Category: _author:Arjit Dabas

India vs Australia: Five Key Battles That Coul…

Big things were expected from Virat Kohli’s team India when they started the year with an away series to South Africa. In a year which was expected to help establish India’s dominance as the world’s best Test side, it has been an all too familiar story for the team. India did manage to put up a fight in both South Africa and England, and one could argue that had small things gone their way, we could have had different results but as it stands, India lost the Test series 2-1 in South Africa and 4-1 in England.

Australia offers one final chance for redemption and it won’t be wrong to say India start as favourites Down Under – a place where they have not often had the best of results. Australia without Steve Smith and David Warner, have looked like a shadow of the side they used to be. The young guns haven’t exactly set the stage on fire and will be looking to give their fans something to cheer for in the upcoming four-match series.

With the Adelaide Test starting on Thursday, here’s a look at the five key-battles that could well decide the fate of the series.

Virat Kohli vs Mitchell Starc

Surely among the best batsman and best bowler at the world stage right now, this is the battle everyone is looking forward to. Kohli has been batting like a man possessed, scoring runs in England and South Africa. He has often fought lone battles for a brittle batting line-up. He will once again be pumped up to rewrite history for India but can expect a match-up in Starc, who will be equally looking forward to the series. The left-arm bowler will look to take the bowl away from Kohli and is also known to surprise the batsman with a superb yorker. Both are known to have mutual respect for each other, as they have spent time together at Royal Challengers Bangalore where Starc played under Kohli’s captaincy but be rest assured that friendships will be forgotten quickly once the battle resumes on field. Both players aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and it will be interesting to see if Starc or Kohli get involved in a war-of-words which will further add to this gladiatorial battle.

Cheteshwar Pujara vs Josh Hazlewood

If Starc vs Kohli promises to be gladiatorial, then Pujara vs Hazlewood will be one of pure grit and determination. Not often the players who get the most attention, but Hazlewood and Pujara are both vital pillars of the team. Pujara can grind teams out of the game, as Australia will know very well after they were on the receiving end of a Pujara masterclass in Jharkhand when the two teams previously met. Hazlewood as a bowler is more in the Glenn McGrath mould and can bowl long accurate spells, giving the batsman nothing to play with. The Indian openers aren’t in the best of form and that makes Pujara’s role all the more significant. Hazlewood has often had an upper hand over the Saurashtra batsman, dismissing him thrice, including twice in 2014 – when India last toured Australia.

Usman Khawaja vs Jasprit Bumrah

It has been a breakthrough year for both these players, especially in Test cricket. Bumrah had already established his credentials as a limited-overs specialist but many expected him to struggle in the longer formats. He has managed to pick 28 wickets in six Tests at an average of 25.57 and has emerged as Kohli’s go-to bowler. Khawaja meanwhile has finally lived up to the expectations, delivering for Australia at the top of the order. He was successful against Pakistan, being among the runs in challenging conditions and will back himself to rise to the occasion at home. Former captain Ricky Ponting has backed Khawaja to outscore Kohli, but he will have his task cutout against Bumrah, who he hasn’t faced often. As we have seen, batsman facing Bumrah for the first time have difficulty in picking him up. That is something Khawaja will have to be careful about.

Ajinkya Rahane vs Nathan Lyon

Lyon is likely to be the lone spinner for Australia but he enjoys a great record in Australian conditions and is an exception when it comes to off-spinners performing Down Under. He can be especially lethal on Day three and Day four pitches, thanks to his ability to extract spin from the rough. Rahane comes into the series with the spotlight firmly on him as he hasn’t been in the best of forms of late. Lyon also enjoys a fine record against the Indian, dismissing him six times, including thrice on India’s previous tour of Australia. But along with Kohli, Rahane will have some fine memories of the previous tour and will be itching to get back among the runs. With likes of Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari among others waiting in the wings, the tour might well be make-or-break for the Mumbai batsman. His struggles against spin are known and Australia will look to target him with Lyon.

Tim Paine vs Ravichandran Ashwin

Tim Paine has been given the unenviable job of getting Australia back from the doldrums and it hasn’t been the smoothest of sailings for him so far. He is yet to win a game but will be looking to set the record straight in home conditions. He will have the responsibility of being the anchor in an inexperienced middle-order and contribute with the bat. His task will be cut out though, especially in handling Ashwin, who will be looking to improve his record there. Ashwin has only managed to pick 21 wickets in six matches, at an average of 54.71 in Australia. After starting off well, his form fizzled out in England where he also suffered a hip injury. He will be looking to get his mojo back and also answer his critics, who feel he has been too inconsistent in foreign conditions for India.

India vs Australia: Will be Important to Bowl …

Sydney: India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has underlined the importance of bowling well in partnerships, considering it is tougher to run through the opposition in Australia than South Africa and England.

