Thursday, February 28, 2013
The whole focus on India’s 8 wicket win in the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Series at Chennai has been on MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, Michael Clarke, Virat Kohli and James Pattinson but I would like to begin by talking about Sachin Tendulkar.
It is as if no one remembers Tendulkar made an 80, no one is talking about another century missed. The focus shifting to other people off Tendulkar is the best thing that can happen to him. His 71 on the second day was as fluent an innings I’ve ever seen him play. A lot of people forget that he batted brilliantly in his first two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney on India’s 2011-12 tour so it’s not that he’s not batted like this for a couple of years. But an average of 27 in the last 10 matches makes this a very welcome knock. It was a very fluent innings and just reaffirmed that he’s at his best when he’s positive and he’s taking on the bowling.
Australia’s bowling on the third morning made for a very good session and made Sachin defend too much but it’s not for us to sit in judgement of him. Ajit Agarkar has seen Sachin play domestic cricket this year from close and when I spoke to him before this match he said that the Irani Trophy innings indicated that Sachin was back where he should be. He looked in very good nick so hopefully his form will continue.
Sometimes you just seize the situation and it was just Dhoni’s attitude that created this innings. In recent times we’ve seen Dhoni as a very defensive batsman. Here he realized that if he defended he would get out and the one bowler capable of doing that was the spinner. Dhoni scored 104 off the 85 balls he faced from Nathan Lyon in a calculated assault to knock the spinner off his line and the sheer audacity of it was brilliant. It was the kind of innings Viv Richards and Adam Gilchrist would play.
I remember tweeting at that time that it would be a potentially series changing innings, not just a Test match changing innings.
It’s an indicator that this is the kind of wicket Australia are going to get everywhere. On such pitches, the opposition spinner is the only bowler who can trouble you. So you go after him. You could see it in the Indian approach when Tendulkar came and hit him for back to back sixes.
India’s spinners took all 20 Australian wickets between them but Sunil Gavaskar made a valid point on Day 5 that on that crumbling track, Australia had batted 90+ overs. If the track was really that bad and the spinners that good then India should have won the match in 65 overs. It means that there really was one man who covered up.
Ravindra Jadeja is never going to win you a game but he can be a steady third spinner. And even though he bowled well in the second innings, Harbhajan Singh would be the first to admit that he wasn’t as good as he can be. I won’t be surprised if they go with Pragyan Ojha in Hyderabad.
Ashwin really carried the attack and it was good to see him readapt after his poor series against England by bowling a Test cricket line. He rarely tosses the ball fuller in T20s but he knew he had to toss it up to get bounce and turn here. His pace was down almost 10ks and he was tossing the ball well above the batsmen’s eye line. India had a small break after the England ODIs and he used that break well to work on his game. We always knew that Ashwin is intelligent, he had all these variations but he was not getting through batsmen. In Chennai he went back to being the off-spinner, bowling consistent lines whereas earlier he was becoming a bit of a mish-mash.
A blip for India was the batting of Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay. Purely based on runs, selectors tend to give batsmen two Tests but it’s a captain’s call to know whether a person is feeling low on confidence, seeing him in the change rooms, in the nets. It is not something you can tell from a distance. It’s something you can only notice closer. Most batsmen get two chances but it’s the captain’s call.
From Australia’s point of view, I think there were two young men who were very impressive. One was Moises Henriques who we all thought was a limited overs player. If you saw him in the Champions League, you know how destructive he can be as a batsman. He’s big and strong he can bowl the ball at a certain pace but like Shane Watson he is a batting allrounder whose bowling is just a bonus. He found his own way to bat, disproving all those who said this was a terrible surface. He showed that if you find your way of defending, you can find your way of scoring runs.
I liked James Pattinson because he comes in running hard all the time. He’s a fast bowler, with the new ball he was bowling everything over 140. He took 5 for less than hundred in a total of 572 so that tells you how effective he was. With Australia’s informed player management rules Clarke was trying to phase him in, giving him bursts of 2-3 overs but he was willing to run in hard and bowl quick and that’s the kind of spirit a captain wants in tough situations.
