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.

Underachiever

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. 

Slacker

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.

A look back at Adelaide; and a peek into Brisbane

The Adelaide Test ended with Kohli and his men going down in a blaze of (almost) glory, as India capitulated from 205/2 at Tea on Day 5, to 315 all out – the final result being a 48-run victory for Australia. The game has been hailed as a perfect advertisement for Test cricket, while simultaneously upholding the emotional content which was palpable throughout, being the first complete Test match played after the Philip Hughes tragedy.

Australia deserved the victory, given that they held the upper hand for the majority of the match. At the end of Day 4, the only possibilities were an Aussie win or a hard-fought draw, the likelihood of which seemed minimal, given that India had not survived 98 overs in the 4th innings in recent times. 

At 57/2, shortly after the first drinks break, the story was moving along predictable lines. That’s when two young men, akin to heroes from a Bollywood dual-hero potboiler, took it upon themselves to, borrowing a punchline from the recently launched ITPL, ‘break the code’. With the 2003-04 Adelaide hero, Rahul Dravid, looking on from the commentary box, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli, slowly started breathing life back into the Indian innings.

By no means was it assured, at least in the initial stages, as both played and missed, survived a few close LBW decisions, and looked distinctly uncomfortable against the off-spinner, the ilk of whom have been tormenting India over the past few series.

Vijay was restraint personified, punctuating long periods of inactivity with jerky aggression, while Kohli continued to be his sublime, belligerent self. It speaks volumes of his temperament that, despite getting out to the hook at a wrong time in the first innings, Kohli continued to play the shot, carrying no baggage from the disappointment of the previous innings.

The colossal target gradually began to look achievable, as the two well-set batsmen kept chipping away. The majority of the day had been spent debating possibilities of an Australian win as opposed to a draw, but suddenly a third alternative had crept in. India had chugged along to 205/2 at Tea, and 160 runs in about 40 overs, with 8 wickets in hand, seemed a realistic possibility.

Vijay’s wicket was the turning point, a victim more of the nervous nineties than Lyon’s wizardry; to the off-spinner’s credit, he kept plugging away incessantly, and was finally rewarded. Rahane fell to Erasmus, and Rohit got a great delivery. I am not an especially huge fan of Rohit in Tests, but illogical bashing makes no sense. Almost everyone sympathized with Rahane when he received an unplayable delivery from Lyon in the first innings. The off-spinner bowled a very similar delivery at Rohit, perhaps a tad fuller, with plenty of flight and dip. The alleged flat-track bully tried to meet it on the front foot, while Rahane chose to stay back; both batsmen, once committed, had no way of preventing the ball from thudding into their gloves and into the waiting hands of a fielder.

Kohli’s presence kept hopes alive, but Saha’s cameo, where he appeared to be following instructions, was India’s greatest error. The wicketkeeper was the last somewhat recognized batsman, and it was ridiculous to have him charge the best bowler in the opposition team before even getting set. Saha looked as if he had a death-wish, the way he kept attacking with gay abandon. His wish was quickly granted, and barring miracle from Kohli, a la the Sandstorm Century by Sachin at Sharjah, in a different format and 15 years ago, India looked buried.

Kohli flickered bravely for a while more, before getting extinguished in the most innocuous of fashions. I was critical of his dismissal in the first innings, and still believe that the story may have been slightly different had Kohli survived the third evening, but there were absolutely no regrets about his loft this time around. The ball was there to be hit, a rank long-hop, and one would expect Kohli to send it sailing over the deep mid-wicket boundary 99 times out of 100.

But Kohli mistimed the shot. Marsh nearly made a hash of it, but once the ball nestled in his enormous palms, the game was over. It looked for a while that 100 wild horses might be required to drag Kohli away from the crease, but the skipper finally swallowed his anguish and departed to thundering applause from a sporting crowd.

Within a while, the final formalities were completed, and a great Test was won by the better team.

Adelaide – Disappointments

My biggest disappointment came during the Indian first innings when Kohli was hit smack on the center of his helmet by Mitchell Johnson off the first delivery he faced. No, the disappointment is not that he got hit. Neither was it at the overt gestures of concern, so unbecoming of any team today, but necessary in the aftermath of the great tragedy. Johnson’s reaction and subsequent behavior was the disappointment. The quick looked visibly shaken, much more than Kohli, and proceeded to banish the bouncer from his armory for the remainder of the spell. It may have given India a bit more breathing space, but the entire situation was a bit of a let-down for me.

The second disappointment was Kohli’s statement at the press conference. There is always the possibility that he was misquoted, or even that I am interpreting it wrong, but the general impression I got was that for Kohli, a draw was not worth it. He wanted to win, or lose in the attempt. The world has gone gaga over his positivity, and so have I, but I would not endorse the win or lose strategy. A draw, in alien conditions, is sometimes as good as a win, and gives one the leeway of starting fresh on an even keel. There is absolutely no dishonor in shutting shop and playing for a draw. The ideal strategy, which I believe Vijay and Kohli were following, would have been to keep going at 3-3.5 RPO without losing wickets till only about 10-12 overs were remaining. A loss would then be almost out of the equation, and a T20-esque attempt could be made to chase down even a 100-run target. Best case scenario would be a victory; worst case, draw.

Adelaide – Happiest moment

This can come as a shock, but my happiest moment came during/after the Warner-Aaron spat. Till that point, the match was in encased in the kind of sugar-coating Indo-Aussie encounters are never associated with. The reason was legitimate, but too much amiability was killing the Test. Aaron’s overstepping may have robbed India of a great opportunity, but the verbal duel, and subsequent needle, among other players as well, infused the much required animosity identifiable with great Tests between the two countries. From this point onwards, the Test became a Test again, sledges were administered in full flow, Johnson rediscovered some of his meanness, and a great Test ensued.

A peek into Brisbane

Brisbane. India’s greatest test (definitely no pun intended here). Australia last lost a Test here in 1988, when the senior Marsh opened the innings. India have never won a Test here, but Ganguly’s 144, in 2003, ensured a respectable draw. If India manage to replicate it, I would consider it a success.

On a greentop and against Johnson and a pair of eager-to-prove-themselves youngsters, the Indians have their task cut out. Nothing back home would have prepared them for this, and it will a thorough test of technique and temperament.

As per my earlier prediction, Dhawan should play this Test, irrespective of his performance in the first. Failure at Brisbane could prompt the think-tank to give KL Rahul a much deserved look-in, but that is still a while away. Therefore, the batting line-up is not likely to be disturbed.

Dhoni has more than hinted that Ashwin would be in tomorrow’s XI, and I do not see any cause for deviation. The experiment with Karn was justifiable, but now that it failed big time, there is intelligence in discontinuing it.

I also believe that Umesh Yadav stands a good chance for breaking into the playing XI. Both Aaron and Shami have not impressed, but then, neither have the more famed Australian quicks. However, at the Gabba, Umesh’s genuine swing abilities could see him edge out Aaron, more of a hit-the-deck bowler. Ishant, the steadiest Indian bowler on display at Adelaide, is not likely to be tampered with, and Shami should survive by the skin of his teeth.

Just a few hours to go. Here’s hoping that Brisbane emulates Adelaide, at least in process, if not in outcome.

Amol Muzumdar: The tragic story of India’s ‘next Sachin Tendulkar’ who faded into oblivion

by  Tim Green aka atoach 

On a bright spring morning, two young boys were scripting history. One of them would go on to be heralded by most as the greatest batsman of the modern era; the other was to sparkle briefly before fizzing out. The match in question pitted Shardashram Vidya Mandir against St. Xavier’s in the semi finals of the 1988 inter-school Harris Shield tournament, and the boys at the crease were Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, who were in the process of stitching together a world record partnership of 664 runs for the third wicket.

While this story is very popular, little is known about the batsman slotted to come in next; a 13-year-old boy named Amol Muzumdar. Padded up ever since the first wicket fell, Muzumdar waited in the wings for the entire duration of the remainder of the innings; he kept practicing in the nets, and every time he checked, he saw the two continue their onslaught on the hapless bowlers. When Shardashram finally declared their innings on a colossal 748, Tendulkar and Kambli were still unbeaten, and Muzumdar’s pads came off without a stroke in the middle. This wait is perhaps symbolic of the never-ending wait of the talented Mumbaikar to break into the national team, something he never managed to achieve.
Making his first class debut in the 1993-94 Ranji Trophy pre-quarter final against Haryana, Muzumdar struck a magnificent 260, breaking the world record for the highest score made on first-class debut, which till then was held by Transvaal’s W. F. E. Marx, who made 240 against Griqualand West in Johannesburg in 1920-21. Muzumdar’s record stands till today.

The scintillating debut, followed by a string of consistent knocks, saw the young Muzumdar being hailed as the ‘next Sachin Tendulkar’, and was soon drafted as the vice-captain of India Under-19 squad. His perfect technique and calm demeanor saw him getting pitted against another rising youngster with similar qualities – Karnataka’s Rahul Dravid. The selectors got an opportunity to watch both these talented youngsters on a common platform during the England A tour of 1995, which included 3 unofficial Tests and 3 one-day games.

The visitors crushed the India A side 3-0 in the longer format, and Muzumdar failed. Dravid, even back then, stood rock steady while almost everyone perished around him. Muzumdar bounced back in the ODI series, which again the visitors took 2-1, with scores of 79 and 69 in the first two matches, but he had lost the contest against Dravid, considered largely on the basis of performances in the longer format. Another youngster who was part of that A team, Sourav Ganguly, had a forgettable series across both formats.

The 1996 tour of England was a crucial one for these young guns, with two stalwarts looking set to exit the Indian Test arena – Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sanjay Manjrekar. The 1995-96 Duleep Trophy was the most likely feeding ground for these replacements, and the stage was set for four talented batsmen – Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Amol Muzumdar, to prove their worth to the selectors.

Laxman topped the batting charts, with 395 runs, and was followed by Dravid with 353 runs. Muzumdar was not far behind, on 4th position, with 333 runs, including an imperious double century against North Zone. Ganguly rounded off the quartet, finishing 6th with 308 runs.

