AUGUST 21, 2014

Indian cricket

Shastri could play Upton role

ESPNcricinfo staff

During Gary Kirsten's time as India coach, Paddy Upton performed an important role in the backroom, as the mental conditioning coach whom the players could go to for a heart-to-heart chat, and a 'mate they went to in times of trouble'. Since the time Duncan Fletcher took over from Kirsten, India have lacked an Upton-type figure. Writing in Wisden India, Dileep Premachandran says Ravi Shastri could perform that role.

Right now, Virat Kohli could probably do with a drink and a chat with someone who's been where he is now. The recurring theme when you speak to the greats of the game is that fallow runs and troughs usually coincide with the joy being sucked out of the game. When it becomes a chore, you need to step back and try to see things differently. It's no secret that the three prolific years Rahul Dravid enjoyed at the end of his career - he made 10 of his 36 centuries then - had much to do with taking a more relaxed approach.

Shastri will certainly help with that. Bharat Arun, who comes on board as one of two assistant coaches, would have worked with some of the players at Under-19 level. Sanjay Bangar would have played against a few of them in domestic cricket. These are young coaches with the hunger to succeed. For those on the outside, this may seem a stopgap arrangement. For them, it's akin to an audition.

Ayaz Memon, writing in Mint, says Shastri's straight-talking approach could help the players, and his time with the team could bring benefits even beyond his short tenure.

Purely from personal knowledge of the man over the years, I can see Shastri providing some robust pep talks. He has a positive, never-say-die attitude which can instil self-belief and confidence in the players. He will also be unafraid to spell out the riot act to players who deserve it.

In the changing dynamics of Indian cricket, Shastri's elevation as cricket director is much more than just a fancy-sounding designation. He has been put in charge of cricket affairs for the next fortnight, when five One Day Internationals (ODIs) will be played. This gives him sweeping powers, including a say in team selection, which is significant. I would imagine he is also going to speak to all the players, support staff, assess the issues, concerns, etc., and submit a report to the BCCI on why the performance has been so mercurial.

Not everyone is convinced by Shastri's appointment, though. In the Hindustan Times, Pradeep Magazine reckons Shastri was rewarded 'for aligning himself with the cricket establishment'.

And people like Shastri, adept at speaking the language that pleases their masters, are guilty of professing that their heart bleeds for the demise of the India Test team. Just a few gems from Shastri in the past should remind everyone what this former all-rounder stands for. He described Lalit Modi as the Moses of world cricket for creating the biggest T20 brand called IPL. Today, as Modi stands condemned in the eyes of the world, this accolade is reserved for N. Srinivasan, the man who is controlling the reins of Indian cricket in his iron fist.

In Shastri's view, the Decision Review System is an evil that is to be shunned because the Indian Board believes so. For him, IPL was the greatest thing to have happened to Indian cricket and we were told its benefits will help India conquer the world. These benefits are so evident now that India can't even last 50 overs in Test cricket. In the final embarrassment at the Oval, India lasted just nine overs more than the 20 they are so adept at playing. I can go on and on, but suffice to say by making such sweeping changes after the horse has bolted, that too when the team will now be engaged in a format they are very good at, makes little sense.

AUGUST 21, 2014

Indian cricket

'Dhoni's captaincy not up to Test standard'

Contending that they came up "against really top- quality seam and swing bowling on the grassiest set of pitches I can remember", Mike Brearley, writing in the Telegraph, has some sympathy for India's batsmen following the 3-1 Test series defeat in England. He isn't too impressed with MS Dhoni's captaincy, though, and says it was not 'up to Test standard'.

Captaincy is the art of balancing attack and defence. In the field, usually up against it, Dhoni has been determined to keep attacking fields, even when England were miles ahead. I wonder if anyone has calculated how many runs England scored to third man at the Kia Oval; while England's total raced on, India retained three or four slips.

Poor Varun Aaron in particular, a raw but promising fast bowler, was given no protection, and, it seemed, little guidance. By Sunday morning, India were run ragged, the ball coming off every part of the bat as Joe Root and Stuart Broad played attacking shots at every ball. Did Dhoni even think of posting a third man? Or did his philosophical capacity to put the past behind him amount to a failure to learn from experience?

AUGUST 21, 2014

English cricket

My flair turned out to be productive - Gower

That elegant left-hander, David Gower, talks to KC Vijaya Kumar of the Hindu about his style, and how it was all about scoring runs, whether your batting looked good or not.

