Caught in a time warp: Actual and potential similarities between 1992 and 2015 World Cups

A few days back, after witnessing Tom Cruise die and come to life approximately a zillion times in the 2014 sci-fi thriller, Edge of Tomorrow, on DVDmy idiot box redirected me to one of the countless re-runs of the history of the World Cup (WC) on a popular sports channel, which was broadcasting Pakistan’s mercurial triumph in the 1992 WC.

With my brain still tuned in to the time-warp, our evergreen loverboy-turned-action-hero found himself in; I could not help but wonder about some of the coincidences, some actual, some potential, between the events playing out in that game-changing edition of the tournament, and the one we are about to immerse ourselves in, about a week from now.

While there may not be any threat from rampaging aliens in the near future (in spite of what conspiracy theorists claim), we do stand the risk of a 23-year old de-ja-vu, which on second thought, may not be the worst thing to happen, given the wonderful entertainment which was on show during that unforgettable event.

Stating the obvious

Before I hear the very deserving snickers and snorts of contempt, let me issue the disclaimer that, being a fan of Ravi Shastri’s commentary since my childhood days, and more recently, MS Dhoni’s customary ‘Well, obviously’,whenever the microphone is pointed in his direction, I have no shame in stating the obvious, which is, the venue itself.

Only for the second time in the history of the most coveted limited overs tournament in cricket will the action play out on the popular cricketing shores Down Under, a privilege mostly hogged by England and the Indian sub-continent.

For everyone cricket-aware back in 1992, the literal translation of deja vu (‘already seen’ in French, for the uninitiated) may hold more water in this case than the thrilling associations made by Hollywood blockbusters and bestsellers over the years, though the excitement factor could be just as high, if not more.

Expectedly, the smattering of day-night matches in the 1992 edition has been revised into an almost mirror-image as far as day matches are concerned (10 D/N matches in 1992 v/s 12 D matches in 2015), to satisfy commercial interests as well as current viewer synchronization, and I will miss the groggy-eyed mornings when a 10-year old explored a domain, highly attractive but relatively unknown, in a manner not too different from a teenager walking down the mysterious but alluring corridor of their first love.

Face-Off: The England-New Zealand switch hit

My movie hangover is back with a vengeance, because the Face-Off I refer to is not what is commonly associated with sporting events, but the 1997 Nicholas Cage-John Travolta starrer (Bollywood fans may associate better with the 2001 Amitabh Bachchan-Manoj Bajpai thriller Aks). Bear with me as I attempt to correlate.

The Kiwis’ amazing flight in the 1992 WC is well documented, but a slightly lesser known fact is that they were whitewashed by the Englishmen, at home, in both Tests and ODIs, just days before the tournament kick-started. In an era where bilateral ODI series were limited, this must have been devastating for New Zealand, even as England glided into the event as a well-oiled machine psyched for success.

Back in the present, on current form, or the lack of it, England stake claim to the ‘least favourites’ crown among the Big 8; India’s recent surge poses a genuine threat, but England’s consistency over the past year gives them the edge.

New Zealand, on the other hand, are coming off one of their most successful years in international cricket, across all formats, and given the red-hot form they currently find themselves in, are one of the most exciting teams to watch out for in this edition.

In other words, both these teams are shrouded in the pre-’92 WC avatar of the other. If this Face-Off lasts the distance, the Kiwis would finally break into an elusive WC final, and England will literally shock the world with their innovativeness.

Captains Royale

Majestic captains. Most WCs had one, incidentally from the winning team – Clive Lloyd (1975 and 1979), Kapil Dev (1983), Allan Border (1987), Arjuna Ranatunga (1996), Steve Waugh (1999) and MS Dhoni (2011). (Ricky Ponting’s credits get shared with the majestic team he had at his disposal during the 2003 and 2007 editions).

The 1992 tournament, however, had two – Martin Crowe the Innovator and Imran Khan the Street Fighter. Both carried their respective teams into the business end of the tournament, albeit with varying strategies, before meeting in an epic ‘Rumble in Auckland’ semi-final, where the Street Fighter downed an injured Innovator before ascending to the throne.

New Zealand look certain to tick that box yet again in 2015. After a few tournaments under solid but sedate captains like Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori, the Kiwis finally have an aggressive skipper in Brendon McCullum. He commands the team’s respect, and given the stunning turnaround the Kiwis are displaying under him, the man from Otago is, in my opinion, the strongest candidate for the Majestic Captain crown for this edition.

In addition, my gut feeling says that, in a parallel with 1992, this edition will see not one, but two great captains display their wares. Craning my neck a little, if not sticking it out entirely, I pick AB de Villiers to be the second captain – the Immovable Object which meets the Unstoppable Force (The Dark Knight,anyone?), as far as captaincy battles go.

In his first opportunity to lead the Proteas at the highest stage, the near-superhuman Pretorian should be able to translate some of his unconventional batting skills into innovative captaincy, which might see South Africa finally ridding itself of the Albatross it has been carrying around for years.

Pakistan captains 

Like any researcher worth his salt, I Googled ‘similarities between the 1992 and 2015 World Cup’ before embarking on this article, and found the first few pages dedicated entirely to this query, but in Pakistan’s context. Article after article, with a strong hint of ‘sharing and caring’, all of which focused on similarities between the Pakistan squad of 1992 and 2015, kept popping up.

While I leave considerations of authenticity of these articles on the wise shoulders of curious readers, I would have to admit that a couple of coincidences were indeed interesting. The obvious one is, of course, the fact that while Imran, Pakistan’s enigmatic skipper in 1992, was touching 40, the country’s current captain Misbah-ul-Haq already cleared that milestone last year; an achievement in itself, given the current clamour for exuberance of youth over steadfastness of experience.

Borrowing from James Bond’s vocabulary, if that’s happenstance, both men hailing from Mianwali make it a coincidence. Thankfully, an ‘enemy-action’ scenario need not arise, with their captaincy styles as different as chalk and cheese. While it looks improbable that Misbah can inspire his men to motivational levels in the vicinity of those achieved by Imran, the inherently mercurial Pakistan team can never be written off.

If only the 1992 WC can repeat itself….  

I have steered clear of parallels which have surfaced in every WC post 1992 – like Australia and South Africa almost always starting as favourites, or the latter being unable to realize the full potential of exceptionally talented squads due to a heady cocktail of choking, mind-freeze and just plain bad luck, or the customary minnow upset.

Even with these usual suspects knocked off, the 2015 tournament bears more than a passing resemblance to the pioneering 1992 edition, which, according to the Guardian, in an opinion I strongly endorse, was the best WC of them all, barring a rainy hiccup.

