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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 ?

Virat Kohli : From arrogant prick to invincible man 

Early in Virat Kohli’s career, the term which was associated with him was arrogant and obnoxious (being from Delhi helped him to get that infamous tag). His arrogance was more talked about than his performance. Many of us who have grown up watching how gracefully Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid carried themselves on and off the field thought who is this arrogant prick?

Virat Kohli’s attitude was too much to handle for a generation who were taught that humbleness is greatest trait. Yes, we have seen a bit of arrogance in Ganguly but even he was no match for Kohli.

To everyone’s surprise that obnoxious behaviour which led to the downfall of many upcoming players in different sports (remember Mario Balotelli of Italy) was propelling Virat Kohli. He started to perform big with the bat with it his arrogance grew even more. He became an Australian in the Indian colours. Big on performance, big on attitude. I, me, myself kind of player. He performed well and then pissed off everyone: opponent, team-mates, and spectators. I became fan of this Kohli and I hated myself for it. How can I who loved graciousness of Sachin and Dravid can be fan of this prick.May be his performance started to get him the respect that he deserved.

There was always one thought at the back of my mind that all this graciousness is seen as timidity in this big bad world when you don’t win. Under Dhoni’s captaincy, India started to win big finals but the humbleness remained and some part of me wanted someone from Indian Team to show off a little bit that we have arrived and have no fear and that’s where Kohli fit the bill. He was still the prick. He sledged Aussies “the original sledge masters” and terrified them with it. I became fan but still didn’t love him. He was still an Aussie in the Indian colours.

Then the captaincy came to him and surprisingly things changed drastically. He reigned in his aggression and transformed it to controlled aggression. His aggression was his driving force and it led to many mistakes too but now his controlled aggression made him invincible.

Combination of that controlled aggression and performance is what i always wanted to see in Indian players because that’s what every champion player is made of. Performance was always there in many players but not the attitude that Kohli has and when, in few instances, some of the players showed aggression, the performance was not there and they looked like joker at the end of it( remember Sreesanth )

Kohli’s controlled aggression is rubbing off on other Indian players too. Kohli came and removed any shred of timidity that was haunting Indian team and started to assert. He was no more someone who was aggressive to get some attention but he does it to get performances out of himself and terrify opposition.

If Sachin Tendulkar represented aspiring India which fought for a place in this World. Kohli is symbol of a new India that is confident about itself and believes that top position is their rightful place. I hope Kohli continues like that for years to come and take Indian Cricket to the height that Aussies achieved in 90s and early 2000s or what West Indies achieved in 70s and 80s.

What a finish of IPL 9

There is no justice in this world; not for poor, not for deprived and especially not for a bowler in T20 cricket. IPL 9 was proving no different. It started with a bang for batmen and even scores of 170 and 190 were easily chased. Win the toss and chase the target was mantra of IPL 9. For the first time since the start of IPL, the team batting second won more than twice number of matches than the team batting first. Bowlers were playing part of villain who were supposed to be thrashed by heroes i.e batsmen. Even world class bowlers were toyed by rookie batsmen. Ashwin was honked for sixes by every batsmen who were supposed to be no one in cricketing world. How bad IPL 9 was for bowlers can be construed from the fact that Purple Cap holder of IPL 9 has least number of wickets compared to purple cap holders of all previous IPLs. SIxes and fours were raining, centuries were being made by batsmen and bowlers looked helpless and hapless.World seemed to be ending for bowlers. Pitches like Chinnaswamy and Wankhade were turned into graveyard for bowlers and then the final of IPL 9 happened.

IPL 9 final started on an unusual note, captain of Sunrisers disregarded the mantra of IPL 9 i.e win the toss and bowl first and it was even more surprising that he opted to do so on a Bangalore Pitch where any score can be chased. He didn’t care about stats screaming on his face that out of 59 matches played before the final, 41 has been won by team batting second. Everybody was surprised by Warner’s decision of batting first. Kohli even went on to say that Had he known that Warner would opt to bat first, he wouldn’t have come for toss. Amid all this, there was unflinching trust of Warner in his bowlers. He didn’t care that Kohli, the master chaser, is in ominous form, he didn’t care that RCB have most brutal batting line up waiting to pounce upon bowlers on a docile Bangalore pitch. He just didn’t care, he put trust in this theory of putting runs on scoreboard in knockout matches and then trusting his bowlers to defend it.

