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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.

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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.

Most memorable tournament for Dhoni as a captain

As the curtain draws on Dhoni’s captaincy, if and when Mahendra Singh Dhoni decides to writes his memoir, he is likely to choose Champions Trophy 2013 as his most memorable tournament as captain.

Just before Champions Trophy 2013, Spot fixing saga in IPL came to light and Indian team’s reputation took a big blow. Dhoni’s honesty was itself questioned. Team’s morale was down and no one believed that India could go on and win Champions Trophy 2013 in English Conditions which didn’t suit them.

In such turmoil, Dhoni took a young team devoid of stars like Yuvraj, Zaheer, Gambhir, Harbhajan etc to England and took one after another unconventional decisions. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan started to open the innings and became pillars of India’s success in CT2013 and afterwards. His gamble on Ravindra Jadeja finally paid off and he ended as most successful bowler of CT 2013 in conditions that was not much suited for spin bowling and also contributed valuable runs with bat.

2 years back at same place, Naseer Hussain commented about Indian fielders as donkeys on the pitch and in CT 2013, young and agile fielders of Indian team shut everyone’s mouth with exceptional fielding standards. It also displayed that Dhoni was right is giving importance to fitness and fielding in team’s selection.

India was cruising in all three departments in CT2013 but all that seemed not enough as India scored just 129 runs in the rain curtailed final. Before England team started their chase in final, Dhoni gave his famous huddle speech,

He said “God (referring to rain) is not coming to save us. If you want to win this trophy we will have to fight it out. We are the number one-ranked side so let us show it that they will have to fight for these 130-odd runs. So let us not look for any outside help.”

It looked all but certain till 17th over that England will win CT2013, when Dhoni, to the surprise of everyone, threw the ball to Ishant Sharma who changed the match with two wickets in consecutive balls.

When Tredwell missed the last ball and made it certain that India won the CT2013, Dhoni’s mask of calmness slipped and he jumped with unbridled joy. It showed how much he valued the victory of CT2013. He not only won CT2013 but also silenced his critics. He displayed how to keep pressure off the team in such turmoil, he displayed how a team full of young players who are hungry for success and have passion for the game are more likely to get success than team full of stars but devoid of passion for the game and hunger for the success.

In that tournament, Dhoni and his team ticked every box, that has to be his favourite tournament as Captain.

MS Dhoni’s lasting legacy as captain

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is arguably India’s best captain but there is no denying the fact that he is India’s most successful captain. For the record, no other captain in the world won all three ICC Trophy i.e T20 World Cup, ODI World Cup, and Champions Trophy except MS Dhoni. He has done many firsts for India as captain and we all have those records on tip of our tongues but what is the change that Dhoni brought in the Indian team that he captained for almost a decade? What is his legacy?

1.Cultivating Winning mentality in the shorter format of the game.

Real change in the attitude of the Indian team started under Sourav Ganguly. He made the Indian team a bunch of fighters. He taught India how to reach finals but sadly, on most of the occasions India faltered on big stages and lost big finals. Under Sourav Ganguly, India reached 14 ODI finals but could win only one final and three finals ended with no result. Under Dhoni, things changed drastically and India took a giant leap. India learned how to win big finals and the winning habit was cultivated in players. Earlier, India started as underdogs in finals, under Dhoni India became favourites in the finals and the rich haul of trophy under Dhoni is the testimony to the fact. Under Dhoni, India won eight finals and lost only five.

2.Backing Young players and leaving the core behind for the next captain.

Dhoni’s first ODI trophy as captain came in Australia in 2008 CB series. Beating Australia, a dominant team for two decades, in their own backyard, in first two of the three finals when Ricky Ponting infamously claimed that they would finish off India in first two finals, was one of the sweetest victories that India grabbed. But, the story before that series was not at all rosy. India dropped two big names i.e Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid from ODI squad and Dhoni famously said that sometimes it is very important to send the message across. Since then he always backed youngsters with an eye on the future.

Sourav Ganguly is always credited for building team India by backing players like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan etc but Dhoni is never given due credit in this regard. Not long ago, people mocked Dhoni for backing players like R Ashwin, R Jadeja, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma who have now become the core of Virat Kohli’s invincible test team. Dhoni reaped the benefit of the team created by Sourav Ganguly. Similarly, before leaving he has built the core of the team to make India champion team under Virat Kohli.

3.Making Fitness and fielding key criteria for team selection.

While watching cricket in the late 90s and the early 2000s, Indian cricket fans always rued about Indian fielding and fitness standards compared to what Aussies or Proteas had. Dhoni came and tinkered with Indian thought process of not giving importance to the fielding and especially of not giving importance to the fitness. He always stressed on the importance of the fitness. He created a furor in 2012 Australian series when he categorically mentioned that only two out of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, and Sachin Tendulkar could be included in playing XI because of their inconsistency in the fielding. Merit and demerits of that decision can be debated but that sent a clear message to players eyeing a place in the team that fitness and fielding have become key criteria in the team’s selection. Dhoni himself led by example. He, all through his career, remained one of the fittest and fastest player on the pitch. The generation of players that came later are super fit and are among best fielders of the world with the new in-charge Virat Kohli leading in both department,

4.Unhurried approach to the game and assuredness of Champions

It is true to some extent that a captain is as good as his team but a captain certainly changes the way his team plays. Ricky Ponting and his team played firebrand cricket. Sourav Ganguly had aggression and that reflected in the attitude of his team. Anil Kumble had determination in his game and that reflected in his team. Who can forget that famous 2008 Perth test,

In the era of the aggressive brand of cricket, Dhoni brought an unhurried approach to the game. Before, Dhoni’s ascendency as captain, Indian team were jittery in big chases and nervous on big occasions. There were many occasion when India collapsed after being in good position. The panic button was pressed more often than needed.  Dhoni dismantled the panic button of the team and gave a loud call for calmness. The situation gradually changed in years to come under his captaincy. From being a bad chaser, India became chase masters. In last two years of his captaincy, it was more because of Virat Kohli but Dhoni was not far behind when we check the record of last decade.  In his tenure as captain, In 43 innings while chasing, Dhoni scored 1558 runs, for winning cause, at a staggering average of 91.64. The attitude of Dhoni rubbed off on players as well and Indian team under him possessed assuredness of Champions unlike the nervousness of underdogs earlier seen.