With a sequel to one of my all-time favourite movies set to release shortly after WC 2015, I cannot resist interjecting a ludicrous tribute to conclude – had the beautiful crystal 1992 trophy, while disappearing from public view aloft the broad shoulders of Imran, mouthed incoherently, “I’ll be bakk(sic)”,  (a phrase first used by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s villainous Terminator in the franchise’s first instalment in 1984, and deployed subsequently in all sequels and several other movies of the Austrian-born hulk), then WC 2015 is undoubtedly the best stage to fulfil that promise, and if realized, we are definitely going to be in for a helluva lot of entertainment.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda:

Dhoni reinforces my prediction on four-specialist bowlers strategy: SOS Yuvraj beckons

Just a few days back, I had endorsed the strategy of playing just four specialist bowlers in a bid to bolster Indian cricket’s original strength, i.e. batting. Today, after yet another embarrassing defeat against England in the Tri-series, which kept India winless and knocked them out of the tournament, skipper MS Dhoni echoed these very sentiments at the post-match press conference. (ESPNCricinfo: Dhoni hints at four-bowler strategy for World Cup). The idea, while irrelevant as far as the Tri-series tournament is concerned, may still fit into the category of ‘better late than never’ in the context of the all important World Cup, and comes with its own share of challenges.

Dhoni has almost quoted me by appointing Stuart Binny as the unofficial replacement for the struggling Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and with Ishant Sharma’s knee troubles, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav appear to be frontline choices for partnering Binny. I would pick Akshar Patel over Ravindra Jadeja as the single specialist spinner in the team, but knowing Dhoni’s fascination for Sir, we’ll just have to wait and watch how that selection pans out.

Which brings me back to the point I highlighted in my previous post – we can talk all we want about strengthening our batting, but the 15-man squad has very little additional batting firepower. Only if ALL the batsmen are played do we have seven specialist batsmen, with Binny and Akshar at Nos. 8 and 9 respectively. We are definitely a batsman short in the 15, but there might yet be a backdoor solution to this epoch problem.

With several of our bowlers dropping like nine-pins due to injury and related woes, it presents an opportunity to set right the mistake of taking our batting for granted while picking the 15-man probables. With a four-specialist bowler strategy more or less confirmed, the excess bowling baggage we are carrying can be neatly trimmed, citing injury concerns, and a batsman/all-rounder brought on board in lieu. 

With the need of beefing up our part-timer bowling strength at an all-time high, the buck, in my opinion, once again stops at Yuvraj Singh, whose big-match temperament and recent form with bat and ball make him a potentially indispensable asset in the middle order, who can also ‘pie-chuck’ a significant portion of the fifth-bowler duties quite effectively. Since time immemorial (or at least since I became cricket aware), the Indian batting line-up has been strong, at least on paper (even when we crumbled in reality). That sacrosanct awareness has been disturbed during this Tri-series, and the single addition of the lanky Punjabi south-paw will restore the on-paper aspect to a large extent, irrespective of how he performs.

If miraculously included, Yuvraj should replace Ambati Rayudu in the XI, and not the current top-of-mind villain , Shikhar Dhawan. Rayudu has displayed tremendous heart in attempting his best while he has been regularly fed to the wolves (Read, pushed into an unfamiliar batting position in seamer-friendly conditions against marauding pacers, to protect a certain jewel in our crown), but his best is simply not good enough, at this level, in these conditions. Even if he came off on a couple of occasions, he is the least likely to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, something India desperately need to after the recent embarrassments.

For all the solidity Ajinkya Rahane has displayed at the top, I would still prefer him in the middle order, with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma opening. Dhawan’s 30-odd at Perth today raises hopes that he is coming into some semblance of form at the right time, and he is the closest we have to Virendar Sehwag at the top, so he stays, for me. Virat Kohli must come in at No.3, irrespective of when a wicket falls; ‘protecting’ our best batsman is sending out quite a wrong message, and Kohli must get back to where he made most of his runs. Yuvraj, Rahane and Suresh Raina at 4, 5 and 6 form a rock-solid middle-order, the kind that could send a shiver down the spine of bowlers manning the middle overs. Dhoni at 7, Binny at 8  and one of our spinners at 9, makes it quite a formidable batting line-up, on the famous paper of course. To conclude by quoting Derozio, our ‘day of glory past’ is just an SOS away..but is anyone dialing? 

India’s World Cup 15: Dhoni’s last stand, selectors’ safe approach, and a shocker

Ending weeks of speculation, the selectors yesterday announced the 15-man Indian squad for the 2015 World Cup. While the possible permutations and combinations were like manna from heaven for cricket columnists and bloggers like yours truly, the final squad had ‘obvious’ written all over it. Well, almost.

The batting line-up, as expected, was not tampered with at all. Speculations were rife about Murali Vijay forcing his way into the team on the back of fabulous Test-form, but the powers-that-be ultimately decided not to consider form in one format of the game for entry into another. Fair enough, but this begs the question as to why he was included in the 30 in the first place? If established ODI credentials have more weightage than current form, then Yuvraj Singh might have been a much better option in the original 30. The inclusion was allegedly made to have a back-up opening option, if required. Between then and now, the need for a back-up opener has been highlighted several times, with Shikhar Dhawan looking woefully out of place on Australian pitches. On the other hand, Vijay has hardly placed a foot wrong, defending stodgily and attacking as and when required, to make a statement of reliability at the top. Therefore, irrespective of this being a viable selection or not, Vijay has reason to be disappointed.

The continued faith in Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan, the latter not exactly the apple of the eye of a certain Virat Kohli, indicates that Dhoni has had a significant influence on team selection, in what could possibly be the enigmatic captain’s last stand in even the shorter format of the game. With Jadeja not 100% fit, and Yuvraj in red-hot form in domestic cricket, there was a case for a from-the-heart decision which could have even found favor with the head, but yet again, the non-inclusion has Dhoni’s signature scrawled all over it. While it’s too early to comment on the correctness of the decision, it would be unforgivable if one the three spinners, a number which I feel is a luxury given that not more than one is expected to make it to the playing XI, ends up a tourist on the Australian safari. In that very likely scenario, not having a usable option would be a cardinal sin.
Dhoni’s faith in himself, and the corresponding faith of selectors in him, is also underlined by the fact that the squad does not have a reserve wicket-keeper, with Rayudu filling in as the pseudo glovesman. While I was perfectly happy with a similar scenario four years ago, an older and more injury-prone Dhoni should probably have had a Sanju Samson or Wriddhiman Saha as the back-up keeper. Dhoni has always made bold decisions, and this one will rank right up there; whether he is lauded or flayed for it, only time will tell.
As with the batsmen, the selectors have played safe when picking bowlers. Both Jadeja and Ashwin have had a horrendous year as far as ODIs are concerned, even in home conditions, but including them is of course, a safe choice. Akshar deserves a spot; an extraordinary 2014 across the shorter and shortest formats of the game makes him the number 1 ODI spinner in the country, on current form, and I would back him to be a consistent inclusion in the final XI, also taking into account his clean hitting skills down the order. I keep coming back to the unnecessary three-spinner luxury; Akshar on merit, and one out of Ashwin or Jadeja, or reputation, may have been the better choice.
A man largely overlooked, but in my opinion, the unluckiest among the 15 who were shown the door, is Dhawal Kulkarni. The Mumbaikar was exceptional in the Australian Quadrangular ODI series between the ODI teams of India, Australia and South Africa, emerging as the top wicket-taker, and continued in the same vein in ensuing domestic List A competitions, including the experimental Sri Lanka series, India’s final ODI engagement before the WC selection. 
Finally the shocker – Stuart Binny. With all due respect to his alleged talent and Herculean but unseen (except perhaps by Bangladesh on an international platform) abilities, Binny has done little of note this season, especially on the List A scene. Even in England, aided by conditions perfectly suited for his dibbly dobblers, Binny was mediocre, putting it mildly. Perhaps he could spring a surprise by ending up as India’s MVP of the tournament, and then we could go crazy over the absolutely inspired foresight, but till that glorious moment arrives, shocker is the best I can do. 