Soon after the start of match, it seemed certain that Warner’s decision to bat first will backfire as batsmen piled on runs and pitch looked yet another graveyard for bowlers. Although Sunrisers put 208 run on board but it was not safe considering the pitch and form of Bangalore batsmen. As soon as RCB started batting, it looked another day of injustice for bowlers. Gayle dispatched ball out of ground with ease and RCB completed 100 runs in just 9 over. Even after departure of Gayle, there was no respite for bowlers as Virat took the charge. When Virat Kohli departed in 13th over, RCB just needed 69 runs in 7.1 overs. It was by no means tough task in T20 cricket. This seemed just another day of injustice for bowlers, another day when bowlers are supposed to be playing role of villain and buried under the famous graveyard pitch of Bangalore. It seemed to be going all wrong for yet another day for bowlers and then something clicked, there was sudden change in momentum of game. AB de Villiers, the weapon of bowlers’ destruction was back in pavilion along with Watson and KL Rahul. Justice for bowlers seemed to be in reach and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mustafizur and Ben Cutting didn’t disappoint. In a pressure cooker situation, they kept clam and used slower balls, cutters and yorkers with precision. Their guile with ball was enough to stifle chase of RCB and cut short their dream of lifting IPL trophy in their backyard. Sunrisers’ bowlers grabbed victory not for only their team but also for all the bowlers who suffered at the hand of batsmen because of flat pitches; broader and powerful bats and the rules tilted in favour of batsmen.
What a day it was day to get the justice. On the big final day of IPL 9 , on a flat pitch, against most brutal batting line up, bowlers come triumph. Finally, in an era where bowlers are forced to carry only knives when batsmen have luxury of carrying cannons,  justice was being served for bowlers, at least for a day. What a finish of IPL 9 it was.

 

Tangled in Spin Web

I started watching cricket when Sidhu was going down the hill and Muralitharan was fast making his name in international cricket, that was the time when Sidhu used to dance down the track and hit Murali for umpteenth number of sixes. His inning of 124 (8 sixes), on turning track of  Lucknow against Muralitharan led Sri Lankan attack, was one of the examples of India’s dominance against spinners.

Generation of Sidhu & co retired and paved way for the future legends like Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, and Sachin (since 1989). They were later joined by Sehwag in 2001. They not only dominated spinners but also toyed with world class spinners at their will. Murali and Warne who wreaked havoc around the world, tamely surrendered in front of these Indian batsmen. Warne looked like a lesser mortal against Indian batting giants. This was the time when India used spin web to trap touring teams. Indian batsmen piled runs on spin friendly tracks and Indian spinners bamboozled opponents to win matches for India. Spin web was perfect recipe for India’s success.

Golden generation of Sachin & co. paved way for new generation of Indian batsmen led by Virat Kohli and since then India seem to have tangled themselves into web of spin. The good old “decisive foot movement” against spinners was suddenly forgotten by this current crop of Indian batsmen and was replaced by apprehensive feet movement, tentative approach and defeating body language (kind of Ganguly used to show while facing Shoaib Akhtar). No wonder they fail miserably against spinners.

Between 2006 and 2011, Indian batsmen averaged 46.43 and between 1990 & 2011, Indian batsmen averaged above 45 against spin which was best among test playing nation but since 2012 Indian batsmen average only 34.22 against spin. Indian batsmen now languish at the bottom half of the rung among test playing nation and just one step above worst performing English batsmen in terms of batting average against spinners. This leaves us with no doubt that there is definitely a dip in batsmanship of Indian batsmen against spinners. Players like Rahane, Pujara play spin better and average nearly 40 against spinners but when compared to likes of Sachin, Dravid and Laxman their average look meager. Between 2006 and 2011, Sachin, Dravid and Laxman had staggering average of 70 against spinners.

So what has changed in last 3-4 years that led to this drastic fall?  Some might argue that it’s because this generation spends more time in finding innovative ways to score runs at a pace of AB de Villiers on flat wickets of IPL than grinding in domestic cricket as AB de Villiers does in test cricket. But players like Rahane and KL Rahul who have come through the grind of domestic cricket also struggle against spinners so IPL can’t be sole reason behind this losing art of batsmanship against spinners.

Another reason could be that few years back BCCI decided to introduce green tops with intentions of making players comfortable while facing seam bowling. But this change had the adverse effect and resulted in extinction of quality spinners from domestic cricket. Harbhajan Singh once famously said that spin could soon be dead art in India if we continue to give stress on developing seamer friendly pitches.

Barring Ashwin, there is no quality spinner around in India and even he fails in overseas condition. If Indian batsmen don’t play against quality spinners in domestic cricket then they are bound to struggle against spinners in international matches. This discomfort was pretty evident when part time spinner Moeen Ali took 19 wicket on seaming wickets of England against India. With no disrespect to Moeen Ali, he is the kind of bowler whom Siddhu, coming  straight  out  of commentary box in his stylish suit, would send out of the park at this age of 52 but, surprisingly, current generation of Indian batsmen failed miserably against Moeen Ali.