While the selectors were not yet convinced about Laxman’s consistency, Dravid was an automatic choice. The toss-up for the final spot may have been between Muzumdar and Ganguly; though the latter had lesser runs, his innings of 171 against a very strong West Zone bowling attack may have helped in getting a nod in his favor. This was perhaps Muzumdar’s best chance of getting into the national Test squad – but nobody can complain about the people who got in at his expense – Ganguly went on to crack consecutive centuries in his first two Test matches, and with Dravid displaying the perfect combination of technique and temperament right from the onset, India had just discovered two of its greatest Test batsmen.

The man who put cricket above everything else – in an interview, Muzumdar confessed that he never had outings with family or friends, and did not even celebrate his birthdays – continued piling runs for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. Between 1993-94 and 2002-03, he scored 6051 runs in 90 matches at an average of more than 50. During this period, he saw Mumbai teammates like Wasim Jaffer, Sairaj Bahatule, Nilesh Kulkarni etc. (the first, definitely deserved, the others, a result of India’s unsettled bowling order) getting into the national side, without ever getting a call himself.

Perhaps his greatest enemy was his batting position – he preferred batting at numbers 3 or 4 – positions which were made their own by Dravid and Tendulkar respectively. The number 5 position did present a few opportunities, with a young Laxman, reminiscent of a modern Rohit Sharma, combining high octane innings like his 167 against Australia in Sydney 1999-00 with several disappointing ones.

The 2001 Test match against Australia at Kolkata changed all that, and he went on to become one of India’s most valuable Test players over the next decade. Ganguly was also criticized often for his lack of footwork, and susceptibility against short-pitched bowling outside the sub continent, but he kept scoring runs, and post captaincy, his excellent leadership skills made him a permanent fixture in the Indian Test squad. So, with nobody but time to blame, Muzumdar really did not stand a chance to break into the Indian Test middle-order during the peak of his batting abilities.

The beginning of the end, though the writing on the wall was evident much earlier with respect to getting into the national side, came in 2009, when he was dropped from the Mumbai team for the Buchi Babu tournament. He retaliated by deciding to join Assam for the upcoming domestic season where he led from the front, helping them get promoted to the Elite division the very first year. However, the happiness was short-lived, and they were relegated the very next year. He then re-applied to the Mumbai team, only to be informed that a ‘cooling-off’ period of one year was in place, possibly due to his unceremonious exit in 2009.

In an increasingly worrying sign of departure from the calmness which graced his batting during his hey-day, Muzumdar, at the end of the ‘cooling-off’ year, signed up, not for Mumbai, but for Andhra Pradesh! However, his cricketing acumen appeared intact, as he scored close to a 1000 runs for Andhra in the 2012-13 Ranji season, at an average of nearly 80, emerging as one of the top run-scorers in the tournament.

Muzumdar continues to play first class cricket, but his dream of representing the country at the highest level is not likely to be realized. With more than 9200 runs, he is the second highest run scorer of all-time in the Ranji Trophy, just behind his former Mumbai teammate Wasim Jaffer. It is a shame that such pedigree went unnoticed at an international level, and today, after his nomadic ventures over the last 5 years, he may even have faded from the memory of many of his beloved Mumbaikars, with the new batch of ‘next Tendulkars’ like Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane emerging.

The man did no wrong, but for the fact that he was at his peak in an era dominated by the ‘Big 4’ in Indian cricket. Had he been around today, as the young boy who gave three of India’s best cricketers a run for their money in the 1994-95 Duleep Trophy, he would have been a definite presence in the current tattered middle-order; but unfortunately, at a shade below 40 years of age, he will not be in contention now.

His story may be forgotten as one among several talented sportsmen, who failed to breakthrough at the highest level in their individual sport, but he does deserve a silent applause for sheer commitment to the game for more than two decades, a one-sided love affair which will end as one of the most tragic romances in cricketing history.

This article was first published on Sportskeeda: http://www.sportskeeda.com/cricket/amol-muzumdar-tragic-story-india-sachin-tendulkar-faded-oblivion

Adelaide Test Day 1: Australia ahead, but late strikes keep India in the game

The Border-Gavaskar trophy kicked off today, after a numbing fortnight in the aftermath of Philip Hughes’ tragic death. While everyone associated with the game, and especially broadcasters, presented a cheery front with a clear message of ‘we need to move on’, the man’s shadow was writ large over the Adelaide Oval on Day 1 of the First Test. The Australians are never found wanting on intensity on most days, and this gargantuan tragedy must have only pushed it up a few notches, as a largely lackluster Indian bowling attack found out today.

In line with my predictions a month earlier (with Brisbane in mind and in much happier times), Karn Sharma made his debut, being preferred over spin stalwarts like Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. There were no other surprises. Varun Aaron’s red-hot form in the warm-up games edged out Umesh Yadav, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s unavailability due to injury meant that Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami were automatic choices.

Match Status

At 345-3 with 6 overs to go, Australia looked set to claim Day 1 by a huge margin. By stumps, however, three more wickets, two of them big ones, had fallen for the addition of just 9 runs. The Aussies are still ahead, with Steven Smith looking extremely fluent, but the late strikes ensured that India will have some momentum going into the second day, and with the severity of Michael Clarke’s injury yet unknown, a sub-400 total is a possibility. 

The first two sessions belonged to Australia, as an emotionally charged David Warner took the game by the scruff of its neck en route to a 10th Test century, the 5th in his last 10 innings. His opening partner Chris Rogers looked visibly uncomfortable during his brief stay, and was all at sea during the first over of the Test, perhaps the only one today where ball entirely dominated the bat. Shane Watson came and went, but the 118 run partnership between Clarke and Warner put Australia in the driving seat.

India went wicket-less between Lunch and Tea, with their only ‘breakthrough’ coming with Clarke retiring hurt on 60, his troubled back playing up yet again. Unfortunate or otherwise, it was a major relief for India’s tepid bowling attack to see the back of a man who has a 100+ batting average on this ground, which is just 6 adrift of the great Sir Don on this all-time batsman’s paradise.

Virat Kohli’s inexperience came to the fore, with the bowling side maintaining an atrocious over-rate through the day. Vijay had to roll his arm over to hasten proceedings, but this took out further sting from an already near-toothless attack.

I had despairingly tweeted at Tea that India needed a minimum of 3 wickets in the final session, and my prayers were answered, albeit at the fag-end of the day’s play. Aaron was largely unimpressive today, but it was his unexpected lifting delivery which accounted for Mitchell Marsh and triggered the late mini-collapse.

Australian Player of the Day – David Warner

Warner was the architect of Australian dominance on Day 1, by a long distance. Reminiscent of Virender Sehwag in his prime, at least in terms of aggression, the diminutive southpaw provided a live definition of the difference between anger and emotional content during his sublime innings of 145. Warner’s bond with the late Hughes, and the trauma of being in close proximity when he fell, was evident from his body language. To his credit, the NSW lad channelized the pain into fierce concentration, which, combined with his natural aggression, broke the back of the Indian bowling.
Warner’s opening wrested the initiative from the Indians, who had done a good job of bottling up one end and sending Rogers and Watson back to the hut, but were powerless against the dynamo opener. Every milestone was followed by a searching glance at the skies for his mate, and when Warner raised his bat on reaching 63*, it was a gentle reminder of the human element in an increasingly commercial sport. His innings was largely chance-less, with a run-out scare, while on 131, possibly the only blemish amid a flurry of brilliant stroke-play. 

Indian Player of the Day – Ishant Sharma

Ishant Sharma’s spell today was the difference between the current score and a 400+ one at the end of Day 1. Coming in first change with the score looking more T20-ish than Test at 45/0 after 5 overs, the lanky pacer began with a maiden, that too against the rampaging Warner, who was clocking a SR of close to 200 prior to that over.

Ishant accounted for an edgy Rogers in his next over, and welcomed Shane Watson with an accurate bouncer, causing him to take his eyes of the ball as it went whistling past his ear. He continued to work on the Aussie all-rounder, hitting him with another short ball directed at the body, after an unsuccessful lbw appeal in the previous over.

Aaron then got rid of the burly all-rounder, as the subdued Watson attempted to cut a ball too close to his body and slashed to 2nd slip, but I would credit Ishant’s probing length as an abetment to the dismissal.

Though the Delhi lad had just one wicket to show for his efforts, he was the only ray of hope in an otherwise gloomy bowling performance by the Indians, the final 10 minutes notwithstanding. A yard slower than his younger colleagues, Ishant made up for it by hitting uncomfortable lengths and extracting disconcerting bounce quite consistently.

Camp Concerns

The hunt for a worthy successor to Ricky Ponting continues to be a concern for Australia, with Watson looking extremely uncomfortable at this position. More worrying than the early dismissal was his ineptitude against the short delivery today, which could force the team management to reconsider a specialist no.3, possibly Shaun Marsh, and pick one between Watto and Mitchell Marsh in the middle-order, going forward.

The biggest worry, however, will be Clarke’s injury, the extent of which is not yet known. According to latest reports, the Australian captain has undertaken scans, the results of which are awaited. Local websites/news channels have expressed concern at the possibility of Clarke’s injury causing him to pull out of the series and even jeopardize World Cup plans.

Smith’s consistency in the middle order is a big positive, but Clarke’s unavailability could exert immense pressure on a not-so-menacing batting line-up, heavily reliant on Warner to get them off to explosive starts.

Coming to India, there are plenty of concerns. Aaron tops that list, with Shami closely following. Aaron could not recover from Warner’s early onslaught, and while he did work up some pace, the Jharkhand quick was hardly threatening. His best delivery was the first bouncer of this Test – quick, accurate and uncomfortably close to the back of Warner’s head, as replays showed. It’s a pity he could not maintain that sort of intensity through the day, while hinting at a possible niggle which will hopefully be a passing one. To his credit, he surprised Marsh into a false stroke, triggering two more wickets, which will allow Kohli to breathe a bit more easily tonight.