Problems aplenty for India as World Cup inches closer, and proposal for a desperate experiment

As I write this, Shikhar Dhawan has customarily guided Mitchell Starc to first slip for yet another cheap dismissal in the ongoing Tri-series. More than the disappointment of India’s apparent inability in stringing together something of substance at the top, it is the increasing sense of inevitability of failure which is a grave concern, as India sets itself up for title defence of the greatest tournament in limited overs cricket. Bowling was always expected to be India’s weaker link in the expedition, but when batting starts to compete for the same title, the inevitability complex starts assuming alarming proportions. 

Murali Vijay’s non inclusion in the 15-man probables list distributes opening responsibilities among the troika of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, and Dhawan, of course. The problem gets more complicated because Rahane, while looking fluent, has not yet racked up assuring numbers beside his name in the shorter format. The Mumbaikar would probably be more comfortable at No.4, but Dhawan’s inconsistency at the top may see him opening on a regular basis during the World Cup. Rohit has impressed in his only appearance in the Tri-series, and should be a certainty for the other opener’s slot.

Yet another worrying development is Virat Kohli’s demotion to the No. 4 spot, with his regular No. 3 slot being occupied by Ambati Rayudu. Whether the move is to ‘protect’ India’s most promising batsman from the juice in the pitch during the early overs, or to compensate for the missing behemoth Yuvraj Singh in the middle order, it certainly is more than a tad unfair on Rayudu, who is not cut out for the one-down slot, even in domestic conditions. Kohli himself has not taken to his new position with glee, with a 100% failure rate thus far.

The reliable (at least in the shorter and shortest formats) Suresh Raina is a solid factor in the lower middle order while Stuart Binny, despite a good showing in India’s nightmarish outing against England, does not give me much assurance; not yet, at least. Compounding India’s woes is captain MS Dhoni, for not displaying his famous penchant of staying till the end, in victory or defeat. The skipper has got in and got out, thereby denying the team a good 20-30 runs extra which he generates at the end, a figure which can easily determine the difference between victory and defeat.

We could opine out hearts out, but the truth is that, in the batting department, we cannot do much more than hope. There is not much scope to chop and change in the batting line-up, because the selection has been made under the assumption that batting is not going to be a concern at all. In other words, the selectors have taken India’s batting for granted, and focused their efforts on providing more variety in the bowling, a move which could backfire in more ways than one.

There are plenty of options in the bowling department, (not even getting into the argument on how many of these options will actually come good on any given day) but the greatest mistake, in my opinion (if I may ignore the Binny inclusion), is the unnecessary luxury of carrying three spinners into the tournament, one of whom should have been omitted in favour of an extra batsman. In an effort to provide more cover for our weakness, our strength, which has been largely taken for granted, is now tottering uncomfortable close to the edge. The bowling continues to be inconsistent, despite the additional resources, in a paradox which now leaves India unsure in both departments, with the WC almost upon us.

Call me old fashioned, but I would like India revert to a batting-focused attack, with bowling playing a sidekick, as opposed to the current plan of elevating it to hero status, something for which the firepower is clearly lacking. Yuvraj would have been a wonderful addition to have in the middle order, but since that option is not viable anymore (barring last minute injury concerns), I propose bringing out all the batting guns at our disposal, expect that some of them fire, and hope the bowling is good enough to survive.

My openers would be Rohit and Rahane, who have looked decidedly more assured than the behind-the-wickets catching practice provider Dhawan. However, rather than discarding the southpaw altogether, I would have him in at No.3, given that Kohli-protection looks set to stay. Whatever little chance of success Dhawan has, will be once the pitch eases out and the ball softens a bit, a phenomenon displayed briefly during the controversial Indian second innings of the Brisbane Test in the recently concluded Border Gavaskar trophy. Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 will be Kohli, Rayudu, Raina and Dhoni. I would risk playing Binny in place of Bhuvneshwar; both of them are similar bowlers, and with the latter not exactly setting the ODI stage ablaze with his performances, I would opt for the better batsman, at least on paper. In the event of Binny looking like a fish out of the water with the ball, Bhuvi or one of the other quicks can replace him, without the top-7 being disturbed.

I will have the one specialist spinner at No.9; with all of our options decent with the bat, this would give India an extremely strong batting line-up, of course, yet again on paper. Ishant Sharma will be a certainty in my XI, with either Umesh Yadav or Mohammed Shami rounding off. This would leave us in a familiar 4 specialist bower scenario (assuming Binny can be termed a specialist), with Rohit, Raina and Kohli combining as the 5th bowler.

To recapitulate, this would be an XI I would like to test out: Rohit, Rahane, Dhawan, Kohli, Rayudu, Raina, Dhoni, Binny/Bhuvneshwar, Akshar/Ashwin/Jadeja, Shami/Umesh, Ishant. India should target chasing whenever they win the toss, and back themselves to run down anything; if they bat first, 350 should be targeted every time (yes, Aussie pitches and all). This is by no means a guaranteed solution. It is at best, a desperate experiment. However, given the current context, these are desperate times. ‘If it ain’t broke, there is no need to mend it’ is no longer an adage we can go along with, because the current Indian ODI machinery looks pretty much conked out. Successful or not, a last ditch overhaul would be imperative.

Brisbane Test: How the Key Performers Stack Up

For a short while towards the fag end of the Brisbane Test, Australia threatened to pull off something India usually specializes in, particularly overseas – collapse in a heap to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Indeed, the Aussies made heavy weather of a 128-run target on a track where the demons, if present, were not expressing themselves as vociferously as we have seen on certain end-game pitches. The score-line reads 2-0 in Australia’s favour, and they are well on the way to the whitewash predicted by certain pundits, though the gulf between the two teams is not as broad as the numbers indicate. India have won a few battles, but have faltered at crucial junctures, leading to the inconsequentiality of these small triumphs in the context of the larger contest.

