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Saturday, September 29, 2018

India Asian Champions Again, Lift Unimoni Asia Cup-2018!

It is only logical that the unbeaten team of the Unimoni Asia Cup tournament become the eventual champions. India was the only team that remained unbeaten and in the Final tonight became the worthy champions beating an upbeat Bangladesh by wickets. However, the highly competitive match was not without its moments of worries or even scares. First, it was a risky toss to win owing to India’s decision to field first, because in the slow pitches of UAE a total around 250 often proved to be insurmountable. Second, Bangladesh did show the promise of running away with the match while batting. Third, in the Indian innings loss of Dhawan and Rayadu early and the departure of Rohit while in full flow raised scares for an Indian conquest. And then the fall of Dhoni at the score 160/5 put the onus of a victory on the bowlers again.

Put into bat Bangladesh started a brilliant opening partnership of 120 runs in just 20 overs and looked set for a total of over 250 runs. However, all the Indian spinners including Kedar Jadhav got into an action mode accounting for a flurry of wickets in the next few overs. Opener Liton Das batted till the 40th over for his superlative century (121). Unfortunately for Bangladesh there were only two innings of substance from Mehidy Hasan (32) and Soumya Sarkar (33). The unlucky hero of the match against Pakistan Mushfiqur Rahim also fell cheaply. India seemed to be happy with the final Bangladesh target of 223 runs, the target looked immensely achievable by a team in top form.

The Indian innings was marked by ups and downs of the epic variety. At one time they looked to be winning easily and at another time suspense creeping in. The match turned into a thriller after MS Dhoni was the 5th wicket to fall at the score of 160 still needing 63 runs to win. However, there was no worry as far as the remaining overs were concerned. Kedar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja just needed to stick on. To add to the tension building up Jadhav had to retire hurt. Bangladesh pacers Mustafizur, Mashrafe and Rubel got really charged up firing all cylinders. Finally the Asian champions prevailed overwhelming the target in the last over, in fact the last ball, thanks to good work by Jadeja, Bhubaneshwar Kumar and Jadhav again. The Scorecard:

Interestingly in the tournament the teams that ran closest to beating India were Hong Kong—the newest entry in the Asian cricket arena, and the resurgent Afghanistan. Of course, the curious Indian experiments were largely esponsible for this scenario. The main contenders for the title, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were defeated by India in extremely one-sided matches, twice each. The Final was hard-fought going down the wire. 

India begin their campaign against the visiting West Indies next month with matches in all three formats when the regular captain Virat Kohli is expected to lead the team again.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Unimoni Asia Cup-2018: No India-Pakistan Final, It’s Vs Bangladesh!

In the last Super Four match of the Unimoni Asia Cup-2018 played in Abu Dhabi tonight Bangladesh played like tigers overcoming a spirited-in-splits Pakistan by 37 runs. It was a virtual semi-final with the winner set to meet India in the Final to be played in Dubai on Friday, 28th September, 2018. Seemingly Pakistan could never recover psychologically from the dumps inflicted by arch-rivals India, not once but two times. Their batting was lackadaisical and painfully slow this time too. More importantly for millions of fans all over the globe, a possible third encounter between India and Pakistan in the tournament was snuffed out. 
Bangladesh won the toss and elected to bat first. After a shaky start they finally managed to put up a competitive 240-run target for Pakistan thanks to a glorious but unlucky innings of 99 by Musfiqur Rahim and a dashing 60 by Mohammad Mithun. Pakistan bowled them out in 48.5 overs. In reply Pakistan also tottered at the start losing three wickets quickly. Then Shoaib Malik and Imamul Haq steadied the innings. Malik was dismissed by a brilliant one-handed catch by Mashrafe off Rubel ending that partnership and Pakistan was reduced to 87 for 4 wickets. Very soon they were 95 for 5, and when it seemed to be a point of no return Pakistan staged a fighting comeback thanks to a solid partnership between the lone man standing Imam and Asif. Although Bangladesh catching was brilliant throughout Asif’s dropped catch by the wicket keeper could have proved to be a turning point, but a short while after Asif was consumed by Mehidy Hasan and the match was in the balance again with the asking rate going above 7 per over. Bangladesh sealed the match and almost earned a berth in the Final against India by capturing the prized scalp of Imamul Haq (83) at 167 for 7. Bangladesh bowlers, both pacers and spinners, delivered an intense performance and suffocated Pakistan batsmen effectively. Pacer Mustafizur Rahman took four Pak wickets. Finally it was all over for Pakistan ending a sorry tale at 202 for 9 in 50 overs.  