After a probing first over, Shami was taken to the cleaners by Warner, and he did little worth mentioning in ensuing spells, with his twin wickets at the death providing an undeserving respectability to his figures.
I wouldn’t be excessively harsh on the young leggie, who looked out of sorts to begin with, but got tighter towards the end of his spell. Karn does not come across as a natural in this format, bowling mostly with a flat trajectory and limited variations. His first class record is also not much to write home about, but with Ashwin and Jadeja not delivering overseas, it is a justifiable gamble, the pay-off of which we will come to know in a few days.  

Final Word

The Aussies are definitely in the ascendancy. Considering the three late wickets as well as Clarke’s uncertain participation, I would say the game is poised 60:40 in their favor.

A lot will depend on tomorrow’s morning session. Australia will look to add at least 100 runs, while India will pin their hopes on getting Smith early and restricting the batting side to within the vicinity of 400.

Sentiment vs. Performance: A Quadrant Analysis of the 5 big names who missed the WC bus

The last couple of weeks have been surreal. The world is still coming to grips with the fact that one of the most promising young cricketers of this era is no longer among us. After what seemed like eternal numbness, cricketers are pledging to move on. Hughes’ funeral, which saw an outpouring of emotions, also helped create a closure (at least at the physical level) of sorts.

A day later, the BCCI announced the 30-man probables list for the 2015 World Cup, overflowing with youngsters, effectively ringing the career death-knell for five heroes of the 2011 triumph – Yuvraj Singh, Virendar Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. Barring a miracle (read: major injuries among the set of 30), World Cup 2015 is over for them, as are perhaps their careers.

There have been two distinct sets of reactions – an outpouring of grief among respective fans, who have flocked to various social media channels to express their displeasure. On the other hand,  gurus of the game have endorsed the pragmatism behind the omission, pointing out the quintet’s deplorable stats of late.

This article looks to reconcile the two, or at least present it, via a quadrant analysis.

Quadrant Methodology

Readers acquainted with usual quadrant methodologies would know that the top-right is the place to be. But given that we are comparing both batsmen and bowlers on a common graph, I tweaked that a bit.

X-Axis:  The horizontal axis measures fan-sentiment with respect to the players in concern. ‘Measures’ may not be the best terminology here, as this is essentially subjective, based on the vociferousness of the recalls for these cricketers, across social media as well as traditional channels, in recent times. While the negative axis is just for aesthetic appeal, it is anyone’s guess that all these players will be in the positive on this parameter, i.e. to the right of the Y-axis.

Y-Axis:  The vertical axis plots the batting averages for Yuvraj, Sehwag and Gambhir, and the bowling averages for Harbhajan and Zaheer in List A cricket from the 2012-13 season till date. The median is considered at 30, which, according to me is the minimum acceptable limit for both batsmen and bowlers.

Therefore, the place to be is the top right for batsmen, and bottom right for bowlers.

Now let us have a look at the individual performers from both perspectives. I will rank them in order of deservedness in ascending order, from the least deserving to the most. Bear in mind that it is ‘relative’ analysis, and the most deserving in a relative context may not be in an absolute one.

Averages calculated on the basis of performances in List A games between the 2012-13 season till date

#5. Zaheer Khan

Zaheer Khan has been one of my favourite cricketers over the years. Ever since the guy, reminiscent of a left-handed Imran Khan due to his exaggerated delivery jump, burst onto the international scene during the ICC Mini World Cup in Nairobi at the turn of the century, with those 140kmph+ yorkers. I forgave him for the first over in the 2003 WC final. I rejoiced as he evolved into an excellent Test bowler in the latter half of the decade, architecting a few memorable away wins (did someone say jellybean?) while mentoring a surprisingly large pack of quicks, a pleasant luxury to have in a sub-continental country not called Pakistan. I did not expect him to succeed in 2011, but he proved me wrong, emerging as the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Looking back, Zaheer has always raised his game when playing in a World Cup.

For all the adulation, I cannot bury my head in the sand and demand for his inclusion in the WC 2015 squad. The man has not played List A cricket since the Sri Lankan tour in 2012, when he was carted around the park, his 4 wickets costing 57 apiece.

Even if I look at his recent First Class performances, in Tests against South Africa and New Zealand, his wickets came at an average of 40+.

He has not played in any domestic tournament of note this year. How exactly can he be considered?

Yet, there is a huge clamor for his inclusion in social channels, which is why I have given him a ‘4’ score on Sentiment. I tried to assign the slightest thread of logic to this sentiment, but failed miserably.

#4. Harbhajan Singh

Harhajan Singh has never really set the ODI stage on fire, except perhaps the 2001-02 season, where, buoyed by a successful Test series against Australia, he picked up 29 wickets at a sub-20 average.

He is the only member of this quintet who is a step behind the other four, in the context of being a 2011 WC hero.  Being a member of a WC winning squad definitely makes him a hero at some level, but his abysmal performance in the tournament – 9 wickets at 43 apiece, may have derailed India’s dream, had Yuvraj not stepped up with 15 wickets, which effectively masked the Turbanator’s failure.

Harbhajan continues to walk the thin line between mediocrity and poor in List A cricket, having picked up just 18 wickets at nearly 40 apiece in the past two years. His average in the current season is worse, being just 2 short of a half-century.

Even his 2011 WC inclusion was a semi-emotional one. Selectors were not likely to commit the same error twice.

Thankfully, not too many are protesting.

#3. Virender Sehwag

Let’s face it. Virender Sehwag’s credentials in ODI cricket are nowhere close to the awesomeness he exuded when playing the longest format of the game. A 15-run dip in batting average bears testimony to that. However, he did have a great 2011 WC, even though nearly half his tournament total of 380 runs came in the opening fixture against Bangladesh. While I am not belittling the Bangla tigers in their own den, it does mean that the Sehwag made just 200 more in his remaining 7 innings at a sub-30 average – nothing to write home about.

Sehwag’s career is a paradox in itself; with a game-play tailor made for ODI cricket, the Nawab of Najafgarh kept shocking pundits with an uncanny consistency in whites. They kept extolling the virtues of footwork while he became a living case-study on hand-eye coordination.

Alas, good things don’t last forever. Over the past couple of years, the reflexes have slowed, even against domestic bowlers, and the happy hand-eye marriage looked on the rocks.

In 13 List A matches since the 2012-13 season, Sehwag has scored 263 runs at an average of 20. This season, he made just 131 in 6 innings; it includes a Sehwag-of-old 68-ball 80 blitzkrieg against Haryana during the Vijay Hazare trophy. Simple math will tell you how he fared in the remaining five.

Sehwag has an equally, if not more, compelling fan-following, who were roused even more by the disclosure, a couple of days before the release of the probables list, of the man’s ‘hope’ of being selected for the 2015 WC.

It would have taken a very brave group of selectors to include him; thankfully, sanity prevailed.

#2. Gautam Gambhir

Shak Rukh Khan is a marketing genius. Say what you will about his movies, but he knows a thing or two about ROIs. Which is why, when he spent a whopping $2 million on acquiring Gautam Gambhir for his team KKR in early 2011, it made perfect marketing sense to include within one’s fold the future captain of India.

Gambhir was probably at his peak, and with the 0-8 thrashing just around the corner, the move appeared to be the right one, even in myopic hindsight. However, Dhoni held on, and Gambhir’s own form slipped, at least at the national level. He did lead KKR to 2 titles in 3 years – no mean achievement for a team languishing towards the bottom during inaugural editions of the IPL. But taking into account his diminishing stock as a cricketer beyond the franchise, the ROI may not have been as expected in this case.

Looking at recent List A stats, Gambhir has not fared much better than Sehwag; 684 runs in 30 innings at an average of 24 since the 2012-13 season. Coincidentally, both Gambhir and Sehwag tasted success together this season. Gambhir made 93 in the same match against Haryana, who must be wondering what insipid magic their bowling conjured up to revive not one, but two out-of-form players.

Unfortunately, like Sehwag, it was his only innings of significance this List A season. Since his sparkling 167 for North Zone during the Duleep Trophy semi-final went unnoticed during team selection for the Australian Test series, it is likely to have been equally invisible when selectors went about their first level inclusions for the WC.

Fans are not overtly vociferous for Gambhir’s inclusion – I completely respect and endorse their views.

#1. Yuvraj Singh

To cut a long story short, Yuvraj Singh was the biggest hero of the 2011 triumph, a title accentuated to the nth degree in light of the deadly disease he was carrying within at that time.

From being dismissed as talentless by his father’s friend Navjot Singh Siddhu, to being subject to a rigorous training program which often bordered on torturous, Yuvraj’s childhood was anything but a bed of roses.

He was introduced to success early in life, and like the protagonist of a clichéd movie script, quickly descended into the furnaces of failure before emerging like a phoenix for a great victory.

Unfortunately, life differs from movies in continuing even after the climax, and when that happens, anti-climaxes are not far behind, as is the case now.

In case you glance over at the quadrant, you may notice that Yuvraj is the only one who scrapes into the ‘acceptable’ zone.  While only his batting credentials are considered in the quadrant, he continues to be a useful change bowler with the happy knack of picking up wickets. All this, with a significantly weakened body and mind, with the latter only fueled by the exuberance of playing again for the nation.

Yuvraj commands a huge fan following, yours truly included, driven by the superhuman grit he showed in first holding off the Big C to lead India to their best moment in nearly 30 years, and then defeating it to return to active cricket in surprisingly quick time.

As I said at the onset, being the best among the quintet may not warranty safe passage. Yuvraj continues to be the best among them. However, the numbers are not enough. A couple of big scores this domestic season may have turned the tide in his favor. But it was not to be.

From an emotional viewpoint, Yuvraj’s omission is unfortunate. From a pragmatic POV, there is no justifying his inclusion.

Final Word

To conclude,

  • It is absurd to consider inclusion of a man who has not played any List A cricket for the past 3 years, and has limited match practice across other formats as well. Zaheer’s exclusion was a definite no-brainer.
  • Its high time we stop over-crediting Harbhajan as a key architect of the 2011 WC win, though his mere presence in the WC winning squad immortalizes him as a hero in cricket annals. However, he has had a relatively lackluster ODI career, and continues to be mediocre in recent List A performances. 
  • Gambhir and Sehwag follow a similar pattern to each other. They have very few runs under their belt, with both their season-best performances coming in the same game. 
  • Yuvraj is the only one among the quintet to scramble into the ‘Acceptable’ zone of quadrant analysis. However, recent numbers are just not good enough for selection.

