Indian test squad for the tour to Sri Lanka

The Indian team for the test series in Sri Lank has been announced! There are no real surprises after the ODI captain and wicket keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted out of this tour due to the need for some good rest.

The inclusion of Pragyan Ojha and Rohit Sharma into the test squad is the right move. Both of them definitely have shown much more maturity than their age demand and have been professional in their approaches. Ojha could also use this opportunity to play with an experienced spin legend like Anil Kumble. Rohit Sharma, I feel, has nothing more to learn to qualify for the test team but just need to learn to stay at the crease a little longer.

Yuvraj Singh’s omission is a very good message to youngsters that ‘performing in patches’ will not help anybody to be part of the test team. I always thought Yuvi doesn’t have what it takes to play test matches and extremely low on temperament to play longer. He is a poor player against spin bowling and Sri Lanka has some great spinners around right now.

In the pace bowling department, I thought Manpreet Gony could have been given a chance ahead of Munaf Patel as the latter has the history of getting injured or loosing confidence half way through test series, more often than not. Gony is a better batsman and fielder as well. Probably, the selectors are over worried about the fact that Sreesanth is not available for this tour to open along with Zaheer and Ishant Sharma has been looking a little bit different of late as compared to his form in Australia last year. The decision not to consider Irfan Pathan for the sub-continent wickets sounds reasonable as well.

Now that the team is selected, the team think-tank needs to do a couple of things to get the results right and also to nurture the youngsters for the future. As a basic rule probably they should allow only three out of the big five (Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Sehwag) to play in any match together. Otherwise, the youngsters will not get any chance to perform along with the experienced ones. I hope that Gary Kirsten and Anil Kumble will give some thought to plan towards the future. Also the big six (with Kumble) should realize that time has come for them to rotate and slowly retire over a period of one to one and half years.

Dhoni opts out
Dhoni’s decision to opt out of this test series sounds more like a ‘forced’ supporting act to his statements earlier in the press. While players definitely need some break and probably have rotation policy what they have to cut down is the number of one-dayers and Twenty 20 matches. Hope he gets some good rest and greater number of endorsements during his much needed break from test matches. Or is it a silent protest against the selectors for not considering him for the test captaincy of an aging team?

Home tigers roar again!

The third and final test between India and South Africa will be remembered for all wrong reasons. Due to IPL hype, most players mind was already with the Twenty20 format. But what hurt the true fans the most was the under-prepared pitch in Kanpur. In fact, after seeing the match I recalled the similar experience cricket fans (and the touring team) had after the final test match in Mumbai when Australia toured India in 2004.

In both cases, the home team was trailing the series and had to save their faces. The easiest way to do that is to prepare a dust bowl or an uneven pitch that has no bounce on which our bajjis and bondas will thrive – and they did exactly that this time around as well.

South Africans getting all out for 120 in the second innings tell the story. The case was even worse with Australians in 2004 where they could score only 90 odd runs chasing a mere 107. In both cases, the ‘turbanator’ fetched India the win, which probably even he himself would not like to take credit for.

What I don’t understand is the mindset of people behind such decisions in order to win a match at any cost. During Ganguly’s captaincy there has been reports that he had almost always influenced the curators of grounds in India to prepare pitches that match the team composition. While other teams must be doing the same thing, they never ever came out with unplayable pitches.

If this situation continues, top teams around the world will be touring India only to make advertisement revenue and not with the intention of doing any good to test cricket. I guess, BCCI doesn’t want to do anything about test pitches as they are busy cashing in One-dayers and Twenty20s and the business is running pretty well already.

The brainless think-tank!

We are just a couple of weeks into India’s latest encounter down under. A cricket series in Australia is always something that the fans look forward to due to a couple of facts. First of all, we get to see it only once in four years – so it is something as important as the Olympic games! Secondly, it is a beauty to watch and feel professional test cricket at its highest levels with lively pitches, fans, cricket governing bodies and media playing their own roles to perfection – and sometimes beyond – to make it a mega event. Personally, watching test matches, in which Australia participates, gives me more satisfaction than watching matches involving any other competitive teams. India’s last outing in Australia during 2003-04 has been thrilling for the outcome that we all are proud of but the current series is already turning out to be disappointing due to improper planning.

