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The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Posts Tagged ‘Amit Mishra

That Was A Number 1 Performance

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“We wanted to be at the top of the table; we know we have the players to keep being No 1,” Harbhajan said after the game. “We are very happy and it’s fantastic to win the way we did. The heart was pumping in the end.” The hunger and the controlled aggression of the Indian team was visible in the game throughout. This has been as good a win as any; but spare a thought for Hashim Amla, who stood defiantly not out on 123; and I guess it was that thing for which the word in cricketing lexicon is ‘unbeaten’ as he was hardly ever beaten by a bowler or by whatever else was happening at the other end or at the stands that were bubbling with expectation. Amla batted with assurance and poise for more than 8 hours without giving a hint of a chance. You’ve got to doff your hat for such an unbelievable performance.

As for turnarounds, this is an even bigger one than the famous Indian victory in Perth after the debacle of Sydney. Going in to Perth India knew that Sydney was a close match and lady luck was not in their favour as the two most-evident umpiring mistakes dented India at vital stages of the game. India was convincingly-thrashed in Nagpur where South Africa amassed 558 and Steyn struck both with the new and the old ball to destroy India for 233. India made 319 in the second innings and South Africa won by an innings and 6 runs. India could manage just 6 wickets and climbing from 6 to 20 with the same set of bowlers looked impossible. A headline summed the debacle; “No crumbs of comfort for India’

After Nagpur, when Smith was reminded that the last time when they were one up after another Steyn special in Ahmedabad, they headed to a rank turner in Kanpur—where some great batting by Sourav Ganguly and the spinners on a responsive surface helped draw the series—he said: “So are you telling me there’s a guy with a rake at the Eden Gardens? India have more control over the conditions. We need to focus on the specifics…prepare and execute our gameplans.”

In Nagpur, once Amla and Kallis got in, the runs came nice and easy and they batted beautifully when the surface was the best and then put India in after two days of batting. An exceptional new ball burst by Steyn exposed the soft belly of the Indian middle-order; there was no Dravid and no Laxman and Tendulkar fell to the ball of the day.

At the Eden Gardens, though, India did not need a rake and they even lost the toss and were staring down the barrel when South Africa were coasting at 218 for 1; with Kallis and the entire batting line-up having Duminy at number 7 to follow. The wicket had no gremlins and not a single ball kicked up like it did when Dhoni got dismissed in India’s first innings in Nagpur. That makes it a special turnaround because it takes some character to come out of a demoralising defeat like Nagpur and then go on and inflict an even bigger damage to the rival camp.

South Africa would know that they got bowled out twice on a surface that was good for batting even on the fifth day and that India took the second innings wickets without the crafty Zaheer Khan operating on the last day. They would also know that about a day in this match was lost to rain and bad light. In the end India won the match by an innings and 57 runs despite having their backs pinned to the wall. When a team wins like this then the number 1 rank has meaning and it seems to belong.

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Having fallen today can India rise tomorrow?

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What a day of Test cricket. It was all Dale Steyn; he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house apart. On a wicket where playing a fast bowler was not impossible, it was on the slower side and without extravagant bounce, Steyn breathed fire. He barged in through the gates, destroying any attempt of resistance from India, during two hostile and fatal spells separated by a middle session where Sehwag and Badrinath raised hopes of some kind of a resurrection.

The straight-talking Sehwag said, “We are very angry with the way we batted.” Sehwag was more critical of the fact that they did not last long enough to tire the opposition and stitch meaningful partnerships apart from the one he had with Badrinath. “It was not a pitch where you could get out so easily. If there were a couple of more partnerships their bowlers might have got tired. But you have to give the credit to the bowlers led by Steyn.”

Steyn gave some credit to the ball change before tea as the seam of the earlier one had come apart; but losing six wickets for 12 runs in eight overs after tea is a combination of some great bowling and some gormless batting. India did not have the batting to survive good spells and to have the reserve keeper Saha making a debut as a specialist batsman shows how the bench was planned. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were out of the squad much in advance and Laxman was iffy before the start of the match. So what were the choices for Dhoni when Rohit Sharma got injured on the morning when his big valuable chance was about to be served to him in a platter?

With a flimsy batting line-up that had very little experience the three early wickets took the cream away with Morkel taking Gambhir and Steyn getting rid of Murali Vijay and Sachin Tendulkar. In the boiling cauldron at Nagpur today India was desperately missing what you call seasoned campaigners; the players who can bat in the heat of a furnace. One of them is still at the crease in the second essay and these days when he gets going he is a much more wiser, battle-hardened and tough customer than he was in his resplendent days of yore.

Sehwag on his day just requires someone to stay with him and he has shown that he has both application and amazing stroke-play to get near a triple hundred on his own. Today he fell into a trap; India was not even two hundred when after having reached a hundred he chased a wide one shortly before tea. His was the fourth Indian wicket to fall and his tea would have barely finished when he was back opening the second innings for India.

Sehwag was back in the hut in the second innings but he was not short of the belief that is needed after a day like this. “He refused to accept that India stood on the brink of disaster, saying the hosts had the firepower to stage a fight back. ‘They need to play their own shots but they need to exercise patience,’” he was quoted in a Cricinfo story.

