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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brisbane Test: How the Key Performers Stack Up

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

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

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

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

Quadrant Scorecard: Batsmen

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

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

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

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

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

Quadrant Scorecard: Bowlers

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predicting the 15-man squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble Analysis

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

The players to be analyzed are bucketed into two segments:

Batsmen: Jadhav, Tiwary, Pandey, Uthappa, Samson

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

Determining the Batsmen

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

Fig 1a. Analysis across the 3 List A tournaments

Fig 1b. Analysis across the Quadrangular tournament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Determining the Bowlers

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

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

Fig 2a. Analysis across the 3 List A tournaments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spinners
Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel

Wicketkeepers
MS Dhoni, Sanju Samson

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

The anticipation is palpable.

This article was first published in Mailer Report: http://www.mailerreport.com/#!who-should-make-indias-world-cup-squad/cjuh

Quadrant Scorecard Methodology V2

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

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

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

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

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

The new Quadrants are as follows:

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

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

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

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

Check out the complete Brisbane Test Quadrant Scorecard here.

What gave Mitchell Johnson his Lakshya?

   by  RubyGoes 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cricket World Cup XI with only one player from each team

How many World XIs can boast (if I may use the term) the presence of players from Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the Netherlands? None that I have come across, in a season where World XIs are quite the flavour, and more often than not, capture the reader’s attention and inadvertently let loose their own imaginations on the topic under consideration.

My current task at hand is to unearth an all-time ODI World Cup (WC) XI, with a tiny condition which requires that not more than one player be selected from each team. The ‘tiny’ requirement kept increasing in stature over the course of the assignment, with players jostling with rivals as well as compatriots for a place on this list, compounded further by trivial matters like line-up alignment and team balance.

I have displayed an intentional bias towards specialists as opposed to all-rounders, in this selection. Historically, teams packed with all-rounders have made it to the final stages of a WC (prime examples being South Africa, New Zealand and England) without ever crossing the line. India in 1983 was an exception to this rule, but otherwise, WCs have been won by teams possessing specialists excelling in their chosen field.

Looking back, this XI is a heady cocktail of some of the greatest names in cricket garnished by a few who made a back-door entry, thanks to the one-player-per-country rule.

This is not a team one would like to run into at the 2015 WC, though by no means is it perfect. But then again, it was never meant to be.

#1. Sachin Tendulkar (India)

The list opens with someone widely regarded as the greatest cricketer of this generation. Some even opine that he is the greatest of all time. While the latter tributes are debatable, there is absolutely no doubt that Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest Indian cricketer of this generation, more so in the 50-over format than the longest version, where a certain Rahul Dravid may stake claim to the top crown.

Besides being the highest run-scorer in the history of WCs and playing several match-winning knocks spread across six tournaments, Sachin inspired a generation of young superstars to stretch their limits, the epitome of which is Yuvraj Singh, to win for the maestro the one trophy missing from his overflowing cabinet.

Tendulkar’s selection closes the door on Sourav Ganguly, India’s second highest run-scorer in WCs, and a wonderful ODI opener in his own right, and Zaheer Khan, the country’s highest wicket-taker in WCs, and an outstanding contributor when playing on the highest stage of ODI cricket.

#2. Graham Gooch (England)

The master blaster will be joined by Graham Gooch, England’s immovable opening rock and highest WC run-scorer, the man who was present during every one of the country’s three unsuccessful forays into the tournament final, a feat not repeated after his retirement post the 1992 edition.

Among English batsmen, none really hold a candle to Gooch, as far as the marquee tournament is concerned, though Allan Lamb, Graeme Hick, and Kevin Pieterson are notable mentions. Among pure bowlers, I was really tempted to include Bob Willis or Chris Old, the first perhaps the quickest Englishman since Frank Tyson, and the second, a swing connoisseur with outstanding WC stats, but their short careers in the marquee tournament forced me to move on.

My first choice from England, before consulting stats, was Ian Botham, undoubtedly the greatest all-rounder the country has ever produced. Beefy has, however, been a notorious non-performer (by his standards, mind you) in the batting department, as far as the WC is concerned. He is England’s leading tournament wicket-taker though, but his woeful batting prevents his inclusion as an all-rounder.

