Champions Trophy Final: All hype but no substance in Pakistan’s claim

What every marketing man of television industry wanted at the start of Champion Trophy is finally happening. An India-Pakistan Champions Trophy final is dream come true for them but when it comes to quality of cricket, certainly it isn’t. Everyone is talking about the turnaround that Pakistan made after their first match defeat against India but is it really that significant? Pakistan is a mediocre side and barring their win against England, their game has been anything but convincing.   

Pakistan’s match against South Africa was rain marred and against Sri Lanka, there was a battle of low-quality cricket on display. It seemed that both teams wanted to lose the match but Sri Lanka had more will to lose and hence lost the game.

Their bowlers have certainly made a turnaround since the match against India and Fakhar Zaman looks a good modern day batsman but beyond that nothing much has changed. These change shouldn’t bother India. India is a side which is far ahead of Pakistan on papers and they play the game in a far more professional manner than Pakistan.

There is no comparison of India’s batting and fielding with Pakistan. India’s bowling might lack the nip the Pakistani bowlers can generate in favorable bowling condition but on a batting beauty, Indian bowlers can easily out skill their counterparts with the variations that they possess.  

One more thing that is important in India-Pakistan match is that seldom it is decided by the skills of the game. It’s psychological warfare and the team which keeps its head calm often triumphs. In last decade or so India under Dhoni has become a confident side that knows how to perform without fear of failure on big occasions. Under Kohli, there is no shred of doubt that India will start as a confident side because Kohli knows anything but fear.

On the other hand, Pakistan has been jittery, nervous while facing India in last decade. Can they play carefree under Sarfaraz in a big final against India remains to be seen but I doubt that they will be confident. They would have liked to face any team other than India in a big final.  

The only hope for Pakistan is that conditions on the day remain overcast and an overconfident Indian team fail to negate extra swing that their blowers are capable of generating but if it’s bright and sunny day and the pitch is a batting beauty then India lifting Champions Trophy is a forgone conclusion. We should be discussing margin of India’s win not who is going to win.

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Dhoni: Is the finisher finished?

How many of you remember Endulkar episode? Media hounded a 34-year-old Sachin Tendulkar in 2007. In every second article, people were reminded that Tendulkar has passed his prime and no longer deserved a place in Team India.

Tendulkar, however, thankfully did not bog down to the pressure created by the media. Selectors, considering Sachin’s iconic status in the world cricket, also did not gather enough courage to drop him. Torrid 2007 passed and Sachin got his mojo back. He showed the world that he was still the master of his game. After the Endulkar episode, Sachin was judged ICC Cricketer of the year in 2010.

A 36-year-old MS Dhoni, is facing the same issue. Since 2015 World Cup, he is being pestered about retirement in every press conference. His every inning in IPL 2017 was scrutinized like never before. Cricket experts have already started to write his obituary. Ex- captains are questioning his place in Team India. In short, circumstances are being created to force him to say goodbye to cricket but Dhoni has, surprisingly, found support from overseas players. Some even went on to say that Dhoni has done enough for Indian cricket and has earned the right to say goodbye to cricket as and when he likes.

Now, there are two questions hanging around here. First, “Does any out-of-form player has right to decide on the timing of his retirement?” Second, “Can Dhoni get his mojo back like Sachin did in 2008 or is it all over for one of the greatest ODI players?”

To answer the first question.

When a player is playing an individual game – where he is representing none but himself – he has every right to continue playing even if he is in bad form. You cannot ask a player to retire because he is no longer winning trophies. An outsider may see a match as a matter of winning or losing, a player sees it as something that he enjoys doing. So, a player in individual sport representing oneself has every right to take a call on his retirement as and when he likes because his game in not affecting the performance of any team. Leander Paes can go on playing tennis as an individual but to play in Davis Cup for India, he would have to fight for his place.