Ashwin said India got good bowling practice in the sole warm-up ahead of the first Test beginning December 6 at Adelaide. Cricket Australia XI finished day three on 356-6 with Ashwin taking 1-63 from 24 overs and Mohammed Shami picking 3-67 from 18 overs.

“You don’t turn up to Australia thinking wickets are going to seam or spin around. They are always going to be flat we know that. We cannot really complain and we have to put it behind us to try and go play some good cricket. Mostly the first innings are big scoring innings so we have to be aware to play some smart cricket through the series,” said Ashwin.

Looking forward to the series, Ashwin said bowling in partnerships will be of paramount importance, especially since India will be missing a fifth bowler in injured Hardik Pandya.

“You have to stitch together partnerships even when bowling and it’s very important to ascertain your role to get what you can out of the game. It obviously changes the dynamics for the captain when he goes out with one bowler less or one bowler more. But as a bowler personally it’s still the same for me.

"As a spinner it’s important to stick it out there in the first innings, if I get some help in the second innings then try to pitch in. That’s similar to how I came here last time, I had a very good series and that was one of the turning points in my career.”

Indian bowlers did well in England and South Africa but considering the nature of pitches, they are in a long haul.

“It’s more about getting your noses ahead in Australia. Every hour, the game can get away from you really fast in the field. We have some quality batsmen who can take the game away from them.

"It’s very important to soak together good partnerships as a bowling group then try and knock them over. You won’t blow oppositions away it might happen once in a while but you have to get your noses ahead and keep it ahead,” he said.

On his the bowling effort in the practice game, Ashwin said: “I thought the wicket was pretty flat. Initially we conceded a few runs with the new ball and then we realized what lengths we had to bowl and what sort of fields we need to keep.

"In practice matches, you are looking to get something out of it for yourself, and as a bowling group, when you go out there on the park. I think we got pretty much what we wanted to get out of it.

"I thought the ball came out pretty well (off my hand). I haven’t played an international game for a while so it felt good the way it came out. In the next 4-5 days I will prep up a bit more for the game,” he said.

Proceedings on Friday were overshadowed by an ankle injury suffered by young Prithvi Shaw, who landed awkwardly on his left leg whilst fielding early in the morning session, and has subsequently been ruled out of the first Test in Adelaide.

“He is feeling a bit sore and it has swollen up a little bit. Sad that it happened the first time he came out on the field. I hope he recovers fast. He has not spoken much. It has hit him pretty hard. He is a young boy who has come to play in Australia for the first time and had a dream start to his Test career, so this has hit him pretty hard.

"It’s unfortunate what’s happened, but these things happen. You must have heard these cliches before, but these things do happen and it’s an opportunity for someone else. I believe everything happens for a reason, said Ashwin.

Indian bowlers pulled back things in the second session when Shami and Umesh Yadav (1-81 in 22 overs) performed better with the older ball. Ishant Sharma (0-57) too bowled 16 overs.

The off-spinner will be in direct competition with Australia’s Nathan Lyon. Ashwin said the duo cannot replicate each other’s styles but will hope for an interesting duel with his counterpart.

"I also watch his videos. We started our Test careers at the same time so obviously mutual admiration is there. He has done well over the last couple years and he is bowling well. The ball is coming out well off his hand. What can I learn? Probably drop the ball at the right spots and probably as the series goes on look forward to a good competition.

He did not comment on the troubles in the Australian camp, and refused to acknowledge that India are the favourites going into this series.

"There are a lot of headaches when you play international cricket, personally and for the teams you are part of, so it makes no sense to try and get your heads into another dressing room. That’s for them to mind their own cricket and it’s important that when you go out there you compete really hard, make sure you are sticking to your plans and strengths,” Ashwin said.

“The whole talk about India starting favourites, even when Australia came to India they were talking us up, and it looks like more of a strategy for us. I personally think you have to go one day at a time. It’s never easy to come over to Australia and win series.

"In the Ashes they almost whitewashed England, knocked them over, and so as far as I’m concerned they are starting favourites. It’s very important for us to chip away every single day, every single ball, and if we can get our noses ahead, stay ahead, he signed off.

Leading Ranji Run-Scoring Charts, Milind Kumar…

261, 224, 133 and 61.

679 runs in three matches.

An astonishing average of 169.75.

To say, Milind Kumar has had a dream start to the Ranji season wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

During the course of his third consecutive triple figure score, against Uttarakhand in Bhubaneswar, there was a chance that the 27-year old would become the first man in history to score three consecutive First-Class double hundreds. However, records and numbers don’t dominate Milind’s thought process.

It has been a tumultuous year – Milind lost his mother and the Delhi selectors overlooked him. So, just being on the field and doing what he loves – batting – is a source of immense satisfaction.

