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'Zaheer Khan has been sensational'
Gambhir's rise as a Test opener, Dhoni's learning curve as captain, and South Africa's climb to the top (10:51)
April 13, 2009
The Tony Greig Show
'Zaheer Khan has been sensational'April 13, 2009
News this week:
There is little doubt that the Indian team is now one of the best in the world and having said that, I found Sachin Tendulkar's comments this week very interesting. Tendulkar credits coach Gary Kirsten with helping the team become a force in world cricket again. He thinks the secret to India's recent success revolves around the players being encouraged to play their natural game, that he says can only happen if the atmosphere is good and the mind is free of any kind of pressure. Tendulkar says natural instincts then take over and that can be credited to Gary Kirsten - high praise indeed, especially in a decade when the role of the coach is often questioned by players of yesteryear.
It is however fair to point out that India's historic win in New Zealand has been slightly overplayed because the Indians haven't visited New Zealand that often. It is also pertinent to draw attention to the fact that the New Zealand side at the moment are seriously struggling in the bowling department in particular. That said, a win is a win, and this may just be the start of a good run of series victories for India.
Gautam Gambhir will be extremely satisfied with his progress having scored 445 runs in six innings in New Zealand. His performance in the second innings of the second Test - 137 off 436 balls in over 10½ hours was a landmark performance for a natural strokemaker even if he is known for being a bit flashy. This innings showed that Gambhir has a great temperament - believe me there is plenty of satisfaction in saving a match, especially when to do so requires a serious test of one's concentration. Gambhir passed with flying colours and his innings helped India escape with a memorable draw. There has been speculation that Gambhir is vulnerable in seaming conditions but who isn't. These days many of the best players also seem to have problems when the ball swings but let's not detract from Gambhir's most recent performances - he has become a very good Test opener.
MS Dhoni has already built a reputation for himself as a captain to be reckoned with, but there were plenty of us who couldn't fathom why he left his declaration so late in the third Test. Let's face it, New Zealand could only save the Test if the rain came and as a result India's bowlers were deprived of the time they needed to do the job. That's exactly what happened and now many of us will reserve our judgement as to whether or not Dhoni will go down the same path as his predecessors and turn out to be a conservative, as opposed to an attacking captain. Don't get me wrong here, declarations are only part of the job and Dhoni has handled the tactics, and more importantly the big stars in his side, very well so far. I do think he is a quick learner and I am sure given the same set of circumstances again he would be a little more adventurous.
The big change to India's team has come in the fast bowling department. Zaheer Khan's contribution after his comeback to the Indian team a couple of years back has been nothing short of sensational. He has qualities that good batsmen don't like - he can swing the ball late, he hits the seam, he bowls a good bouncer and he has stamina. These qualities combined with the fact that he has Ishant Sharma as an opening partner make India so much more effective.
I am very reluctant to write New Zealand off as a force in Test cricket because I have often seen them bounce back when all seemed lost. The loss of Shane Bond to the ICL definitely took some sting out of their attack and Jacob Oram's injury made things worse. New Zealand have some fine batsmen in Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor and now Martin Guptill and there are others who have indicated that with a little more experience they too may step up. To win Tests with a 'run of the mill' attack is hard and I'm afraid that while Vettori, Martin, O'Brien, Mills and Southee are all game tryers on flat pitches they will continue to find it hard to take the required 20 wickets. ODIs and Twenty20 cricket are a different matter altogether.
South Africa has taken a 2-1 lead in the one-day series against Australia. After losing the first ODI, South Africa bounced back to beat Australia comprehensively in the next two games. With two matches to go, South Africa looks set to retain the number one spot in the ICC's one day rankings. There is no doubt that the confidence Graeme Smith's team gained on their tour of Australia has transformed this team. Their batting is solid, their bowling aggressive and tight, and it's backed up by their usual high standards in the field. Any team that boasts a batting lineup that includes seven players of the calibre of Gibbs, Smith, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Albie Morkel, and Boucher, has a good chance of posting a competitive score. Add to this the firepower of Steyn, the swing of youngster Parnell, the experience of Kallis and Ntini and a spin department that includes Botha, Duminy and Smith and bingo, you have a wonderfully balanced team. Confidence against Australia in particular has been lacking in the past but not any more so. I think South Africa is going to be up there with the best in all forms of the game for a few years to come.
