Saturday, 27 August 2011



A.                         Winning a series in all Test playing countries.

B.                          Being able to maintain the Number One position for a considerable time period

C.                          Having a strong playing XI as well as bench strength

D.                         All of the above

In the past five years, Test cricket has seen three different teams in the NumeroUno position and each from a different continent. Australia, India and now England. Each of these three teams has had strikingly different approaches to Test cricket. While Australia dominated teams on back of their sheer performance, India has managed to win mainly due to the legendary players in their side and more recently England have built a strong side with young but talented and consistent players. Australia led the Test rankings for a record time period of 74 months from 2003 to 2009. In 2009, India overtook them as the Number 1 team but lasted on top for only about 20 months. England has only recently been crowned the Number 1 team after the whitewashed India 4-0.

Coming back to the question, what does being the Number 1 Test team in the world mean? What does a team have to do in order to attain the Numero Uno position?

Is it winning a series in all 10 Test playing countries? When Australia was the number one team in the world, they had comprehensively won a Test series in all the Test playing countries. From the late 90s Australia has won a Test series in all the Test playing countries, first, under the captaincy of Steve Waugh, and then under Ricky Ponting. But they conquered the Final Frontier (India) only under stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist. India on the other hand, has never won a series in Australia and South Africa, but on their last tours there, have managed to draw the series. However in the last decade itself, India has defeated England, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe on their home soil. As far as England is concerned, they have won a Test series in all test playing nations, except Zimbabwe. However, most of these victories have come in the 1970s and 80s when they were the best team in the world. Also England has a forgettable record in the subcontinent;they not won a series in India since 1985, in Pakistan since 2000, in Sri Lanka since 2001.Thus if we use the number and venues of victories as a benchmark to decide the Number 1 team in the world, then only one cricket team will qualify, Australia, which is incidentally ranked at number five.

Or is it consistently staying at the top of the Table for a considerable period of time?  Since its inception in the year 2000, there has been only one team which has maintained stronghold over the ICC Test Rankings. Australia had been perched atop the Ranking Tables for close to a decade. It was only in December 2009 that India toppled Australia and started their reign on Top. Sadly India could not manage to stay there for long. In August 2011, barely 20 months after reaching the No 1 spot, India had to make way for England who is currently the Number 1 ranked team in the world. So Australia for a decade, India for one and a half year and only time will tell how long England will manage to stay there. This shows that time period is again an ambiguous judge of the Number 1 team, therefore cannot be used as a yardstick to justify the Number 1 ranking.

The third option is the quality and quantity of the team. Does having a strong bench and a stronger XI the key to being adjudged the Number 1 team in the world?  During their reign on top, Australia possessed an enviable team with the likes of Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, McGrath, Warne, Langer and the likes which is what made them such a potent outfit. These players were all legends in their own right and in the past decade were at their peak. And this was also the main reason for their decline, when al the greats retired, the team could not fill the void and eventually slipped. India too came up due to similar reasons; legendary cricketers whop could win a game on their own. The Indian line up boasted of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble, Zaheer, all of who were individual greats in their own right. While most of them are still playing, the overall impact has dimmed as was reflected in the series against England. When it comes to bench strength, both India and Australia at their peak, never had replacements which were half as good as the players. England on the other hand, has a young unit with both strong players and substitutes. The current English squad doesn’t have a single player who can be called a legend of the game as all of them are considerably new, but their strength lies in the fact that they have developed a number of players who can play at the highest level. Again if we use this as a yardstick to measure the Number 1 team, it will not provide a substantial reason.

Therefore, in order to deserve the highest ranking in the highest form of cricket, a team should have all of the above attributes. They must win a series in all 10 Test playing nations, be on top for long enough to justify their ranking and have a team that can beat the best even when their key players are missing. Any team which manages to do all these deserve to occupy the Top spot proudly.

Thursday, 18 August 2011



The fourth and final Test of the India-England series starts today at the Oval. With the series already being won by England with victories in all the three Tests so far, it may seem as this game is a dead rubber. But, it is far from it. There is a lot at stake in this Test match, not the least being India’s pride and the future of certain cricketers.