“I was initially on stand-by for the Delhi ODI team for the first three matches,” Milind tells CricketNext. “Selectors told me I wasn’t batting well in the nets and wasn’t concentrating well enough, they told me they wanted to try out other players. I kept on waiting but the opportunity never arrived, then the call came from Sikkim about the team wanting professional players. I had a word with them and said yes.”

The move to Sikkim was a bold one, considering cricket is only taking baby steps there after the Lodha reforms mandated the inclusion of North-East states in domestic competitions. Milind admits to being initially shocked when he first came upon the practice facilities and grounds. He is also aware of the cynicism surrounding his run-scoring feats, considering Sikkim plays in the plate group where most teams have ordinary bowling attacks.

“All the teams have professional players, even if these bowling attacks aren’t the best but still it isn’t easy to score runs after coming in to bat at 15/5 (Milind scored 261 against Manipur after coming in to bat with his side at 15/5). You still require immense skills to pull your team out of such situations,” he says.

Milind broke onto the domestic scene five years ago, scoring an unbeaten 78 against a touring England side as Delhi chased down 295 to register victory. Shikhar Dhawan scored 110 in the same game. Young Milind’s composure and ability to handle quality pace bowling left observers impressed.

Now, his focus is squarely on just piling on the runs. He isn’t targeting goals such as breaking into the India A side or an IPL contract and neither is he thinking of a return to Delhi on the basis of the strong showing for Sikkim. As a senior professional in a young, fledgling set-up, he is relishing the responsibility of mentoring and guiding his fellow players.

“I just want to keep playing and scoring runs, I am not thinking about IPL or any other teams,” he insists. “As far as going back to Delhi is concerned, I don’t know. Right now, I am playing for Sikkim and I am enjoying that.

“I am enjoying the role of a senior player in the team, there are some good players in the side but the only difference is match temperament. Most of the players haven’t played 4-day or 5-day cricket but they will only get better with more match experience.”

EXCLUSIVE | Experience Important but Form Will…

Although he won’t be part of the South African squad at the World Cup in 2019, having announced his retirement earlier this year, AB de Villiers is convinced that the Proteas can leave years of disappointment behind and win the title. Speaking to CricketNext, de Villiers was of the view that the crucial factor to ensure success in the tournament will be the form of the batsmen.

“I think the Proteas are looking good for the World Cup,” he said. “They have had a great series win against Australia, India and England are the other two teams that I feel have a good shot at the title. The bowlers look exceptional but we will be needing in-form batsmen to travel to England.”

The 34-year old’s decision to call time on his career came as a big surprise and left a big hole in the South African middle order. While there has been speculation on and off that de Villiers could be persuaded to reconsider his decision, he insists that no such move is on the cards, saying his focus now is on spending time with his family after a decade-long playing career.

“I am extremely happy, I feel a lot of happiness in my heart and that’s important,” he said. “My relationships with my wife, my kids, my parents, my brothers are the most important things in my life & that’s exceptionally well in the last few years. So, I am a very happy man.”

However, de Villiers hasn’t walked away entirely from cricket. He will continue to play in T20 competitions around the world including the IPL and is currently involved in the newly launched Mzansi Super League in South Africa. He is in fact captain of the Tshwane Spartans and scored with a half-century on Friday night in the tournament opener, though his team was beaten handily by Cape Town Blitz.

The tournament runs for the next month and de Villiers believes it will be a bonanza for South African fans. However, he dismissed fears that with a surfeit of T20 leagues coming up in different parts world, international cricket will lose its lustre, pointing to the extent of high-profile cricket action on offer to fans over the next few months.

“I am excited, the Mzansi Super League at Home,” he said. “It’s great that our home tournament is taking off & I am very proud of it.

"There are so many good players around the world playing in this tournament. Everyone (team) is looking good. Proteas are coming back. That will up the skill of the tournament as well. I believe it will help South African cricket development and give youngsters incredible exposure to play with some of the world superstars.

"Starting from the MSL till the end of the World Cup in 2019, there will be eight to nine months or almost 300 days of exciting cricket, which includes over 25 Test matches, ODIs & T20Is, involving all the top sides in the world. Leagues will only expose more talents to the global level. It will hopefully make the game healthier.”

‘More Comfortable Bowling with Red Ball’ — Rap…

The India A team in New Zealand has a few members such as batsmen Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane who will be eager to find some form ahead of the Test series in Australia and others such as Prithvi Shaw, eager to build on the bright start he’s had on the big stage. Among these more high-profile players is an eager, young recruit – Delhi fast bowler Navdeep Saini, who has made some rapid strides in recent years and is now knocking on the doors of national selection.

Only five years ago, Saini had never held a cricket ball in his hand. He was playing a tennis ball tournament in Karnal where Delhi veteran Sumit Narwal happened to be watching. Saini was delivering yorkers at will with none of the batsmen being able to get him away for runs.

Narwal got so excited by what he saw, he immediately rang up his state captain Gautam Gambhir to tell him about the bowler. Gambhir called the youngster for a net session with the Delhi team and that’s when, at the age of 21, Saini held the red ball in his hand for the first time.