In a team sport, an out-of-form player has no right to decide on the timing of his retirement. A team becomes great not by letting underperforming great players continue playing but by bringing in new players and grooming them to replace great ones. So, an underperforming Dhoni has no right to take a call on his retirement as and when he likes. He can continue to play as long as he fits into team’s scheme of things and not because he wants to continue playing. Remember, the team is always bigger than the individuals, however great individual maybe.

Now, the answer to the second question.

In last two year, Dhoni’s exploits with the bat are nowhere near to what it used to be. He is now a shadow of his former self. He averages 38.80 in 24 ODIs since 2015 World Cup. In away matches, his average drops to 25.87 in 11 matches and that’s a staggering fall for a man whose overall average in ODIs is more than 50.

However, Dhoni is not completely out of form. He shows flashes of brilliance amidst mediocrity: the century against England in the last ODI series that India played, the match winning 80 runs in October 2016 against New Zealand, few scintillating knocks in IPL 2017. These flashes of brilliance convince us that Dhoni, although going down the hill, still has prowess that can help team India in ODIs.

In the second half of Dhoni’s career, he changed his batting style. He started slow, took the match til the end and won the match by hitting lusty blows in the last few overs.

We have seen many episodes of “Dhoni and the last over”. Two years back, there was certainty that Dhoni will win it for India in the last few overs. His nerves of steel and his powerful hitting sealed matches for India many times but, of late, he is not able to win matches for India by hitting lusty blows in last over.

Nowadays, whenever Dhoni comes to bat, he plays in binary mode. He either blocks the ball or hits them out of the ground. He struggles to rotate the strike in the middle overs that makes required run rate go higher. If Dhoni gets out in such situations, it becomes impossible for other players, with their limited capabilities, to score at an exceptionally high-required run rate and win matches for India. Even if Dhoni remains till last, bowlers have now found chinks in his armour. They have now identified weak areas where Dhoni is not capable of hitting big shots. Wide yorkers, full outside off deliveries and short pitch stuff have become go-to delivery for bowlers as shown by Rabada, Bravo etc. in recent times.

Dhoni often says that if he is not able to finish the match than a younger player would find it even harder to do it. It is true to some extent but if a youngster is not given chance how would team India get a finisher for future?

One good thing about Dhoni is that he still puts the price on his wicket and does not gets out easily. Recently, team India made a good move by sending Dhoni at no. 4. It is a step in right direction. It is going to help Dhoni to take his time to settle and play the role of run accumulator and leave the finishing job for youngsters like Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya etc.

Another thing that goes in Dhoni’s favour is his wicket keeping. Although the wickets go in the account of bowlers but some of them are just because of Dhoni’s brilliance. His super-quick hands behind the wicket and sharp reflexes do the magic that no other wicketkeeper can match. He also brings in his crucial inputs when India is in the field. He is still guiding force of Captain Virat Kohli, which was evident during last ODI & T20 series that India played.

These things help Dhoni to keep his place in team India but believe it or not, Champions Trophy is going to be acid-test for Dhoni. If he fails here, we may never see him wearing the blue jersey again. Players become great not only because they know how to perform but also because they know how to bounce back when they are down and out. At the age of 36, time is running out for Dhoni but hopefully, he will bounce back.

Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and Dhoni is certainly toughest of them all.

Well Done Team India , Well done fast bowlers

 
Jadeja and Ashwin with ball and Pujara with bat were usual suspects who took India to yet another series win but there were other heroes too . One of them was KL Rahul, his contribution was immense. He got valuable runs for India and hit 6 half-centuries in a low scoring series against Australia. He is the one to watch out for in the future.
 
Another one was Saha, although his ability to advice on DRS was as bad as Manjrekar’s commentary but he made important contribution with bat that made the difference between a win and a draw or may be a loss.
 