If the Adelaide Test was a perfect advertisement for the longest format of the game, Brisbane was not too far behind, perhaps scoring even higher on the scrappiness scale, bringing in an edginess, so often witnessed in clashes between these two countries, which was largely missing in Adelaide on account of the sombre backdrop of the game, in the aftermath of one of the greatest tragedies to have befallen it in recent times.

India took Day 1, largely due to the on-the-rise brilliance of Vijay, with able support from Rahane. Day 2 began with an all-too-familiar collapse triggered by debutant Hazlewood, causing the Indian team to fall well short of the 500-mark they were undoubtedly targeting, screeching to a halt at the Hughes number. Australia were themselves in deep trouble at 247-6, but a resurgent Johnson in the company of the reliable Smith turned the game on its head. The counterpunching seemed to have completely stunned India as the tailenders continued stitching partnerships together to end up with a sizeable first innings lead. A Johnson special on Day 4 morning confirmed that Australia would be chasing less than 150 in the final innings, and although there were traces of self-destructive instincts in the air, the target was too less for them to significantly manifest.

These are how the key individual performances stack up, using the Quadrant Scorecard, the methodology behind which you can read here. Do note that unless a tailender batsman, or a part-time bowler, create significant impact, they will not be included in the analysis.

Quadrant Scorecard: Batsmen

India (Blue)               1. Vijay
2. Dhawan
3. Pujara
4. Kohli
5. Rahane
6. Rohit
7. Dhoni
8. Ashwin
9. Yadav
10. Aaron
11. Ishant
Australia (Yellow)
1. Rogers
2. Warner
3. Watson
4. Smith
5. Marsh S.
6. Marsh M.
7. Haddin
8. Johnson
9. Starc
10. Lyon11. Hazlewood
Vijay was unquestionably India’s top performing batsman, his 144 on Day 1 not only allowing India to weather the early storm on a purportedly green-top pitch, but also hit back later in the day. The Tamil Nadu batsman was equally at ease against pace and spin, displaying definite purpose behind each stroke, defensive or attacking. His soft dismissal in the second innings was a big blow for India, as his presence on the fateful Day 4 morning may have been the difference.

Vijay was the highest scorer in the Test, on both sides, but Smith scores higher on the impact-factor, given that his 133 in the first innings held the shaky Australian middle-order together, and the laid the foundation for Johnson’s onslaught. Rogers made 55 in each innings, and his second innings effort rates very highly on my impact-meter. In fact, he was the difference between victory and defeat, if the innings be considered in isolation. Dhawan forces his way into the top Quadrant on the back of his second innings 81, which, in hindsight, gave India a fighting chance. Had Australia cruised to victory, his impact would have been low, and the southpaw would have been relegated to the Individual Contributors (IC) quadrant.

The IC Quadrant lies vacant in the context of the Brisbane Test, though Rahane came close to breaching its boundaries. The Mumbaikar made a few easy runs against a tiring attack on Day 1, but was unable to dig in the next day to propel the team to a substantial total.

Expectedly, there were plenty of Slackers in the match, most notable among whom were Adelaide heroes Kohli and Warner. Watson and Rohit continue to be the high-profile laggards in their respective teams for the 2nd Test running, while the Marsh brothers did nothing much of note. Haddin was bounced out in both innings, aggregating just 7 runs in the match; his form should be Australia’s biggest concern as of now. Ashwin fared better than the Indian lower middle-order, and Yadav’s second-innings’ 30 was the difference between a sub-100 target and the actual one.

The Gamechanger was undoubtedly Johnson, who awoke from deep slumber to smash 88 runs off 93 balls just as the Indians would have begun dreaming of a substantial  first innings lead. Johnson dominated during the 148-run 7th wicket partnership with Smith, and by the time he left, the teams had interchanged their positions in the driver’s seat. Starc played a similar innings, of lesser impact, but crucial in extending the Australian first innings lead. Pujara’s 43 held the Indian second innings together, which looked set for abject humiliation, before Dhawan made his late entry.

Quadrant Scorecard: Bowlers


India (Blue)                   
1. Ishant
2. Aaron
3. Yadav
4. Ashwin

Australia (Yellow)
1.  Johnson
2. Hazlewood
3.  Starc
4. Lyon
5. Watson

Debutant Hazlewood was the best bowler in the match, by a long way. The lanky pacer can be solely credited for derailing the Indian charge on Day 2 morning, accounting first for Rahane, and returning to dismiss both members of the dangerous Dhoni-Ashwin partnership. While this was the gamechanging moment, Hazlewood’s two big wickets on Day 1, and two more during India’s second innings propelled him into the top Quadrant. Ishant was India’s best bowler, picking up 6 wickets, just one less than Hazlewood, his 3-wicket burst in the second innings keeping afloat the dream of an unlikely victory for a large part of the fourth innings.

Yadav and Lyon toiled manfully for their respective teams, while most others were disappointing. Watson has been credited with building up significant pressure, which allowed other bowlers to cash in on the wickets; I am not entirely convinced, while not dismissing the adulation altogether.

The Gamechanger yet again was Johnson, and it is surprising that he missed out on the Player of the Match award, despite turning around the game with both bat and ball. Wicket-less in the first innings, a fiery Johnson broke the back of the Indian middle order by dismissing Kohli, Rahane and Rohit in quick succession, and returned to take out Yadav who was adding a few valuable runs. It remains to be seen if Johnson-the-bowler’s awakening was a gamechanging moment in just the match, or the entire series, and we will soon find out if India can shrug off the ghosts which tormented England during their unhappy Ashes tour a year ago.

Battered and bruised, the Indian team heads to Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test. For once, I hope that Shakespeare’s ‘What’s in a name’ adage holds true. 

Who Should Make India’s 15-man World Cup Squad?

Move on. No two words sum up the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) mindset better when it came to choosing the 30-man probables list for the looming ODI World Cup. The first cut includes just four survivors from the 2011 World Cup winning team – MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin. Reactions have been sharply divided. While fans of ignored demi-gods like Yuvraj Singh, Virendar Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have staged vehement protests across available social media forums, the higher echelons of cricket connoisseurs have leant in favor of preferring youth over underprepared experience.

While some have hailed the BCCI’s move as brave, a closer scrutiny would indicate that omission of these big names was somewhat of a no-brainer. Zaheer has not played List A cricket for the past two years, with limited match-practice across other formats as well. Harbhajan, whose mediocrity in the 2011 WC was adequately masked by Yuvraj, is hardly a strike-bowler even in domestic matches this season. Sehwag and Gambhir average in the 20s in List A cricket since the 2012-13 season, with slightly better returns in the IPL, which should not be an influencing factor in this selection. Over the same period, Yuvraj has racked up acceptable numbers, but a poor domestic season this year probably shut the doors on him.

