Price could leap to the top three of ODI bowling rankings. His economy was unbelievable and he could extract bounce from the pitches. His standout quality was his accuracy though. He will be the spinner in my XI.

Henry Olonga
          A man known for his curls and whirls, Olonga was a quality pacer with tearing pace. He could move the ball on both sides though he tends to be erratic many a times. Olonga formed a potent pair with Streak during the late nineties and early noughties giving quick breakthrough early in the innings. He later joined Andy Flower to rebel against the regime thanks to his honest humanity. He will open the bowling with Streak in my XI.

The squad looks decent if not threatening. They might not give their opponents a run for their money, but this XI can compete at the highest level on a consistent basis. A batting order that bats deep until No 9, few quality all rounders, 3 wicket keepers, a spinner of high quality and 4 pacers to stifle the opposition is as good a package as you can get.