While many have complained about the selectors’ ‘callousness’, others have hailed the move as brave.

As for me, I am absolutely convinced about one thing. The decision wasn’t a brave one by the selectors. Given the performances of the Outgoing-5 in recent times, it was the ONLY one possible.

All-time left-handed World Test XI

This is a World XI like no other – eleven of the best left-handed Test cricketers collected from across ages and banded together. It is a team truly capable of invincibility, shrouded in the elegance that comes naturally to their ilk while possessing the ability of switching over to charmless aggression if and when required.

Putting together a group as unique as this is, anyway, challenging; to do it without a selection criteria, however, is next to impossible. The blueprint for mine is as follows:

  •  Contrasting openers: one dominating, the other solid
  •  Number 3: More Rahul Dravid than Sir Don Bradman in style
  •  Briskly scoring 4 and 5
  •  A genuine all-rounder at 6
  •  Aggressive wicket-keeper batsman
  •  An out-and-out quick bowler
  •  Two masterly swing bowlers
  •  One specialist spinner

The all-rounder I have in mind is of the spinning variety, which is why I have opted for just one specialist. While this blueprint is by no means the best possible, it is the skeletal structure of the upcoming list.

Here is the final list:

Openers: Matthew Hayden and Arthur Morris

Matthew Hayden is an easy choice when compiling a World XI. Big, imposing and adept against both pace and spin, Haydos gets the nod ahead of former South African skipper Graeme Smith due to a couple of reasons:

  1. Overall technical superiority
  2. No bunny-ish traits against particular bowlers (read: Zaheer Khan)

I did not consider Smith for the second opener’s role in a quest for more variety. Besides, it would be against the law of nature to have opposition fast bowlers stared down at both ends, rather than the other way round.

Biff has superior leadership skills and would have been an automatic choice in a weaker team, but he finds no place in a World XI.

Hayden’s greatest weakness is perhaps the tendency to be over-aggressive, and an absolute reluctance to let a ball go. The casualty of this blemish is his long-time opening partner, Justin Langer – who, as an elite member of the Invincibles at the turn of the century, was as disdainful of opposition bowlers and, therefore, a risky proposition to include.

Hence the quest for someone old-school comes to a screeching halt in front of another AustralianInvicibles member, albeit from half a century earlier.

Described as calm and compact by ESPNCricinfo, countryman Arthur Morris will be the ideal foil to a headstrong Hayden. But can he bat? A certain Sir Don Bradman definitely thought so, dedicating pages to Morris’ skills in his memoir, Farewell to Cricket, and hailing him as one of the best batsmen of the (then) new generation.

Morris even outscored the great Bradman during the latter’s farewell series, the 1948-49 Ashes in England, making 696 at 87.00 as opposed to the Don’s 508 at 72.6. The baton was well and truly passed during the 301-run partnership between them at Headingly, which helped Australia easily overhaul the stiff fourth innings target of 404.

At the Oval, when Bradman fell for a duck in his final innings, Morris made 196: a trivia easily forgotten amidst the Don’s famous failure.

Morris was averaging approximately 75 at that time and may have even threatened the Don’s figures, but his form dipped significantly post 1950. And his wife’s terminal illness led to an early retirement at 33.

#3. Kumar Sangakkara

Many choices in this list involve a trade-off between flair and steadiness. In Kumar Sangakkara, I find a good mix of both. Very capable of playing in both Hayden and Morris mode, depending on who falls first, the Sri Lankan also provides an excellent option as a back-up wicket-keeper.

Sangakkara’s biggest asset is his tenacity, which is evident from the number of double centuries he has notched up till date. His closest contender for this slot would be Graeme Pollock, whose batting average of 60.97 is second only to Bradman (minimum of 20 innings – my sincere apology to Mominul Haque fans). Couple of factors tilted the scales in the Sri Lankan’s favour:

  1. Experience of playing 100+ Tests more than Pollock
  2. Pollock is more of a dasher, while team balance called for someone more solid
  3. Back-up wicket-keeping abilities

Apartheid cut short Pollock’s promising career at the age of 26, and, while his 20,000+ First-class runs provide ample proof that the Test average was no flash in the pan, I would stll stick with Sanga as my number 3.

#4. Brian Lara

The first among a few easy decisions in the middle-order, Brian Lara receives a unanimous vote from all my grey cells for the number 4 position on this list. Probably the best Test batsman in the modern era and easily the most flamboyant, Lara’s ability to play his natural game irrespective of the state of the match makes him an invaluable asset.

If Haydos stays long enough to witness the departure of Morris and Sangakkara, the pair could have a wonderful discussion on the breaking and reclaiming of a trifling record that goes by the name of ‘highest Test score.’

Is there a concern? Well, maybe. If we cast our mind back to the famous 2003-04 Antigua Test, several players and experts, led by Ricky Ponting, questioned the self-centred late declaration by captain Lara in the quest for his quadruple, which allowed England to escape defeat by the skin of their teeth.

Individualism over team will always be an elephant in Lara’s room, but his talent is a perfect mahout on most occasions.

#5. Clive Lloyd (c)

The toss-up for this position, in my mind, was always going to be between Clive Lloyd and Allan Border. While Border was perhaps a slightly better batsman, Lloyd was definitely a better leader: a fact endorsed by the Australian himself, in conjunction with Kapil Dev and Imran Khan – a pair I, thankfully, do not have to pit against each other for a position on this list.

The need of the hour is that of a great captain, one experienced in handling a star-studded team, and the big West Indian gets my nod. An Ulyssessian obsession for the pursuit of excellence would be the perfect icing on a ‘World XI-cake’, and that is precisely what Supercat brings to the table.

Famous for turning a highly talented but equally rudderless group of individuals into one of the most potent units during the 70s and 80s, his captaincy could be tested against individuals already stars in their own right – and not hero-worshipping him.

Much like Captain America, out of time and place among the rest of the Avengers, the gentleman cricketer (though his wife may not necessarily agree) will surely command respect from the rest of the superstars within a short span of time.

#6. Garry Sobers

You could accuse me of stuffing the middle-order with West Indians, but no other cricketer – right or left handed – can stake a claim to the best ever all-rounder crown, which rests perfectly on Sir Garfield Sobers’ head. As concluded by ESPNCricinfo after several rounds of analyses, Sobers is not just the greatest all-rounder ever, but the greatest player.

Born with six fingers in each hand, the freak of nature almost seemed superhuman as far as his exploits go. He was a batsman par excellence, scoring 8000+ runs at an average of nearly 58, and was the proud owner of our old friend – highest Test score – for close to fifty years, before a couple of batsmen earlier on this list meddled with it.

His 235 wickets at 34 apiece may not sound earth-shattering (isolated from his batting, of course), but his versatility – he could bowl at decent pace with the new ball and return to bowl orthodox left-arm or even chinaman – has never been matched, before or hence.

Add to that his exceptional capabilities in the field, at every position conceivable, and you get a number 6 who can walk into any World XI in the sport with ease.

#7. Adam Gilchrist (wk)

Definitely the easiest choice on this list, Adam Gilchrist would have given stiff competition to the best of them in the wicket-keeping business even if the left-handed parameter was nullified, as duly acknowledged by The Independent.  With this criterion, he wins almost unopposed, with his closest rival already a part of this team at number 3.

The history of the wicket-keeper specie can be perfectly segmented into two ages: the pre-Gilchrist era and the post-Gilchrist era. Before Gilchrist, wicket-keepers were expected to contribute with the bat and put up some sort of a resistance as the more accomplished middle-order survivor took on the bowling.

The Australian, however, seemed quite unaware of these ‘rules’ as he smashed bowlers to all corners of the park and counter-attacked with the kind of gusto that would have put the fictitious Rocky Balboa to shame, en route to rewriting history.

Not many wicket-keepers have made such an impact, at least in Tests, in the post-Gilchrist era. It’s not that the standards have fallen, but just that the bar has been raised to levels quite difficult to meet or surpass.

It would be unfair to not mention Andy Flower, who loses out against Gilchrist, overpowered by the man’s sheer awesomeness. He may have still found a place on this list as a specialist batsman, but there is no way into his favourite batting positions of 5 and 6 – sealed tight by the yesteryear West Indian superstars. His short-lived ineffectiveness at number 3 (5 innings at 16.20) also eliminates a back-door entry at the expense of Sangakkara.

#8. Wasim Akram

Selecting Wasim Akram was also pretty much a walk in the park: the man is the best left-arm pace bowler, ever!

A tear-away quick during his younger days, Akram was usually given absolute freedom by captain Imran Khan to bowl as quick as possible without worrying about no-balls, a confidence that the southpaw repaid with interest by bowling a few dream spells towards the business end of the ’92 One Day International (ODI) World Cup, which Pakistan won.

As the years passed, pace gave way to a magical control over the red cherry. Akram’s exploits at his best were like a Christopher Nolan movie – thrilling, surreal and a world in itself. His monumental achievements came against all kinds of odds. His bowling action, which pounded his groin and shoulder often into submission, is described beautifully by Gideon Haigh for ESPNCricinfo:

‘Akram’s technique was one of cricket’s great wonders, defying all the usual injunctions of coaches. After a breakneck sprint, Akram barrelled through the crease, front foot pointing down the pitch, back foot toward the sightscreen, arm a blur. That he was able to repeat this almost 41,000 times in international cricket beggars belief.’

Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 31, wrecker-in-chief for a sportsman, amid a plethora of other physical infirmities, Akram continued dismantling opposition batsmen with clockwork precision over the course of his career.

A more than capable willow-wielder down the order, the Lahorite, thankfully, channelized his energies more on his bowling throughout his career, thus sparing viewers the tragedy of an Irfan Pathan prequel.