It has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride for Saini since, who was almost left out of the Delhi squad for being an outsider. It was only after Gambhir’s insistence and a run-in with the selectors, that Saini found himself in the team.

Navdeep Saini in action. (Instagram/Saini)

Saini’s stock has seen a rapid rise in the last year. He has already been a part of the India A team and also got his maiden India call-up after he was included in the Test squad to face Afghanistan in June.

“I feel I know a lot more about my bowling now,” Saini tells Cricketnext. “I enjoy bowling with the red ball. Though I have picked wickets in limited overs cricket as well but I feel more comfortable bowling with the red ball.”

Being around the Indian dressing room and sharing space with the likes of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni among others has given Saini a taste of what it takes to make it at the international level.

"One thing I have noticed about Virat bhai is that his intensity never drops,” he says. “Even if he comes out for a net session or is in the gym, he gives his 110%. I have to do the same. My goal (of representing India) is near but I cannot let my intensity drop.”

That is also the advice he has received from his mentor Gambhir, who had told him soon after watching him bowl that if he continues working hard, an India call-up won’t be far away. The 25-year-old is now on the cusp of fulfilling that prophecy and this assignment with the India A squad to New Zealand has him all excited at the opportunity to play in conditions that that aid his style of bowling.

“I have had a word with a couple of seniors, I will look to pitch the ball up and get it to swing. Key will be to take early wickets,” he says.

He followed a similar formula while playing for Delhi last year, picking 34 wickets in 8 matches to help his side reach the final. But a disappointing performance against Vidarbha meant Delhi could not lift their eighth title. It is something that still hurts Saini and he hopes to correct it in the coming season.

“I think we got a bit complacent in the final, we had beaten good teams to reach the final and got a bit overconfident,” he admits. “But this time we will have to keep our intensity up and give 100% in all our matches.”

Fast, Eager & Skilled – U19 Star Shivam Mavi S…

Running in full speed. Hurling the ball at 145 kilometres an hour. Pitching the ball up. And seeing it move just enough to send the off-stump for a cartwheel.

This is the stuff dreams are made of for any fast bowler. And it was no different for 19-year-old Shivam Mavi.

Nine wickets in six games at an incredible average of 18.88 at the U-19 World Cup at the start of the year – which India won – propelled the teenager to a 3.2 crore IPL contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders. Among those left mighty impressed were the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Ian Bishop, who observed him operate at the U-19 World Cup from the commentary box.

Mavi was thrown straight into the deep end as the death bowler for the Knight Riders but he soon discovered, cricket at the top level was a completely different ball game.

The same 145 kmph deliveries, which were resulting in stumps going for cartwheels, were now going faster off the bat and into the stands.

In nine matches, Mavi picked five wickets at an average of 54 and an economy rate of 9.64.

“The thinking (at senior level) is very different,” Mavi tells CricketNext. “At age group level, if you bowl at 145 kmph, half your job is already done as batsman struggle to play the pace. But at the senior level, it’s important to mix things up, you need to vary your pace against experienced players otherwise you will leak runs. The line and length is also very important.”

Mavi also learnt quickly that being a fast bowler in India isn’t really a dream job, as it is spinners who call the shots more often than not.

"You get slow and flat wickets in India, nothing really happens from the pitch,” he says. “In New Zealand for example, if you don’t get swing then there is at least bounce in the pitch. But these are the things you have to adjust to as a bowler.”

A big plus for Mavi during the IPL was the opportunity to work with some of the sharpest minds in the game such as South African great Jacques Kallis, who is the head coach at KKR and his assistant, Australian Simon Katich. He also recalled a session with Dinesh Karthik and Abhishek Nayar before the IPL, where he did specialised training on bowling at the death.

“I bowled with the wet ball,” he said. “They asked me what I am comfortable with and accordingly made me bowl in the right areas so that it gets ingrained in my muscle memory.”

The results have started to show. At the recent Vijay Hazare trophy, Mavi picked up a hat-trick as well as a five-for his state team Uttar Pradesh.

Grinding it out in domestic cricket after you have experienced the high of winning a World Cup and played in front of capacity crowds in the IPL is a completely different experience and Mavi admits that the challenge is unlike any he has faced so far.

“Honestly, domestic cricket is tougher than playing for India A or in the IPL,” he says. “Batsmen play shots unexpectedly; the preparation is also less as you don’t get videos for all the players. In IPL and India A, you know everyone’s strength and weaknesses. In domestic cricket, you have to analyse as you play.”

His initial steps in the game have been encouraging but Mavi isn’t taking anything for granted. He relishes every opportunity to interact with Rahul Dravid, who has been closely working with him since age-group level.

“He (Dravid) told me that the key difference at this level is the ability to handle pressure and execute plans, we have to bowl as much as possible on a batsman’s weakness,” Mavi says.