Pakistan is set to play Australia in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and we now hear that Pakistan plans to play their home Internationals in places like Malaysia, Ireland and Scotland until the security situation returns to normal in Pakistan. This must break the hearts of the lovers of cricket in Pakistan and will certainly impact on the future of the game in the area, because youngsters will be robbed of the chance of watching quality cricket and their cricket heroes live on their home soil. While this is a sad state of affairs we have to be realistic and accept the situation while at the same time we must be considerate of the plight of Pakistan cricket. These days the TV, radio and internet coverage at least allows all of us to watch, listen and follow cricket played everywhere and one has to hope that this will at least sustain the love of cricket in Pakistan. It is also vital that the PCB see to it that the best possible domestic cricket programme is maintained.
Andy Atkinson, the ICC's pitch consultant, has warned that pitches around the world are becoming too batsman-friendly, largely because of the volume of one-day and Twenty20 cricket played around the world, He is of the view that some groundsmen have lost the art of preparing a five-day pitch. This is a very generic statement and will not go down well with those groundsmen who are still doing a good job. In Australia, for example, the pitches are great with the exception of the MCG pitch. It is a 'drop in' and I would certainly agree that 'drop in' pitches are highly overrated. They are used when grounds have to be converted from, in the case of the MCG, an Aussie Rules football ground to a cricket ground. Atkinson should know what he is talking about because it is he who has to have a look at grounds and pitches that are reported as substandard. If he is right we will soon find out because Twenty20 cricket has only just started to impact on cricket programmes around the world. There is also no doubt that that batsmen have had a good run, one only has to watch all the batsmen in the world struggle against the swinging or seaming ball to know that to be true.
What's eating Tony Greig?
The old question of whether or not cricket should be available on free to air TV is raising its head again in England. It's not commonly known but 60% of UK viewers can't get any live international cricket because the ECB in their wisdom sold the rights to the pay TV operator Sky in the UK. To be fair, they did this because Sky was prepared to pay far more than anyone else for exclusive rights. There are those of us who ten years ago warned that this move would be bad for English cricket and now with Australia about to tour England the Ashes will not be on free-to-air TV for the first time and we are about to hear some serious complaining. Just to back up my view, The Pro-Active South London Schools Survey for 2008 in which more than 26,000 children at secondary schools were asked which three sports they would like more access to: football was first, badminton eighth, cricket 21st. Even among boys alone, it ranked no higher than twelfth. Such findings show that the hold on the public imagination which cricket had in 2005 has been lost completely and this should ring like a fire alarm at the ECB's offices.
Question of the week:
Comes from G Prakash, New Delhi - In the nineties India had a good team but they were only labelled as "Tigers at home". It was inevitable those days that India will lose the series by nil when they go to South Africa, Australia or England. What do you think has caused Indian cricket transformation in recent years while playing abroad?
Well Prakash, this has a lot to do with the talent in the side and how much this talent is exposed to bouncy wickets and fast bowlers. These days there is far more cricket, so far more exposure. There is also no doubt that India has a tremendous batting side and I think all their batsmen are better at handling the short ball. Add to this a balanced bowling attack that has in its ranks bowlers as capable as any of dishing out the short stuff. It's as simple as that Indian batsmen are no longer passive when confronted with bouncers they are just as likely to hook them for six as the Aussies are.
Right now, a bit of news going forward - I am going to take a break for a few weeks. It's been a wonderful journey so far and I shall be back with a new version of The Tony Greig Show very soon. So watch this space. That's all for now, this is Tony Greig for Cricinfo Talk signing off.
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