Category: cricket

Series Loss in England, So What? Only a Fool W…

New Delhi: Plenty has been written about India’s series loss to England, both on mainstream and social media. From the issue of not having a stable number 4, to Kuldeep Yadav being “found out”, to Dhoni’s presence in the squad. A lot has been said, more will be surely, but a lot remains unsaid and unexplored.

My take – the 1-2 series loss will have absolutely no bearing on the 2019 World Cup.

For starters, a three-game series played in mid to late July will hold little similarity to a World Cup being played between early June through to mid-July. Seasonally, England is different. Weather conditions and as a direct result pitch conditions in early June and late July are like chalk and cheese, if recent history is anything to go by.

Then there is the small matter of a World Cup with its own unique pressures. Teams that may look like a million dollars in the lead up may not necessarily adjust to the hurly burly of the World Cup campaign.

Also consider India’s track record in ICC tournaments. Remember, this is a team that failed to reach the final in the triangular that preceded the 2015 World Cup but then had an unbeaten run till the semifinals. This after spending close to 4 months in the lead up in Australia.

Let’s delve a bit deeper. This is India’s schedule for the World Cup:

5 June South Africa v India (Southampton)

9 June Australia v India (The Oval)

13 June New Zealand v India (Trent Bridge)

16 June Pakistan v India (Old Trafford)

22 June Afghanistan v India (Southampton)

27 June West Indies v India (Old Trafford)

30 June England v India (Edgbaston)

2 July Bangladesh v India (Edgbaston)

6 July Sri Lanka v India (Headingley)

Lords, the scene of the first ODI defeat to England, does not even feature in this itinerary, so is not a factor till the finals. India won at Trent Bridge on a canter and lost by as much at Headingley. One can take an extreme view or be more pragmatic about player selection and form and form more informed opinions.

Then there is the strength of schedule – based upon current ICC rankings, India play (in order) – #3, #6, #4, #5, #10, #9, #1, #7 and #8.

Win 6 of the 9, and the semifinals beckons. Win 7, and the semifinals is a certainty. Making allowance for rain and other sundry factors, even a 50% winning record gives the outside chance of a semifinals. And from that point onwards, it is a lottery.

Also consider, the lead-up to the World Cup, where India plays around 25 odd games, and this is not considering the warm-up matches ahead of the World Cup proper.

Asia Cup – 5 (potentially 6)

Vs West Indies – 5

Vs Australia – 3

Vs New Zealand – 5

Vs Australia – 5

Vs Zimbabwe – 3

Ideally, the core of the team should be ready by the time India complete the tour of Australia. That gives the team management and the selectors another 13-14 games to tinker around with team selection and arrive at a settled batting order.

Starting with the tour of New Zealand, the squad of 15 (16,17?) should pretty much pick itself. That gives the team an extended run of 13-15 ODIs to sort itself out, with batting and bowling slots penned down, and the substitutes aware of their role in the scheme of things.

For me, MS Dhoni is an integral part of India’s World Cup campaign. Between his experience of playing over 300 ODIs, the skill behind the stumps, and the tactical acumen he brings to the side, there is no argument about his place in the side. Barring injury or retirement, his selection should be a no brainer.

India has been experimenting with batsmen who double up as bits and pieces bowlers, giving Virat Kohli some latitude with his bowling changes. India have tried Kedar Jadhav, Suresh Raina, and at times, Yuvraj Singh in that role. While this works more often than not in India, England in June may be a different kettle of fish. If it is a spinning option that needs to be tried out, India could do well to punt on Ashwin in that role. Consider a batting lineup that reads:

Rohit Sharma

Shikhar Dhawan

KL Rahul

Virat Kohli

R Ashwin

MS Dhoni

Hardik Pandya

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar

Jasprit Bumrah

Kuldeep Yadav

Yuzavendra Chahal

In that order, is not the worst team India put out in the park. Plus, there are a multitude of options for both batting as well as bowling, form withstanding.

A team that won nine ODI series on the trot does not become bad overnight after losing one series. And losing to the #1 ODI side in their backyard is not the end of the world. Disappointing yes, but that’s only because this Indian team has raised the level of expectation that high.

It will be a brave man (or a fool) who discounts the #2 ODI side in the world from being a contender, and a strong one at that, for the 2019 World Cup.