Going into this Test match, the reactions of cricket followers have been as varied and Kevin Pietersen’s hairstyles. Majority of the Indian cricket fans have been disappointed & depressed by India’s performance or rather the utter lack of performance, while some rare people have expressed their hope or an Indian fight back. But the general reaction has been of anger, spite, and negativity.
Amidst all this team-bashing and excuse-giving, I have only one thing to say to all Indian cricket fans – “If you can’t support your team in adversity, you don’t deserve to support the team at all.” It is very easy to be a die-hard Indian fan, bleeding blue and all when your team is winning, but the true test of a fan is to stand by your team when it is losing. Over the last three weeks, I have read some of the most scathing columns and tweets about Team India and that has disappointed me more than India’s loss. There is thin, blurred line between analysing the reasons for the failure and mindlessly blast the team. Sadly most of us seem to have crossed this line when we wrote about the team’s sojourn in England. Agreed India have played miserably and worse, not even put up a decent fight. We have lost our Number 1 Ranking and may not have a chance of regaining the crown for a long time. But only listing out the problems without providing solutions is not going to help the team or the fans. And I believe that criticism is of no use if not constructive. The team has already been humiliated by the English players and media, as Indian fans we should not look to further humiliate the team by our harsh reactions.

Let us not pronounce the sentence on India and talk about an English whitewash. Instead we should be optimistic of an Indian revival. We have a very talented team with the best 11 players and we have the potential to take 20 wickets as well as bat for 200 overs. The only thing missing is the confidence to do so. If a Sehwag, a Dravid, a Laxman, a Tendulkar, a Ishant play to their full potential, we could still manage to win this Game and stay at the No 2 position.

As the final test begins, I have only one request to make of all Indians who claim to love cricket, let us support the team in bad times as we do in good times, let us be positive of the team winning this Test, let us cheer every wicket, every milestone without rancour. In other words, let us all be true Indian fans.

Saturday, 13 August 2011



Being captain of the Australian cricket team is one of the most difficult jobs in the world of cricket. It is not because of the side he leads, but because of its reputation. Every time an Aussie side has come on the field to play, the reaction of the opposition has always been the same - “This is the team to beat”. For the past 15 years, the Kangaroos were one of the strongest teams in world cricket in both Tests and ODIs.

In the one-day arena, they have won three consecutive ICC World Cups and have been on the top of the ICC Rankings Table for almost a decade and, so far, no other team has managed to dethrone them, although South Africa and India came close. But over the last few years, Australia’s aura of invincibility has diminished. The star players who made the team a force in world cricket have hung up their boots. Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have all retired and their absence has been adversely felt. But the final straw came when Ricky Ponting gave up captaincy after nine years of being at the helm, when his team failed to defend the World Cup title.

Barely four months back, Michael John Clarke was appointed as the captain of the Australian national team. ‘Pup’, as he is fondly called, did not inherit a World Champion side, but instead one that had just been humbled at a World Cup, which had been in their domain for 12 long years.

In the 27 times that he has captained Australia in ODIs, he has lost only six matches. He has done pretty well and his astute captaincy has been well-regarded for a long time. Form has not been a problem for him during his previous stints as captain. With a career batting average of 44.74, his average while captain is even better, at 48.77. He has had a rather quiet 2011 with the bat; he scored a couple of fifties against England, but only managed big scores in the World Cup against lesser teams. His one century this year came against Bangladesh in April and he has not played any cricket since. Sri Lanka should, then, be quite a challenge; he averages over 50 against them, but a rather poor 23.40 in Sri Lanka, and the latter statistic could well be the more relevant.

