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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cricket T20: Now India Go 1-0 Up Against Australia, The Bumrah Connection!

After winning the last and the most thrilling one day international match in Sydney (January 23) against Australia by six wickets thus avoiding the humiliating whitewash losing the ODI Series 4-1 India today have crushed the hosts in the first of the 3-match T20 Cricket Series in Adelaide by 37 runs taking 1-0 lead. Put into bat Indian top order fired all cylinders again with Virat Kohli stealing the show with a scintillating 90 not out. Rohit Sharma made an explosive opening putting the Aussie bowlers to the axe and then Virat took over with the ODI discard Suresh Raina scoring at will. Raina struggled to find his rhythm and slowly settled into his favorite strokes. However, he wisely left most of the scoring to the unstoppable Virat. In the last over skipper Dhoni too showed his long lost magic hitting up 11 runs in three balls. India set a daunting target of 189 in 20 overs and Indian spectators waited with crossed fingers for the Indian bowlers to perform. And the Bumrah connection worked again with Ashwin and Jadeja contributing to restrict Australia to 151 all out.

It was indeed refreshing to see old warhorses like Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh back in the field. Nehra did show some of his old swing magic while Yuvraj did not have a chance to bat or bowl much. The beginning of the Indian attack was scary as usual with the Aussies hitting them all around and the new pick Pandya bowling five wides in an over of six. But soon as if inspired by the latest find pacer Bumrah the bowlers pitched in with Australian wickets falling at regular intervals.

This magnificent victory emphasizes the fact that in this tour of Australia the Indian top order has delivered consistently and that with some application from the bowlers and the middle or lower order batsmen India could have easily won the ODI series. Problem is Team India is full with consistent non-performers including the captain Dhoni himself who has a tendency to promote himself in the batting order once the top order has fired and then ‘helping’ the team to lose the momentum totally hiking a good required rate to unassailable ones. How do you justify the loss in the 4th ODI in Canberra (January 20) after Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan with their sparkling centuries and a most rollicking partnership made winning a mere formality?  Then Dhoni came and got out opening the gates for India losing 8 wickets for 46 runs. This is in line with the old Indian style of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’. What could have been a historic victory chasing the highest ever target against Australia in Australia was cut short brutally. Of course, this milestone was achieved in Sydney thanks to Bumrah who prevented the hosts from racing to a 350+ total and India riding on Rohit Sharma (99) and a maiden century by Manish Pandey chased the highest total (330) with 2 balls to spare. The captain, though sluggish as usual, could not prevent the victory again.  And Canberra should have given India one more victory.

In the first three ODIs India could have won at least one match if their middle or lower order contributed extra 20-30 runs and the bowlers showed some discipline. We talked about the ‘similarity’ factor in our last post and this inspired the hosts so much that they too invited India to bat first in the third one day international in Melbourne (January 17). This ‘similarity of defeat’ syndrome made the selection system haphazard as if by lottery with players joining the team out of nowhere. Why Jadeja was preferred ahead of Ashwin from the third ODI onwards only Dhoni or Ravi Shastri knows. Maybe our all-floundering all-rounders still rule the roost. Stuart Binny who looks the genuine all-rounder at the moment was never allowed to settle down in the team. It was indeed a lucky draw that Manish Pandey was selected for the last ODI and he taught the victory-starved team how to win matches. It is also significant this ODI Series yielded the highest ever runs scored in one day series history and that Rohit Sharma was chosen the Player of the Series—an honor that normally goes to the winning team.  

Anyway, our captain Dhoni asks us to be positive always and so let us be positive. At the present ratings India should pocket the T20 Series against Australia. Now, the T20 fever is on with the India-Sri Lanka T20, ICC World T20 championship, Asia Cup that this year is to be played in T20 format and of course the cricket movies of IPL just following each other. However, the bonanza should not take the focus away from non-performers in Team India.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cricket ODI: Australia Go 2-0 Up, India Score Similar And Lose Similar!

Australia today crushed India by 7 wickets in the second one day international (ODI) in Brisbane to take a 2-0 lead in the five-match series. This follows the first triumph of the hosts in Perth with some curious similarities between the two matches.

India won the toss and elected to bat first on both occasions. India surpassed the 300 mark both times—set a target of 310 in the Perth ODI and 309 in the Brisbane ODI. For India opener Rohit Sharma hit tons in both—a huge 171 then and 124 today. The other opener Shikhar Dhawan failed in both. Indian spinners, deprived of their slow tracks back home, hardly did anything spectacular and Indian pacers, hardly promoted in slow pitches back home and selected out of nowhere, could not be realistically expected to perform, in both. Apart from Rohit, Kohli and Rahane no batsmen could perform for India in both. Thanks to some accurate Aussie bowling with perfect yorkers in the death overs made India fall short of at least by 20 runs in both.  And most importantly India lost both.

For Australia George Bailey was the key in both ODIs with a century in the first and half century in the second. Aussie fast bowlers, supposedly inexperienced, restricted India to manageable 300+ scores in both. Steve Smith contributed to the victories in both. If they were lucky not to lose Bailey early thanks to umpiring in the first, they were unlucky not to get Rohit a little earlier in the second. The hosts cruised to victory in both without having any kind of pressure.

Similarities are only of academic value, the significant part is that despite the wonderful momentum provided by the top order on both occasions India failed to capitalize fully on that. On good batting tracks just around 300 is never enough nowadays, one needs to build on that, particularly against formidable Australia. Maybe Indian skipper Dhoni did not have the confidence to put the hosts in because of the scare that with this kind half-baked Indian bowling attack the targets for India could have been around 400!

Indian batsmen and bowlers need to dig themselves in putting their sweet memories of spinning friendly home tracks in short-time oblivion. Else, in Melbourne on Sunday the series will be all over with the hosts wrapping up in a ‘similar’ fashion. 
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