Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"A Ton in Vain" made SENSE...

I simply could not believe the events that unfolded at Chepauk on Sunday (30th Dec 2012).  By the way, I still cannot believe what happened last time I was in Chepauk to watch an India – Pakistan (ODI) encounter. It was 1997. I should say I was lucky to have got the tickets. I was sitting in the stands alongside my friends. A jam packed stadium chanting “Gumthalakkadi gala gala gala… ooh aah ooh aah” was blowing away the roof top. By the way, none knew the meaning of this phrase.

The high octane crowd was all set to witness their home team thrash the archrivals. But then nobody knew that Saeed Anwar had other plans. Thanks to his cramps/injury that aided him a by-runner to take on the sweltering heat & humidity of the Special Chennai Summer (more than the Indian attack). In the end, he badly bruised the home team with a masterful 194 that still remain vivid in my eyes. Not to mention the three consecutive sixes he hammered Anil Kumble. In other words, Saeed Anwar simply executed the Indian attack this day. The real beauty was the quick turnaround of the crowd’s attitude. Rather booing for the home team’s failure, a wise crowd quickly started acknowledging Saeed Anwar’s mastery. For a moment, it appeared as though Pakistan was playing in Pakistan. Not to let down the fans, the home side fought brave (despite early exit of Tendulkar) in the mammoth chase of 327. Rahul Dravid essayed a beautiful 100 in the company of Vinod Kambli. Robin Singh tried his best to create some false hopes towards the end. Anyways, a fitting result for a fitting innings. And, the record stood tall for the highest individual score for more than a decade.

After 13 years, Chepauk produced yet another remarkable innings, in an India-Pakistan encounter. This time from the Indian camp. It was easily one of the best Captain’s knock (Dhoni innings too) that I’ve witnessed in some years of watching cricket. Tottering at 29/5, in walked M.S. Dhoni to play an innings totally out of character. May be, this has become his new character in the recent days. After all, the 99 he scored against England in the final Test came under similar circumstances with a similar structure. A very laborious start mostly in the survival mode, then raising hopes to live thru the day (and living up to it), managing useful partnerships with Raina and Ashwin, eventually launching himself to a blistering finish to score 113 that took India past 225. This surely goes a notch higher than the World Cup Finale. Unfortunately, a historical innings did not change the course. Pakistan remained victorious yet another time at Chepauk. For convenience I’m ignoring Tendulkar’s mastery. If you take that into account, then Pakistan prevails over India at Chepauk irrespective of the format. Oh yeah, they still need to play a T20 here for confirmation.

I’m able to observe some refreshing changes in Indian Cricket. Of the 4 T20’s and 1 ODI played in the recent days, the least 3 of them were played in lively tracks. The selectors showed the willingness to move forward by dropping Sehwag in the T20s. However, I was pleasantly surprised when Ravindra Jadeja was dropped for the last T20 and the first ODI against Pakistan. Usually that doesn’t happen, considering he got into the Test lineup, soon he was drafted into the squad. Again, I won’t be surprised if he comes in place of Rohit Sharma for the second ODI. It is a pity Rahane keeps warming the bench even in ODIs. It is a blessing in disguise that Tiwary got injured in domestic cricket. Otherwise he would have given him company in the perennial bench warmer list.

I would be personally delighted if India fields the following XI for the second ODI.

Sehwag/Gambir, Rahane, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Raina, Ashwin, Jadeja, B Kumar, Shami Ahmed, Ishanth Sharma/Dinda.

It would not be bad idea if Pujara is drafted into the ODI setup sooner than later.

Moving ahead, it is nice to see young Bhuvaneshwar Kumar shaping up good. Hopefully he will answer some of India’s bowling woes as they take on Aussies in the Test series. From the current crop I only see Umesh Yadav and Pragyan Ojha as the two bowlers who are ready to take their places in the lineup. Ashwin is clearly not in any league as Harbhajan Singh to be the lead spinner. However, Ashwin is decent enough to cement his place as a 5th bowler, in other words as a genuine all-rounder. If B Kumar can last the distance (all 8 ODI’s before the Test series) with good performances, he is good to cement his place in the side as the third bowler. This leaves one bowling spot vacant. From the looks of it, it appears, India will settle that spot to the leg spinner (Piyush Chawla). But, if they chose to go the seamer way (depending on the surface), that spot should go to Ishanth Sharma. It is a not bad idea to have a good look of Shami Ahmed (in the ODI’s) before deciding on Sharma. After all, Ishant Sharma never takes wickets. Not just identifying the bowling pool will resolve our miseries. It is important that the same set of bowlers play all the 4 test matches to get the rhythm/combination/chemistry going (like Panesar, Anderson and Swann played almost all test matches in tandem). It is a no brainer that Dhoni takes his spot as wicket keeper batsmen. Now what left to address is the batting setup. Pujara, Kohli and Tendulkar are sure shot to take their spots. That leaves the two openers place vulnerable. Gambir and Sehwag can break into side only by reputation and not by performances. May be it is time to drop one of them and blood Rahane. But to do that with authority, Rahane should play the reminder of ODI’s.

Rahane, Gambir/Sehwag, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Dhoni, Ashwin, B Kumar, Ojha, Chawla/Shami Ahmed/Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav

For now, the above would be my test line up for the Aussie series. Let’s see, if this goes a makeover during the course of the remaining ODI’s. Hopefully we would be able to boil down to our captaincy candidate by then.

Bottom line: Wishing you all a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year. May this New Year bring better fortune to Indian Cricket.

Cricket Lover

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