New Zealand vs India, Bulawayo, Aug 26th

Team India
Born: 5th September 1999, Singapore
Died: 26th August 2005, Bulawayo

Death by a lethal injection
Of Bond’s pace and bounce
Sourav’s familiar demon
Made him a quivering dunce

Yorked was Venugopal
His bat still high
Bond breached the Wall
And the end was nigh

Straight to point flailed, Sehwag
Third man swallowed Kaif
Yadav and Pathan wagged
Before Bond wrote the epitaph



Videocon Tri-Series Preview

This preview is intentionally written after the opening game between New Zealand and the host, Zimbabwe, because that result has no significance on the competition.

Stephen Fleming knows full well, that the Videocon Tri-Series in Zimbabwe is a two team contest and has already fired the opening salvo saying that he is surprised at India’s delayed arrival to Bulawayo and that he expects India to struggle in the lung burning afternoon conditions. Fleming has never been shy with his opinions.

Ganguly on the other hand is already on the defensive trying to explain his team’s amateurish itinerary and has squarely put the blame on the BCCI. I think the truth lies somewhere in between, with both parties, the Captain and BCCI, having to cop some of the blame. BCCI has to be blamed for not organizing a pre-departure camp in Mumbai, their excuse was that they could not find practice pitches!!! Ganguly turned up late for the scheduled departure press conference and should take his share of the blame. But the man was celebrating his wife’s birthday so let us give him a break. Both parties are upset and Greg Chappell must be pulling his hair out in frustration. One has to wait and see if the organizational skills of the BCCI improves with Chappell’s nudging. One would have to say don’t expect any miracles.

Ganguly continues to amaze with his frank comments that because his competition is somebody of the calibre of Dravid, it was no wonder that the selection committee took three hours before deciding who is going to be the Captain of India. Competition is good and it could spur Ganguly to be bolder captain, otherwise it could very well be the end.

But, he also amazes everyone with his comments that the 2007 World Cup is too far. Probably that is because Ganguly is focusing on the immediate because he has no idea what the future holds for him.

The team selection is pretty fair, and I am glad that newcomers in the Sri Lanka series, Rao, Raina and Yadav have been given an extended run. Consistency in the selection is important as England have shown us. Also, I would caution the Ajit Agarkar bashers to rein in their criticism, because he has one of the better records amongst Indian bowlers after the 2003 World Cup taking into account both wickets and the economy rate, and he could surprise everyone with his bowling in this series. He was a pretty impressive bowler in the one match he had against Pakistan. The batting still looks fragile with Dravid being the only consistent batsman in this team.

New Zealand are the favorites and India will have to dig deep to beat this classy team.


Final: India vs Sri Lanka, Aug 9, Khettarama Colombo

From a great position at 186-2 in 35 overs, India collapsed like dominos with ridiculous run outs being the order of the day. One can say that India truly compete with South Africa for the ultimate choker tag. Sehwag’s blazing knock at the top along with a calm and collected partnership from Dravid and Yuvraj brought India close to an elusive victory in a Final before Sri Lanka asserted their supremacy in home conditions.

In the afternoon Dravid’s luck with the toss ran out, as Atapattu won the toss and elected to bat. Zaheer’s nerves were shot for the big final and his opening spell reminded one of the World Cup final in Jo’berg. He couldn’t control the swing and bowled 3 wides and a noball in his first over. Jayasuriya was in great touch and stroked the ball beautifully, including a stunning swivel pull off Pathan. Atapattu was also middling every ball and Sri Lanka were motoring along at six an over. Zaheer’s nervy opening spell forced Dravid’s hand, and Nehra was brought in early. He cleaned up Attapatu with a beauty, the ball shaped into the right hander and as Marvan played for the swing, it pitched and moved away off the seam. It would have been too good for most right handers and Atapattu was no exception.

‘Loco’ Loku was sent in as a pinch hitter and he smacked a couple of boundaries before Nehra pleaded a leg before from the umpire even though the ball may have pitched just outside leg stump. India’s catching and fielding was shoddy, with Dhoni showing that he is a batsman first and keeper third. He dropped Jayasuriya off Pathan and in fact parried the ball onto Sehwag’s jaw at first slip. It definitely didn’t shake Sehwag out of his stupor at first slip, as he gave Sanath another life at slip and this time Zaheer was the bowler to suffer. Sehwag was moved out of the slips to short point and finally caught one smashed straight to him by Sangakkara. Nehra was the strike bowler again and he had taken three wickets in the first 15 overs.

