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And You Think India Has Troubles

On a day when three Test matches ended, analysis has found it difficult to identify who is the worst.  Or best.  Depending on how you look at it.  Sehwag has continued his puzzling thought patterns and pointed out that India beat Australia two nil last time Australia visited.  Don’t get me wrong – India lost by 298 runs, following two innings losses. Ignore Sehwag.  They have troubles.  But there have been two startling performances today.

Firstly, New Zealand declared just short of 500 on the third day of the first Test.  They then scuttled Zimbabwe twice, in under a day.  The Zimmers were dismissed for 51 and then 143.  The second innings represented somewhat of a recovery from 6-37. But Zimbabwe should not give up hope.  It wasn’t that long ago that a world beating team was dismissed for even less than 51.

Secondly, having been in front for most of the match, England has been dismissed for just 72, chasing 145 for victory.  Pakistan won the match by 72 and have taken the series.  Abdur Rehman took 6-25.

To top it all off, the Big Bash League final just concluded with the Sixers beating the Scorchers.

It’s been a hell of day.

Pakistani Power

Pakistan has romped away with the 1st Test against England, closing the game out by 10 wickets, in just three days.  While Pakistan must be happy with their rapid progress over the past six months, England and its fans will be anxious to make amends in the 2nd Test.

Pakistan may be denied the advantage of home Tests but at least UAE provides them with something like the conditions they are used to at home.  Certainly more so than their most recent “home” series against Australia in England (not that England was a bad place for any team with decent swing and seam bowlers to take on Australia).  Pakistan have also lost two of the best pace bowlers in the world, not to mention their captain, as a result of the spot fixing scandal but they have surprised everyone by winning matches and series in recent times.

While they may have only beaten a lack-lustre Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, at least they were winning.  And now they have a very big scalp.  I found it amusing on day one when Saeed Ajmal put the cleaners through England, claiming 7/55.  This followed Ajmal’s announcement of the Teesra (to compliment the Doosra) and England’s bullish claims that it was all talk.  I don’t believe the Teesra was responsible for any wickets but it was one of those rare cases when a player shoots his mouth off before the game and follows up with results.

Only time will tell where England is placed.  We must keep in mind that they have not played a Test for just on five months and it is not cricket season in England.   On top of that, we could expect their players to still be adjusting to foreign conditions.

However, there were other worrying signs.  The utter capitulation of the top order in the second innings (following a dismal first innings), starting almost 150 runs behind was astonishing.  Both openers were caught behind down the leg side (one controversially but that is beside the point).  And Pietersen holed out to deep backward square, without scoring.

I recall after England scaled the dizzy heights with their 2005 Ashes win, that they had a sudden slump over the next 12 months.   We would all be aware that England’s most recent summer resulted in clean sweeps against Sri Lanka and then India, and ascending to the number one ranked Test team.  Perhaps England are feeling a little cocky.  Or perhaps the appetite has waned now they are number one.  As I said, we shall have to wait and see.

During the series in which they humbled India, the English crowds started chanting, “Are you Australia in disguise?”  This was actually a reference to the recent Australian easy beats and India’s efforts to emulate them.  However, I think it would be useful for England to keep in mind that they are not the slightly less recent Australian world beaters.  While they are an accomplished, skilful and formidable team, Pietersen aside, they are not a team of bully boy super stars containing the likes of McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Ponting and Hayden.

England’s success has been built on a top order that is patient, determined and orthodox, and on a bowling attack that is penetrating by being accurate and suffocating (you could even surmise that the Australian attack this summer has emulated England’s approach and reaped the results).  I am sure David Warner (who thinks Australia can regain the number one spot before the next Ashes series) will be applauding and hoping that Pakistan can keep up the good work.

Switching to Baseball

I made a discovery today that lead me to realise that the current series between Australia and India may be pivotal in the course of modern cricket.  And this has nothing to do with Australia’s return to the winners’ circle.  I was concerned to know how one of my Indian friends enjoyed the match on the week end.  Jayendra answered that he didn’t followed cricket anymore and that he had switched to baseball.

I suddenly realised that the bad results achieved by the Indian cricket team in Test cricket in the past eight months may have an impact on the BCCI.  The current outrage being expressed by the Indian public will make BCCI see that Test cricket does matter.  BCCI cannot turn their back on Test cricket and focus all their attention on T20 and ODI cricket without paying a price.

BCCI has invested enormous amounts of money in T20 cricket but they cannot ignore Test cricket or they will lose their fan base.  A losing Test team spells disaster for IPL.  I don’t want to single India out in giving unbalanced attention to T20 cricket.   Cricket Australia has done exactly the same thing this summer – I am appalled that while a marquee four Test series is being played, not a single ball of any other form of first class cricket is playing in Australia.

BCCI needs to arrest the slide while it can.  History shows us that when the West Indies started losing, their fan base, especially the youth – the players and support base or tomorrow – turned to basketball.  This movement has remained permanent.  While founding cricket nations like Australia and England experience ebbs and flows, ups and downs in performance, the effort and interest remains fairly constant.  However, cultural and socio-economic changes combined with a loss of superiority, determines that there will be no return for West Indian cricket.  And now the Indians have turned to baseball.