(The author grew up obsessing about cricket and hasn’t overcome that obsession in his middle age. He fancies himself as an armchair critic and tweets @HomerOpines)

Cricket South Africa Commemorates Mandela Day …

Cricket comes together to commemorate the revolutionary anti-apartheid leader.

July 18 is Nelson Mandela Day, and people around the world have been doing their bit to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the birth of one of South Africa’s most pioneering figures.

Staff from CSA, as well as Proteas cricketers and players from the Central Gauteng Lions linked up to give back to the community on a momentous day for the nation. They donned aprons and gloves and got busy packing up donated items to hand over to students of Entuthukweni Primary School, in Kagiso.

“We are proud to participate in events and donate to causes the community and our people are passionate about,” said CSA Chief Executive, Thabang Moroe.

“I think it’s important for us as South Africans to celebrate Mandela Day, and certainly for us at Cricket South Africa this is one of the days where we join hands with our community at large.“

Nelson Mandela’s profound impact on the people and country of South Africa will never be forgotten, and his influence as South African President between 1994 and 1999 and a revolutionary anti-apartheid figure will always be prevalent in South African and world history.

Faf du Plessis and the South Africa squad were in Colombo ahead of their second Test against Sri Lanka commencing on Friday July 20, and they took time out of their preparation period to show their respects during a ceremony at the Independence Memorial in Colombo.

The squad posed for pictures with local school children as they remembered the iconic individual, Mandela, on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Joe Root Embarrassed After Introducing ‘Mic-dr…

New Delhi: Joe Root may have introduced cricket to the mic-drop, but the England Test captain is already regretting it. “It’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve done,” he says.

Root put behind a poor start to the series against India – he managed scores of 0, 9 and 3 in the two T20Is and the first ODI – before turning it around at Lord’s in the second ODI with 113*. He backed that up with another century in the final ODI in Leeds as England won the series 2-1.

At Headingley, Root celebrated his century by dropping his bat – the bat drop, like stand-up comedians and musicians do the mic-drop.

The move immediately went viral on social media, where it was well received, but Root is copping a lot of flak from his team-mates.

“It was something that I immediately regretted,” said Root. “I’ve not heard the end of it, it was literally the most embarrassing thing I’ve done on a cricket field.

“I don’t think it will be the last I hear of it from the group – they’ve been hammering me.”

Despite that, England will be buoyed by Root’s return to form, ahead of the five-match Test series starting on 1 August.

Root was dismissed by Kuldeep Yadav, India’s left-arm wrist-spinner, twice in three matches, with the Englishman struggling to pick the bowler.

However, Root had him figured out at Lord’s, and that bodes well for England, given Yadav was included in the India’s squad for the first three Tests.

“I looked at the three balls I faced and got out to – one thing that’s very easy to do is over-analyse things, over-think things,“ said Root. “I felt like I was picking him (Yadav) fine and when you look at it for what it actually was, both games my movements weren’t quick enough and I wasn’t getting close enough to the ball, either going forward or back.

“The best players of spin in the world, their footwork is always sharp and when that contact point is there, you’re as still as possible.”

The 2-1 series victory justified England’s place at the top of the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Rankings, but Root urged the Test side to follow the example of their ODI unit.

“It’s something we are trying really hard to replicate within the Test team,” Root said. “Hopefully over time, and it’s not something that will happen overnight, we’ll see big improvements long-term within the group.

“It’s about putting the hard yards in and doing that extra bit of work and sometimes doing the stuff that doesn’t always make you feel good but ultimately will make you a better player.”

Keshav Maharaj Wants to Learn the Tricks of th…

New Delhi: South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj is looking to gain insight on how to prosper in spin-friendly conditions ahead of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo, citing fellow left-arm spinner and opponent Rangana Herath as a good example of how to succeed in the subcontinent.

After a wicketless first innings in Galle, Maharaj acknowledged that he has plenty of learning to do, despite becoming more accustomed to conditions as the match wore on, notching figures of 4/58 in the second innings despite his side falling to a crushing 278-run defeat. This is his first tour of the subcontinent since making his South Africa debut in 2016, and having missed the two warm-up matches due to injury, he plans to hone his lengths to get the best out of the Sri Lankan pitches.