Yes in terms of left-handers, for me it was always pleasant when people said that there was elegance and style but then none of that works unless you get runs and spend 10 to 15 years playing Test cricket. For me to walk out to bat at Lord's, the Oval, the Eden Gardens, the SCG, wherever it might be, I am not thinking hope this looks good, I am thinking hope I get some runs.

AUGUST 20, 2014

West Indies cricket

Can CPL rival the IPL?

While the poor results of the West Indies Test team drove people away from the stadiums in the longest format of the game, the glitz, glamour and global appeal of the Caribbean Premier League has gone a long way towards winning back the crowd, writes Nick Sadleir for Cricket365.

It is unclear whether the CPL is proving to be a financial success or not but there is no doubt that its longevity is safer than the T20 leagues in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Without doubt it would have been watched by two or three times more viewers outside the West Indies this year than in the first edition. The standard of cricket may be behind that of the Australian Big Bash and is probably no better than South Africa's Ram Slam competition but it is more advanced in its commercial product than the Ram Slam, despite its time-zone disadvantage.

AUGUST 19, 2014

Indian cricket

India's scars will run deep

The biggest setbacks of India's debacle in England will be the team's reluctance to play more five-Test series in the future, and the self-doubt creeping into the minds of the younger players, writes Sriram Veera for the Mumbai Mirror.

To win a Test and still feel like having been part of a whitewash must be a cruel feeling. Like losing a Test under three days and still being fined for slow over-rate. Oh the cruel irony of it all. And it only worsens as even the past also gets tarnished by the present. This team did perform decently in seaming conditions of South Africa and New Zealand but as it's been said, what would have happened if those were also five-match series?

AUGUST 19, 2014

England cricket

England's unforgettable summer

The Guardian's writers pick their most memorable moments from an English summer season which included a thrilling draw and loss to Sri Lanka, a short-ball collapse to India at Lord's, a baptism of fire for the captain Alastair Cook, and a remarkable revival culminating in a 3-1 series win at The Oval.

In the minutes after the humbling defeat to India at Lord's, waiting for the post-match interviews to see if Alastair Cook would announce his decision to surrender the captaincy - as so many were demanding at the time - news broke that England's captain had retired from all internationals with immediate effect. It seems an odd moment for Steven Gerrard to have chosen.

AUGUST 18, 2014

Pakistan cricket

A welcome, but overdue landmark

Younis Khan took his 100th catch in Test cricket during the SSC Test against Sri Lanka. Writing in the National, Osman Samiuddin wonders how it took so long for a Pakistan cricketer to reach the landmark, considering Younis was the 32nd player overall to get there.

There are 11 Australians in that list, eight Englishmen, four each from the West Indies and India, two South Africans and one each from Sri Lanka and New Zealand. It is a list in which every major Test-playing country has long had a representative. That Pakistan has only now produced a representative is mostly an indictment of the casualness with which it has treated fielding institutionally.

A long time ago, it was easy to use the generally grassless, bumpy grounds a lot of the country's players grew up on as a valid excuse. Fielding was an accident waiting to happen. Even now, with so many players starting cricket on the streets, the excuse holds true to some degree.

But once a player has been identified as a prospect, at the national or domestic level, this becomes less and less valid. There are decent, well-nurtured grounds available in most major cities. Not having specialist coaches at lower levels is a problem, but the most important thing about fielding is that the desire has to come from within. The best fielders are generally those who love it.

AUGUST 18, 2014

India in England 2014

Hard to gauge how good England were

India have performed so lamentably since their victory at Lord's that it is hard to gauge the scale of England's improvement, writes Vic Marks in the Guardian.

So here was a swift and jubilant end to a strange summer of Test cricket in which the post-Ashes angst was suddenly swept away by three massive victories. As well as joy this brings puzzlement - not just about the true worth of this new England team. In the brave new world of the Big Three India were one of the parties expected to maintain and enhance the status of Test cricket. With performances like these their players are doing the opposite.

AUGUST 17, 2014

Sri Lankan cricket

The many lives Mahela touched

Sidhanta Patnaik, writing for Wisden India, sheds light on the impact made by Mahela Jayawardene on the lives of cricket lovers, off the field.

Jayawardene's wholesome nature and genuine respect for another's space has helped him connect easily with those around him. Shanaka Amarasinghe's admiration for the cricketer grew in 2006 when Jayawardene was direct and honest, and yet polite, while pointing out that Amarasinghe was late for an appointment by 10 minutes. Brad Stevens remembers how Jayawardene was always dependable and stood for what he believed in when the two of them hosted The Square Cut, Jayawardene's first show on a lifestyle radio station in Colombo.