Last night India, as habituated to it, experimented with fire (read Afghanistan) again, and nearly lost the match. Realistically speaking, it’s no use blaming only the team management and coach. You can call it the experimental mindset. Even legendary or famous ex-cricketers or experts and prominent sports journalists ask for ‘experiments’ whenever possible and constantly push for their favourite cricketers for a ‘look-in’ in the national squad. In most of such experiments India suffer defeats or near escapes from defeats. Irrespective of whether a match is inconsequential or not a loss is a loss and it never helps a team in future assignments. India rested five top players, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni came out for the toss giving his fans ecstatic moments. Perhaps it was well thought out plan to make Dhoni stand-in captain for an already stand-in captain and thus giving him the 200th opportunity to lead India in an ODI. 

In the absence of three Indian strike-bowlers Afghanistan had it relatively easy and raced to 252 in 50 overs opting to bat first. Opener Mohammad Shahzad hit his fifth ton in a brilliant innings of flamboyance and belligerence—a century that can match the highest professional standard of international cricket. On the slow UAE surfaces chasing a 250+ total has always been tricky, and India without the high-scoring openers was in a spot of bother. However, Lokesh Rahul and Ambati Rayadu had mounted a 100+ run partnership, and just when India seemed to be cruising the middle order collapsed, of course, with at least two doubtful umpiring decisions. Unfortunately India had no DRS review left after Rahul, surely playing only this match, wasted one in his clear out decision. The match went down to the wire, and in the last over India needed 7 runs with 9 wickets gone. Jadeja almost made sure with just a run needed off the last two balls, but he lofted the penultimate ball to get caught at midwicket and the thriller ended in a tie making Afghanistan burst into a tizzy of excitement and joy.

Letting the syndrome of experiment rest for the moment we must say that Afghanistan played valiantly in the tournament and really deserved more. They topped Group B at the league stage beating both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka convincingly, and in Super Four they lost narrowly to Bangladesh and Pakistan getting knocked out in the process. And Afghanistan tied India in an inconsequential but an unforgettable match, unforgettable particularly for them. Afghanistan is sure to create a commotion in the 2019 World Cup.

Now, all set for the Friday Final at Dubai International cricket stadium. Hope India do not resort to experiment again!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Asia Cup Cricket: India Pulverize Pakistan, Enter Final of Unimoni Asia Cup!

India enter Unimoni Asia Cup Final to be played on 28th September, 2018 beating Pakistan by 9 wickets, their second win against the arch-rivals in the tournament. Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma hit a scintillating partnership of 210 runs and Pakistan had to engineer a run-out to separate them. In the process Shikhar hit his second century of the tournament with other consistent good knocks. Consecutive explosive knocks by captain Rohit Sharma is wonderful as compared to his earlier habit of following a terrific knock in one innings by a failure in the next. His century too was brilliant and worthy of a captain making the win a mere formality. 

Never saw such an extremely one-sided India-Pakistan encounter and such severe Indian mauling against Pakistan. Their first encounter was also one-sided, but that was largely due to an absolute Pakistan batting collapse. In this match Pakistan started shakily or rather over-cautiously, but finally put up a total which could be called competitive (237/7 in 50 overs) in a high-pressure match between the arch-rivals. Pakistan tactics were surprising--electing to bat first despite the previous match, total lack of aggression in batting, dropped catches and sting-less bowling. As a total contrast the Indian reply was electric and incredible. The Scorecard:

This doesn't mean that India start experimenting again against a formidable Afghanistan on 25th September, 2018 in Dubai International Cricket stadium. Let an unchanged team go on winning.  