This series was hyped to be the best chance to beat Australia in its own den as it is probably the last Australian tour for India’s ‘strong’ and prolific middle order men as well as their best bowler ever, Anil Kumble, who happens to be captaining the side as well. However, having talent on paper or executing the same in subcontinent pitches and other favourable conditions alone is not sufficient for tours abroad, especially in Australia.

The Indian cricket board missed a trick or two during the Pakistan tour to India itself. If India genuinely wanted to perform in Australia, they should have scheduled at least couple of test matches in good test cricket pitches like Mohali or Chennai. By not doing so, they managed to escape from Shoaib Akhtar & co and won against Pakistan but miserably failing in Australia. As they arrived late in Australia this time and the lone practice match was disturbed by rain, the preparation at home had to be better.

The next mistake was the team selection and continuing experiments with the batting order. If they had any plan to include (surprise!) Virender Sehwag in the squad he should have been given a chance in at least one test match against Pakistan. Sehwag though not in great form gives some headache to the opposition even though his stay at crease may be shorter. Against Australia, one needs to be mentally prepared and try to offend and attack rather than playing defensive game like Dravid did in the first innings of the first test in Melbourne. If not Sehwag, for sure Dinesh Karthik should have been opening with Wasim Jaffer. Karthik has been a revelation during the series in England and South Africa. It is really surprising that the team think tank decided not to play him due to his couple of failures in dead pitches in India. Ideally he could have played the role that Akash Chopra played in the last series in Australia. On the other hand, the Indian team management decided to sacrifice the stability and composition of the team by not picking the right openers only to include some flat pitch heroes or ODI/Twenty 20 specialists in the batting lineup. To begin a series with positive frame of mind, India had to really attack. The bowlers did it very well but batsmen spoilt all those great efforts. The problem is not really with the batsmen but the roles they are assigned to play. This failure will definitely affect the rest of the test series as well as the performance in the ODIs. For example, Yuvaraj Singh should have been maintained only for ODIs and his failures in tests will also reflect in his approach to the ODI series.

The untimely statements of the selection committee chairman had created a lot of chaos for the players in the past. It is not his job to comment in the press and put players under pressure. I guess, players like Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif, Saurav Ganguly, Dinesh Karthik and now Rahul Dravid are the victims of this wrong statements of expectation. The under-pressure players then react by playing defensive games and targeting individual achievements rather than playing for the team’s cause.

As I mentioned just a while back, having a positive frame of mind is very important to play Australia. Having restricted Australia to less than 350 runs and more importantly getting them all out in less than a day (How often does it happen?), India’s reply was too negative in nature. Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer didn’t make any attempt to rule the Aussies. Another important thing was that probably the in form Ganguly probably should have batted at No. 4. Tendulkar’s attitude in the second innings is always questionable. While chasing huge scores and if couple of wickets are already down he has this ‘why should I waste my time and energy, anyway we are going to loose’ attitude. Another problem is the fielding ethics by the Indians. Even Australia has many players in their mid thirtys but their commitment is far better than that of the Indians. For example, Indians easily allow the opposition to convert their ones to twos and twos to threes. Australians always keep the batsmen under pressure by charging in or by a sudden pick, turn and throw. The bad running between the wicktes have been another example of defensive cricket by the Indians.

If India has to win at least one match in this series, they need to get their basics right from the selection itself. First they needs to pick their best openers and then three or four middle order batsmen followed by a wicket keeper. Depending on the nature of pitch three seamers plus one spinner or two seamers plus two spinners can be picked. It is even worth trying a combination of two openers, three middle order men, one wicket keeper batsman, three seamers (off which one is an all rounder) and two spinners. Ones they get the team composition right, they can plan and pace the game better. This will also reassure and remind each and every person in the team about their roles.

As a long-term step, the BCCI has to really change their mindset to save the Indian cricket from test matches point of view. At the moment, BCCI is more like running a money making business rather than governing a sports body. Due to this attitude, they are concentrating on categories that fetch in money and hence more focus on one day cricket, telecast rights etc. If they are truly worried about the future of Indian cricket, they need to do a few things like providing world class pitches in India, improving domestic itinerary and format, introducing new talent search program, coming up with fair selection policies, forming succession planning etc. It’s a fact that India’s top four batsmen and bowler will retire from international cricket in less than two years time and who are going to fill in there?

At the moment, as a short term goal, we can only hope for a better team composition and better mindsets from the players in the upcoming test matches in Australia. Wishing the Indian cricket all the very best for this new year and their very first match of the year being played in Sydney!