For now, Mavi is focused on the immediate challenge – his impending Ranji Trophy debut. He knows he will have to grind it out on dustbowls at empty stadiums while playing for Uttar Pradesh. However, one thing is for certain – the men who matter in Indian cricket will be watching very closely.

India Report Card: Shaw, Pant & Umesh Get Perf…

It was a two-match Test series which got over in just six days with Windies failing to show any kind of fight against a strong Indian team, who bounced back in style after a series loss in England. But as skipper Virat Kohli summed it up himself in the presentation – the result of the series was along expected lines – as India are usually a formidable opposition at home.

The team did blood in a few youngsters with teenager Prithvi Shaw all but sealing the opening spot for the Australia series. Umesh Yadav’s performance showed that India’s pace bowling reserves seem to be in fine health going ahead.

Here’s Cricketnext report card of all the Indian players who featured in the series:

1. Prithvi Shaw – Rating: 10; Verdict: Excellent

Matches 2 | Runs 237 | Average 118.50

It was a dream debut for Shaw, who was also named man-of-the-series for his performances at the top of the order. India seem to have moved on from Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay in Test cricket and it seems Shaw has secured one of the opening slots. Coach Ravi Shastri saw glimpses of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara in the 18-year-old. Shaw looked like he belonged to the big stage and his range of shots left everyone impressed. He scored a ton on debut in Rajkot and followed it up with an impressive 70 in Hyderabad. The signs so far have been excellent but tougher challenges lie ahead for him.

2. KL Rahul – Rating: 3; Verdict: Poor

Matches 2 | Runs 37 | Average 18.50

The curious case of KL Rahul continued for team India as the opener continued his go big or go home approach. A century in the final Test at Oval against England made everyone believe that Rahul was back at his best but his problems against the incoming deliveries continued to haunt him. His tendency to shuffle across made him a candidate for lbw and bowled. It is something he will have to sort out before the Australia tour otherwise his struggles might continue. The good thing is that he has got the backing of the team management and is likely to be the preferred choice as opener for at least the first couple of Tests but if he struggles again, India might well be forced to look past him for a long-term solution for the opening slot.

3. Cheteshwar Pujara – Rating: 7; Verdict: Good

Matches 2 | Runs 96 | Average 48.00

Pujara might well be cussing himself for missing a ton in the first game at Rajkot, where he was dismissed for 86. But the positive thing for India was the fact that he scored quickly and freely. In the second Test, he was dismissed for 10 after he edged one to the keeper but it wasn’t a dismissal he would lose his sleep over. Impressive performances in England have restored Pujara’s confidence and he might be hitting the form at the right time ahead of the big tour Down Under.

4. Virat Kohli – Rating 8; Verdict: Very Good

Matches 2 | Runs 184 | Average 92.00

Another series, another century for the captain. Kohli continued to be the ton machine as he hit his 24th Test hundred in Rajkot but this time it was a more of a  grinding knock as he took his time and made the Windies bowlers sweat it out. It seemed as if Kohli wanted to spend more time at the crease as he looked to play a long innings in the Rajkot Test. His captaincy also was spot on though he wasn’t really put under the pump by the visitors. Kohli will now be looking to continue his form going into the ODI series.

5. Ajinkya Rahane – Rating: 8; Verdict: Very Good

Matches 2 | Runs 121 | Average 60.50

The series came at a perfect time as far as Rahane is concerned but whether he has roared back into form is still a question and we will only find the answer to it in Australia. For now, his performances have been solid enough to seal him a spot in the team for the big tour. A patchy 42 in the first match which ended in a soft dismissal as he edged one to the keeper followed by a more assuring 92 in the second Test would have surely helped Rahane get back some confidence. His knock was important in the Hyderabad Test as India had lost wickets in a heap and he built a solid partnership with young Rishabh Pant to guide India out of the woods. Rahane’s body language though still didn’t look as assured as it usually does and he looks like someone who needs backing from the team management. The Test series in Australia is likely to be an important one as far as his career is concerned.

6. Rishabh Pant – Rating: 10; Verdict: Excellent

Matches 2 | Runs 184 | Average 92.00

One of the biggest positives for India in the series was the performance of Pant – both behind the stumps and with the bat. His aggressive style is known to everyone and he displayed it in Rajkot but the innings in Hyderabad, where the team was in a bit of trouble will be more reassuring for the fans and team management. Pant took his time and tackled the short ball well. He looked assured behind the stumps after a couple of nightmare outings in England. He still remains a work in progress but if Pant continues to improve his graph, India might well be looking at a solid wicket-keeper batsman for the next decade in all formats.