India look to be the team worthy of winning the Cup at the moment. Of course, if Pakistan too makes it to the Final then it will be a brand new encounter with any kind of result possible. On the other hand Bangladesh and Afghanistan are also immensely capable of entering the Final. 

By the way what will India do with the heap of the overs spared so far ?? 

(PS: Afghanistan was again unlucky to lose narrowly to Bangladesh by 3 runs in a thriller in Abu Dhabi last night. With Afghanistan thus knocked out of the tournament the Pakistan-Bangladesh last Super Four match on 26th September, 2018 will be a virtual semi-final.) 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Asia Cup Cricket: What A Relief, India In Super Four!

Yes, it is indeed a huge relief that India have reached the Super Four stage of the Unimoni Asia Cup-2018 and that they are going to play Pakistan at least two times, the big one coming up tomorrow in Dubai. Because, Team Hong Kong has suffered two losses--one at the hands of Pakistan and the other to India tonight, the latter being a most unwelcome thriller for Indian fans. This sense of relief owes its origins to two basic reasons, like it or not.

First, after the ODI series loss and the Test series disaster in England Team India has suffered a telling loss of credibility. There, only captain Virat Kohli played with some of the bowlers in tandem, and now here in UAE even the captain is missing with the one day specialists brought in again. Therefore, you never know who in Team India will play and who will play how. Upsets are common in tournaments, and last night Afghanistan eliminated Sri Lanka, one of the main contenders for the Cup despite everything. Tonight's match was almost another upset with India winning narrowly by 26 runs. The noisy celebration of the Indian fans expressed the same sense of huge relief. With Rashid and other spinners Afghanistan is going to be a challenge for any team in Super Four.

Second and most importantly, India seems to be continuing relentlessly with its selection blues. This was India’s first match and the crucial start of the Asia Cup campaign. And yet, India have begun their campaign with experimentation. They have given debut to one and took in a few others in lieu of experienced cricketers who were available, sitting resting or whatever in the  dressing room. Selection of Dinesh Karthik is also to be questioned, because he was taken in only in the third and final ODI against England where he couldn’t do anything special. So, why select him adding one more wicket-keeper to the team? Team management defends it thus—resting important players from the sapping heat. Well, do they play the IPL during the great Indian winter back home? Of course, there is one more defense still—the uncanny schedule giving India two back to back matches. However, such games do help players warming up well for bigger games.

The basic point is that team management has deprived their most experienced players of precious match practice just a day before the all-important encounter with Pakistan. It is to be noted that Pakistan had fielded their full-strength team in their first match against Hong Kong. Pakistan have already been playing mind games, openly relishing the idea of Virat-less India, and now the Indian Experiment would further embolden their approach. After the Indian batting and bowling displayed tonight there will be more questions regarding selection in the Pakistan match.

India failed to reach the 300 mark against a team playing a major international tournament for the first time making just 48 runs in the last ten overs losing five wickets. Except for the Shikhar Dhawan century, a bright starter from Rohit Sharma and a good effort by Ambati Rayadu there was hardly any major score from anybody including the crucial factor of MS Dhoni. Of course, Dhoni is here to stay, but will they drop all others who were only experimented with? How would the selectors ensure that the experienced players to be taken in now will deliver in the very first match? What would they do with Kedar Jadhav? Get rid of him after this solitary chance? We watched tonight Hong Kong tackling Indian pacers most efficiently scoring more than 50 runs in the first 10 overs without loss, and keeping up the momentum overcoming the Indian spinners too till the match was nearly sealed by them. Would the strike bowlers to be taken in strike indeed in the very first outing?

Therefore, this profound sense of relief! Whatever happens in the next match, India will be one of the top two teams from Group A and will continue to play the Super Four matches including a second encounter with Pakistan from 21st September onwards.