Now that we have dwelt on the ‘elephant in the room’ awhile, let us turn our attention to the 30-man list, as segmented by ESPNCricinfo.

The highlighted names are those I believe to be absolute certainties in the 15-man squad which needs to be declared within the January 7 deadline set by the ICC.

Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Manoj Tiwary, Manish Pandey, M Vijay

Fast Bowlers
Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Mohit Sharma, Ashok Dinda

R Ashwin, Parvez Rasool, Karn Sharma, Amit Mishra, Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav

MS Dhoni, Robin Uthappa, Sanju Samson, Wriddhiman Saha.

As expected, India’s batting line-up is well settled, and barring major injuries, the top-six batsmen and Dhoni select themselves.

Moving on to the quick bowlers, Shami and Umesh have been India’s best bowlers this year (both averaging about 22 in 2014) and should surely be in the 15. I can sense a few eyebrows being raised at Bhuvneshwar’s name not being highlighted; will get to that in due course.

I have not highlighted any spinners, as both of India’s frontline tweakers, Ashwin and Jadeja, have had a mediocre year. Youngsters like Akshar and Karn are knocking at the door, and no senior can take their place for granted, bearing in mind the message given out by the board at the onset.

India went into the 2011 WC without a reserve keeper, but they may think otherwise this time around, given that Dhoni is older and more injury-prone than four years ago.

Predicting the 15-man squad

In the exercise that follows, I have attempted to narrow down to the 15-man probables list using a combination of objective and subjective analyses. With nine men already decided, for me at least, the actual task would be to select six more from the remaining 21.

Big names like Ishant, Bhuvneshwar, Aaron, Ashwin and Jadeja have not been considered for objective analysis, which focuses predominantly on the relative newcomers to ascertain their current form. The List A tournaments considered for this analysis are – Quadrangular A-Team One-Day Series 2014, Vijay Hazare Trophy (VHT), 2014/15, and Deodhar Trophy (DT), 2014/15. I have, however, taken the liberty of eliminating a few subjectively, based on their no-shows in the aforementioned tournaments.

According to unconfirmed reports, Vijay barely edged out Yuvraj, as the think-tank believes that he could be a better man to have around, in case he strikes form during the ongoing Test series in Australia. Vijay has not created an impact in any of the List A tournaments selected for analysis, and neither do his past ODI exploits generate confidence. I do not see him making the next cut unless he performs extraordinarily, or one/both of the regular ODI openers fail miserably, in the Test series.

Binny has been in and out of the Indian team, and his dibbly-dobblers, largely ineffective even in English conditions which support his ilk of medium pacers, will be largely relegated to hit-me-stuff on Australian pitches.

Rasool, Mishra and Kuldeep find themselves in the 30 on the back of consistent performances in domestic tournaments over a period of time, as well as the IPL, but should surely be the first to get culled when the next level selection is initiated.

Very much in the Vijay mold, Saha could get a look-in if he impresses during the ongoing Test series, but a relatively ho-hum List A season, and non-participation in the quadrangular, eliminate him from my analysis.

Bubble Analysis

For the drill-down, I have implemented a bubble analysis, which evaluates attributes across three parameters, and is therefore more comprehensive than two-dimensional ones.

The players to be analyzed are bucketed into two segments:

Batsmen: Jadhav, Tiwary, Pandey, Uthappa, Samson

Bowlers: Dhawal, Mohit, Dinda, Karn, Akshar (Ishant, Bhuvneshwar,Aaron, Ashwin and Jadeja are parked for subjective analysis and not a part of bubble analysis)

Determining the Batsmen

For the batting analysis, the X-axis represents a batsman’s average, Y-axis his SR, and size of the bubble represents total runs scored, across the three tournaments. For the layman, the further away from the axes a particular batsman finds himself, the better it is, for it indicates higher Average and SR. The sheer volume of runs scored is indicated by the bubble size.  

Fig 1a. Analysis across the 3 List A tournaments

Fig 1b. Analysis across the Quadrangular tournament

Looking at the bubble analysis over all three tournaments (Fig 1a), Tiwary and Pandey make a very strong case for themselves, topping the run-scoring charts, with more than respectable averages and strike rates. Jadhav has scored the fastest, but his bubble (runs scored) is quite small. Samson and Uthappa appear to be the weakest in the fray. Based on an overall analysis, the battle looks to be very much between Tiwary and Pandey.

While overall form is a definite plus, I have assigned greater weightage for the Quadrangular (Fig 1b), given that recent success or failure in conditions similar to where the World Cup will be played cannot be ignored. The equation changes quite a bit when the Quadrangular series is considered in isolation. Uthappa continues to languish at the bottom, however,and is therefore, the first to be eliminated.

Tiwary and Pandey, heavy scorers in the VHT and DT, average in the 20s in the Quadrangular. Both made 90+ in India A’s second match of the tournament, against South Africa A, which indicates that they did little else in the remainder of the tournament.

Samson and Jadhav were India’s top performers in the Quadrangular. Jadhav, not a part of the Playing XI in initial games, first made an impact in the match against National Performance Squad. Along with Samson, Jadhav’s 53-ball 87 rescued India A from 5-63 after James Muirhead and Sean Abbott (yes, him) ran through the top-order, and helmed the successful 235-run chase. His 73-ball 78 in the final was instrumental in India A emerging victorious in the keenly contested tournament.

Jadhav has played fewer matches than Tiwary and Pandey, having missed the VHT due to injury, which explains him scoring fewer runs. The fact that he was a part of the experimental squad during the recent India Sri Lanka ODI series, while the other two were not, is ample hint that he remains within the think-tank’s scheme of things.

Samson has been the standout performer in the Quadrangular, outscoring even Jadhav, as the graph indicates, although failures in the VHT and DT have pulled him down in the overall analysis. Particularly impressive was his prowess as a finisher, especially in chases, where he was almost Bevan-like in guiding the team over the finish line, ending with a tournament average of 81.33.

In an eight-man batting shortlist (including Dhoni), only one of Samson and Jadhav looks likely to get through. It is extremely difficult to separate the two, and the question to be asked is – who between them is more likely to get into the XI? The immediate answer is, probably neither, but Samson’s ability to double up as a reliable keeper could win him the selectors’ nod, considering that it is highly risky to have a coming-off-injury Dhoni as the sole keeper over the course of the marquee tournament.

Therefore, Samson is the first and only addition to my batsmen’s list for the 15-man probable shortlist.

Determining the Bowlers

There are five spots up for grabs here, in a bowling shortlist which should have five medium pacers and two spinners. With not more than one specialist spinner expected in the final XI, I do not see a point in carrying excess baggage in that department.