He’s the kind of player you need on a tour when things are stalling. That is why winning away is such a big thing in Test cricket. Let’s see how Australia bounce back, there are three more Tests which is the advantage of a long series, it allows teams to come back. England did it, can Australia?
Castrol Brand Ambassador Harsha Bhogle shared his thoughts with castrolcricket.com
Friday, February 22, 2013
This edition of the Border – Gavaskar Trophy starts will be another evenly contested one, even if that is because both teams are rather depleted of their best performers of the last few years.
From what we saw in Australia’s two tour games, my first thought is that while these are indicators of strengths and weaknesses, we need to be cautious in reading too much.
It is apparent that Australia’s batsmen are struggling against spin. There would be a temptation to play 3 spinners in the first Test match but I hope it does not extend to playing a fourth. Someone is going to get under-bowled anyway so we might as well play an extra fast bowler.
India have the option of playing three spinners because MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin at no.s 6, 7 and 8 would be playing as all-rounders. With Harbhajan a certainty to play, Jadeja could play ahead of Pragyan Ojha to balance the batting.
The Chepauk pitch will however be better than the one at Gurunanak Ground where Australia played their warm ups and their batsmen will not play the same kind of shots in Tests that they played in these games. Also, Shane Watson (84 & 60) did well in the game he played while David Warner and Michael Clarke missed those games. So these are indicators at best it and reading too much into it would be at our own peril.
Clarke’s options lie in choosing his order. In terms of batting position, anyone can bat anywhere in their top order, Ed Cowan can open or bat at 3, same goes for Phil Hughes, Watson can open or bat at 4 so in terms of options, they are not constrained.
Still, this is one of the weaker batting sides to have come from Australia. It has some intimidating batsmen, but it is one of the weaker batting sides, make no mistakes.
The Australian spinners were not impressive but the Test attack will be different. Sanjay Manjrekar pointed out the other day that even if a spinner is hit for three-four overs in a warm up game he will continue to bowl because the objective is to get into the rhythm. That will not happen in a Test match. The fast bowlers will bowl much more and the intensity levels will be much higher.
I liked that Gautam Gambhir enforced the follow on in the second warm up game. After getting a big lead, the immediate thing a captain would do is bat the game out. But he sent out a message to the visitors that you will struggle and we won’t hold back, go on and bat again. I liked that, coming in the build up to such an even series.
In regard to Gambhir’s 112 (169b, 4x13, 3x6) in the game, for me it’s never been a question of whether he is a good enough cricketer because some of his Test innings are proof of his pedigree. It was never a question of his commitment or his attitude or his ability either.
Sometimes you just need to get the pressure of the occasion away and bat freely to come back to the player that you were. It was a question of Gambhir clearing the cobwebs from his mind.
It was an excellent game for him because he gained time in the middle and confidence back. By doing that, what he has said to the other contenders is that listen, I’m still here. He batted freely, batted well and that’s the player he’s always been. So sometimes you need to go away from the pressure situation to rediscover the player you always were. That’s why I think being dropped at this stage might be the best thing for him in the long run.
Manoj Tiwary too had an excellent game, scoring 129 (187b, 18x4, 3x6). He has shown how good he is on every opportunity. He has done everything to show that he is next in line and to me, he clearly is. The current Indian line up with 5 frontline batsmen, Dhoni at 6 and Jadeja following is a good horses for courses line up but it is not one you could send to South Africa. In SA you have to play a proper bat at no.6 and that no. 6 is either Ajinkya Rahane or Tiwary. That is what we know now so we must wait and see. But Tiwary has to be patient, he can’t get frustrated or he will start playing for the wrong reasons.
Castrol Brand Ambassador Harsha Bhogle shared his thoughts with castrolcricket.com
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