Hope Team India rebuilding happens quick and fast, and the liabilities both in the team and in team management removed faster. Some sort of a ‘problem of plenty’ is setting in ominously for the Indian cricket management. With the ICC World Cup-2019 round the corner India cannot afford to go on with its mindless experimentation killing players’ spirit and confidence in the process. Identify your best 15, make them bind into a team, give them trust and confidence and give them a run till the World Cup so that they can fight single-mindedly to win it. This Team-15 is for the one day format, and ideally for all the formats with the barest minimum of ‘specialist’ interchanging.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cricket: Asia Cup-2018 Begins, Bangladesh Crush Sri Lanka in Inaugural Match!

The 14th edition of Asia Cup of One Day Internationals (ODI) between cricket playing nations of Asia began tonight, the 15th of September, 2018 in United Arab Emirates. UAE hosts this tournament for the third time due to well-known reasons. In the inaugural match played at the Dubai International stadium Bangladesh crushed Sri Lanka by 137 runs. Bangladesh, batting first, innings was built mainly on a superlative 144 runs by Musfiqur Rahim who was the last man out setting a competitive target of 261 runs. Sri Lanka began very shakily and kept on losing wickets at regular intervals including a  run-out, the whole team finally getting bowled out for a mere 124 . With its string of successes in last two years Bangladesh has become the team to watch out for in this two-week tournament. It was nice to see Lasith Malinga back in the Sri Lanka team and also among wickets again.

Asia Cup this year has six teams with Hong Kong joining the five full ODI members—India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The tournament, normally played in the round robin format, this time is having two groups and a Super Four. Group A consists of India, Pakistan and Hong Kong while Group B has Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Winners and runners-up teams of each group will go to the Super Four stage on the basis of points at the group stage and in Super Four all four nations will play each other with the top two teams qualifying for the Final. There will be two venues—Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Omission of Sharjah is perplexing which is also pointed out by Sunil Gavaskar.

After a long while cricket lovers are set to enjoy encounters between the eternal archrivals India and Pakistan. This rivalry becomes far more interesting with the former ace pacer Imran Khan becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The two nations are set to meet on 19th September in Dubai for the group match. Supposing both teams proceed to the Super Four stage which is the most likely scenario they will meet for the second time sometime after 20th September. If both teams turn out to be the top two teams in Super Four they will meet for the third time in the Final on 28th September. Cricket lovers will really relish that possibility. Of course, as we have pointed out earlier, Bangladesh would be a tough team to overcome and Sri Lanka could come roaring back any time.  

India has a new captain Rohit Sharma for the tournament as Virat Kohli was rested after the Test disaster against England. India, the defending champions, has been consistently proving its dominance in the shorter format and the absence of Kohli is not likely to impact team performance adversely. Of course, performance of MS Dhoni is going to be a crucial factor with wicket keeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik also featuring in the team. Selection blues in Team India visibly affected team performance in the England tour, and therefore team management has to be very careful about the final eleven in each match with a lot of options available. The omission of Rishav Pant seems illogical, because he went from the IPL straight to the Tests.

With more teams, interesting format and the extravaganza spreading over two weeks Asia Cup-2018 promises to be absorbing and exciting.

All details about the tournament:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Curious Case For Delays!

I made a discovery of sorts recently! You know, we have certain likes and dislikes, and we have been traditionally used to the reactions concomitant on these. However, I found out that such likes and dislikes are specific to the prevailing situation or circumstances. Depending on the prevailing situation or circumstances our traditional likes could very well convert into unconventional dislikes or our traditional irritation could translate into new-found pleasure. I do of course run the risk of suffering from naiveté as you all may know this or be experiencing such deferential distinctions. But somehow I am hell-bent on propagating my discovery to one and all.

Our crucial keyword here is ‘delay’.  Almost always, delays cause irritation or dislikes, and fury in extreme cases. You hate when your train or flight is delayed; you hate waiting when somebody’s train or flight is delayed; you hate to be kept waiting for a meeting; you wholeheartedly dislike late comers in office; you get furious when your spouse is late for an important occasion and so on. These are all traditional and accepted reactions. Now, I will proceed to my discovery straightway without saying anything more in this context which could be revealing prematurely.