#9. Mitchell Johnson

As I am the think-tank-cum-selection committee for this XI, an out-and-out quick is an absolute necessity, and therefore, Mitchell Johnson fits the bill perfectly. The slowest among the quickest of this generation (Shoaib Akhtar’s and Brett Lee’s quickest deliveries were about 5 kmph ahead of Johnson’s), the southpaw’s superior accuracy when on song, especially with the bouncer, makes him a much deadlier proposition than the aforementioned tearaways.

Johnson trades in the business of fear, one that a year ago practically ended the career of one of England’s best batsmen, Jonathan Trott, and had several of them fearing for their lives, according to Kevin Pieterson, as reported by Wisden.

The fear of getting hit is an acute reality, heightened immeasurably in the aftermath of the inconsolable Phil Hughes tragedy.

Johnson sleepwalked through 2011-12 and the first quarter of 2013; we, then, witnessed a miraculous turnaround, perhaps spurred by a cocktail of Homework-gate and an excellent IPL 2013, to which England and South Africa can bear painful testimony.

#10. Alan Davidson

This one had me in a bit of quandary. My heart instructed me to go for Zaheer Khan, who, when considered at his peak, is an absolute asset to have in any Test side. However, my head quickly reminded me that whatever Zaheer did Akram did it better, and he was already in the team.

This brings me to Alan Davidson, the big-broad shouldered Australian whose bowling speed and movement often belied a very economical run-up to the crease. Davidson was a late bloomer, and his first 10 Tests only yielded 13 wickets. For the record, in Test history, only Andrew Flintoff has done worse.

Davidson’s career took an upswing post the South Africa tour of 1957-58, and, over the next 5 years, he was phenomenal, finishing with 186 wickets in 44 Tests at an average of 20.53.

While the southpaw is generally bracketed as fast medium, his pace was subject to mood swings. According to Sobers, Davidson was ‘lightning fast when the mood took him’. Keith Miller, probably Australia’s greatest all-rounder, found Davidson’s bowling ‘deadly and devastating’.

According to former Test cricketer Ashley Mallett, the quick from New South Wales was just as good as Akram and perhaps better in using his lead arm.

Besides being a very useful contributor down the order, Davidson’s grit seals the deal – he went into the famous 1960 tied Test against West Indies with a broken finger on his bowling hand and emerged as the first man to take 10 wickets and 100 runs in the same match.

#11. Bishen Singh Bedi

Having someone like Sobers in the team grants me the luxury of going in with only one specialist spinner. For me, it was a toss-up between Bishan Singh Bedi and Derek Underwood, the ‘Deadly’ Englishman. While Underwood may have slightly better figures, Bedi gets the nod for the following reasons:

  1. He managed to make a significant impact on the Test landscape even while sharing space (and wickets) with three of the best spinners ever produced by India
  2. Superior technique, especially the ‘guile’ factor
  3. Willingness to take a few hits to ‘buy’ a wicket

With Akram, Johnson and Davidson allowing very little breathing space to the batsmen, they will inevitably go after Bedi. Even if they don’t pre-plan it, the tempting loop would be too much to resist. Like several before them, they would commit to an aggressive stroke, when faced with what looks like a half-volley for 90 percent of its trajectory but dips wickedly at the last moment, which in all probability will lead to their doom.

Besides, Bedi adds some well-needed flavour to the team. From the Vaseline controversy to threatening to throw the entire team into the sea during his coaching stint, the outspoken Punjabi will be a wonderful presence in this champion dressing room.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda: 
http://www.sportskeeda.com/slideshow/all-time-left-handed-world-test-xi-cricket

Top 10 Indian cricketers who could not realize their full potential

Over the last two and a half decades, Indian cricket has seen it all; the 90s were perhaps the darkest years in modern cricket history where India won only one away Test, that too against Sri Lanka, and was then dragged into the quagmire of match-fixing towards the end of the millennium. 2000-2010 was a definite high, with India registering several overseas victories under the able captaincy of Sourav Ganguly, and later Anil Kumble.

The team has experienced mixed fortunes post 2010: while they have lifted the World Cup and the Champions Trophy, they have also embarrassingly lost a number of Test matches on foreign soil. This article looks at some of the players during this period who possessed great potential but have been unable to realize it, for a variety of reasons. The slideshow captures, in order of gap between potential and realized talent, the top 10 Indian cricketers during this time frame.

#10. Hrishikesh Kanitkar

Hrishikesh Kanitkar shot into prominence in his 3rd One Day International: not with a century or a 5-wicket-haul, but with a score of 11 not out; avid followers of the game will recall the 1998 Independence Cup final at Dhaka (a triangular involving India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) where, in near darkness, with India requiring 3 runs off 2 balls, young Kanitkar swung an in-form Saqlain Mushtaq to the mid-wicket boundary for 4 runs, sealing a famous victory.

In his very next ODI, against Australia in Kochi, Kanitkar scored 57, proving that he could not only keep his cool in adverse conditions but also had the ability to make runs against quality bowlers like Shane Warne. Given that he could also roll his arm over in the middle-overs, India’s quest for an all-rounder seemed over, and he was being hailed as the next potential superstar of Indian cricket.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be his only half-century; though he continued playing some useful innings over the next two years, his last international ODI was at Perth versus Australia in January 2000. His Test career was even briefer; he played a couple of Tests against Australia in the 1999-00 series, and, though he managed a decent innings of 45 in Melbourne, he was discarded after the January 2000 Test at Sydney, and not selected again.

Though Kanitkar has not played international cricket for nearly 15 years now, he was impressive in the very conditions Indian batsmen are currently toiling in; in 2006, he played for the Brentwood Cricket Club in Essex and scored over a 1000 runs that season at an average of approximately 76. His leadership acumen also came to the fore during the 2010-11 domestic season when he captained Rajasthan to their maiden Ranji trophy victory.

#9. Sadagoppan Ramesh

Though he had a fair run in both Tests and ODIs, it was in the longer format that Sadagoppan Ramesh exuded strong potential. Ramesh made his presence felt in his very second Test match, against Pakistan in February 1999 at the Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi; the match is remembered not for him, but for Anil Kumble, who got all 10 wickets in the second innings. The performance was undoubtedly special, as the leg-spinner became only the second person after Jim Laker to take all 10 wickets in an innings; however, it relegated to the background Ramesh’s knocks of 60 and 96 against one of the strongest Pakistan bowling attacks I have ever seen: Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed.

Had it not been for the once-in-a-decade performance by Kumble, Ramesh would have walked away with the Man-of-the-Match award. He continued performing impressively in Tests against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and his batting average after his first 7 Test matches was nearly 56. He suffered a setback during the 1999-00 Australian tour when a Brett Lee delivery injured him and put him out of action for a while. He returned to international Test cricket towards the end of the year but did not seem the same player again; he got several starts but did not make any big scores. Ramesh played his final Test in August 2001, and Virender Sehwag played his first Test in November 2001; no wonder the door never opened again for Ramesh.

#8. Sanjay Manjrekar

Somewhat like Ramesh, though having played as many as 74 ODI matches, it was in the Test arena that Sanjay Manjrekar was considered special. His obsession with technical perfection resulted in a strike-rate of only 64.3 in ODIs, which, even in those days, was not particularly encouraging. In Tests, however, his technical mettle drew comparisons with the great Sunil Gavaskar, and not unduly so. In only his third Test, facing up to the fearsome West Indies pace quartet of Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop, in their own backyard at Bridgetown in April 1989, Manjrekar scored his first century.

India’s tour of Pakistan later that year established him as the next best thing to happen to Indian Test cricket when he made scores of 113*, 76, 83, 218 and 72 against a bowling line-up that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Imran Khan and Abdul Qadir. He failed during the New Zealand tour that was up next, and, though he bounced back with a better performance in the 1990 England tour, he could never again recreate the 1989 magic.

In his own words, his form declined after 1992-93; though he continued to contribute, his performances were a shadow of his initial years. Given his potential, he was persisted with till 1996 when injury and the simultaneous rise of two Indian greats Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly – both of whom made their debut together the same year in England – drew down the curtains on his career.

#7. Amol Muzumdar

I will not be surprised if many people have not come across this name, given that he has not played a single international match. Avid cricket followers and Mumbaikars will vouch for the fact that there was a time that Amol Muzumdar was being touted as the next Sachin Tendulkar, with his penchant for scoring tons of runs in domestic cricket. Mazumdar has scored more than 11,000 runs in First-class cricket, behind only to his Mumbai team-mate Wasim Jaffer.

On his Ranji trophy debut, under Ravi Shastri’s captaincy, against Haryana in the 1993-94 season, Mazumdar cracked 260, which continues to be the world record for the highest score made on a first-class debut. I read an interesting article, which said that Mazumdar was padded up and waiting to bat during Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli’s epic 664-run partnership for Shardashram Vidyamandir school during the 1988 Harris Shield trophy. Mazumdar’s wait then was perhaps symbolic of his never-ending wait to get into the Indian cricket team. Despite consistently scoring runs throughout his domestic career, he never got a call-up to represent the country in either format.

He did not exactly sizzle in List A cricket, so, if selected, Test cricket would have been his calling. Perhaps, the only thing that went against him was that, at the peak of his form, there was no place in the Indian middle order that included Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and VVS Laxman.

#6. Munaf Patel

Munaf Patel is one of the rare cricketers who shot into limelight even before he had bowled a single ball in First-class cricket. Noticed by Kiran More in early 2003, and sent to the MRF Pace Foundation, he caught the eye of none other than Sachin Tendulkar who recommended him to the Mumbai Cricket Association. Hailed as the fastest bowler in the country at the time, his services were sought after by Gujarat, Baroda and Mumbai; he finally chose Mumbai, possibly influenced by the maestro.

Even at that early stage, he was injury prone, and it was only in March 2006 that he earned a call-up to the national side for the 2nd Test against England. He was extremely impressive in his debut match, particularly in the second innings, where he demolished the English middle and lower order with a barrage of reverse-swinging yorkers at close to 150kmph, collecting 4 wickets in the innings and 7 wickets in the match.