With everybody clamoring for five bowlers and Dravid also admitting that the fifth bowler was proving costly for India, Laxman was dropped and India played five front line bowlers including both the spinners in the team. But with today’s display Kumble would have pretty much stifled the call for five bowlers. He couldn’t get his line right and kept drifting down the leg side as Jayasuirya swept him repeatedly to the boundary. It appears as if Jayasuriya has a mental edge over Kumble and dispatched him for three boundaries in his second over. Mahela Jayawardene started very slowly but Jayasuriya picked up the slack and biffed boundaries with relative ease. The heat and humidity of Colombo claimed him, as he was run out while coming back for the second by a great throw from Harbhajan at fine leg.

Russel Arnold was promoted over Dilshan to continue the left and right handed batting combination and this really affected the Indian bowler’s line. The spinners failed for India as neither were able to pick up a wicket and Kumble proved to be very expensive. Dravid had to bring on Sehwag to try and stem the flow of runs, but he couldn’t either. Arnold was in great form and was scoring at a run a ball easily and reached his half century with a mere three boundaries. Like in the previous league match between the two countries, this eased the pressure of Jayawardene who finally managed to up his strike rate from 50% to 80% by the end of his innings.

For India there was only one bowler, Ashish Nehra, who was performing as he took six wickets. His figures were ruined in the end as he was clattered for 13 runs in the last over. India required 282 for a win, and everybody knew that it was going to be a tough chase. Nobody was prepared for the Sehwag assault.

Sehwag had walked out with a mission. Vaas started off with a maiden to Ganguly. In Maharoof’s first over Sehwag smashed the ball through covers for a four. He missed a couple of cut shots which were too close to his body. His balance at the crease was good and he looked like he was back to his best. In the next Maharoof over he smashed 15 runs, as the ball was landing in his hitting zone outside the off stump and he brutalized it through and over the covers. Atapattu brought Lokuhettige to replace Maharoof in the sixth over and it was carnage. Sangakkara was standing upto the stumps to prevent Sehwag from stepping out, and it didn’t matter as he smashed the first ball, a short one, from the crease, over cover. The next one was a genuine edge and it raced away to the thirdman boundary for another four. Sangakkara went back to his normal position, to give himself a chance at catching the edge. The next ball Sehwag danced down the wicket and hit Loku over his head for a phenomenal six. Sangakkara came back upto the stumps, but it was no matter as the next three balls went for three more fours, with two of them being one bounce and over the ropes. The sequence was 4,4,6,4,4,4. Poor Lokuhettige didn’t know what hit him, and one felt sympathy for him as the camera panned over to him standing on the boundary at the end of the over, his hands were on his head and his mouth was open.

Vaas coming back after a hamstring injury never bowled a loose ball and cramped Sehwag for room as he tried to cut, and he chopped the ball onto his stumps. But, Sehwag had set the platform and India were 62-1 in the seventh over. Ganguly and Dravid played sensibly continuing to score boundaries at regular intervals to make sure India were 99-1 at the end of 15 overs. Ganguly was dismissed leg before by Dilshan in the 16th over. Dravid and Yuvraj both played fantastically well, with Yuvraj surprising everyone with his excellent handling of Murali. Both batsmen swept him on length to keep the score ticking along. They added 84 runs in 20 overs to take India to a commanding position of 186-2 in 35 overs. Atapattu was panicking and setting defensive fields as the partnership kept building. Good fortune rather than anything the bowler conjured resulted in Yuvraj being dismissed off a top edged sweep off Chandana and the momentum swung back to Lanka.

Dravid and Kaif were beginning to build another partnership with Dravid begining to open out before a silly run out sent him back. Chandana soon deceived Dhoni with a flipper that caught him plumb in front, and after that it was frustration and desperation that sent one batsmen after another back to the pavilion. The most comical dismissal was Harbhajan’s run out where he kept running after playing his shot, not bothering to listen to Kaif at the other end. It was a disaster. The required rate soon reached 12 runs an over and Kaif was dismissed trying to slog Vaas and India whimpered to the finish.

The success of Sri Lanka’s spinners further exposed the failure of two of India’s world class spinners, Kumble and Harbhajan. They bowled 20 overs between them for 104 runs and no wickets to show for their efforts.