That evening I landed up with a lot of time to kill. I had to receive a friend at the airport at a bit late hour and after office I had nothing important to do. I didn’t consider it wise to go home all the way and then come back again all the way and more. Going for a movie was ruled out because theatres were not in the vicinity of the airport and I didn’t have that much of time. And then, I was ravenously hungry too. In my earlier trips to the airport I had observed a cosy nice little restaurant right opposite to the arrival gates. Therefore, I decided on that; took a little bite, boarded a bus and went to the airport.

Surprisingly, the traffic that evening was not heavy, and when I arrived at the airport I still had at least two hours to kill. I started thinking about what courses of food and beverages should be taken so that the time killing got done appropriately as I entered the restaurant.

Meantime I decided on a drink as the first course. I took a good seat and looked around the restaurant. There were not many customers at that point of time and none of them belonged to the noisy variety. With the air conditioners working fine it was cool and comfortable. I was in.

I waited, and waited with the menu wide open on my table. The waiters were moving around on errands not exactly related to the few customers available. However, I didn’t even feel an itch of irritation as I relaxed and settled comfortably in my chair.

Finally when the waiter came I ordered my drink, but was told that was not available. After that whatever item I fixed my taste buds on was either not available or not with the appropriate flavour I wanted. But I was not at all angry or irritated. I rather smiled at him, and tried again with menu. Eventually I had to cancel my drink and settle for a snack of the waiter’s choice.

After the delightful delay in placing an order now I was in for a more appetising delay in serving the order. I was too happy watching the people eating or drinking or idling or loitering around and also the television screen where a local news channel was trying to burst out of the mute mode. Curiously, everything seemed interesting to me despite now a vehemently protesting stomach. I sat there—bemused, but contented and happy as the minutes ticked by.

I enjoyed my dish immensely when it finally arrived, and then ordered for a tea. There was another juicy delay till the hot beverage came. After I finished my tea relishing it with lingeringly tender and deliciously spaced out sips I asked for the bill. I never thought that it would be the longest regurgitating delay of all the delays. The waiters as usual moved around busily with their errands never bothering about me. If I moved out of the place quietly nobody would have noticed, such was the business that was going on. However, I did not at all dislike the restaurant or was irritated with the boys. Instead, I was beaming and merry.

As I finally settled my bill I got a call from my friend. Yes, he had just landed. I congratulated myself, wow...what a perfectly timed time killing! However, somehow I couldn’t give a healthy tip to the boys, although I was not at all irritated or angry!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Test Cricket: Team India Where Only The Captain Performs And Selects!

There was a lot of hue and cry about the humiliating loss suffered by India at Lords in London against England in the second Test match during 9-13 August 2018. Tremendous expressions of anguish surfaced at every possible public platform and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) even threatened to take the team captain and coach to task. However, it was much ado about nothing. It was just a loss like many other such losses over the decades due to absolute team failure, more pertinently batting failure. Furthermore, the match was severely affected by rains with the first day and few other sessions washed out. India was put into bat under heavy overcast conditions that hastened the end of an already battered batting line-up. Curiously when England in reply started their first innings it was bright sunshine, and with an impossible target when India replied in their second innings it was again heavy overcast conditions. So, it was an aberration or rather a freakish match not likely to repeat soon, I thought. And, it was proved in the third Test during 18-22 August at Trent Bridge that India won convincingly. But again, in the fourth Test at Southampton during 30th August-3rd September India took England out of the woods twice to lose by mere 60 runs and to enable the hosts seal the Test Series 3-1. In India people including cricket experts make a huge outpour of joy at an Indian victory and make a defeaning outcry at a loss never bothering about the problems inherent. The more serious problems lay somewhere else.

