Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Winning Edge at Edgbaston !

It was a long frustrating wait before we got to see some cricket this Sunday. The English weather resulted that we got a delayed, truncated and often interrupted 20 over a side match to decide the final of the Champions Trophy. After India's slightly below par score of 129, England had suffered several initial setbacks, but were on course for the win with 28 runs to win from 3 overs. 2 of the remaining 3 overs would be "power-play" overs and both the batsmen in - Morgan & Bopara were well set. India needed something dramatic. At that moment, Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Ishant Sharma - who had been India's worst bowler thus far with figures of 3-0-27-0.  I was following the match on my tv as well as on twitter and my timeline exploded with much rage, amusement, bemusement - even incredulity. At that time, I tweeted that MSD had "gone full retard". I should have known better.
Below are excepts from 3 sites that were doing ball by ball commentary (or live updates) describing that over.
End of over 17 (12 runs) England 102/4 (28 runs required from 18 balls, RR: 6.00, RRR: 9.33)
RS Bopara  30* (24b 2x6)    RA Jadeja  3-0-20-1
EJG Morgan  27* (27b 3x4)    SK Raina  3-0-19-0
So it's 28 needed off 18 balls. Who's got the nerve? What a fantastic finish to a day of frustrations and rain. Does Dhoni bowl Ashwin now? No, it's Ishant. Vital, massive, immense over coming up. Now Powerplay yet from England. So it will be the last two overs.
I Sharma to Morgan, no run, swing and a miss to a short ball outside off stump...precious dot ball. Was a slower ball, so credit to Ishant
I Sharma to Morgan, SIX, clean hit! Short on leg stump, awful delivery, and Morgan hooks it away off leg stump with even elevation to skim over the boundary
I Sharma to Morgan, 1 wide, extra ball, extra run...that's pressure...sprayed wide outside off stump
Biplab: "Again Ishanth... Wats goin on in Dhonis mind ?". Ishant comes around the wicket
I Sharma to Morgan, 1 wide, another wide, he's losing the plot in this over, and this one barely hits the cut strip
MS Dhoni is the master of cool, but this will test even him
I Sharma to Morgan, OUT, what a moment! Zero to hero in the space of a ball. Tries to pick this up from outside off over midwicket, but it was quite wide and it looped off the bottom of the bat towards the man inside the circle. To be fair to Ishant, that was quite ballsy as he rolled his fingers across the seam and it deceived Morgan
EJG Morgan c Ashwin b I Sharma 33 (44m 30b 3x4 1x6) SR: 110.00
Did Morgan really need to play that aggressive option then? He clearly had Ishant in his sights. Over to Bopara - 20 off 15 needed
I Sharma to Bopara, OUT, and another! That could be the game. A short ball, Bopara drills it out of the middle of the bat but picks out the square leg inside the circle
RS Bopara c Ashwin b I Sharma 30 (40m 25b 0x4 2x6) SR: 120.00
What a few minute for Ishant. He appeared to be costing India the game and now he could have won it for them
You feel it's Buttler or bust for England now, but how will he cope with the spin in the last two overs?
I Sharma to Bresnan, no run, top ball! Blimey. Short of a length, jags away from Bresnan and beats the outside edge
I Sharma to Bresnan, 1 run, another short delivery, steps to leg and carves it down to third man so it will be Bresnan to take strike
End of over 18 (9 runs) England 111/6 (19 runs required from 12 balls, RR: 6.16, RRR: 9.50)
TT Bresnan  1* (2b)    I Sharma  4-0-36-2
JC Buttler  0* (0b)    RA Jadeja  3-0-20-1
The Telegraph

OVER 17: ENG 102/4 (Morgan 27* Bopara 30*)
Ishant. Swing and a miss from Morgan as he fails to pick a slower ball. But now a dire ball from Ishant, right in the slot for Morgan on his leg stump and he's planted that into the midwicket stand. Is Dhoni going to regret bringing Ishant back and saving his best bowlers for the end? Well, when Ishant bowls two wides in a row, he might be forgiven for thinking so. But then....
.... disaster! ....
WicketWICKET! Morgan c Ashwin b Ishant Sharma 33 Oh Morgs! What have you done? Tries to pull it from a length, but ends up just toeing the ball to mid on. Right back in the balance! FOW 110/5
... the batsmen cross ...
... and then next ball ...
WicketWICKET! Bopara c square leg b Ishant 30 A very short ball, and Bopara has smacked it straight to square leg. Nooooooo! Ravi, the clot, is asking if it was a no ball on height. Erm, not if you have hit it, son. FOW 110/6
... Bresnan in and he is beaten by a snorter. Gets a single off the last ball. What an over! A six, two wides, two wickets in two balls and then a jaffer from Ishant. We had to wait a while for this match to start - to say the least - but this is thrilling stuff. England need 19 off 12 balls
And finally some rather irreverent commentary from The Guardian
18th over: England 110/4 (Morgan 33, Bopara 30) Target 130