Through out this series and in the previous season, Indian batsmen’s failure to handle spinners including part time offies has to be one of the biggest concerns for Greg Chappell and the selectors. Another area of concern is the lack of progress of Zaheer Khan. Pathan had a decent tournament except for the final and Nehra has been consistent in all games and was the highest wicket taker in the series. The fielding has never been outstanding and India saved it's worst display for the final. Maybe it is time to pick only athletic players for the one day internationals. Chappell has more questions than answers and continued lack of success from team India will have people baying for his blood.


India vs West Indies, Aug 7th, Khettarama, Colombo

Dravid won the toss and elected to bat. It seemed like a wise decision considering Khettarama’s stadium’s supposed bias against teams batting under the lights, but a quick bouncy pitch and sharp bowling by the Windies pace men left India struggling after the first 15 overs at 49-2 with Ganguly also being sent back by a Powell snorter that took out his left forearm and sent him to the hospital. Powell got Laxman caught behind, and this wonderful batting artist is fast approaching retirement from one day international cricket. Sehwag played another ridiculous innings at the top, being bowled off a no ball and kept scoreless by a cramping leg stump line from Butler. Butler finally got his man leg before by shaping the ball into him. Sehwag has to sit down and come up with a strategy to counter the plans that all international teams prepare for him. Maybe he has to focus on scoring some runs on the leg side and not allow the pressure to build up.

Yuvraj Singh rediscovered his timing and played some wonderful shots along with Dravid to ease the pressure. Tino Best bowled a couple of wonderfully directed bouncers to Yuvraj, and the second one had Yuvraj flat on his back. Windies appear to be playing better without the ultra conservative Chanderpaul as the captain and the stand in, Sylvester Joseph, proved to be a brave and attacking captain. He brought Omari Banks to the attack in the 16th over and had immediate success. Dravid who was playing well was bowled by Banks while attempting a forcing shot on the leg side. He was a touch unlucky as the ball rolled on to his stumps from an inside edge onto his back foot. 52-3, but it was virtually 4 wickets down with Ganguly unlikely to bat and India was in serious danger of returning a sub par score against the fired up Windies bowling.

It took 4 matches in Sri Lanka before India finally produced a good batting partnership. Yuvraj and Kaif added 165 runs in just under 30 overs. Kaif ran extremely well and added about 10-15 runs to Yuvraj’s score with his speed between the wickets. After getting his eye in Yuvraj began to accelerate effortlessly and his strike rate jumped to 98%. He began to dominate the bowling and contemptuously dismissed Best’s second spell bouncer to the midwicket boundary and also slapped Powell’s bouncer for a wonderful six. This innings of 110 was reminiscent of his 139* in Sydney against Australia. India have really been missing the Yuvi-Kaif lower middle order partnerships, and this performance illustrates why India were such a powerful one day team leading up to and during the 2003 World Cup. Dhoni came in during the 46th over and flexed his butcher arms to hoick a couple of sixes and a cheeky sweep of Best to add 28 in 13 balls helping India finish on 262-4, with Kaif unbeaten on 83.

One would think that total was beyond the fragile Windies batting especially with Chanderpaul not in the side, but this greenhorn team has certainly found its feet in international cricket and competed hard till the end. Marshall and Morton got off to a frenetic start scoring at more than 6 an over, and Marshall hit a lot of boundaries off Zaheer. They were both able to handle the indippers from Pathan with more distinction than in the earlier matches. Pathan finally had to produce one of his perfect inswingers to account for Marshall. Both Joseph and Deonarine fell trying to play ambitious boundary hits. 3 wickets down, and it was the perfect setting for Anil Kumble. He showed his class and the young West Indian’s had never seen anything like him before and he grabbed three crucial wickets. Kumble made a strong case for playing 2 spinners in the final.