A target of 150 plus on a fifth day wicket with Harbhajan and Mishra could be a tricky one for South Africa; but in order to get there India would have to play a different ball game than the one they played today.

Mohali And The Sting In The Tail

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Something great and something bizarre as well as poor and inexplicable has happened in this One Day series. The great has gone to Australia along with the series and India can sit and debate about the rest. You go and beat a full-strength Australian team in their backyard in the first two finals of the best-of-three finals in the last edition of the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008. Then you maintain a high percentage of victory in most of the bilateral series that follow but fall at the first hurdle of both the 2009 World tournaments—the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy. The two world tournaments had enough twists to ensure that the journalists had a good time, especially the brilliant victory of Pakistan in the T20 World Cup. The Australians lifted the Champions Trophy beating New Zealand in the finals.

Hang on! The Australians are coming to India for a 7-match ODI series that they think is too hectic; and Ponting goes public with his concern for the crammed schedule. Ian Chappell writes for some media company that it is a useless series in an already hectic season. Someone from the BCCI is quoted in another story that asks Chappell to shut up and mind his own business; meaning to stop messing with our business.

In the Champions Trophy, India had one bad day and their campaign ended; so you could say that they were kind of unlucky. But a home series of seven matches could change all that; hammer the depleted Aussie side, grab the number 1 position and send the visitors packing as this was a much-weakened team compared to the one that Dhoni’s boys had beaten in 2008 in the Australian backyard.

The end result of 4-2 in Australia’s favour is the worst fall that Dhoni has seen in his still-short captaincy career. With the number of injuries rising with each game, Ponting has rightly hailed this win close to winning a World Cup and as satisfying as any in his career. Australian media has cheered the victory as the dismantling of ‘upstart rivals’ India.

Where did things go wrong for India can be seen better from where did they go right for them. India won the second ODI convincingly by 99 runs as the powerful middle-order clicked and India made 354 with a brilliant 124 by Dhoni and solid half-centuries by Gambhir and Raina. Then there was ‘a partnership made in batting heaven’ as one analysis headline said after the Delhi game. Comfortable six-wicket win in the end and India took a 2-1 lead going to Mohali.

India then had one of their best days in the field restricting Australia to 250 on a good surface. The fielding was sharp and was rewarded by four run-outs, the best being the most-crucial one of Ponting by a direct throw from Jadeja. The expression of Dhoni running towards square-leg with a gloved arm pointing towards Jadeja in the deep told the story of how brilliant a piece of fielding it was. The second half of Mohali is where India lost the whole series.

After the loss of the seventh Australian wicket, earlier in the day, they managed to add 14 more runs to their total. After the seventh Indian wicket was gone, the Indian team added 49 more runs and yet lost by 24 runs. Tendulkar’s score of 40 was the highest for an Indian top-order batsman and 40 was the lowest score among the 4 top order batsmen who scored runs for Australia. Tendulkar got a poor lbw decision but he also had himself to blame by playing back to a tossed up delivery that could have been hit for a six with lesser risk.

This side has been as Australian as any before and, therefore, it is a good time to reflect on what Sir Geoffrey Boycott was talking with Harsha Bhogle during India’s 2002-03 tour of Australia. Boycott was saying that if you’ve got an Aussie team down, you keep it down and keep pressing the foot ruthlessly because if you give an inch, you won’t know when they would rise and come back to hit you. Harsha smiled and said that’s so typically English Geoffrey, always afraid of the Aussies. Boycott also smiled in return but he knew what he was talking about as that history is now over 132 years old.

Sehwag had a poor series where he could not convert any start to a seventy or eighty that would have made a difference. Tendulkar played the innings of the series and perhaps of the past many seasons of limited overs cricket in Hyderabad while chasing 350. You could see it coming as he has been in outstanding form and is a deeply conscientious cricketer if the team is not benefiting and he is not able to contribute.
Ian Chappell saying that India is fine if Tendulkar makes runs while the team loses is prejudiced analysis without real basis as that is what Australia wants and it has been reported in the Aussie media more than a few times.

Out of the four matches that Australia won three of them were tight finishes that India could have won had they been a bit more tenacious. Australia had no chance in the two games that India won comprehensively. Application and the mental toughness needed to take your team through in pressure is what counts. India could have taken the series 5-1 if they had a bit of that unyielding quality.

Against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy Australia just needed 36 runs in 60 balls with 6 wickets in hand; in 42 balls Pakistan just gave 18 runs and took 4 wickets. That is called an almighty collapse but Australia still got the last 18 without any further damage. India’s work in three games was much easier than what it was for Hauritz and Brett Lee against Pakistan but one needs that quality of slugging it out till the last ounce of blood and sweat and that is what India has lacked not the talent as Dhoni pointed out.

The Greg Chappell Years

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Sometime in the spring of 2005, two Australians were among the contenders for coaching jobs in the sub-continent; in India and Sri Lanka—Australian legend Greg Chappell and former Aussie all-rounder Tom Moody. India’s deciding committee was impressed by Chappell’s presentation and his ‘commitment to excellence’ mantra was given a green signal. A few days later Sri Lanka signed Tom Moody.