Gooch’s strike-rate of 63.25 is no match against openers like Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya who have not made it to their list. Let me assure you that it is not Gooch but their countrymen who have kept them out. Besides, Goochie is the glue which holds this team together while others go slam-bang around him.

#3. Viv Richards (West Indies)

Brian Lara is the highest run-scorer in WCs for the West Indies. Courtney Walsh, Sir Andy Roberts, Sir Curtly Ambrose and Michael Holding have been the best performers with the ball at the gazebo tournament. Yet, all pale in comparison before a gum chewing marauder who goes by the name of Sir Vivian Richards.

The only batsman to have a 60+ batting average while aggregating more than 1000 runs in the tournament, Richards instilled the kind of fear in a bowler which the latter is usually expected to exude. The Antiguan carried the Caribbeans home in the 1979 WC and it was his spectacular dismissal in the 1983 edition which ensured India their first piece of cricketing glory.

A better number three batsman cannot be envisaged; Ricky Ponting may beg to differ, but the Australian is weighed down by the awesomeness of not just the aforementioned champion, but also his compatriot waiting patiently in the wings, and hence loses out.

#4. Martin Crowe (New Zealand) (C)

The brilliant tactician whose game-changing ideas nearly won the Kiwis the 1992 WC, Martin Crowe is entrusted with not just the top job, but also the important role of manning a relatively weak lower middle order.

Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris have scored more runs for New Zealand in WCs, but they are no match for the outrageous mastermind of Crowe. Among bowlers, I would have loved to include Shane Bond, who was almost unplayable during the 2003 and 2007 WCs, but I have already lined up a great quick bowling attack (or so I would like to believe) and the Kiwis’ fine lineage of all-rounders – almost all of them characterised by unbridled aggression with the bat and dibbly-dobby bowling, have not been considered.

This meticulously put together line-up may be torn to shreds by the eccentric genius, who could turn it inside out in a bid to confuse the opposition, or simply in the quest to follow cricketing knowledge like a sinking star (to borrow from Homer). With Crowe at the helm, this superstar ship is in excellent hands; the journey may experience plenty of twists and turns, but the destination will be a wee bit closer under his watch.

#5. Andy Flower (Zimbabwe) (WK)

Andy Flower would be a genuine contender for membership into a World Test XI. In the ODI, and especially the WC context, he makes it due to the unique criteria of selecting one player from each team.

Though his ODI credentials are significantly weaker, Flower is Zimbabwe’s highest run-scorer in WCs and his reliable glove-work seals the deal. Dave Houghton is his closest contender as far as batting skills go, his epic 142 against New Zealand in a losing cause at the 1987 WC bearing testimonial to the oodles of talent and grit he possessed.

Purely going by the heart, Neil Johnson would have been an excellent addition to this list. The man who punched opponents way above his weight, with both bat and ball, during the 1999 WC, could stake claim to the opening position as batsman and bowler, but I have opted for experienced solidity over one-tournament brilliance in this selection.

#6. Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)

Technically perhaps the only genuine all-rounder in this team, the inclusion of Shakib Al Hasan is one of my easier decisions. As the country’s highest run-scorer and second-highest wicket-taker in WCs, Shakib is undoubted the best to arise from Bangladesh, definitely within the scope of WCs, and perhaps even beyond.

Shakib will be the first of two ‘floaters’ I will have in the team, whose batting positions are interchangeable, depending on the just fallen wicket, in order to maintain a left-right batting combination which can make the opposition’s lines and lengths go awry.

Of course, if Crowe has his way, we could see Shakib open both batting as well as bowling!

#7. Ryan ten Doeschate (Netherlands)

With 10 Test playing nations (2 of them not exactly the strongest) and 11 players in a team, it would require no rocket science to appreciate that, at some point, one would need to play the ‘hide the minnow’ game.

It’s another thing altogether that, with 435 runs at an average of 62, and a few wickets to boot, Ryan ten Doeschate may not need to be hidden – Andrew Strauss can definitely vouch for that.

Tendo’s international career may have ended, but he remains one of the most sought after cricketer in franchising circles, and is, in my opinion, the most dangerous cricketer to have ever emerged from the minnow nations, WC or otherwise. He will be the second floater in this team.