I predict that BCCI will try the usual tactics to make good.  Firstly, they will try to have a new rule passed where sides starting with “I” will play 13 batsmen (that is, they will be permitted 12 dismissals).  While this will also help Ireland’s next World Cup campaign, it will be a lifeline to Indian Test cricket.  And you wait and see – by this time next week, BCCI power brokers will have been at work on the ICC and MS Dhoni will have mysteriously had his over rate charges dropped.

Failing those measures, India will need to fall back on traditional values.  That is what I want to see.  They will return to playing lots and lots of domestic first class cricket.   They will plan and execute Test playing schedules that respect the game of Test cricket itself and the esteemed members of the Test playing community.  And they will turn things around.  Goodness knows they have the manpower available.  Perhaps then Jay will come back to cricket.  I hope so.

Seeing Through the Hyperbole

Australia won the 3rd Test in Perth by innings, in less than two and a half days.  India lost their second Test in a row by an innings and lost their seventh consecutive Test playing abroad.  India has one Test to save some face and their captain has been suspended.  Australian cricket fans are very happy.  India cricket fans are quite the opposite.

Has India any chance in Adelaide?  I think that if India can dig deep and show some spirit, they have some chance.  Australia are dominating but there are plenty of chinks in the armour, especially in the batting.  In Sydney, a failing middle order prospered on a very flat wicket, as the opposition wilted under the physical and psychological heat.  In Perth, they were back to their recent tricks but were saved by the openers.  The openers, while having a super Test in Perth, are still proving themselves.  And numbers three and seven should not be in the team.

It goes without saying that the Australian bowlers are playing very well.  I’m not sure what India can do to overcome the stranglehold the Australian bowlers have over them.  However, the Indian bowlers, at their best, are not far behind the Aussies, and for much of the series have had just as much success.  I know it sounds like a stretch but if you take away the 1/836 spread over just three partnerships, at all other times they have troubled and frequently removed the Australian batsmen.

In Perth, aside from that one huge opening partnership and a couple of “nearly significant” fifth wicket partnerships for India, there was a constant clatter of wickets for the entire three innings.  Aside from Warner and Cowan, the Australian batting was every bit as vulnerable as India’s.  Once again, Siddle easily outscored most of the batsmen.  As soon as India made a couple of break throughs, they started bowling better.   That is why I suggest that Haddin, although he should keep his mouth shut, was right.

If you take away the opening partnerships, the first innings scores were 157 (India) and 155 (Australia).  Or if you want to use a more equitable handicapping system, take away the best partnership in each innings, we have 93 (India) and 155.  I’m not suggesting that India were at any point in this match but I am suggesting that if India had believed they were, and had applied themselves more, they could have been.  The improvement in the bowling was palpable once Warner and Cowan were removed.  In fact, it was probably more a case of once Marsh came in – India believed they had a good chance of success.

While on the subject of looking through some misconceptions, I will say something for Dravid – “The Wall”.  It is amusing that Dravid has been bowled five times out of six (and also once off a no ball), by four different bowlers and people are saying that cracks are appearing in the wall.  I agree it is not a good look to be bowled so frequently, and for any top order batsman to be bowled with that frequency, is a great concern.  However, on the whole, Dravid has been bowled just as much as any other batsman.  It is interesting how these names come, and stick.  I would guess that the “The Wall” was bestowed upon Dravid at a point in his career when he was very solid (and slow), consistent and was very difficult to dislodge.  And that has been plenty of times.  However, it does not mean that he is not often bowled.

I have done some research and comparison and have to advise that Dravid has been dismissed by being bowled 20.8% of the time.  Comparing to some of his peers – Tendulkar, Ponting and Kallis – that stat is 17.45%, 13.06% and 20.93%. respectively   Tendulkar and Ponting are, in fact, bowled significantly less than Dravid.   Interestingly, a look at the “Great Unbowlable”, Bill Woodfull, shows that he was bowled in 32% of his dismissals.  So, not quite unbowlable and it shows that such nicknames can be misleading.

Batsman

Bowled %

LBW %

Total %

Dravid

20.80

13.60

34.40

Tendulkar

17.45

20.73

38.18

Ponting

13.06

18.78

31.84

Kallis

20.93

15.35

36.28

Woodfull

32.00

4.00

36.00

 But to have a better assessment, I feel we must look at lbw.  For starters, it is in essence the same thing.  It is true that there is nothing more satisfying for a bowler than to hear the “death rattle”, or even better, to see a stump or two go flying, but lbw is morally bowled.  And in cases like Ponting, it is rather hard for the bowler to hit is wicket when is legs are always in front of it.  To be fair to Dravid, when lbw is taken into consideration, he comes out in front of all in the sample, except for Ponting.  Well done, Ricky.  But we must also keep in mind that a batsman (such as Ricky) may have a perceived weakness outside of off stump, which means that is where the bowlers will bowl (i.e. not at the stumps).

Enough on being bowled.  Dravid in his career has been no less bowlable than any other top player and at present is a lot more bowlable than he should be.  He is in trouble.  But not as much as VVS Laxman, Sehwag (the new captain) and MS Dhoni (the suspended captain).

We have to wait over a week now to see if India can drag themselves off the mat in Adelaide next Tuesday.