The newly-anointed skipper will look forward to continue the legacy of former Aussie teams but will also realize that he has to build a team, as was done by Allan Border in 1987. Clarke has his task cut out because Australia also have to rebuild their reputation as well. The main issue with the Aussie sides post the 2007 World Cup has been the lack of quality spinners and also the failure of the batsmen’s techniques to play spin. With the ongoing tour of Sri Lanka, against a team that primarily banks on their spinners and spinning tracks, the vulnerability of the Aussie batsmen will be further exposed. Already in the two T20I games, where Australia were led by Cameron White, Australia have been comprehensively beaten and they have to muster all their resources to better their record in the ODIs. Clarke’s biggest worry will be the fact that they could lose their number one ranking to Sri Lanka in this series. After being perched atop the rankings table for 10 years, the possibility they could lose it must be causing Pup to lose sleep. 
However, he does have a lot to smile about as well. With Brett Lee, Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Johnson he has a pace attack that can send shivers down the opposition’s spine. Batsmen like the Hussey brothers, Mike & David along with David Warner, Brad Haddin, and Shaun Marsh have the ability to score big and fast. Now that Ponting doesn’t have the burden of captaincy anymore, one can expect him to play more freely as well. And then, of course, there is their trump card, Shane Watson, an all-rounder who can win a match on his own.

The focal point of Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka, however, is going to be how Michael Clarke handles permanent captaincy. As mentioned before, he is going to have a tough job but his execution is going to reflect Australia’s performance in the coming years.

Monday, 1 August 2011



Was Dhoni right in recalling and reinstating Bell?

This is one question that is foremost on the minds of every cricket fan. With the Trent Bridge test poised at a very uncomfortable position for India, Ian Bell's controversial run out and the subsequent reversal of his dismissal has become a topic of heated discussions everywhere. From local trains to office cafeterias, I have heard a hundred different opinions on the matter. Whatever said and done in the Spirit of cricket, one question still lingers, was Dhoni right?

First of all, let’s look at what exactly happened. Here is how the events unfolded - It was the last ball of the last over before tea and Eoin Morgan hit an Ishant Sharma delivery to deep square wicket where Praveen Kumar did not cleanly collect the ball. After taking 3 runs, both Bell and Morgan assuming that it was a boundary, left their crease to fist pump each and began walking towards to pavilion. In the meantime Praveen threw the ball to Abhinav Mukund who promptly took the bails off running out Bell. It is important to not that the umpires had not called an over or tea break. The Indians appealed and the matter was referred to the third umpire who confirmed that Bell was indeed out as per the laws of cricket. The team left the field amid loud booing.

What happened in the tea break is best known to the two captains. But as per the account given to us, England captain Strauss and coach flower went over to the Indian dressing room and requested Dhoni to reverse Bell's dismissal. Dhoni, after conferencing with his team mates, agreed to do so and Bell walked in to bat with Morgan after tea. the crowd's booing turned to cheering, and the proverbial Spirit of cricket was upheld.

But it was only the Trent bridge crowd that was cheering. all across India there was outrage at this decision. many felt that the reinstatement was uncalled for, however many others felt that Dhoni had done the right thing and were proud of him. But the question still lingers, was Dhoni justified?

My response to this is very simple, there is no point about Dhoni being right and wrong because he had not done any wrong. if there is anyone who was at fault, it was Bell for being naive and Strauss for pleading with Dhoni. Bell was batting on 137 when it happened, he had already provided a firm foundation for England and they were in a good position. England had other batsmen padded up and nor was he approaching any milestone. So there was no reason whatsoever to reverse the decision which was given in keeping with the laws of the game. Also had it been India in a similar position and say a Yuvraj or Laxman had been out in a similar fashion, would Strauss have agreed? or would Dhoni and Fletcher even plead? I think not. For those whip remember, a controversial run out had taken place in 2008 in a ODI Game between England and New Zealand where Bell had ran out Grant Elliot after bowlers Ryan Sidebottom had deliberately collided with him. The umpires had asked skipper Paul Collingwood to reverse the appeal but he refused point blank. Where had the famed English Spirit of cricket gone at that time?

In conclusion, the run out yesterday was a one off incident which could not be helped. But what could be helped was Strauss’s respect for the match and the game of cricket. in requesting Dhoni to overlook his player’s “genuine” mistake, Strauss has put his integrity to question. I don’t believe that any other captain would have made such a request or that any other captain would have reversed such a decision, including Strauss himself.

I would like to end with another question-
What is more important, the Rules of Cricket or the Spirit of Cricket?