Kenyan Steve Tikolo and Irishman Kevin O’Brien, another person for whom Strauss could pen a recommendation letter, were other contenders for this position, the first eliminated due to batting position non-compatibility, and the second, for never giving us an opportunity of an encore.

#8.Wasim Akram (Pakistan)

Perhaps the best left-arm quick to have ever graced a WC, Wasim Akram takes the new ball in this attack, unless Crowe suffers from a major Dipak Patel hangover.

As an individual, Akram can waltz his way into most World XI lists, but in this exercise, it’s essential to keep an eye on the men he eliminated. For a team delivering mercurial performances through its history in the WC, Pakistan can boast several contenders, the strongest among whom is undoubtedly Imran Khan.

Imran is a better batsman and leader, and at his peak with the ball, may have given Wasim a run for his money. However, Imran is in competition not just with Wasim, but also with Crowe, a man he came up against and successfully countered, during Pakistan’s triumph in 1992.

Imran is an inspirer of people, a captain ticking all the boxes for hero-worship from a young team. Crowe, on the other hand, can utilize resources better, as well as take controlled risks. In a World XI, the requirement for inspiration would not be as much as the need to optimally deploy resources, an attribute Crowe excels in.

Ideally, I wouldn’t want Imran to play under Crowe; to have a personality as strong as Imran play under another strong personality, could sow seeds for discontent, and even mutiny. Imran is therefore eliminated, making Wasim the undisputed representative from Pakistan.

#9. Shane Warne (Australia)

This was definitely the most difficult decision to make. Not the inclusion of Shane Warne, who has been a class act in his limited appearances in WCs, but the exclusion of other Australians, two to three of whom are usually present in most World XIs.

While the exclusions of Ponting, Gilchrist and Mark Waugh can be justified on the basis of a strong top order, the mercurial spinner’s brilliance cannot overhaul that of the highest wicket-taker in WC history – Glenn McGrath. Pigeon towers over Warnie in WCs, and not just literally, but had to be sacrificed in the interest of team balance.

My initial choice for specialist spinner was Muttiah Muralitharan, with McGrath and the number 11 on this list rounding things off. A second glance however clarified that all three of them were notorious bunnies in their own right – certified number 11s for their respective teams. It would be almost criminal to play any of them higher.

A plethora of permutations and combinations later, I realized that McGrath could not be Australia’s representative, though he is undoubtedly the best WC performer from the country. The final choice had to be made between Warne and Brett Lee, who had almost similar stats in the tournament, but the requirement for a specialist spinner (sincere apologies to Brad Hogg here) eliminates the tearaway quick.

#10. Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka)

Once it was determined that a Sri Lankan representative would be slotted into the bowling department, and Warne and Wasim knocked out Murali and Chaminda Vaas respectively, selecting Lasith Malinga was a bit of a no-brainer.

Returning outstanding fingers in the 2007 and 2011 WCs, Malinga will partner Wasim for a short opening spell, before returning later in the innings to issue those devastatingly accurate sling-shot reverse-swinging yorkers.

Though he may not have the numbers to prove it, the Galle slinger is a more accomplished batsman than Murali, and could also be called upon to deliver a few almighty heaves, if the need arises.

#11. Allan Donald (South Africa)

Allan Donald closes the curtains on this rather taxing exercise, and should not come across as much of a surprise for those who have been ticking off the countries as they moved along.

The highest wicket-taker for the Proteas in WCs, White Lightning makes the cut, besides obvious reasons, due to his ability of juggling bowling positions (opening or first change) with equal ease. This is a precious quality to have in this team, and will give Crowe a much greater flexibility in handling Malinga, or whosoever he deems fit to open the bowling.

Donald shuts out allrounders like Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener, all of whom can stake claim to any ODI World XI, because my focus  has been to acquire specialists from among the big boys, with players with multiple abilities coming from the ‘lesser’ nations.

Of course, Donald will not be my favourite candidate to be at the crease in the event of a last over finish (Klusener may agree), but hopefully, Goochie and the master blasters around him will ensure that this eventuality never arises.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda:
http://www.sportskeeda.com/slideshow/cricket-world-cup-xi-one-player-each-team

An Outline of the Quadrant Scorecard Methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Brisbane Day 1 Performances: Quadrant Scorecard

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

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

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

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

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

High Performer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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