As has been the pattern with the Indian bowling in this series, after having the opponents out for the count by grabbing the first 6 wickets, they couldn’t finish it off. Kumble had finished his spell and Dravid gave his part time trundlers a long spell. Yuvraj and Sehwag bowled in tandem for a short while. Morton and the young keeper, Ramdin, built a solid partnership off the fifth bowler taking Windies to within 70 runs from victory. They got close but couldn’t finish it off as the heat and humidity of Colombo tired Morton and he got out to a tame clip to short midwicket off Nehra, after scoring a valuable 84. Ramdin continued valiantly but it wasn’t to be enough as he had no support at the other end. It must be said the Sehwag bowled better in this innings than any of his previous outings and he also got the wicket of the dangerous Tino Best. Butler, who was run out by a direct hit from Kaif at long on, and Powell couldn’t contribute that much. Even though Nehra and Zaheer were expensive in the end overs, they didn’t panic and came back strongly in the 49 and 50th over to seal the match for India.

A few flutters for Dravid, but India showed its experience to hold on for an important win. The West Indian team can be proud of their showing on this tour, coming in with a second or maybe even third string team which was written off even before a ball was bowled. They gave it their all and were playing as a team. I did say after their first game against India that if their batting could put some runs on the board their bowlers can create an upset, which they did against Sri Lanka yesterday. The impressive thing was that they continued to improve as the tour progressed. Sylvester Joseph has displayed fine leadership skills, a future captain of the West Indies.

Everything is set for the final between India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday. The Premadasa stadium in Khettarama has better one day international pitches than Dambulla and it looks like we won’t have a low scoring final. Batting second did not seem to be a distinct disadvantage and the match definitely will not be decided by the toss. The better team will win.


India vs. Sri Lanka, August 3rd, Dambulla

Captaincy is looking a lot tougher for Rahul Dravid now. India have been unable to beat Sri Lanka in this competition in two attempts. Today when Sri Lanka were 95-6, chasing 220, it looked like Dravid would win his first significant match in the Tri-series, but Mahela Jayawardene thwarted all plans.

Jayawardene's batting average of 30 reveals that he will probably never become the new Aravinda DeSilva of the Lanka team. But, today his innings would have shed a lot of the DeSilva baggage that he has been unfairly forced to carry. In the beginning of the innings he was completely bogged down, but never gave it away and in the end guided his team to a remarkable victory with a flurry of strokes. His partner in the undefeated 6th wicket stand was Upul Chandana. Chandana had an almost perfect match; displaying his athleticism in the field, beautifully drifting leg spin bowling and a hard hitting knock with the bat that eased the pressure off Jayawardene.

India almost had the match in the bag, and this will be a tough defeat to swallow for the team. One can argue that the batting became much easier into the night under the lights as the pitch stopped gripping for the spinners and the ball came on nicely to the bat. The bowlers were pretty ineffective after a certain point, and Dravid was expecting Harbhajan to exert the pressure after the seamers opening spells and take a couple of wickets, but today wasn't Bhajji's day. But, the main reason for the defeat was not the bowling, but the failure of the Indian middle order. Sehwag and Ganguly had the best opening partnership of the series with 67 runs in the first 15 overs. They were helped by some shoddy catching, Sehwag had 2 lives, and a defensive approach from Attapatu in the first 15 overs. But, after Sehwag got out, the innings never built up any momentum. A carefully Ganguly, who never raised his bat to acknowledge cheers from his mates for his 10,000th run or for his half century, was circumspect in the beginning, but he did try to accelerate by stepping out and hitting a few boundaries before Upul Chandana snared him with a sharp legbreak. Laxman got a life on zero, when the umpire failed to hear an edge, but he continued to potter around, hitting the ball repeatedly to the fielders, before ending his misery when a Dilshan offbreak cleaned him up. Chandana and part time off spinner, Tilakaratne Dilshan strangulated the Indian batsmen and never allowed any of them to get away. Dhoni hit a few powerful shots with his baseball player like forearms, but it didn't last long. Dilshan took 4 wickets and adds his name to the list of spinners who have feasted on the supposedly best players of spin.

At 117-2, a total of 240 seemed like a reasonable target, but Dravid failed for once and the middle order collapsed. For a while it looked like India wouldn't even reach 200. It was only a superb cameo from Pathan that vaulted India to 220. Pathan hit the ball powerfully and he hit straight. He managed to add 40 odd runs in the last 3 overs, and his partners didn't contribute much.

It wasn't enough. India's batting is still weak and the fifth bowler today, Ganguly and Sehwag, were expensive. Maybe India should drop Raina and play the only true all rounder in the squad, JP Yadav. Dravid easily is the captain with the most tactical nous in this competition but it has become apparent, that alone is not enough. A Captain is only as good as his team, and I am sure Ganguly will second that.