5.Stomach to take big unconventional decision

Last over to Joginder Sharma in 2007 T20 World Cup final, promoting himself ahead of in-form Yuvraj Singh in 2011 World Cup Final or giving over to most expensive bowler Ishant Sharma in the Champions trophy final when England was cruising and needed only 28 runs in three overs or the infamous decision of denying strike to Ambati Rayudu. He took unconventional decisions, backed it, and most often ended on the right side of it, bringing many laurels to India. Call him lucky, call him “The great gambler” or call him a genius, give him whatever name you like but you cannot deny that Dhoni had stomach for taking big unconventional decisions when stakes were high.    

It is really the end of an era that gave many glorious days to the Indian cricket. When Dhoni was once asked question on managing old and young players. He answered, “From Kishore Kumar, we have gone to Sean Paul”. It goes for the captaincy too, we are moving from an ear of Kishore Kumar to Sean Paul.

Over to you Virat Kohli.

This article is also published here at sportskeeda.

 

Stats: James Anderson – A case of sour grapes

When the going gets tough, the tough get going and when the going gets tough, the losers get chirping. After England’s Test series loss against India, it was not surprising to see James Anderson taking a dig at Virat Kohli’s failure in India’s tour of England in 2014.  No one can deny that Virat Kohli failed in that tour and the fifth and sixth stump line of English bowlers bothered him but bringing that now when the Indian captain has decimated the English bowlers is a classic example of sour grapes.

Every cricket expert knows that Virat Kohli has changed his stance to negate the fifth and sixth stump line that consistently bothered him. One thing about Kohli that makes him great is that he admits his flaws and improves his technique to remove it from his game, unlike some bowlers who hide their inefficiencies by bringing up old stats of batsmen.

Let us now focus on the spearhead of the English bowling attack, James Anderson, who called out the ‘technical flaw’ of Virat Kohli and analyse what has he done to remove his own flaws.

Anderson is the highest wicket taker in Test cricket for England, but a quick look at his performance in this series, and he seemed nothing more than another ordinary bowler. He took just 4 wickets in 3 test matches whereas India’s Mohammed Shami picked up 10 wickets in the same conditions in the same number of matches.

It seems Anderson didn’t do much to iron out his own flaws of bowling in subcontinent pitches but as good hosts, we shall give him the benefit of doubt since he is 34 years of age and is marred by injuries, and hence must not have got time to iron out his flaws for this series.

He has had a long career spanning 13 years and has had a successful Test career, becoming one of the modern bowling greats. The Englishman has picked up 467 wickets in 122 matches at an average of 28.50, but a great bowler performs well irrespective of conditions. So let us see how Anderson fares in different conditions.

In Country Matches Wickets  Average
New Zealnd 5 18 36.27
Australia 13 43 38.44
South Africa  8 25 39.92
India 10 26 33.46
Sri Lanka 4 11 40.72

Anderson’s performance in seamer friendly pitches: Average

In New Zealand, where conditions are favourable for swing bowlers like Anderson, he has taken 18 wickets in 5 Test matches at an average of 36.27. Across the Tasman Sea in Australia, the Lancashire bowler has taken 43 wickets in 13 Test matches at an average of 38.44. In South Africa, again, conditions which suit bowlers like him, he has taken 25 wickets in 8 Test matches at an average of 39.92.

Going by these stats, it isn’t very impressive for England’s leading wicket taker in the backyard of fast bowlers, at best it can be considered as average performances.

In not so great conditions for fast bowlers, like in India, he has picked up 26 wickets in 10 Test matches at an average of 33.46, while in Sri Lanka, his record is 11 wickets in 4 matches at an average of 40.72. Again, nothing impressive here too.

Brilliant in home conditions

What is impressive is his performance at home, in England, where he has 296 wickets in 69 matches at a staggering average of 25.63.

He has 21 5-wicket hauls, out of which 17 have come in England and out of his three 10-wicket hauls, none have come outside England. The stats show that Anderson is an incredibly gifted bowler, capable of picking wickets at home, but away from the comforts of home conditions, the fast bowler’s record is average, at best.

The aim of dissecting the performance of James Anderson is not to put him down. He is one of the best bowlers of his generation and it takes great skill to swing the ball both ways or to make the ball reverse, which Anderson does consistently.

But the point here is to show that everyone needs to improve somewhere. Some players have to a great way to go, while others have smaller flaws. So, there is no point referring to a particular past statistic to bring Virat Kohli down.

It is worth noting that Virat Kohli has improved leaps and bounds since that 2014 tour and has become one of the best batsmen in the world. Barring performances in England in Test matches, the Indian captain has performed admirably everywhere and the best bowlers of his generation have found it difficult to outfox him.

Whether Kohli succeeds in England or not will be known only when India travels to England, but what we have learnt recently is that James Anderson has proved that he is a sore loser after his team were outplayed and out-thought comprehensively in this series.

Mr. Anderson, let the ball do the talking.

This post has also been published here at sportskeeda.