“Everywhere you go in the world you want to be consistent in your lengths to cause the batter to be uncomfortable when you are bowling,” he explained. “That is something I had to pick up quickly after the first innings where I didn’t have a lot of rhythm. I found that in the second innings I put the ball in better areas than I did in the first innings.

Mahraj’s left-arm spin counterpart, Herath, has racked up a phenomenal 423 wickets in his 93 Test matches, and he holds the kind of consistency, at the age of 40, that Mahraj seeks to emulate.

“His consistency is phenomenal,” he said of Herath. “Left-arm spinners are known to control the game but he does something special. He turns the ball at will, he slides the ball on at will, it is something that I would love to learn in my trade and I will try to get some knowledge from him going forward.

“I spoke to him when Sri Lanka toured South Africa last year and he gave me some insight, I would like to pick his brain more about playing in sub-continent conditions. He is the best in the world at what he does.”

Proteas spinner Tabraiz Shamsi partnered Maharaj in the first Test defeat. Maharaj admitted that bowling in tandem with another twirler was not something he was used to at the top level.

“Shamsi and I played a bit of domestic cricket together,” he said. “We’ve always known each other and what we are about, we enjoy bowling together. It is something new for me because I have never bowled with another spinner at international level, but it is a lot of fun.”

Maharaj insists the belief and motivation remains high in the camp, despite the slow start to the series.

“We have come here as underdogs. Sri Lanka are really good in their conditions, they showed that when they beat Australia here as well. There is everything to play for, South Africans are known to bounce back when we do lose our first match. The boys have worked hard, we are ready to give Sri Lanka a go in their conditions.”

CoA-approved BCCI Domestic Schedule Gets Red F…

New Delhi: The formatting of the 2018-19 domestic season of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has not gone down well with certain quarters in the board. The plan, chalked out by GM Cricket Operations Saba Karim and approved by the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) has been shown the red flag by both the technical committee as well as the tours and fixtures committee.

The problem as far as technical committee chief Sourav Ganguly is concerned is in the structuring of the coveted Ranji Trophy that shall see a total of 153 games to be played in the league stages and seven games in the knock-out stages.

While Ganguly is happy with the new teams coming in, he has made it clear that he wasn’t consulted before releasing the schedule and that there were some other decisions taken in the technical committee meeting. He also clarified that he doesn’t see the national selectors giving too much importance to the plate division performances.

Throwing further light on the issue, treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry told CricketNext that the idea of promotions and relegations as laid out in the current model wasn’t how it was discussed in the technical committee meet in Kolkata.

“I have always advocated for the North East states to field their full teams when they participate, this is obviously subject to availability of facilities, logistics etc. However, in the context of these fixtures that you are asking me, all I will say at this stage is that these fixtures do not reflect the decisions taken in the technical committee chaired by Sourav Ganguly and personally, I am somewhat skeptical of the effect that this format would have, especially from the point of view of promotions and relegations in this form,” he said.

With 9 new teams being introduced into the system — Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim and Uttarakhand — through the plate division, 5 teams from Group A and B, 2 teams from Group C and 1 team from plate will qualify for the quarter-finals.

The top team that qualifies from the plate will be promoted to Group C in the next season. Top two teams qualifying from Group C for the quarters will be elevated to Group A or B. The bottom two teams from Group A and B will be relegated to Group C. Bottom team from Group C will be relegated to plate for the next season.

Speaking to CricketNext, a member of the tours and fixtures committee also showed surprise in the roadmap that has been chalked out for this season and approved by the CoA.

“This came as a surprise because you have to realise that if you don’t give the plate teams enough time to get ready for the level of competition that is witnessed in the Ranji Trophy and just draft the top team into the knockout stage, you might see their confidence taking a beating because the big boys of the league have been playing for years.

“Also, if the suggestions of the committees don’t mean anything, then why are you wasting time and energy of a legend like Ganguly? You have to understand that overlooking the point of the former India skipper is disrespecting not just the man, but also the committee which has other players with valuable cricketing knowledge,” he said.

R Ashwin Wants India to Respond to Match Situa…

New Delhi: It is all about responding to the situations that are thrown at us, said Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s premier Test spinner, ahead of the five-Test series in England.

The Test series starts on August 1 at Edgbaston, and Ashwin has said that he hopes to emerge from the series an improved player, with an added layer of skill sets.