He continued to impress with his pace in the next few Test matches and ODIs but was sidelined after a poor show in South Africa in 2007; he particularly received flak for declaring himself fit when he wasn’t, highlighted by the fact that he bowled only 1 out of India’s 64.1 in South Africa’s second innings. Over the next few years, he suffered from a dramatic drop in pace, seemingly rebranding himself as a line and length bowler as opposed to the tearaway fast bowler he used to be. He enjoyed some level of success in ODIs and was the third highest wicket-taker for India in the 2011 World Cup, but the promise with which he exploded on the Indian cricketing scene has not been realized. With none of the IPL franchises selecting him for the 2014 edition, the future does not look too bright for Munaf.

#5. Mohammad Kaif

In a situation reverse to that of Ramesh and Manjrekar, Mohammad Kaif, despite a few Test innings, one of which was the majestic 148* against West Indies at St. Lucia, was always considered an ODI specialist. Unlike some of the other players on this list, Kaif did not shoot to fame immediately. After his ODI debut in January 2002, he played about 35 innings before playing a match-winning knock of 87* against England in the Natwest Trophy final in July 2002.

Till that day, and for a better part of that innings, he was considered a good support player, but the Natwest final established him as a batsman capable of pacing his innings splendidly and also showcased his power-hitting and excellent running between the wickets. His next ODI innings produced the first century of his ODI career, against Zimbabwe, and his reputation as an excellent finisher was further enhanced. Over the next four years, Kaif knit together several crucial innings, which included several 50s and a century against New Zealand in Harare, 2005.

With the exception of the Natwest final, flamboyance was not a characteristic usually associated with Kaif; this made him less noticeable than some of his more dashing peers like Yuvraj Singh. This stodgy positioning combined with the meteoric rise of MS Dhoni as a finisher saw him play his last ODI in November 2006. For someone who possessed great cricketing acumen, had an entire repertoire of strokes, and was an excellent fielder, Kaif achieved relatively little. He continues to play domestic cricket and, after a 16 year association with Uttar Pradesh, will lead Andhra Pradesh in the 2014-15 Ranji trophy; his return to international cricket is, however, doubtful.

#4. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth

My earliest memory of Sreesanth, the quintessential ‘bad boy’ of Indian cricket, is of him dismissing Tendulkar in the 2005 NPK Salve Challenger Trophy. I read much later that controversy did not evade him even that that stage; during that match, he allegedly sledged Tendulkar to the extent where the maestro told him not to come anywhere near him. Sreesanth emerged the leading wicket-taker in that edition of the Challenger trophy and was selected for the upcoming ODI series against Sri Lanka.

Consistent performances in the shorter format earned him a selection for the home Test series against England; while he impressed from the onset, his breakthrough performance came during the 2006 India tour of South Africa. In the first Test match at Johannesburg, maintaining a perfect wrist position and swinging the ball both ways at good pace, Sreesanth grabbed 5 wickets to skittle South Africa for 84 runs in their first innings. South Africa could not recover, and India went on to register their first ever Test victory on South African soil, Sreesanth winning the MoM award for his match-haul of 8 wickets.

He went onto take 10 more wickets in the series, winning accolades from cricketing greats around the world. Though plagued by injuries and inconsistency in the years that followed, when on song, he could make the ball talk and was soon hailed as the second-best swing bowler in the country behind Zaheer Khan. However, his on- and off-field antics and frequent brushes with controversy significantly affected his career. He even made captain cool MS Dhoni lose his cool; in 2011, the Indian captain commented that Sreesanth should irritate opposition players, and not his own. Sreesanth was involved in multiple controversies, from the slapgate scandal during IPL 2008 to various disciplinary misdemeanours, culminating in being the prime accused in a spot-fixing scandal during IPL 2013, which resulted in the BCCI slapping a life-ban on him.

#3. Ajit Agarkar

I could be chastised for including someone who has played nearly 200 ODIs and secured close to 300 wickets at a very acceptable average of 27.9, on this list, that too so high up; however, having followed Ajit Agarkar’s career from even before his international debut, I am convinced that the man has achieved nowhere close to the potential he kept exuding. In early 1998, sports magazines flashed news about an impressive all-rounder on the India A tour to Pakistan. I kept a track of the series and noticed that Agarkar picked up wickets and scored runs heavily in almost every match.

He took 23 wickets and made buckets of runs, including a century, resulting in a landmark victory for the ‘A’ side. He made his ODI debut against Australia at Kochi later that year and established his pedigree by becoming the then fastest man to 50 ODI wickets (in 23 ODIs), breaking the great Dennis Lillie’s record. The 1999-00 Australia tour, which had proven to be a low for a couple of other players on this list, included a bizarre run of seven consecutive ducks for Agarkar, which earned him the nickname ‘Bombay Duck’ and would surely have impacted his confidence.

His redemption came during the England tour of 2002, when he scored a century at Lord’s, where most Indian batsmen failed. In ODIs, he played several crucial knocks lower down the order, including a 21-ball half century against Zimbabwe, which remains the fastest ODI half-century by an Indian batsman. Though hailed more as an ODI specialist, his finest bowling moment came during the 2003-04 Australian tour at the Adelaide Test where his six wickets in the Australian second innings laid the platform for a famous Indian victory.

Despite his small frame, he managed to extract significant pace and bounce even on tepid Indian pitches, and his ability to bowl accurate yorkers saw him forge a great death-bowling partnership with Zaheer Khan in the early 2000s. While his economy rate was always on the higher side, his inconsistency and tendency to keep getting hit once batsmen started going after him proved to be his bane. He kept getting in and out of the side, but his final career statistics do not do justice to the talent the man possessed.

#2. Irfan Pathan

Irfan Pathan is an exception to the rule I have generally followed in compiling this list, because, being below 30 years of age and fairly active in domestic and IPL tournaments, the door is not yet closed on him. Without a doubt, Irfan, in his prime, was the second-best seaming all-rounder India ever possessed, behind the great Kapil Dev. Pathan burst onto the scene during the 2003-04 tour of Australia, when, in only his second Test, he castled Adam Gilchrist with an unplayable yorker. What was particularly impressive was the fact that the youngster combined raw pace in excess of 140kmph with a calm demeanour that marked him out as special.

He impressed one and all with his pace and control during the Pakistan tour of 2004, where, in partnership with another youngster, Lakshmipathy Balaji, consistently troubled Pakistani batsmen. In what turned out be a decisive turning point in his career, coach Greg Chappell, keen on ‘discovering’ the batsman in him, regularly promoted him to no.3 in the batting order; while he did not disappoint in terms of his batting scores, he inexplicably lost his bowling mojo. He lost his ability to swing the ball and, suddenly, was bowling in the 120s as opposed to the 140s a while back.

He was axed from the team after the 2007 World Cup debacle; though he made an impressive return, in the inaugural T20 World Cup, by then he was more of a containing bowler than an aggressive one. He continued getting opportunities till the next year and played an all-round role in helping India win the 2008 Adelaide Test match; he only played two more Tests, the last being against South Africa in Ahmedabad in April 2008. He lasted longer in ODIs but has been in and out of the Indian cricket team owing to a mix of inconsistent form and frequent injuries. In hindsight, he comes across as an example of gross mismanagement of talent of the highest order, achieving only a shade of his potential.

#1. Vinod Kambli

Not many cricketers can claim to be referred to as “more talented than Sachin Tendulkar”, but that was exactly the tag Vinod Kambli carried with him on Test debut v England in January 1993. After his first 8 Tests, he proved why exactly that tag was applicable to him; he had equalled Don Bradman and Wally Hammond’s record of scoring double centuries in back-to-back Tests and had a Bradman-esque batting average of 99.75. His form spiralled over the next two years, and that, combined with several allegations of indiscipline and off-field controversies, swiftly drew the curtain down over his Test career in 1995.

Even after taking into account his loss in form, he ended his Test career with a batting average of 54.2; I am not sure how many other cricketers ended their Test career after only 17 matches with an average like that. It did not help that, as a middle order batsman, he had to dislodge one of the ‘Big 4’ post 1996, something he could never manage to do. His ODI career, though much more mediocre, lasted longer and ended with a whimper in 2000. Kambli dabbled in multiple domains post his international career, including politics, television and even movies, none with much success. He stoked controversy in 2009, when on a reality show, he voiced his discontent against Tendulkar, later claiming that India’s 1996 World Cup semi-final match against Sri Lanka was fixed. Having retired from all forms of cricket in 2011,  Kambli remains the biggest example of ‘what could have been’ in Indian cricket.

A tribute to Phil Hughes

Pic Courtesy: Mailer Report

There are nearly 200 countries in the world. About half of them play cricket. More precisely, about half of them play cricket within the fold of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s governing institution, segmented across classifications like Full Members, Associate Members and Affiliate Members, in decreasing order of hierarchy. Today, the sense of competition, within individual segments, and occasional marquee events like the World Cup, which allow the ‘lesser’ mortals to rub shoulders with the big boys, is cut-throat, often rendering the ‘gentleman’s game’ a redundant phrase strictly restricted to reminisces of a bygone era.

Hold on.

The ‘today’ I referred to, ended, at least momentarily, a few days ago, and has been replaced with a new dimension, also going by the same name, but which begs a slightly different description.

Today, the cricketing world stands united. Today, events and visuals not often associated with the game in recent times are upon us. Missing are the mind games and verbal volleys customarily preceding a big-ticket series. A rest day has been observed in the middle of a Test match, something not witnessed at this level since the turn of the century, other than for cosmic or political reasons. Cricket superheroes have been pictured openly weeping or holding back their tears with an effort, clinging onto each other, drowned not by the ecstasy of decimating an opposition, but an overwhelming grief which has descended like a joy-sucking shadow, one that threatens to not lift anytime soon. 

Two moments have changed modern cricket forever – the first, when news and disturbing images, of a young man felled by a bouncer and in a state of coma, started flashing across television screens and sports websites all over the world. Though horrific, most would have pushed their worst fears into the deepest corners of their hearts. Surely he would recover, the worst case scenario being premature retirement. Nothing worse could happen, not in today’s age of technological and medical marvels. Unfortunately, our absolute dwarfness in front of some greater power was highlighted by the second moment, which, had it not happened, would have pushed the first into inconspicuousness.