When the Aussie legend took over the Indian team in the summer of 2005, India’s own living legend was in London for a surgery on his left arm after tennis elbow had forced him to miss the middle part of 2004. Ganguly was under some pressure after a poor Test series at home against Pakistan while Dravid was in the form of his life and had played some memorable innings 2001 onwards.

The Indian team left for Zimbabwe for a two-Test series and a tri-nation ODI tournament with Chappell as the coach and Ganguly as the captain. The fire that began in India’s tour to this landlocked country in the southern part of Africa; and the incidents that further helped its spread across the Indian Ocean caused ripples that were felt by the two cricketing nations of Australia and India.

This period of turbulence led to Ganguly being removed as captain and later dropped from the side. It is not possible to give an accurate account of the dressing room incidents and is prudent to just keep it as a background without delving into various versions. The return of Ganguly as a Test batsman in the South African Test tour though is a story of amazing human possibilities; he certainly made a statement and the manner of his run-making in Tests said a lot about his stubborn character.

After slightly over six months on October 25, 2005, Tendulkar opened his account in the second legal delivery he faced against Sri Lanka in an ODI in Nagpur. It was a ball that was full and a trifle wide outside the off stump; Tendulkar reached for it and the coruscating drive burned the grass on its way to the cover boundary. He was batting on 11 off 11 balls when he first faced Fernando, bowling his 2nd over; he missed the first ball and played a front foot drive off the second for no run.

The third ball was a relief for millions; it was a pick-up shot that sailed over the midwicket fence for a six. Tendulkar’s riposte to speculation on his future was nothing less than stunning; he made 93 off 96 balls. This was a start to the season where India won 6-1 against Sri Lanka, 4-1 against Pakistan in Pakistan, a 2-2 draw against South Africa and a 5-1 win against England.

India left for the World Cup in decent current form but crashed out in the first round and with it also ended the association of Chappell with the team. There are no questions about Greg Chappell’s place among the game’s batting greats but his coaching career is not above reproach or rather not as glorious as his playing career.

Greg Chappell then said that India would struggle in Australia with just one tour game well before the 2007 Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. Then about 12 days or so before the tour, the Herald Sun ran a story headlined “India ‘old and selfish’, says former coach Greg Chappell”. The story said that Greg expected India to be well-beaten.

Written by Ron Reed, the story talked about an absorbing and candid documentary on Chappell’s incumbency called Guru Greg. It also dealt with Chappell’s views on India’s World Cup debacle. “We came here with a flawed group and got the results we deserved,” he said. “If there is not an intention of change, there’s no point in me—or any other coaches, for that matter—getting involved. It’s very difficult to keep putting wallpaper over the cracks. The cracks have got big and the structure needs to be dealt with.”

The story said that the views of Chappell before India’s arrival would dishearten fans. “Chappell’s honest opinion has poured cold water on the hopes of many cricket fans that the Indians would provide a more competitive series against the Australians in an already dull summer of cricket. It is a depressing thought for anyone hoping for a more competitive series than Sri Lanka has been able to provide so far,” the story added.

A Test tour to Australia is the biggest challenge in the international calendar; and a series win on Australian soil the most-prized possession for a team and its fans. Have a look at the calendar and see if our cricket board has in any way facilitated the players in giving them the best chance of succeeding in Australia. The ODI season was packed till November 18th and the Test season went on till December 12th 2007.

The Indian team arrived jet-lagged and the solitary tour game was washed out and they had to badly-lose the first Test to acclimatise; although it was a surface that according to Australia suited India the most. At least a fortnight of total rest and then a conditioning camp followed by at least two if not three tour games would have been some justice towards the team. It may have also revealed form and adjustment factor and Sehwag may have played right from the first match.

Despite all the impediments; the players gave the Aussies a series that was a bit more than just competitive. India lost in Melbourne and won in Perth; the den where Australia used a four-pronged pace attack. Adelaide was a draw. And Sydney was the whole point.

Sir Neville Cardus once said, “There ought to be some other means of reckoning quality in this best and loveliest of games; the scoreboard is an ass.” So it was a 2-1 result in favour of Australia and Ishant Sharma, according to bowling figures just took a solitary wicket in the Australian second innings in Perth. The story beyond the scoreboard is the fascinating beauty of the game. Tendulkar ended the Test series with his best return ever; two big hundreds and two sizzling scores of 63 and 71.

The young team that came for the ODIs defeated the number 1 side in the world in their backyard by winning the first two finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series; you were right Greg, but the young team won it on the back of an unbeaten hundred and a 91 by the ‘legendary old man’.

When Australia came to India, Guru Greg was with the Aussie contingent in Bangalore but was nowhere to be seen afterwards. Ganguly had announced that it would be his last series and got a hundred in Mohali and debutant Amit Mishra took five wickets. India won by 320 runs.

Tendulkar rounded off another good series with a hundred in Nagpur and the captaincy baton passed to Dhoni. India won the series 2-0 to claim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The Sachin Tendulkar chapter is in its most-beautiful phase and Greg Chappell could do well to remember that, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

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