For the bowling analysis, the X-axis represents a bowler’s average, Y-axis his economy, and size of the bubble represents total wickets, across the three tournaments. For the layman, the closer to axes a particular bowler finds himself, the better it is, for it indicates lower average and economy. The volume of wickets captured is indicated by the bubble size.  

Fig 2a. Analysis across the 3 List A tournaments

Fig 2b. Analysis across the Quadrangular tournament
Looking at the bubble analysis across all three tournaments(Fig 2a), among the seamers, Dhawal and Dinda are the strongest competitors. The biggest impediment to Dinda’s inclusion is that he was not picked for the Quadrangular(Fig 2b). The move indicates that the Bengal quick was not even in the selectors’ second-tier thoughts a few months back, but he forced his way there with a powerful showing in the VHT and DT. This has rewarded him with a place in the 30, but I do not think he will make it into the 15. Mohit has performed in spurts, with a decent Quadrangular series but not much more. Dhawal is therefore the strongest medium-pacer in this group, and elevates him into the subjective analysis level where the completion gets stiffer.

For me, Bhuvneshwar is an overrated ODI bowler. His career ODI figures of 44 wickets in 42 matches at an average of nearly 37 are mediocre; he has been worse this year, picking only 14 wickets in 16 matches at an average in excess of 45. Bhuvneshwar continues to impress in Tests, but his ODI career has followed a disappointing pattern – tight opening spell speckled with gasp-inducing deliveries exhibiting exaggerated swing to beat the bat (in helpful conditions), followed by a lambasting at the death.

The largely inexperienced pace attack needs a moral spearhead though, one who might justify selection on the basis of ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ adage. To be honest, Bhuvneshwar cannot boast of ‘permanent class’ in the ODI context, but he has been the leader, albeit unsuccessful of late, of the Indian attack in recent times, and it could upset the psychological apple-cart if he is dumped at this stage. Therefore, going against what I have been preaching for a while, Bhuvneshwar makes it to the team, on reputation alone.

Conditions in Australia are tailor-made for a hit-the-deck bowler like Ishant, which is why, in spite of an indifferent ODI season this year, the 6’4 (193 cm) pacer will be indispensible in the 15.

The fight for the final seamer’s slot should be between Aaron and Dhawal. There is very little data to analyze Aaron, with him not participating in any of the List A tournaments I have chosen for analysis. He made a brief and impressive appearance during the ODI series against Sri Lanka, but limped off after just four overs. He could come into reckoning if he holds up and bowls well during the ongoing Test series, but as of now, I have no reason to include him. Dhawal is therefore, the final seamer in my shortlist.

Coming to the spinners, Akshar and Karn are closely matched. Owing to their increasing number of inclusions in the national team, both of them have not participated much in the domestic tournaments. A better VHT positions Karn as superior in the overall analysis, but Akshar beats him hands down in the Quadrangular. The tall left-arm slow orthodox bowler seals the deal by emerging as the highest wicket-taker in India’s recently concluded ODI series against Sri Lanka, which also featured an unimpressive Karn. Both are useful batsmen down the order, but Akshar again takes the cake with a tighter technique and greater calm under crunch situations, best displayed during his unbeaten 38-ball 45 in the Quadrangular final which took India to an improbable victory over Australia A.

Both Jadeja and Ashwin have had a mediocre year with the ball, but the left-armer’s superiority in the batting department, in addition to the overwhelming confidence skipper Dhoni has in him, hold him in good stead for selection. Also, if India go in with a five bowler strategy, then Jadeja will be an absolute necessity in the XI. Therefore, of the two specialist spinner slots in the final 15, Jadeja gets the first.

Karn may stand an outside chance if he makes an impact in the second innings of the Adelaide Test. This could extend his immediate Test career and if he continues taking wickets, could tempt selectors to include the leg-spinner in the 15. As this is highly speculative, I turn the focus back on the remaining two contenders – Akshar and Ashwin. The biggest factor against Akshar is that, in Jadeja, we already have a left-arm orthodox spinner in the 15. It might seem almost regressive to have two similar bowlers in an attack already lacking variety in the spin department. However, I think otherwise. Having followed Akshar closely over the past year, I believe that he has consistently excelled with both bat and ball in limited over formats, and on current form, is well ahead of Ashwin. I will therefore stick my neck out and pick him as the 15th member.

Here’s my final list, in the original format:

Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu

Fast Bowlers
Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Dhawal Kulkarni

Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel

MS Dhoni, Sanju Samson

This equation could change on the basis of performances in the Test series, injuries, and/or gut feel of the powers that be. With the ICC deadline less than a month away, we will soon know.

The anticipation is palpable.

This article was first published in Mailer Report:!who-should-make-indias-world-cup-squad/cjuh

Quadrant Scorecard Methodology V2

This is a rebooted (and I would like to believe, improved) version of Quadrant Scorecard V1, about which you can read here.

The first and most important change from V1 is that I have classified batsmen and bowlers in separate charts. The snapshot above is grabbed from the ‘Batsman’ chart of the recently concluded Brisbane Test of the 2014 Border Gavaskar Series.

The X-axis remains mostly the same as V1, with ‘Output’ being rechristened as ‘Runs’ or ‘Wickets’ for the Batsman or Bowler charts, respectively. A notable addition is the quantification of Runs/Wickets along the axis.

The Y-axis has been completely revamped. Based on reader feedback, ‘Effort’ was rather ambiguous, and it has been replaced by the more scientific ‘Impact-Meter’. Though subjective still, it measures the impact of an individual’s performance on the match, 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest, irrespective of the quantity of runs scored or wickets captured.

The names in the previous chart have been replaced by colored numbered balls. Each team will be assigned a color code (India – Blue and Australia – Yellow, in this case), and numbers will correspond to the code provided alongside (the code has not been provided in the above snapshot). This is to reduce clutter on the graph and ensure more accurate representation of performances.

The new Quadrants are as follows:

Top Performer: This Quadrant contains the high-output-high-impact players of the match under consideration. Along the X-axis, these would be men who have scored more than a 100 runs or taken at least 6 wickets in the match. 9 out of 10 times, players with these kind of numbers are bound to have a significant impact on the match, but the exceptions to this rule, will be found in the second Quadrant, going clockwise.

Individual Contributor: This Quadrant will contain those players who have racked up the runs/wickets, but eventually do not have much impact on the match under consideration. The Quadrant is likely to remain vacant in relatively close matches, as was the case in Brisbane, but strong individual performances in big losses will guarantee an entry here. To cite an example, VVS Laxman’s contribution in the 1999-00 Sydney Test, where he slammed 167 in the second innings, but Australia still won with an innings to spare, would count as a brilliant Individual Contribution without much impact on the game.

Slacker: Similar to V1, this Quadrant captures, as the title suggests, the poor performers of the match under consideration.