7. Ravindra Jadeja – Rating: 9; Verdict: Excellent

Matches 2 | Runs 100 |Wickets 7

Jadeja’s bowling performance was not a surprise at all given how consistent he usually is in Indian conditions but it was the runs he scored while batting which will please the team management. The all-rounder scored his maiden Test ton in Rajkot which was nothing less than what he deserved. Given Ashwin’s disappointing performances overseas, Jadeja might also stake a claim in the side as the No. 1 spinner who can score handy runs down the order. He can also grind it out if required and is more than capable of batting with the tail.

8. Ravichandran Ashwin – Rating: 7; Verdict: Good

Matches 2 | Wickets 9

Again Ashwin didn’t have much to do in the series and was reliable as usual. Windies batsmen didn’t have much idea on how to tackle the carrom ball and the off-spinner managed to pick nine wickets in the series, including a best of 6/108. He also scored a valuable 35 with the bat in first innings in Hyderabad, which helped India take a handy first innings lead. But even Ashwin will admit, that this series was an easy day at work for the ace spinner.

9. Kuldeep Yadav – Rating: 7; Verdict: Good

Matches 2 | Wickets 10

Kuldeep can be a difficult bowler to pick if you haven’t played him before and Windies found that out in a tough way as they struggled against the left-arm wrist-spinner. He registered his career best figures of 6/119 in the Rajkot Test and the series will also help him gain some valuable red-ball experience. He is likely to stay in the squad but looks highly unlikely to displace either Jadeja or Ashwin as the No. 1 spinner in the Test team.

10. Umesh Yadav – Rating: 10; Verdict: Excellent

Matches 2 | Wickets 11

It’s not often that you see a fast bowler emerge as the highest wicket-taker in a series in India but Umesh managed to do that as he bowled with pace and got the ball to swing. He disturbed the furniture quite a few times and the fact that he only played one Test in England shows just how deep India’s fast bowling reserves run at the moment. His performances will give the team management a good headache going into Australia and if needed, India can go in with a five-man pace attack. If not, Umesh will certainly be hoping that his performance here will merit him a spot in the playing XI down under.

11. Mohammad Shami – Rating: 7; Verdict: Good

Matches 1 | Wickets 2

The fast bowler played only one game and bowled a total of 12 overs in the match. He was impressive with the new ball in the first innings in Rajkot, as he picked up two early wickets to turn the momentum in India’s favour. He was rightly rested in the second game for Shardul Thakur – but an unfortunate injury to Thakur meant he could bowl only 10 balls in the match

*Rating chart: Very poor 0-1, Poor 2-4, Average 5-6, Good 7, Very good 8-9, Excellent 10.

From Sleeping in Tents to Starring in Asia Cup…

India’s triumph at the U-19 Asia Cup was built in no small measure by opening batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal. Not only did Jaiswal top score in the final, making a composed 85 to set the platform for India’s big score, he was consistent throughout the tournament, with 318 runs at an average of 79.50.

Jaiswal has been making waves since breaking into the U-19 squad, and his has been a journey of great sacrifice and hard work, that has enabled him to accomplish his dream of wearing an Indian jersey.

“All he ever wanted to do was play cricket, you couldn’t take the bat out of his hand even if you wanted. When he was ten, he shifted to Mumbai to live with his uncle,” says mother Kanchan Jaiswal, a housewife. His father Bhupendra Jaiswal owns a small hardware shop in his local village Bhadohi.

Young Yasahasvi was in for a rude shock when he first came to Mumbai. Travelling every day from Dadar to Azaad Maidan meant he could hardly concentrate on cricket as the time on the road took a heavy toll. That’s when he decided to shift base and started living in a dairy at Kalbadevi, where he promised menial help in return for accommodation. But with cricket sapping out most of his energy, Jaiswal could hardly contribute and one day came back to see his luggage thrown out of the room.

With nowhere to go, he found a benefactor in Imran from the Muslim United club. Imran offered him a tent to stay in at Azaad Maidaan, allowing a dream to take shape before it was shattered.

“We told him to come back but he said that he will return to the village only when he comes a player, he was happy to stay in the tent,” says his mother. “Main maidaan mein hi rahuga toh sab kuch aasan hoga, subah uthte hi mere saamne cricket hota hai, (If I Stay at the ground then everything will be easy, as soon as I wake up I see cricket in front of me) he used to tell me.”

However, Yashasvi was making halting progress at best as he struggled to get any recognition, until local coach Jwala Singh spotted him in the nets.

“I was just standing behind one of the nets and it was a tricky wicket to bat on,” recalls Singh. “All batsmen were struggling but when Yashasvi came in, he started hitting the ball cleanly. I was really impressed and immediately talked to him.”

The left-hander talked to Singh and told him that he was on the verge of quitting cricket because of lack of opportunities.

“I wanted to help him because his story was very similar to mine, even I came from UP to Mumbai to play cricket so I know the kind of struggle he faced. He was living in a tent and staying with the groundsmen & local gardeners. I told him that I will provide you with everything and will take you under my wing,” says Singh.