But when you compare how team India started under Dhoni and how team India is performing now, there is nothing much changed in terms of results. India, at that time, dominated at home under Dhoni, India is doing same at home under Kohli but what really changed is performances of fast bowlers. In conditions not suited for fast bowlers, Indian fast bowlers, unexpectedly, not only did well but also outperformed opposition bowlers like Anderson, Broad, Starc, Hazlewood, Boult etc. Sometimes it was Md. Shami, sometimes it was Bhuveshwar Kumar, sometimes it was Ishant Sharma but the one who stole the show in last one year was Umesh yadav. It was heartening to see him bowl with venom and accuracy. He was the same bowler who used to bowl on leg-side when Dhoni used to set an off-side field and vice-e-versa when Dhoni used to set leg side field. I believe, Anil Kumble, a bowler, as a coach has changed the things around and also because Virat Kohli puts more trust in fast bowlers that gives them much needed confidence and freedom. Whatever be the reason it is heartening to see them perform well.
 
And nothing on Jadeja, i am just awestruck.
 
I have my apprehension on how this team will perform in South Africa, England and Australia but performances of fast bowlers, the passion of the team and the way Virat Kohli motivates the team to never give up (No not the verbal aggression that doesn’t win you matches, performances do) has definitely raised some hope.
 
Well Done Indian Cricket Team,  give us a overseas an series victory now. 

Record Galore at the end home season for Team India

When India was about to start its home season under new captain Virat Kohli, there were few apprehensions about how Virat Kohli and the young cricketers, brought up in T20 world, would fare in grueling  home season. Team India had fire power but inexperience and lack of ability was there to thwart their ascendency. At the end of the home season, Team India under Virat Kohli not only proved their critics wrong but also smashed many record en-route to their success.

Here is the list of the record  smashed by Indian players.

Ravichandran Ashwin –

(i)  Ashwin took 82 wickets in 13 test in the season and broke record held by Dale Steyn (78 ) since 2007-08.

(ii) Ashwin also became quickest to take 250 wickets ( 45 Test) breaking record of  Richard Hadlee ( 48 Test )

(iii) Ashwin  also became quickest to get 25 five-wickets haul ( in 47 Test) breaking record of Richard Hadlee ( 62 Test). He also became fastest to take 200 wickets at home ( in 30 test ). Ashwin’s current bowling strike rate of 52 is best by a spinner in last 100 years.

Ravindra Jadeja – 

(i) Jadeja became only third player in Test Cricket history to score more than 500 runs and take more than 50 wickets in a season other two being Kapil Dev in 1979-80 and Mitchell  Johnson in 2008-09. Jadeja sits on top of the chart with 556 runs and 71 wickets.

(ii) Jadeja became the highest left arm wicket-taker after 30 Tests, with 142 wickets. He is followed by Mitchell Johnson, who had 137 wickets after 30 Tests.

Cheteshwar Pujara –

(i) Pujara scored 1316 runs and set record of highest runs scored by an Indian in a season in Test matches breaking 8 year old record of Gautam Gambhir (1269). He, now, also holds record of most run in a season in test matches at home venue.

Virat Kohli – 

Kohli became first batsman to score 4 double century in four consecutive series. He went past Don Bradman and Dravid. Both of them did it in three consecutive series.

 

And here comes the most interesting one –

Since Steve Smith’s infamous brain-fade incident, Australia have taken more than 10 DRS and was successful in only one but yes as they said Aussies don’t cheat you know.

Kuldeep Yadav and origin of the word Chinaman

What a debut it has been for “chinaman” Kuldeep Yadav. His expressive celebration when he got his first test wicket said how much it meant to him to represent India in Test Cricket. A 5-wicket haul today would have made it an unforgettable day for him but anyway four wicket is no less an achievement as he turned the tide in favour of India.

If you are wondering why Kuldeep Yadav being a left handed bowler is called a Chinaman bowler and Jadeja isn’t. Let me solve that puzzle for you.