Nathan Lyon, Monty Panesar, Graeme Swann, Rangana Herath, and every other spinner who earlier struggled against India made Indian batsmen their bunny since 2012. Lyon and Moeen Ali in away tests, Panesar and Swann at home test tangled Indian batsmen in their spin web and won the test series for their respective teams.

In a recent test match at Mohali, pitch neither had any devil nor it was a rank turner but still Indian batsmen could post only 200 in each innings against South Africa, this should bother Indian cricket establishment. Playing spin was forte of Indian batsmen, if this art is also lost, Indian team will become only flat track bullies and Indian cricket establishment will certainly be responsible for it.

In this ongoing test series against South Africa, India has got the momentum but with captain Kohli insisting on turning pitches, it won’t be a surprise if we see a repeat of Galle where team India tangled themselves into spin web of Rangana Herath and T Kaushal. Even if India wins this series it won’t generate much confidence if India get bowled out at small totals and give wickets to part-timers like Elgar.

Tackling spinner on turning track is highly specialized skill which need hours of practice in the nets. Problem with Indian batsmen is not lack of skill but lack of practice and also their habit of taking spinners lightly. To reclaim team India’s superiority against spinners, Indian batsmen need to practice good old front foot defense, back-foot cuts and pulls for hours in the nets. If done with enough attention, there is no doubt that Virat Kohli & co would once again make Indian batsmen a nightmare for spinners because dominating  spinners is in DNA of Indian batsmen.

In Reply To Tom Alter

dh
With Test No 1 Trophy

Dear Tom Alter

I know that you are sulking with reasons best known to you. But let me clear some cobwebs of your brain.

You said that two players left series overseas and were branded as traitors but you didn’t tell that circumstances were different then. Dhoni didn’t leave the series, he retired when series was done and dusted with Australia taking invincible lead. Earlier instances of players leaving were may be of proving a point to others/selectors/captains whereas Dhoni did it to prolong his ODI career that he loves the most.

Your second point is “Mahendra Singh Dhoni chooses to exit before he is removed – and with arrogance, such blind faith in his image.” What you call as arrogance is matter of respectfully retiring which is not done by any Indian greats in last 25 years. But I guess you have blind faith in earlier pattern of dragging career till the time fans start to abuse and players are forced to retire. It is always said that a player should retire when people ask – why and not when. You seem to be a fan of when.

Your third point is about being bosses’ favourite and money. For your information he is people’s favourite first and has made his name long before his alleged proximity with Srinivasan. Let me ask you when Sachin retired last year did he break any contract? When Kumble retired middle of the series did he break any contract? I didn’t see any scathing comments from you then. Can I ask, why you were silent then? A player has his prerogative to decide when to retire. Of all things he has done, least he would bother to go and ask some Tom Alter to decide about his retirement timing. So please don’t suggest him when to retire and what to do.

And then you insinuate that one of the reasons Dhoni was at helm for long was because he is loved by corporate. FYI Kohli is equally loved by corporate. So would you say that he has been named Captain because of it? Answer for me is a big NO. They both got captaincy because of their leadership quality and great performances. You are free to believe otherwise.

Let me ask you when was the last time you watched cricket. You say that Dhoni had not played any competitive cricket for two months before the second Test, and we take him back as both captain and player. So by your logic Captain should be changed after every off-season of two months. I would really like to know from you that when did that happen in cricketing history. Answer would be never or may be once or twice in history. So why should that apply to Dhoni? Answer would be best known to you.

Equally laughable is your comment that now country has became all about image building and history doesn’t matter. Let me tell you some history that you chose to forgot. Dhoni won two World Cups, One Champions Trophy and made India No 1 side in Tests. Yes I know you would like to remind people of overseas loss. But let me enlighten you why India didn’t win matches overseas and why it may lose last one at Sydney too. Its because with such pathetic bowling line up even combined captaincy brain of Imran, Steve Waugh, and Ganguly would find it hard to win matches. If Dhoni was not good captain, he would not have won in India too.

It’s not Dhoni who broke the sacred bond but it’s you and other media persons who are trying to break bond between Indian cricket and its lovers by painting a very grim scenario just before the World Cup. Such a damming article without even thinking of how it affects players’ morale tell us how much you love Indian Cricket. In my opinion it is not Dhoni but you who should be banned from further writing on cricket.

Get well soon Tom, I still watch first interview of Sachin that you took and still love every moment of it.

With Love

From an Indian Cricket & Dhoni Fan

This article has also been published at sportskeeda here