When India last toured England in 2014, the inexperienced side were defeated 3-1 in the five-match Test series, and though the visitors bounced back to win the one-day internationals by the same margin, the impression that prevailed was that India’s batsmen couldn’t cope with the moving ball in England’s seaming conditions.

So it is that there are plenty of records for the No.1-ranked Test side to set straight this time around when the teams lock horns.

Ashwin, No.5 in the ICC Test Player Rankings for bowlers, played only two Tests in the 2014 series and picked up just three wickets. All of them in the second innings at The Oval.

However, he has since focused on acclimatising to English conditions, and had a stint with Worcestershire in 2017 when he picked up 20 wickets in just four matches, at an average of 29.15 and an economy rate of 3.16. He also averaged 42.80 with the bat.

His love for England is all too evident. “I know England really well,” he said. “It’s a lovely place and I enjoy going to England. I look forward to going there and enjoying playing cricket there.”

Ashwin, 31, has a decent record with both bat and ball against England on the whole, with 45 wickets and 655 runs in 11 Tests. There has been talk of him returning to Worcestershire ahead of the upcoming series too.

“You don’t get so many opportunities to do that in the current, very jigsaw-puzzled schedule that international cricket has,” Ashwin pointed out. “But for me, it is all about going there, understanding situations and trying to react to different situations.

“I want to try and use all my experience over the years that I have played Test cricket for, and make it for the best use, make sure that I give my best there, and come out as another cricketer who has learned as much as it is possible to learn from other tours.”

The upcoming series is already being billed as the biggest test for the No.1 Test side.

India came away from their recent tour of South Africa with heads held high despite losing the three-match Test series 2-1. That was largely because of their triumph in the final Test in Johannesburg, and especially because it came on minefield of a pitch.

India followed that up with 5-1 and 2-1 victories in the one-day internationals and Twenty20 Internationals respectively, all of which gives cause for Ashwin to be confident.

"We know we are a good team. It is all about responding to the situations that are thrown at us,” he said. “Sometimes I feel we overcook ourselves, overprepare ourselves. It is very important to stay in the moment and react to it.

“What also will be crucial is how well we adapt and acclimatise earlier on in the series. But once we do, that it is all about responding to the situations and having that belief that you can retaliate at any point of time. In long Test series we are going to commit mistakes, and likewise, we are going to expect the opposition to commit mistakes.”

However, on Tuesday, 17 July, India lost the ODI series to England 2-1, although they did secure the T20I series by the same margin earlier in the tour.

They will now play a four-day warm-up match against Essex from 25 July before the Test series.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar Headed to NCA for Rehab, BCC…

New Delhi: The Bhuvneshwar Kumar injury issue is going from bad to worse. While the BCCI said on Wednesday that his ‘aggravated’ lower-back injury would be further assessed before taking a call on his participation in the first three Tests against England, CricketNext has reliably learnt that he is headed home and will have to undergo rehab at the National Cricket Academy before being considered for the remaining two games. The fourth Test against England starts on August 30.

The whole idea to have him play the third ODI despite having a back injury has raised questions on the role of Indian team physio Patrick Farhart and trainer Shankar Basu. With the duo already being questioned by some sections within the BCCI on how and why the Yo-Yo test should be considered the benchmark for national selection, the news of Kumar needing to head back home further worsens the situation.

Kumar had an issue with his back from the start of the IPL and as a result had to skip quite a few games in the T20 league. In fact, he was also rested for the Afghanistan Test as the selectors wanted him to come back fresh for the England series. But the recovery didn’t go as per plan and as a result, he was asked to rest for the shorter format games — T20Is and ODIs.

In a surprise move though, batting coach Sanjay Bangar announced on the eve of the third ODI that he would play if he passes the fitness test. While not much is known of the test and its result, Kumar played the game and aggravated the bad back. A senior BCCI official made it clear that the team management had some answering to do in this regard.

“Please go and ask Ravi Shastri that question. The moment we are saying he has aggravated his injury, we are conceding that he wasn’t fully fit. So if he is a vital cog in our Test match scheme of things, why was he risked for an ODI.

"If you look at IPL, Bhuvi missed five out of 17 games for Sunrisers. The BCCI had asked the franchise to look after his workload management. Then he was rested for Afghanistan Test so that he gets time to recover for UK tour. But it seems something is amiss and that’s quite baffling,” the official said.