Gamechanger: Top Performers are definitely gamechangers, but this Quadrant is dedicated to those players who have created a significant impact on the game without scoring tons of runs or picking up a bagful of wickets. Such instances can be quite common in Test matches, where a match-saving 40 or a quick burst of 2-3 wickets can change the course of the game. To cite an example, the yellow ball numbered 8 in the snapshot above captures Mitchell Johnson’s performance with the bat. He aggregated 90 in the Test match, but his innings of 88 in the first innings was the turning point of the match, which rescued Australia from a precarious 247-6 to a commanding total.

Check out the complete Brisbane Test Quadrant Scorecard here.

What gave Mitchell Johnson his Lakshya?

   by  RubyGoes 

Let the mind games begin – this slight modification to the popular adage is extremely apt when a big ticket series is about to kick-off, the upcoming India-Australia Test series being no exception. The enigma named Mitchell Johnson has been ‘rested’ for the remainder of the ODI series against South Africa, to keep him ‘fresh’ for India, in what can only be a not-so-veiled threat issued to the tourists. After blowing away most opposition in recent times, Johnson now trains his focus on a country which probably kick-started an unbelievable turnaround in his career that was going nowhere a couple of years back.

It’s no secret that Johnson’s Test career has been mercurial, definitely so in its early stages. In fact, a few parallels can be drawn between the enigmatic left-hander and the protagonist of a popular Bollywood movie, Lakshya. The character, akin to a rudderless boat, flits through life without any seriousness, joins the army for the heck of it but runs away in the middle of training. The epoch event which transformed him was being dumped by his aspiring journalist-girlfriend, and the humiliation spurs him into sharp focus. The man returns to the army, accepts punishment for indiscipline, excels at training and in an edge-of-the-seat climax, leads a successful mission against extremists (inspired by events of the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan).

Getting back to Johnson, the man was always an exceptional talent, impressing one and all with raw pace when he burst onto the Australian domestic scene in 1998-99. The southpaw’s tendency to be inconsistent made him wait eight more years before making Test debut in 2007. Despite being one of the quickest bowlers in the world, his attitude was questionable, and the focus seemed missing.

Even by his erratic standards, Johnson’s record was abysmal between 2011-IPL 2013, where he averaged 40+ with the ball even in helpful conditions.  In hindsight, the 2013 Indian Summer was the epoch event in Johnson’s career, which transformed him into one of the most potent weapons in Test cricket today.

Despite being a part of Australian squad touring India for the 2012-13 Border Gavaskar series, Johnson was ignored for the first two Tests in favor of younger players like James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Moises Henriques. Then came the famous ‘Homeworkgate’ saga, where he was officially axed by coach Mickey Arthur for the third Test, along with Vice-Captain Shane Watson, Pattinson and Usman Khawaja, for failing to submit a presentation on points to improve upon, after defeats in the first two Tests.

The incident may well have been the girlfriend-dump equivalent of the aforementioned movie, because Johnson was absolutely devastated. In an interview with, the Queenslander called it the lowest point of his career and revealed his apathy towards playing cricket at that time. The shock-treatment may well have galvanized him into a more focused unit, replacing his alleged casual approach with steely grit. There was no Bollywood-style immediate redemption though, as he went wicket-less in the fourth Test, and like most of his teammates, was left licking wounds of a 0-4 humiliation.

About 10 days later, IPL 2013 kicked off – and the story began to change. As part of the Mumbai Indians, Johnson was able to ideally channelize the pain emanating from his bruised ego. Easy access to cricketing greats like Sachin Tendulkar and newly appointed mentor Anil Kumble must have played its part as well. Johnson startled with his pace and accuracy on benign tracks, emerging as the 3rd highest wicket-taker in the tournament, with 24 scalps, at 19.12 apiece. He was particularly impressive during the business end, and was instrumental in driving the franchise to their maiden IPL triumph.

Johnson has played 10 Tests after IPL 2013, and a comparison with 10 Tests immediately before the tournament (dating back to Jan 2011) presents a staggering contrast:

The southpaw’s destructiveness against England in the 2013-14 Ashes is well documented – 37 wickets in 5 Tests at a below-14 average are phenomenal statistics. Beyond these numbers, he struck fear in the hearts of the Englishmen, practically ended the career of one of their best batsmen, and was the subject of recurring nightmares in the English dressing room.

The fiery quick was almost as lethal against South Africa in their own backyard, winning the much-touted pace battle against Dale Steyn with ease and inflicting a rare series defeat against the Proteas at home.

Johnson even walked away relatively unscathed from the recent mauling Aussies suffered at the hands of a resurgent Pakistan in UAE, finishing as the highest wicket-taker among quicks on either side.

While it’s difficult to identify the exact moment of his turnaround, a concoction of bad-cop-good-cop (Mickey Arthur would definitely be his bad-cop while seniors at Mumbai Indians undoubtedly provided the balm) injections in quick succession, in addition to deep introspection post Homeworkgate, surely helped the man find his Lakshya.

The last time Johnson  played a Test series in Australia, he blew away everything in sight. This time around, the Australians are seeking redemption on multiple counts. Redemption from the 0-4 thrashing the last time these teams met; redemption from the 0-2 surrender against Pakistan. They are bound to come hard at the Indians. At the heart of the onslaught will be a man possibly at the peak of his physical and mental abilities. A man wired into sharp focus by a heady cocktail of shock-therapy and clever mentoring. A man India cannot afford to take lightly. 

An Outline of the Quadrant Scorecard Methodology

This post is to provide readers with an overview of the Quadrant Scorecard I will be employing to categorize player performances at the end of a day of a Test match, or during the post match review. The analysis combines objective elements from the actual output produced by the players, as well as subjective aspects like effort, skills and luck factor.

The two axes of the analysis are Output and Effort, measured on the X and Y axis, respectively.

As the name suggests, Output considers the final numbers turned in by the player at the end of the analysis period. So, the further to the right of the X-axis a player finds himself, the greater has he scored runs or captured wickets.

Effort, captured on the Y-axis, looks at factors beyond numbers. It would take into account the workload taken up by the batsman or bowler, irrespective of whether the effort gets converted into output or not.

This should be simple once we consider each of our Quadrants:

High Performer: As the name suggests, this is the best place to be on the graph. Players in this Quadrant have combined high output with high effort. Most centuries/five-wicket hauls would fall into this category.

Underachiever: Players in this Quadrant are those who have, on the day, displayed skills required to go on and make  a big score, or take several wickets, but are unable to do so because of certain factors. Some of these factors include:

  • A bowler sending down excellent spells without picking up a wicket, either because of the batsman’s skill, luck factor, or poor umpiring decisions.
  • A batsman concentrating for a reasonable period of time to get set (without making too many runs) and then getting out either due to an unplayable delivery, bad luck, or a poor umpiring decision.