The second moment was, for me, a sucker punch of immeasurable power. As I logged in at work, a colleague told me that the young man had passed away. It did not register. I pried open my laptop and blazed away on the keyboard a name which was punched into search engines several times in the past couple of days. The results showed up, confirming what my brain already knew but my mind refused to acknowledge.

After a two-day battle, the young man, Philip Hughes, had left the earthly pitch in favor of a heavenly one.

The initial feeling was still disbelief, immediately followed by a keen sense of disorientation. Then my fingers started transporting me to multiple social media platforms without any specific instruction from the brain. I am not a crying person, not for someone I never knew personally, and certainly not in an era where details surrounding unnatural fatalities, of every kind, are streamed into our living rooms via a variety of media channels, traditional and social, the fodder for which is abundantly available, with man and nature appearing to compete with one another for the title of superior killing machine. However, as I ran through the stream of reactions coming in, from celebrities as well as lesser mortals, I noticed my eyes moisten and a lump appear as if out of nowhere in my throat.

Tributes have poured in for Hughes, plucked away just days shy of his 26th birthday. I have not done a lot besides going through most, all stating a similar story at the core, but personal emotions adding a subtle variation as unique as life itself. I cannot claim to know the man half as well as some of these people, but stand united with most in the world, some of whom may have come across his name for the first time, encapsulated by this overbearing grief which, like some kind of wrecking ball, has shattered most boundaries within cricket, hierarchically or otherwise.

Like those not well accustomed with Australian domestic cricket, my earliest memory of Hughes was his dramatic entry into Test cricket in early 2009. Playing the South Africans, in their own backyard, and opening the innings against a bowling attack comprising Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini, is nothing short of baptism by fire. He failed on debut, at Johannesburg, caught behind for a duck while attempting an outrageous over-the-slips slash off Steyn. The short lived innings sent out two messages. Firstly, he had the most unconventional technique for an opener, and secondly, he knew no fear.

Hughes’ next three innings proved exactly why he was rated so highly, and likened to no less than Sir Don Bradman at the start of the original master’s career. A match-winning knock of 75 in the second innings was followed by centuries in each innings of the Second Test at Durban, which Australia won easily and the left-hander picked up a Player of the Match award for his efforts.

After the bright beginning, Hughes’ Test career descended into obscurity over the next three years; but for an occasional exploit here and there, he was a largely unknown entity to me during this period, and my sub -conscious had already bracketed him as another statistic in the list of cricketers unable to realize their full potential.

It was in December 2012, during the Sri Lankan tour Down Under, that I followed a couple of his innings on live television. It took me a while to associate this much more compact batsman with the swashbuckler of nearly four years back. Hughes, now playing one-down, was solid against pace as well as spin, looked in far greater control, and seemed to have traded some of his agricultural shots of yore for more traditional ones. Another noticeable change was his confident on-side play, which was largely non-existential during his debut series.

The only time I followed Hughes through an entire Test series, came soon after, during Australia’s tour of India in early 2013, infamous not just for the walloping suffered by the tourists, but also the Homeworkgate saga.

Among several insipid batting performances by the visitors, Hughes’ 69 during the second innings of the Third Test at Mohali stood out. On a difficult pitch and against the rampaging spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja,  the diminutive batsman stood tall amidst the ruins (none of the other Aussies crossed 35). Hughes looked set for a match-winning/saving and career defining century when he was felled by an absolute howler by umpire Aleem Dar, possibly his worst decision in a relatively immaculate career. Australia lost the Test match, and the next, and Hughes’ Test career looked under threat. Yet again.

The final time I saw Hughes in whites was largely by accident. I was not really following the 2013 Ashes series in England, beyond score updates. England were bundled out for 200-odd in the first innings of the opening Test at Trent Bridge, and Australia, in reply, had lost nine wickets for a little more than 100 runs. I noted that Hughes was playing further down the order and was still at the crease when debutant and number 11 batsman Ashton Agar joined him.

When I checked back about an hour later, expecting the English openers to be back in the pavilion, I was in for a major surprise. The Australians were still batting, both batsmen were 50+, and Agar was outscoring Hughes. I abandoned whatever I was doing and headed to the nearest available television to witness what promised to be history in the making. The debutant had thrown caution to the wind, and was striking it at run-a-ball as he broke into the 80s, looking set to become the first number 11 to score a Test century. Hughes was painstakingly unselfish, allowing his younger partner a majority of the strike towards the latter half of their partnership.

Agar fell, heartbreakingly two short of a record creating century, while Hughes stayed unbeaten on 81, in what was hailed as one of the best knocks of his career.  ESPNCricinfo’s Daniel Brettig believed that a technically superior Hughes, displaying immense poise while playing with the tail, looked like the perfect replacement for Michael Hussey in the middle-order.

“The dancing, struggling, edging Hughes of the past was nowhere to be seen,” Brettig wrote. “In his place stood a batsman of far greater composure. Agar had earned a revered place in history, but he could not have done so without Hughes. Hussey would have been proud.”

In hindsight, Brettig couldn’t have been more wrong. Hughes failed in the next Text, at Lord’s, and was dropped in favour of another young batsman, Usman Khawaja.

He would never again play Test cricket.

While Hughes once again dropped off my radar, patrons of Australian cricket were clamoring for his inclusion in the national Test team. In early 2014, former skipper Allan Border minced no words voicing his opinion on Hughes’ absence from the national Test team.

“I have a very soft spot for young (Phil) Hughes and I think he’s been badly treated in the past … maybe they’re just making him really earn his stripes again this time,” Border said. “He’s just so far in front of any other contender it’s not funny, so I’m hoping they’ll take Hughes on the plane (to South Africa). It looks like Doolan’s jumped in front of him and I’m not 100 per cent sure why.”

His words fell on deaf ears, as Hughes continued his never-to-be-realized wait.

Despite being the first Australian to have scored a double century in List A cricket for men, Hughes’ ODI career was even shorter, mostly relegated to being a spare, filling in for injuries as and when required,  and then unceremoniously discarded.

Australia experimented quite a bit with their batting order during the recently concluded two-match Test series against Pakistan. The unhappy result increased the fervor of demands for Hughes’ recall. Considered alongside the inevitability of Michael Clarke’s unavailability for the First Test due to injury, Hughes looked set for yet another shot at pursuing his dream.

Then the first moment happened. And of course, the second.

Numerous questions have surfaced in the aftermath: Why did the ambulance reach 15 minutes too late? Would the latest helmet model have saved Hughes? How will Sean Abbott cope? How will close friends and colleagues cope? Should the Test series against India have been called off? Will the Mitchell Johnsons and the Varun Aarons unleash the short ball with the same frequency? Should bouncers be banned? Have batsmen become more complacent due to excessive protective gear?

The list can go on. And so can the debates around it. But one harsh reality stares us in the face. Philip Hughes is no longer among us.

I have come to know a lot about the man in the past few days. His upbringing, his familiy, his likes and dislikes, his dreams, his attitude, and above all, his unconquerable zeal to play for his country at the highest level.

For an outsider like me,  many of these were unknown during his lifetime. But one aspect of his remains etched in my memory. His smile. Not a sneer sported by many cricketers today, perhaps to position themselves as competitive, but a warm, genuine, ready smile. Not cocky or arrogant, but a pleasant cross between shyness and quiet confiedence in one’s abilities. A friendly face in an ocean of aggressiveness, exuded by cricketers all over the world today. That’s what made him stand out, for me.

At about 5’7 (170cm), Hughes’ physical presence was in direct contrast to his name, as well as that of his yesteryear nameake, Merv, who incidentally played an important role in young Phil’s selection for his debut Test. Measured in terms of impact on the game, in life, the South Australian had the potential to make it big – really big, if the words of those who followed him through his formative years are to be believed. In death, Hughes towers above every other living cricketer today, irrespective of their achievements. In a sad paradox, death has made Hughes immortal.

To conclude, I quote  from the most touching tribute I came across, dedicated by ex-cricketer and former national batting coach, Justin Langer, who was at Hughes’ side during his final moments.

Lying lifeless he still looks so strong. His heart is pumping and his chest rising and falling. Rising and falling.

Get up little fella, get up.

He is lying in his hospital bed. I have my hand on his arm and I am begging him to wake up. Come on little fella, wake up, it’s time to get your dancing shoes on, it’s time for another hundred. You’ve never been broken, you can do it again.

They are turning off the machine.

Moments later our little brother, our little mate, our son has passed away.

C’mon little fella, get up champ, get up.

For the first time in his life he can’t. But you know what, little fella? It’s OK. Keep sleeping. You have left an indelible mark.

Rest In Peace little champ.

RIP Hughesy. You will be missed.

This article was first published in Mailer Report: http://www.mailerreport.com/#!an-indians-tribute-to-phil-hughes/c5nn

The best way of adding images to your website/blog without worrying about copyright infringement

You may probably have come across a zillion blogs which emphasize the difference images can make to your blog; I respect and completely endorse their view.

You may have probably also come across a zillion blogs which emphasize the risks of using copyrighted images, and spark endless debates on ensuing legal implications; yet again I am in total agreement about the dangers they profess.

If you have good internet search skills, you may have succeeded in getting past a lot of muck which focus more on the problem than the solution; if so, you may have unearthed few select blogs which combine the aforementioned situations and present robust solutions – outlining the best ways to acquire legal images for your own blog. Given that I had thoroughly scoured the net when setting up my own blog, I must warn you that there are very few which can present a solution with utmost clarity.

If you have identified such blogs, and are now introduced to a few foolproof options of beautifying your site without any copyright hassles, you may question the requirement of these words I am spouting now. In a nutshell, this article is for people like me, who want to have the best, with minimum of hassle – for those who may not be the brightest technically, and like having their breakfasts served in bed. I am not going to suggest a plethora of options. I am going to write about the best option currently available, in my opinion, and lay out a step-by-step procedure of going about it.