Jaiswal soon moved and started staying with Singh. “When we started training, one thing I realised was that he was very scared. He was scared of failure and getting out early. In fact, he refused to play Shield matches until I talked and assured him that I will back you, no matter what. It (Mental) was an aspect I worked on personally,” adds Singh.

Jaiswal went onto play the famous Haris Shield and soon found himself in the Limca Book of Records after scoring an unbeaten 319 and registering bowling figures of 13/99 – a record for most runs and wickets in a school cricket match.

“He has scored 52 centuries and has more than 200 wickets, I don’t think I have seen anyone with such an incredible record,” says Singh.

Almost like a second father, Singh was also given the power of attorney by Jaiswal’s parents where they made him his guardian and also the man responsible for all the decisions. Soon, the southpaw was announced in the Mumbai U-16 squad before making it to the India U-19 team. This, though, is only the beginning and Singh – who has also coached Prithvi Shaw – says he wants to see his pupil play for India.

“I am 100% sure he has what it takes to play for India,” says Singh. “It is important that he keeps on working hard and forgets his previous achievements. You have to think one step at a time and results will follow, he needs to work on his fitness and carry on with the work he has been doing. Mental strength is also important and that is something which differentiates a good player from an excellent one, my hope is that after such performances in the Asia Cup, he will be selected for Mumbai in the upcoming Ranji season.”

The U-19 Asia Cup is a significant milestone for this impressive young man, who has already shown that he has the gumption to beat long odds. Yashasvi Jaiswal is a name you will surely hear more often in the near future.

On Cusp of India Debut, Prithvi Shaw All Set t…

At 18 years & 328 days, Prithvi Shaw won’t even be among the top-10 youngest players to make their Test debut for India when he steps out in Rajkot on Thursday. However, few players in recent memory have captured the imagination quite like the Mumbai teenager. Identified as a prodigious talent from a very young age, Shaw was earmarked for big things by none other than the great Sachin Tendulkar.

A friend urged Tendulkar, already an international superstar when Prithvi started to take his first steps in the game, to watch an eight-year old bat in the nets. In very little time, Tendulkar made a bold prediction.

“Ten years ago, one of my friends asked me to take a look at a young Prithvi,” Tendulkar said in a live interaction with fans on his app 100MB when Shaw was first selected in the Indian squad for the final two Tests in England. “He asked me analyse his game and see if there anything he could work on. I had a session with him and gave couple of pointers on how to improve his game. I told my friend later that he is going to go on and play for India.

“I asked him not change his grip or stance, irrespective of any future instructions from his coaches. If anyone asks him to do so, tell them to come talk to me. Coaching is good, but overcooking a player with tweaks is not.”

Tendulkar’s wasn’t the first keen eye to observe that young Prithvi was a cut above other cricketers his age. In fact, when he was called up to England, an eight-year-old tweet by veteran Mumbai-based cricket journalist Makarand Waingankar started making the rounds. In a remarkably prescient post, Waingankar observed on 18 May, 2010 to “watch out” for a 10-year old boy called Prithvi Shaw who was “dealing in hundreds and double hundreds”, signing off by calling him an “Amazing kid”.

Over the last few years, young Prithvi’s rapid rise through the ranks has been one of the more incredible stories in Indian cricket. The 14-year-old who smashed 546 runs off 330 balls in Harris Shield – a then record score in organised cricket – has gone on to lead India to an Under-19 World Cup title and making runs by the bucketful for Mumbai in First-Class cricket and for India ‘A’.

Prithvi’s guide and mentor through this time has been his father Pankaj. Ever since Prithvi lost his mother at the age of 4, Shaw Sr. has played a key role in shaping Prithvi’s career. He shut his business down to focus on his young son’s cricket, dropping and picking him every day from the academy – the Middle Income Group Cricket club (MIG). This meant a daily travel of more than three hours daily to reach the ground at 7 am.

“I am extremely happy, I had no such expectations,” Pankaj told CricketNext after news of Prithvi’s selection for the tour of England had filtered through. “I haven’t been able to had a word with him as I was out last night and came back a bit late but he doesn’t need my advice now, he is a grown up. He has been playing well and I hope he continues playing the same way.

“I would like to thank all the coaches who have worked with Prithvi over the years and also many people who have prayed for his success. I want them to keep praying for Prithvi.”

Already, Prithvi has quite a few remarkable feats to his name. He became the second youngest player – after Tendulkar – to score a century for Mumbai, achieving the feat on his Ranji debut at the age of 17. In his first seven first class games, he scored five centuries and already has 1418 runs in 14 first class matches at a remarkable average of 56.72. He has also shown the same level of consistency for India ‘A’, making centuries at home and also in England – aggregating 603 runs in 10 innings.