The first Test at Edgbaston should in fact be the real area of concern that India lost by mere 31 runs. It was a failure due entirely to an inept Indian batting performance except of course the captain Virat Kohli. The Indian bowlers performed quite brilliantly giving India a real chance to win the match. This match has a familiar ring to the Series against South Africa where Team India lost the Test Series 2-1, but had ample opportunities to reverse the verdict in its favour. Again, it was due to dismal batting performance, except of course the captain. This scenario has been consistently unfolding itself in all the away Test series against tough teams, and this in extreme contrast to the domestic circuit where Team India has been winning hands down against all tough rivals, perhaps thanks to the 'spinning' tracks purportedly prepared here in India.

Why? This cannot be answered in direct and simple terms. This is a complex issue plaguing a team said to be the best ever in an away series. We can make a guess taking a purview of various factors that could contribute to this perplexing phenomenon, setting aside the normal perception about the ‘swinging ball in fast-paced pitches’ or the ‘moving ball outside the off stump on green tops’. Most of the factors do veer around the selection blues. However, the crux of the matter is that ‘with little more cricket application from the Indian batsmen the away series including against South Africa could have been won’.

We must mention the unpredictability of the selection process. The marketability quotient of players seems to influence selection. This quotient is essentially derived from the most popular ODI and T20 formats including the IPL. This time in England Team India was fresh from the IPL and therefore the quotient factors of star IPL performers seemed to have influenced team selection immediately. Dropping Dinesh Karthik and selecting Rishav Pant for wicket keeping-batting was the direct result of IPL-2018. The point to be noted here is that Test match is the highest form of the game and players who excel in this format are fit for all formats, and not vice versa at all. Unfortunately, this basic principle gets ignored most of the times.

Granted that some players cannot adapt to the fast-scoring needs of the shorter formats these players constitute the section of specialized Test cricketers who are normally air lifted prior to the start of the matches. Since they are recognized as ‘specialized Test cricketers’, they need to be respected and trusted. Ajinkya Rahane is the supreme example of ‘frequent lack of trust’ in him leading to unpredictability and non-performance. For the Test series against England Cheteswar Pujara was air lifted, but not selected for the first Test. Shikhar Dhawan got in entirely thanks to his ‘marketability quotient’. Murali Vijay was included, but was dropped later without giving him enough opportunity and trust. The height of ‘selection uncertainty’ was reached when India decided to take two spinners in the Lords Test despite the pitch and the weather. Although Lokesh Rahul continued to play in the Tests his place in the team was constantly fraught with lurking dangers which had to affect his performance.

In the context of ‘giving respect to specialized cricketers’ the phenomenon of Hardik Pandya comes in too. No doubt he has been the most promising all-rounder of future, but he does not yet deserve a fully secure place in the team, at least in the Tests, due to his limited experience while most experienced ones are getting axed, taken, axed and so on. Thanks to a mostly inspired performance the bowling front was spared from selection hassles, except for continuous resting of Umesh Yadav and the spinning around of the spinners.

Virat Kohli is known for his emotions and impulsive actions. If these psychological attributes are allowed to influence the selection process too then all is not well for India. Some experts have already pointed out that Virat had never kept the same Test team for more than two matches at a stretch. The coach-cum-team manager and the national selectors need to come in strongly instead of being stooges of a ‘too powerful’ captain. Virat Kohli is a cricketer of exceptional brilliance, and just for keeping the captaincy we wouldn’t want him to perform only for himself and not for the team. As a captain he must be dexterous enough to be able to motivate and inspire all his team mates. If he fails in this, management must allow him to do his best as a batsman only. His solitary brilliance as a captain would further aggravate the distance already created between him and other batsmen of the team.

As the inconsequential fifth and final Test match starts today at the Oval in London, India would only hope for precious lessons in team building and for more insights into ‘how to win a series in foreign soil’. Indian teams of yore did it several times embedding those unforgettable moments in our memories, and Virat Kohli should desist from seeing himself as the only captain with the best possible team ever to achieve those heights. Perhaps it was because of his approach that he lost all the five tosses of the Test Series.
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