Perhaps Dhoni is trying to keep Sharma out of the field, keeping him on for another over, and he begins with a slower ball at which Morgan plays and misses. But the second one is dropped too short, and Morgan almost bites is face off with his alacrity to devour it, smashing low over square leg for a maximum. Sharma then follows it up with a wide, and this is now looking very gettable for England, as Sharma slings one that's so wide it's drinking Buckfast in the morning.

WICKET! Morgan c Ashwin b Sharma 33 (England 110/5)
Rich and varied expletives are uttered in a cloud of impotence as Morgan chases a wide one outside off - another slower delivery - only for it to rear up off the toe of the bat and disappear into Ashwin's troughs.

WICKET! Bopara c Ashwin b Sharma 30 (England 110/6)
Ok, this is deeply unpleasant and anger-inducing. That Bopara pulls down on a bouncer, and again, the ball finds itself in Ashwin's steel drums.

18th over: England 110/6 (Buttler 0, Bresnan 0) Target 130
Sharma's hat-trick ball rears up off a length and only just evades Bresnan's edge. What an absurd over that was, a six, wides, two wickets and very possibly the games, all in furious flap of arms and hair. This is gripping, appalling stuff. Dot, 6, wide, wide, wicket, wicket, dot, 1. Just ponder that for a moment.

What happened in that over was quite unbelievable as India were able to close out the game with Jadeja and Ashwin bowling the final two overs well enough.

The Cricketcouch has examined more closely how MSD has come out trusting the most unlikely of bowlers in crunch situations and how those decisions have worked for him.  And in probably one of the best match reports ever, Jarrod Kimber captured the emotions and the drama involving this crazy final just right. Read it again, and again to relive those moments.

Perhaps it was not fair on England to lose the final in a 20 over a side contest in front of a crowd that made Edgbaston appear an away venue. Perhaps it was not fair on them to have a pitch that turned so much. But then, India had been far and away the best side in the tournament and got lucky at the right moments. You could not say that India were not the deserved victors. Perhaps it was just destiny.

Over the last 2 + years, India has now between every major cricket team (other than New Zealand who did not come across India in both the tournaments) over the course of the World Cup and Champions Trophy now. India did not win two matches in the W Cup, 2011 - losing vs South Africa at Nagpur and tied vs England at Bangalore. Both these teams were defeated in the Champions Trophy. To just go through the list again, Bangladesh at Dhaka, West Indies at Chennai and The Oval, Australia at Ahmedabad, Pakistan at Mohali and Birmingham, Sri Lanka at Mumbai and Cardiff, South Africa at Cardiff and England at Birmingham. It will be difficult to get more comprehensive than this.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the World Cup win of 1983, an absolutely momentous occasion in India's sporting history. It was followed up by winning the 1985 World Championship of Cricket comprehensively. 30 years later the World Cup win of 2011 has been followed up with this Champions Trophy success in 2013. The historic similarity apart, it is a remarkable achievement by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his teams. Winning moments like these come few and far between and to get two such moments in such a quick succession has been an absolutely brilliant experience.

PS: Here is Jon Hotten describing with great eloquence probably what I wanted to write about in the first place. I read it after I originally posted my blog - hence it appears here at the end.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pleasingly dominant: India in the Champions Trophy 2013