The official further questioned as to how did Kumar pass the Yo-Yo test if he was carrying a niggle when he boarded the flight to UK.

“If despite being given rest during the third T20 and the first two ODIs, he wasn’t hundred percent fit, then why was he allowed to play? Secondly, did Farhart report before the third ODI that playing him would be risking his injury? There are some questions that the team management needs to answer,” he said.

(With inputs from PTI)

Dhoni is Going Nowhere, He Just Wanted to Show…

New Delhi: The cricketing world went into a tizzy with video grabs showing former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking the match ball from the umpire at the end of the third ODI against England at Headingley on Tuesday. With players generally taking the ball only after an impressive show, people started wondering if this was the end of the road for the Man with the Midas touch and whether he would call it a day.

But chief coach Ravi Shastri has dismissed the speculations and said that the idea was to show the ball to bowling coach Bharat Arun and get a fair idea of the conditions.

“MS wanted to show the ball to Bharat Arun. He wanted to show him the wear and tear the ball had endured, to get a general idea of what the conditions were like,” Shastri told TOI.

The coach in his typical style said that MSD was here to stay and there was no question of him retiring. “That’s rubbish. MS is not going anywhere,” Shastri confirmed.

While pundits have been critical of Dhoni’s diminishing skills as a finisher, Shastri said that the old warhorse was still an asset considering what he brings to the table.

“But right now, all this clamour is nonsense. He just wanted to show the ball to Arun to just have a look at it after close to 45 overs had been bowled,” he said.

Bangladesh Appoint McKenzie as Batting Consult…

Dhaka: Former South Africa international Neil McKenzie was appointed the Bangladesh batting consultant until next year’s ICC World Cup in England and Wales, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) announced on Wednesday.

McKenzie was earlier scheduled to join the team on July 7 but according to BCB chief executive Nizamuddin Chowdhury, he will now team up with the squad in the West Indies on July 22.

The 42-year-old, who represented South Africa in 124 matches, will take over from former Sri Lanka batsman Thilan Samaraweera.

“We are expecting his arrival on July 22,” Chowdhury was quoted as saying by cricbuzz.

“We have appointed him until the next ICC World Cup. We are confident that his vast experience will help our team, and our batsmen in particular,” he added.

Bangladesh will be keenly looking forward to working with him on an immediate basis especially after their recent failures in the just concluded two-match Test series against the West Indies.

The visitors lost both the Tests inside three days and it was largely due to the failure of their batsmen to apply in testing conditions.

Sri Lanka Seeks ‘Clear Rules’ on Ball-tamperin…

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s sports minister called on the International Cricket Council to establish “simple, clear rules” Wednesday after skipper Dinesh Chandimal was punished for ball tampering.

“Laws governing the offence / act of altering the condition of the ball are somewhat vague and lack clarity,” Faiszer Musthapha said in a statement.

“I invite the ICC to revisit the applicable laws and ensure that a set of simple, clear and certain rules and procedures are put in place.”

He did not elaborate but the statement came after Chandimal, coach Chandika Hathurusingha and manager Asanka Gurusinha were sanctioned following a tampering scandal.

Chandimal refused to take the field for two hours on the third day of the second Test against the West Indies last month after he was accused of ball tampering on the previous day.

Chandimal as well as Hathurusingha and Gurusinha were banned for two Tests and four one-day internationals for violating the spirit of the game by holding up the second Test against West Indies by two hours.

At the start of the first Test against a touring South African team last week, Chandimal and his tourist counterpart Faf du Plessis said they wanted a list of do’s and don’ts from the ICC match referee.

Although the use of saliva or sweat to shine the ball is an accepted practice, using any other substance – such as sugary residue from sweets – is prohibited.

Chandimal was slapped with a 100 percent fine of his match fees and banned from the third Test against the West Indies last month after he was found guilty of tampering.

Match referee Javagal Srinath said Chandimal applied saliva containing the residue of something he had in his mouth to the ball, in violation of the ICC Code of Conduct.

The ICC last week unveiled tougher sanctions for ball tampering and sledging in a bid to improve on-field behaviour in the sport.

The changes came in the wake of a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March that saw Steve Smith stripped of the Australian captaincy and suspended from international and domestic cricket for a year. His teammates David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were also banned.

Du Plessis said tougher sanctions would make players think twice before putting something in their mouth and then using saliva to shine the ball.