First of all, the universe I will be relying on for securing images will be Flickr (no prizes for guessing that). I will assume that you require the images for a commercial website (if you don’t, it will still be a subset of my solution). Without further delay, here come the steps I have been promising:

Step 1: Go to the Flickr website, and type in the keyword for the image you are seeking, in the search-box on the top right; a host of images will be immediately thrown up.

Step 2: Just above the images, you will notice three parameters – Sort, Search and License, with respective dropdowns. Go to the License parameter and select the following option from the dropdown – ‘Commercial Use Allowed’ within ‘Creative Commons Only’. You will immediately notice a reduction in the number of images – the two-fold good news is that, unless you are searching for an extremely niche image category, there will still be several images to choose from, AND all of these images are 100% usable on your commercial website.

Step 3: Browse through the images and click on the one you deem most appropriate for your content, thereby opening it on a new page.

Before, going to Step 4, I will take a digression and introduce you to the magic wand which has made my life easier.

ImageCodr is a free online tool which simplifies the ONE thing you need to accurately ensure while using images (permitted for commercial use) from Creative Commons – attribution.

Under the Creative Commons license, Attribution is defined as: You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Therefore, for an image you do not intend to modify, there are two things which need to be done to be in accordance with the attribution rules prescribed:

First: Give appropriate credit – this can be done by mentioning the user name of the image uploader, and linking the image back to the original page from where you picked it.

Second: Provide a link to the license – Creative Commons licenses are bracketed under various categories, and the image on your website must include a link which redirects to the exact license under which the image was shared by the original uploader.

Both tasks can be completed manually, but if you are a newbie at this, technically challenged like yours truly, or just plain lazy, ImageCodr comes as a boon for providing easy, accurate attribution.

Now, getting back to the Steps:

Step 4: Go to www.imagecodr.org and click on the ‘Get code!’ option in the navigation bar.

Step 5: Copy the URL of the image you selected as per Step 3, and paste in the box beside Flickr URL and click ‘Submit’. The screenshot below captures the magic which follows: ImageCodr generates a snapshot of what is permitted by the image license; so in case you got Step 2 wrong, you will be immediately notified that the image selected by you cannot be used for commercial use. Even if you did get Step 2 correct, the snapshot is a useful recap of what is allowed and what is not.

Scroll down a bit and you see what we have been striving for thus far – a box with the title: Your HTML code, which changes on the basis of the image size you require for the post.

Step 6: Decide on the image size required based on your requirement, and copy the subsequent HTML code generated.

Step 7: Paste it on your page.

Step 8: Sit back and admire the fact that all details have been take care of – a CC logo, which links back to the licensing terms, user name of the original uploader linking back to their Flickr page, and a link back of the image to the original Flickr image page. Compare this with the Creative Commons Attribution requirement – pretty much takes care of everything, doesn’t it?

Besides convenience, ImageCodr, in my opinion, creates a line of defence against perhaps the only risk involved in using a Creative Commons commercially usable image. The risk is that, Flickr allows the original user to change licensing rights at any point in time, and there is no way to prove what the licensing was when you initially downloaded the image. For example, when you downloaded the image, the license may have allowed commercial use, and you could happily use it on your commercial website. However, anytime after you used that image, if the original uploader changes the license rights (Oh yes, Flickr allows users to change licensing rights at the click of a button) to non-commercial, he could question the use of his image on your commercial website, and you may not have many options to defend your case.

Since ImageCodr automatically generates the ‘CC’ logo which redirects to the license, it is in a way, a time-stamp stating that when you embedded the image, the license permitted commercial use. In case of manual addition, there could always be the allegation that the license link could have been added from any other source; impossible in the case of an ImageCodr generated code, because the image and the license are integral to each other.

Thereby concludes my quest of introducing you to the safest, most convenient and accurate method of adding images to your blog/website I am aware of (if you are not clicking your own images). Happy blogging…and stay copyright safe!! 

Top 5 World Cup Underachievers: Part 1 – Bowlers

After compiling lists for World Cup (WC) specialists, it is time to look at the mirror image – players who faltered when playing on the greatest stage in cricket. Part 1 looks at the bowlers who could not achieve the potency they did in their other One Day International (ODI) engagements.

Interestingly, two out of five bowlers on this list are from South Africa, and with two more Protea greats, Allan Donald and Makhaya Ntini knocking at the door, it perhaps explains why the talented bunch has not yet won a WC,  a failure normally associated with their batsmen ‘choking’.

#5. Shaun Pollock

Shaun Pollock burst onto the scene as a very promising all-rounder, and while his batting statistics may not do justice do the alleged talent he possessed, the right-hander ended up as the 5th highest wicket-taker in ODI history, with 393 scalps. He was, however, a bit of a let-down in WCs, with only his ER over the marquee tournament matching up to his impressive overall figures.

The right-hander plodded through most of his four WC appearances, a far cry from the strike-bowler status he maintained in other ODI engagements. His best showing in a Cup was as captain, in 2003, at home, when he appeared to be in rhythm throughout, picking up 8 wickets at an average of 21.5, before the Proteas’ disastrous campaign ended with a flabbergasting confusion regarding the Duckworth-Lewis par score in a must-win game against Sri Lanka, resulting in his sacking from the top job.

Towards the fag end of his career, Pollock’s pace dropped significantly, but he still managed to bowl nagging lengths to prise out wickets in regular ODI engagements, but found the going extremely tough when again confronted with the WC, this time the 2007 edition, finishing outside the top-25 wicket-takers in the tournament, to sign off with a whimper.

#4. Harbhajan Singh

Though not exactly known for setting the ODI stage on fire, except perhaps the 2001-02 season, where, buoyed by a successful Test series against Australia, he picked up 29 wickets at a sub-20 average, Harbhajan Singh’s WC career would still be considered abysmal, managing only 20 wickets, with part-timer-like average and SR of 40.4 and 57.7 respectively.

While he did a decent job in the 2003 World Cup, picking up 11 wickets on South African pitches not conducive to spin bowling, it was his performance in the 2011 WC, on home soil, which ended up being a major disappointment, and perhaps drew the curtains on his ODI career (he only played 3 more ODIs after that, till date). His only performance of note came against South Africa, when he picked 3 wickets, though conceding 53 runs, and could only add 6 more scalps in his other 8 outings, finishing with a bowling average of 43.33. His high point in the tournament came when he picked the crucial wickets of Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi in the semifinal, but not before the pacers and Yuvraj had derailed their chase.

Where Harbhajan was relegated to keeping an end tied up in 2011, Yuvraj Singh stepped up to the occasion and picked 15 wickets to don the strike spin bowler’s mantle.

#3. James Anderson

It may come as some consolation to Indian fans, that our wrecker-in-chief during the recent Test series in England, James Anderson, has not been able to bully his way to success in the marquee ODI tournament, picking just 22 wickets in 19 games, with an Average of 38.0 and SR of 44.4.

Like Harbhajan, the Englishman was very effective in his first WC, in 2003, where he picked up 10 wickets in only 5 games, before England’s early exit, at an impressive average of 22.5, including two 4-wicket hauls. His WC woes began from the 2007 edition, where he went wicket-less against Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies. Strikes against teams like Bangladesh, Canada, Ireland and Kenya enabled him to finish the tournament with 8 wickets, at 41.12 apiece.

The worst was yet to come. Anderson had a nightmarish start to the 2011 WC, getting thrashed for 91 runs, against India, for the worst bowling figures by an Englishman in WCs – the same month, just prior to the WC, he was carted around the park for exactly 91, by Australia, in a painful coincidence for the man from Lancashire. This time around Anderson could not even pick wickets against Bangladesh and Netherlands, with England’s early exit possibly providing him respite from the torturous tournament.

#2 Daniel Vettori

Daniel Vettori made his debut just after the 1996 World Cup and was not given a single game in the 1999 edition, when New Zealand laid faith in an all-seam attack en route to the semi-finals. His unhappy association with the WC, therefore began in 2003, where, despite being economical, the bespectacled cricketer could just manage 2 wickets in 7 matches, with a ghastly average of 129.5.

He had a much happier outing during the 2007 WC in the Caribbean, where he picked up 16 wickets at a very respectable average of 27.9. While several of his wickets were against weaker oppositions like Canada, Ireland and Kenya, Vettori’s 3-wicket haul against the host nation was instrumental in a victory in the Super Eights, though the Kiwis could not make it beyond that stage.

The Caribbean sojourn could not however be replicated in the 2011 WC in the Indian sub-continent, where, as captain, Vettori’s tournament haul of three wickets, two of which were against Zimbabwe, in conditions tailor-made for spin bowling, was inexcusable.  He continued to be economical, going at just 3.6 runs per over, but his inability to pick wickets was a major factor in the Kiwis yet again faltering at the second-last step of the greatest tournament in cricket.

#1 Jacques Kallis

Probably the greatest all-rounder of our era, Jacques Kallis not only makes it to this list on account of his stand-alone bowling performances being superior to several specialist bowlers, but also tops it because of the huge dip in output when playing in a WC.

Though the burly all-rounder made his debut in the 1996 WC, he was hardly used as a bowler, sending down 13 wicket-less overs against the Netherlands and UAE. In 1999, Kallis found the seaming tracks in England much more to his liking, and this was easily his most productive WC, picking up 8 wickets, all of them against top Test teams, which included a devastating opening spell against Sri Lanka that accounted for their top three batsmen with hardly any runs on board.

Kallis continued to be a huge disappointment with the ball in the 2003 and 2007 editions as well. All of his 3 wickets in the former came against the Indian Ocean islanders, who were perhaps single-handedly responsible for bringing some respectability to the Capetonian’s WC figures, in the famous tied match which ejected the Proteas from the tournament. Kallis continued to be below par in the 2007 WC, picking just 5 wickets at more than 50 apiece.

Skipper Graeme Smith handled him well in the 2011 edition, using him in short bursts as a change bowler, and he did break a few crucial partnerships, registering acceptable bowling figures for the first time in his WC career.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda: 
http://www.sportskeeda.com/slideshow/top-5-world-cup-underachievers-part-1-bowlers

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