After captaining the Indian U-19 team to the World Cup title in February, Prithvi made quite a splash when introduced to the top of the order by the struggling Delhi Daredevils on his IPL debut, making 245 runs in 9 innings at a strike rate in excess of 150. Pravin Amre, who was one of the coaches for the Daredevils and is known to have a keen eye for talent, fully endorsed the decision to include Prithvi in the Test team, saying it would be a great learning experience for the young star.

“He (Prithvi) was always a special talent, everyone in Mumbai circuits admired him from a very young age and his records speak for himself,” Amre told CricketNext. “Test call-up is always a special moment for any player. I think he will do well in the format.

“I am sure the selectors and the team management must have had a word with him, he will learn a lot in the Indian dressing room. It is difficult to straightaway walk into this Indian team, selectors have given him a chance to settle down. He will have to justify his selection by performing if the chance arrives, he will have to work even harder now and get better.”

“Working hard” has never been a problem for Prithvi. Just ask Pankaj. His young son is on the verge of making Sachin Tendulkar’s prophecy come true.

Saw Eight-year Old Prithvi Shaw and Knew He Wo…

An eight-year old tweet by veteran Mumbai-based cricket journalist Makarand Waingankar was making the rounds on social media on Wednesday. In a remarkably prescient post, Waingankar observed on 18 May, 2010 to “watch out” for a 10-year old boy called Prithvi Shaw who was “dealing in hundreds and double hundreds”, signing off by calling him an “Amazing kid”.

That “Amazing Kid” is now within touching distance of earning an India cap. Over the last few years, young Prithvi’s rapid rise through the ranks has been one of the more incredible stories in Indian cricket. The 14-year-old who smashed 546 runs off 330 balls in Harris Shield – a then record score in organised cricket – has gone on to lead India to an Under-19 World Cup title and making runs by the bucketful for Mumbai in First-Class cricket and for India ‘A’.

Waingankar wasn’t the only one in Mumbai circles to notice Prithvi’s prodigious talent. Sachin Tendulkar, already an international superstar when Prithvi started to take his first steps in the game, recalled watching him as an eight-year old on the recommendation of a friend.

“Ten years ago, one of my friends asked me to take a look at a young Prithvi,” Tendulkar said in a live interaction with fans on his app 100MB. “He asked me analyse his game and see if there anything he could work on. I had a session with him and gave couple of pointers on how to improve his game. I told my friend later that he is going to go on and play for India.“

“I asked him not change his grip or stance, irrespective of any future instructions from his coaches. If anyone asks him to do so, tell them to come talk to me. Coaching is good, but overcooking a player with tweaks is not.”

Prithvi’s guide and mentor through this time has been his father Pankaj. Ever since Prithvi lost his mother at the age of 4, Shaw Sr. has played a key role in shaping Prithvi’s career. He shut his business down to focus on his young son’s cricket, dropping and picking him every day from the academy – the Middle Income Group Cricket club (MIG). This meant a daily travel of more than three hours daily to reach the ground at 7 am.

A file photo of Prithvi Shaw with father Pankaj. (Twitter/ Prithvi Shaw)

“I am extremely happy, I had no such expectations,” Pankaj told CricketNext after news of Prithvi’s selection filtered through. “I haven’t been able to had a word with him as I was out last night and came back a bit late but he doesn’t need my advice now, he is a grown up. He has been playing well and I hope he continues playing the same way.”

“I would like to thank all the coaches who have worked with Prithvi over the years and also many people who have prayed for his success. I want them to keep praying for Prithvi.”

Already, Prithvi has quite a few remarkable feats to his name. He became the second youngest player – after Tendulkar – to score a century for Mumbai, achieving the feat on his Ranji debut at the age of 17. In his first seven first class games, he scored five centuries and already has 1418 runs in 14 first class matches at a remarkable average of 56.72. He has also shown the same level of consistency for India ‘A’, making centuries at home and also in England – aggregating 603 runs in 10 innings.

After captaining the Indian U-19 team to the World Cup title in February, Prithvi made quite a splash when introduced to the top of the order by the struggling Delhi Daredevils on his IPL debut, making 245 runs in 9 innings at a strike rate in excess of 150. Pravin Amre, who was one of the coaches for the Daredevils and is known to have a keen eye for talent, fully endorsed the decision to include Prithvi in the Test team, saying it would be a great learning experience for the young star.

“He (Prithvi) was always a special talent, everyone in Mumbai circuits admired him from a very young age and his records speak for himself,” Amre told CricketNext. “Test call-up is always a special moment for any player. I think he will do well in the format.“

“I am sure the selectors and the team management must have had a word with him, he will learn a lot in the Indian dressing room. It is difficult to straight away walk into this Indian team, selectors have given him a chance to settle down. He will have to justify his selection by performing if the chance arrives, he will have to work even harder now and get better.” “Working hard” has never been a problem for Prithvi. Just ask Pankaj. His young son is on the verge of making Sachin Tendulkar’s prophecy come true.