AUGUST 15, 2014

India cricket

It's mistakes, not indifference

Amidst all the criticism MS Dhoni and his team have been getting, Dileep Premachandran writes for Wisden India about how nearly every off-field activity of the Indian team is seen in negative light and some simple statements are twisted to suggest they have an indifferent approach.

In the days since the Old Trafford defeat, there have been at least a dozen people asking this correspondent alone whether MS Dhoni and the team care about Test cricket. It's not an easy question to answer with a straight face. These players are professionals. This is what they do. Do we ask journalists if they care about doing in-depth features?

Does anyone really think Kohli enjoys watching a loved one's name being dragged through mud because he's going through a poor run of form? Does Ravindra Jadeja really enjoy being abused by thousands of trolls on Twitter and other social media forums? Is Dhoni really oblivious to the fact that even those that can't hold a bat the right way up think they could captain the side better?

AUGUST 14, 2014

The True Fan

Is it ok to want to watch only when your team is winning? Is it ok to want to watch only when the watching is easy? These are two of several questions Devanshu Mehta asks of followers of the game on Deep Backward Point.

It hurts when my team loses. And when this happens, I find myself walling myself off from the sport. I no longer follow the sport with as much interest, to protect myself from the hurt ... It wasn't this way when I was younger. I had a lot more room in my head to carry the emotional baggage of the world. I would feel the pain of far off lands, of sports teams, of leaders and people ... I think you have to experience everything before you can let it go--before you become detached-- so that you know what you're letting go of. I don't know if I'll ever get there. I don't know if I want to.

AUGUST 13, 2014

The game that takes people for who they are

Writing in the Guardian, after the news that former boxing promoter Frank Maloney is undergoing gender reassignment and living as a woman called Kellie, Mike Selvey reflects on the experience of Cate McGregor, who writes on cricket as well as working for the Royal Australian Air Force. McGregor, who is transgender, tells Selvey about the acceptance the cricket community has shown her, leading Selvey to conclude "cricket has always been a game that on the whole takes people for who, rather than what, they are":

"I transitioned into two very alpha-male environments, the army and cricket," she said. "I have been humbled and thrilled at the generous reception I have received from the global cricket community." She told me of the early important support she had received from senior, iconic figures in cricket, such as the Chappell brothers, Ian (of whom she does a wicked earthy impression) and Greg; Brett Lee; and, in particular, Rahul Dravid, since announcing her transition in 2012. "All I did," Greg Chappell tells me, "was to respect her choices, and treat her as a person, without being judgmental."

"Ian and Greg have been incredibly supportive in a business-like, unassuming way," Cate acknowledged, "and the leadership of the Australian and England cricket teams have made it clear to me that I was welcome as a respected member of the media team." She tells of hearing about the Australian captain sitting his team down and, just in case there were any who might feel otherwise, insisting that she be treated with respect.

AUGUST 13, 2014

West Indies cricket

The world of Chris Gayle

The Telegraph's Oliver Brown travels to Jamaica to meet Chris Gayle and discovers that behind the laidback attitude is a cricketer aware of his humble beginnings and disappointed at the lack of recognition for his performances on the field.

Gayle, sore at not enjoying the same uniformity of reverence as, say, Usain Bolt, laments: "I guess when you die, all the good things are said about you. But in life, if you have something to say or offer, do it now. Don't wait until the person is dead and gone to say: 'Oh, he was such a great player, he did all of this.'
"It's just the way I feel, and I want to express myself. There, I've said it, and I don't have any regrets. The government will get my message, and that's important."

AUGUST 13, 2014

India Women in England 2014

Reliving the triumph of 2006

India Women are set to play a Test after nearly eight years, returning to England where they secured a historic Test triumph on their last tour in 2006. In her blog, Grass on the Seam, India Women's cricketer Snehal Pradhan reminisces about that series and the win at Taunton that was built around Jhulan Goswami's remarkable returns of 5 for 33 and 5 for 45.

To say she sliced through the top order is not an exaggeration. She allowed none of the top three to reach double figures. She came back to pick up the resilient Edwards, who batted low due to illness. To get a measure of the quality of her wickets we need no highlights or eye witness accounts. We only need to read the scorecard. LBW, caught behind and bowled. Beaten, edged, and knocked over. Classic fast bowlers wickets. And she was bowling fast.

AUGUST 13, 2014

Australian cricket

Are Australia selectors scared of Phil Hughes?