A left handed spinner who bowls over the wrist and gets ball turn into right hander, which Kuldeep Yadav does, is called a Chinaman bowler whereas Jadeja is an orthodox left handed bowler who uses his fingers to spin the ball away from right hander.

The origin of name “Chinaman” has a story behind it.

It is said that former West Indian left arm orthodox spinner Ellis Achong, of chinese ancestry, in 1933 test match, out of nowhere bowled an over the wrist ball that turned from off to leg and got batsman Walter Robins stumped. It is believed that while he walked back he said ” Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman” and from then on left arm “over the wrist” bowlers are called Chinaman.

Tough days ahead for Virat Kohli

All champion sides have one thing in common: they have an aura that creates fear in opponents and makes opponents lose the game in their mind even before the real game has begun. West Indies in late 70s & 80s and Australia on either side of millennium were such champion teams.

Team India enjoy such an aura at their home turf.Teams lose their sleep just at the thought of playing a test series in India. They have an enviable record at home. Since the start of new millennium, India has lost just three test series out of twenty nine test series played at home turf.

Current series, against Australia, is India’s 30th home test series since the start of new millennium and Australia, against all odds, beat India in India after 4502 days in the first test of the current series. Chink in India’s armour has been exposed by Aussies. This was certainly not in the script for VIrat Kohli & Co. It may have dented their confidence but the real character of a champion team is reflected at the face of adversity and if India feels that they are champion side then now is the perfect time to show their character.

Aussies were unexpectedly mute before the start of the series and now it seems that their silence was indication of the upcoming storm. That storm has hit India hard and handed India their second biggest loss at home turf. Aussies were buoyant after this win. If it was any other team then they would have got carried away with this surprise win and would have lost the focus but Aussie belong to altogether different breed. When they smell the blood, they don’t wait for their prey to commit mistakes, they pounce and go for kill. They would go all out in Bengaluru to take invincible lead of 2-0. 

VIrat Kohli has his task cut out because not only the next test or the series is on the line but also India’s aura of champion at home turf is in danger. Tough days are ahead for Virat Kohli in this series  but it should not bother either Virat Kohli or Indian cricket team fans because it is these difficult moments that separate the men from the boys. Time to see who all are the men in this Indian team. Kohli, Ashwin, Pujara, Nair ?

Federer Vs Nadal: Legacy at stake in Australian Open Final

The wait is finally over, yet another episode of Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal saga will be played today and on the stakes is not only the Australian Open title but also the legacy and greatness of both men. Federer, aged 35, is up against not only his aging body but also against the mental blockade that he has while playing against Rafael Nadal. Federer is stylish, elegant, and is poetry in motion when he has racquet in his hand but all of that vanishes when he faces ferocious and gutsy Nadal.

The number says it all. Federer has poor 11-23 record against Nadal and in slam finals Federer could go past Nadal only two times out of eight that they played against each other. Only number that favours Federer and puts him on higher pedestal is his grand slam tally of 17 whereas Nadal has 14. If Nadal wins this one , he closes the gap and not to forget that he is aged 30 and has years on his side to surpass Federer’s tally.  

Federer has a lot to defend today. His mindset reflected when he let out the secret when he admitted in the lead-up to the final that the clay battles with Nadal had left a scar. It is evident when Federer misses the points against Nadal in big moments. His backhand down the line shots often crosses the line against Nadal, his aces do not meet the T, there is something a miss every time he faces Nadal.

The good news is that he hasn’t faced Nadal for long and the previous defeats are less likely to play on his mind and we are more likely to once again see a Federer that makes us go wow and not the one who struggled against Nadal.

Nadal often claims that Federer is greatest player of all time and he is right because the elegance and the ease with which Federer plays tennis cannot be matched but Federer has to win this match for his fans and himself to remind the world that he remains the best in the business otherwise there is every chance that Nadal will run away with that glory when it comes to the stats and not the elegance. Whatever be the case, it’s hard not to say that Nadal is favorite in Australian Open 2017 final.

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