India are tantalizingly close - just one match away - from winning the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and finishing off an almost perfect tournament. I think (probably this is the general consensus as well) that no other Indian team has played this well - in the sense of being so dominant in winning their matches - on route to reaching the final of a major tournament.
For just about as long as I can remember, we have been a batting side, that has tried its best to make up for the deficiencies in bowling and win matches. The format of ODIs is such that you need to score just one more run to win and almost all of our success in this format (90s and later) have come up on the back of our strong batting. At the same time, India's lack of bowling strength has resulted in a lot of matches being close - as the opposition have the chance to remain in the game for a longer time.
So, it has been refreshing to see India win matches so convincingly so far. At the same time perhaps, it is a reflection that sides across the cricketing world are not too strong at the moment - a number of teams are struggling, going through transitions and facing a talent crunch as well. What this Indian team has done well in the tournament is to capitalize on the weakness of the opposition and be ruthless.
At the start of the tournament, no one was really sure of what to make of this Indian squad - a squad missing some of India's most experienced players. India entered this tournament as the reigning World Cup Champions and the #1 ranked side in ODI cricket and yet I am sure not too many had them high up in the list of favourites. There were far too many unknowns in the mix. It is also worth remembering that the pre-tournament shenanighans of the IPL and match fixing meant that there was a lot to be distracted about. But the relative youth of the side has resulted in an energy and freshness on the field that has been brilliant to watch - the fielding has been spectacular, the bowling - competent and the batting led by Shikhar Dhawan - dominant.
The One (Pic: Cricinfo)
India will face the hosts and one of the pre-tournament favourites England in the final at Edgbaston tomorrow. English cricket has been on the up for almost a decade now. They are about to embark on an 10 test - back to back - Ashes series against the currently struggling Australians soon. But before that, England have a great opportunity of winning their 1st major ODI tournament. There cricket has been played in a contrasting style but in Captain Cook, Jonathon Trott and Jimmy Anderson - they have the players - more than capable of winning them the final. But more than individual players - the English team is built on a method and in their own conditions are going to be tough team to beat.
India have a fair chance of winning it all tomorrow, but then so do England. It is an interesting thought to ponder, but would we celebrate the performance of this thus far dominant Indian team - a few years down the line - should they fail to win tomorrow. I think we should but it is a question best left hypothetical. It is also great to have a certain feeling back - the feeling of anticipation before an ODI final. Most of the ODI cricket played in recent years have been bilateral series and unless there is a decider involved - one generally misses out on the feeling of an all or nothing, winner take all final. The fickle English weather, a bunch of ball tamperers and a rather good cricket team stand in the way of India and the Champions Trophy. May we end up edging it at Edgbaston !

Friday, June 7, 2013

10 years and a clean break

If you were not born in, or too young to remember what happened in 1983, 2003 was probably your favorite major cricket tournament as an India fan. That is before 2011. 10 years on, from The year we huddled (read this beautiful piece by Rahul Bhattacharya in case you want a bit of nostalgia) and into 2013 and today's Champions Trophy, I suddenly realised there is not one member left from that campaign. Not even the young turks of 2003 - Bhajji, Yuvraj, Zak - heck even Tendulkar has retired from ODIs.
Have a look at the two squads here:

2003 World Cup Squad 2013 Champions Trophy Squad
Sachin Tendulkar Shikhar Dhawan
Virender Sehwag Rohit Sharma
Sourav Ganguly (C ) Virat Kohli
Mohd. Kaif Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid Suresh Raina
Yuvraj Singh MS Dhoni (C )
Dinesh Mongia Ravindra Jadeja
Harbhajan Singh Ravi Ashwin
Zaheer Khan Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Javagal Srinath Umesh Yadav
Ashish Nehra Ishant Sharma
Anil Kumble Amit Mishra
Parthiv Patel Murali Vijay
Sanjay Bangar Irfan Pathan
Ajit Agarkar Vinay Kumar

I think in terms of proven performers, there were more players who were closer to their peak in 2003 than today - Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Srinath, Kumble - had plenty of experience - while Yuvraj, Sehwag, Zaheer and Harbhajan - all had great talent and potential and were coming along nicely then. In a way- they have gone on to largely fulfill their talent over the years and been the mainstay of India's ODI teams through the 2000s.
As can be seen, some people don't quite rate this squad. It does contain 4 members of the W Cup winning squad from 2011, but the huge squad turnover in just two years - itself is interesting to note. In terms of experience - a number of these players have been around for quite a long time - but only Dhoni, Kohli and too some extent Raina have ODI records worth talking about. The rest of the squad is filled with people who have the talent but are yet to prove it consistently (Rohit Sharma, Jadeja, Ashwin, Umesh), people making a comeback on the back of good domestic performances or in some other formats (Karthik, Pathan, Mishra, Vinay, Vijat) or folks just about starting of in the ODI team like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dhawan.
It is an interesting mix - but these are times of transition. The old order - the usual suspects - the boys of 2003 - Viru, Yuvi, Zak, Bhajji or even a batch after that - the likes of Gambhir for instance - are making way for the new. The ODI game itself is facing an identity crisis of sorts - with the ICC declaring this to be the last Champions Trophy - just when it seemed that this was a good idea as Sidvee explains. The world has changed - The Huddle then was what we did after a wicket fell, the Huddle now is what happens on Cricinfo after a match. But I quite liked whatever little I saw today from this squad. Perhaps it was more of me enjoying seeing an ODI match after such a long time - it felt nostalgic in a way. Hope this team does quite well and more importantly India develops a team for 2015 in Australia that will be proper contenders outside the subcontinent. 

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