One of the latest setbacks in Australia batsman Phillip Hughes' career is his absence from the squad for the triangular series in Zimbabwe, despite the runs he has scored in the last month. A first-class hundred against India A was followed up by the first double-century in List A cricket in Australia but the batsman was still ignored. In a column for the Guardian, Geoff Lemon wonders whether the cold shoulder to Hughes is more a matter of perception, instead of fact.

The theory is that Hughes looks fragile. He's awkward to watch: hopping about at the crease, fidgeting, carving and swiping to score, poor at masking consternation. He can look terrible when he gets out, giving the impression that he's less in control at that moment than other players. But none of that should actually matter in the face of his effectiveness. He was mocked for his struggle with spin during the 2013 India tour, but learned from it to grind out two ungainly but effective innings. However much his technique is critiqued, it has dominated bowling attacks at all levels of the game.

AUGUST 12, 2014

India in England 2014

Does Dhoni believe India can win?

Harsha Bhogle, in the Indian Express, wonders whether MS Dhoni believes, deep down inside, in the very crevices of his intent, that India can beat England.

At various times in this series, Dhoni has given the impression that he is seeking this dangerous safety net. He has taken decisions that suggest he is happy to try and hold the game where it is. If Jadeja, and more recently Ashwin, have been outbowled by Moeen Ali, it is also because he has bowled the more attacking lines... But Jadeja at Southampton, where the tide turned, bowled almost exclusively on leg stump with a packed leg side field. Did Dhoni not believe that Jadeja could take wickets? If he did, the approach would have been different.

AUGUST 11, 2014

England cricket

England have not turned a corner just yet

While heartened by England's remarkable turnaround since the debacle at Lord's, Geoffrey Boycott, writing for the Telegraph, believes that the team still have some big concerns in Sam Robson's form, the back-up bowling, and dealing with short deliveries.

Your judgment, technique and footwork have to be spot on especially against a moving, swinging new ball, any flaw will be exposed. Robson has been found wanting too often this summer. But the selectors have already named the same squad for the Oval so he will get another chance. He made a century at Headingley against Sri Lanka and that innings alone has kept him in the team. In fact that century has saved his bacon. Without that hundred in the bank he would have gone by now. Will he get better?

AUGUST 10, 2014

England v India, 4th Investec Test, Old Trafford

'India threw in the towel'

In his column for the Telegraph, Michael Vaughan criticises India's performance in the fourth Investec Test, saying the visitors took their eye off cricket after being distracted by the James Anderson episode

India were simply embarrassing. They have been brought up facing orthodox off spin but they made it look as though Moeen Ali was bowling hand grenades and folded abysmally.
They just gave up under pressure, they threw in the towel. For the past two weeks it looks to me as if India have been fighting too many battles off the pitch and have forgotten to fight on it.
They got embroiled in the James Anderson case and were so bent on getting him banned that they took their eye off the cricket.

In the same paper, Steve James attributes Moeen Ali's success to the bowler's use of pace.

Pace is also vital for a spinner. Moeen Ali's remarkable transformation from distrusted part-time off-spinner to match-winner has all been down to his pace. Quite simply, he has decided to propel his twirlers a little more quickly and it has made him a different bowler. The club cricketer's cliche of 'give it some air' might work for crease-bound batsmen at that level, but not for the top practitioners. Then pace and revolutions become key. Moeen has found both.

In the Guardian, Mike Selvey comments that Joe Root and Jos Buttler should also be commended for giving England a firm advantage, when India were still in a position to challenge.

AUGUST 10, 2014

Indian cricket

'Poor pace attack has made Dhoni defensive'

In an interview with Madhu Jawali for Deccan Herald, Greg Chappell opens up about his stint as India coach, his relationship with Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni's captaincy, and the future of Test cricket.

He has tried to be conservative and I don't think being conservative comes naturally to him. I think, perhaps, at times he should have been confident enough and courageous enough to be aggressive. Be the best with what you have rather than be conservative and play safe. It's not in his nature and it doesn't work for him.

AUGUST 10, 2014

England cricket

The two faces of James Anderson

There is much more to James Anderson than the aggressive, competitive bowler who allegedly pushed and abused Ravindra Jadeja, writes G Unnikrishnan for Deccan Herald.

The grim competitor that we are familiar with morphs into a large-hearted man of charity outside a cricket ground. There's, in fact, not even a trace of cricketer in him. He is passionate about music, loves going for a cinema with his friends, and he likes movies so much that he has formed a club within the England team consisting Stuart Broad, Steve Finn, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonny Bairstow.