Lazy Hi-Flyer: Players in this Quadrant are the exact opposite of Underachievers. They look the least deserving for making runs or picking up wickets, but by fluke or umpiring error, end up doing so, without putting in too much effort.

Slacker: They are the laggards in the pack, and for a team which has lost the day’s battle, several representatives should be found in this Quadrant. Lackluster batting or bowling usually translates into  poor output, and most average to poor performers in the day will find themselves here.

I have used the sample Quadrant Scorecard from Day 1 of the Brisbane Test to illustrate the methodology. Read the complete analysis here.

Brisbane Day 1 Performances: Quadrant Scorecard

As an Indian fan, the first thing to do after the opening day of the Brisbane Test is take a deep breath and savor the moment. After all, it is not often, more so in recent times, that India can claim to have dominated an entire day of an overseas Test match. The moment indeed triggers a high, and as is the case with substances which evoke a similar feeling, it carries a statutory warning: premature rejoicing can cause heart-ache, especially when the team under consideration is very capable of capitulation at short notice.

At the same time, credit has to be given where due. India have won Day 1, and not by a narrow margin. The batting side is comfortably perched at 311/4 and Australian bowlers have taken a beating, while facing up to the triple-threat posed by skillful batting, sweltering heat and multiple injury concerns.

For tomorrow, India’s first target should be 400, and once that is breached, more ambitious targets can be set, and perhaps surmounted. From Australia’s perspective, they need to keep telling themselves that a couple of wickets more, and the Indian tail would be just around the corner. 

These are how the key individual performances stack up, using the Quadrant Scorecard, the methodology behind which you can read here.

Do note that the analysis focuses on batting and bowling performances, which is why Brad Haddin and Shaun Marsh are absent from the Scorecard, despite being involved in dismissals, and non-dismissals, respectively.

High Performer

Murali Vijay exorcised the ghosts of his 99 at Adelaide with a magnificent 144 on a Gabba pitch which did not deliver the kind of sting it was promising in the run up to the match. A lackluster Johnson and the inexperience of Hazelwood and Starc aided him, as did Shaun Marsh, by dropping him on 36 and 102.

The runs still had to be made though. The morning session, treacherous in mind if not in reality, had to be seen off. The post-lunch session, the only one where the Aussie attack looked even mildly threatening, had to be carefully negotiated.

Only post-tea did Vijay open out, and the next 50 runs were sheer poetry in motion, racked up in just 36 deliveries. The nervous nineties were a forgotten folklore as a flurry of classy boundaries brought up the gritty right-hander’s century, the man himself coming to realize the achievement of the milestone only after his partner confirmed the same.

By the time Vijay fell for 144, equaling Ganguly’s historic century at the same venue a decade back, the Australian attack was physically and mentally drained. The Tamil Nadu opener would have featured even higher on the HP quadrant, but the two ‘lives’ he was granted pulled down his score on the Effort front.

Nevertheless, the record shattering century and the numerous partnerships built along the way have set India up nicely, and irrespective of where we go from here, Vijay should be thanked for building a wonderful foundation, which I hope the remaining batsmen do not mercilessly destroy.

Ajinkya Rahane was a sure-shot candidate for Lazy High-Flyer today due to the risky nonchalance he displayed at the beginning of his innings. Lady Luck more than made up for the howler umpire Erasmus bestowed on him in the second innings at Adelaide in the initial phases, before Rahane settled down to play an innings abounding in the silky elegance he is known for. Such was his control during the latter part of his innings that he managed to sneak into the HP zone – only just, though.

Josh Hazelwood, the best Australian bowler on display today, slips marginally into the HP zone. Although wicket-less in the first session, Hazelwood settled into an excellent rhythm, thereby reaping rewards during the second. Pujara’s wicket was secured via another howler, and Kohli too fell to a bout of indiscretion, but the debutant certainly got the ball in the right areas, prompting commentators to liken his ‘in the corridor’ bowling to the great McGrath’s. Hazelwood could not cope with the heat though, with speeds significantly dipping as the day progressed, and was in visible discomfort after bowling a couple of deliveries with the second new ball, post which he left the field for the day.


Cheteshwar Pujara is the most deserving entry into this Quadrant for today. After batting with commendable patience for 64 deliveries and 86 minutes, Pujara fended awkwardly at a well-directed bouncer from Hazelwood, which missed his gloves by a fair distance, and brushed his helmet grill before settling in Haddin’s hands. No sooner had the Aussies gone up in customary appeal, than the finger of umpire Ian Gould, moving quicker than a Western Movie hero would for his gun, pointed skywards. 
The hero of Adelaide, Nathan Lyon, also passes marginally into this Quadrant. Though he has just one (important though) wicket to show for his efforts, Lyon bowled pretty much the same lines he did at Adelaide, providing very few hit-me balls even though India’s well set batsmen scored freely off him in the latter sessions. 


As expected, players are jostling for space in this Quadrant.

Shikhar Dhawan’s dry spell continued, but to his credit, the southpaw looked far more willing to slug it out today. The delivery which got him out had ‘hit-me’ written all over it. In hindsight, it could have been left to sail harmlessly through to Haddin, but in the split-second decision making time batsmen get, Dhawan went for it. On another day, the ball would have flown high above gully region to crash into the third-man boundary, but today, all Dhawan managed to do was to nick it. He will be under tremendous pressure to perform or perish in the second innings.

For me, the biggest disappointment today from India’s POV, was Virat Kohli. After looking in supreme touch, the, err, former skipper, threw away his wicket by attempting to cut a delivery which was too close to him.  It may have worked at Adelaide, but the greater bounce at Brisbane meant that all he could do was plant a healthy edge on the cherry en route to Haddin.

The Aussie bowling today as a whole was toothless, and scarcely threatened to pick a wicket. In fact, all dismissals today, except that of Pujara, if it can be termed a dismissal, were batsman perpetrated, and the bowlers just needed to be in the right place at the right time.

Starc was the poorest of the lot, looking distinctly emaciated in the Brisbane cauldron, and was just going through the motions once the new ball had lost its shine. Watson and the younger Marsh never looked menacing, though they did beat the bat a couple of times, and Dhawan gave the latter a gift which might soothe some of the discomfort arising out of the injured hamstring.

Had he been anyone else, Johnson, especially after the dual drops of Vijay off his bowling, would have found himself in the Underachievers Quadrant. But having seen Johnson at the Ashes last year, against the Proteas this summer, and even during the disastrous series against Pakistan, I can conclude that currently he is just a pale shadow of his destructive self. Bowling well within himself, and dishing out more floaters than well-directed bouncers, Mitch needs to ‘bounce back’ and slay whatever inner demons are currently tormenting him, if Australia are to get back into this Test. 

The Lazy Hi-Flyer Quadrant remains vacant, and that concludes the performances round-up after an exciting Day 1 in Brisbane.

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