One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Win unlikely, draw hopefully, loss possibly!

Rarely have India managed to overhaul a total in the fourth innings to win a Test match. And to add to the situation, this Indian batting side, though formidable on paper, is woefully out of form at the moment. So with 316 to get with 8 wickets in hand... and about 60-65 overs to face (because weather eats up about 25-30 overs everyday!), an Indian win in the second Test at Durban is too much to ask for!

The Indians haven't managed to score 300 in this Test series yet and to expect them to do so under pressure of a chase is a bit much! So a safety-first approach seems especially inviting at the moment! Given the Indian form though, even that seems a bit dicey! But looking at the big picture of the Test series, a draw here would suit the Indians just fine. 'Coz that would mean the South Africans would go into the last Test under pressure of saving the series and that's exactly what the Indians would want!

Before I end this post, the eternal optimist in me thinks back to the only time on this tour of South Africa that the Indians have managed to score over 300. It was at Potchefstroom where the Indian team scored 316/7 in their first innings and won the match. And that is exactly what they have to score now to win this Test! ... Omens... omens! ;-)

Advantage lost!

The 71 runs that the last two South African wickets cost the Indians have all but erased the good work by the bowlers late yesterday evening. 328 is a good score by South Africa considering how flaky the Indian top order has looked in recent times. So the Indians will have to bat extremely well to assert themselves in this Test Match.

With Kallis out of the side, the South African bowling seems to have lost some edge. But Andrew Hall can sometimes be the joker in the pack. His tight line and the ability to seam/swing the ball may see him get a few Indian batsmen knicking balls outside their off-stumps.

But before that, the embattled pair of Jaffer and Sehwag need to get their acts together and play out the first spells of Nel and Ntini, both of whom could be quite lethal with the new ball.

Alright gentlemen... Play!! :)

Day 1 at Kingsmead Durban

At the end of the first day of the second Test match at Kingsmead, Durban, India would have felt mighty relieved at being just two wickets away from wrapping up a resurgent South African innings.

Smarting from the defeat in the first Test match, the South Africans denied the visitors any advantage by presenting them with a slow without without much grass. This in itself was a major victory for the Indians and perhaps this is an unprecedented event in the history of Indian overseas tours. But even that did not prevent the Indian pacemen from reducing the Proteas to a measly 28/3, before a couple of good, strong partnerships resurrected the South African innings. Ashwell Prince, the only SA batsman who could hold his head high even at Jo'burg was the star today too. At the end of the day, suffering from cramps, he stood at a defiant 98 not out... while the batsmen at the other end gave him some support.

And what seemed to be a South African fightback, soon gave way as Anil Kumble reduced the the hosts to 257/8 with two wickets in one over, before bad light stopped play.

All in all... things were even till about 30-40 mins before play ended. Four wickets in the final 40 minutes has meant that Indians will start proceedings on Day 2 from the driver's seat. With the next two days promising to be batsmen-friendly as far as the pitch and the conditions are concerned, Indian batsmen will have very little by the way of excuses if they mess up from here.

For today though, once again on this tour, Indian bowlers have walked away with the honours! ... no mean feat for a side that was ridiculed to have a toothless attack till not very long ago!

An English collapse?

England are in a right mess, make no mistake about it! They've capitulated yet again... after a fairly decent start to their innings. From 101/3 to 159 all out is a sorry procession that speaks volumes about the lack of spine in this English side. One has seen such pathetic batting by the English far too often. So much so that "an English collapse" could so easily be a metaphor for a dramatic batting order collapse in general.

Frankly, I feel that it's more of a management problem with the England team than a problem of ability. Freddie Flintoff is just not the same player since his injury layoff. I mean, of course he's still just as talented, but these days, Flintoff does not seem to be the dominating presence on the field that he used to seem earlier. This has eroded his leadership and dented his confidence in his own batting and bowling abilities. Maybe it's because of the realization that his injury may have a longer-term impact on his career than was previously feared. The only way out, for the moment, seems to be another break for Flintoff, to help him recover back to full health.

And as if captaincy problems aren't enough, the coach seems to be quite clueless too! At the moment, Duncan Fletcher is like Sven Goran Eriksson of English cricket. Nothing he does seems to work well. And he does seem woefully short of ideas to recover from the rut. I agree with Geoffrey Boycott that coaches have a shelf life and Duncan Fletcher is way past his expiry date!

When England played badly in the Champions Trophy, people made excuses saying that this English team was pretty poor in ODIs and that their aim was to be in the right mindset for the Ashes. With the benefit of hindsight, one can safely say that the apologists for English cricket were completely off the mark! It doesn't matter what form of the game you consider, this English side is on a slippery slope and unless a radical surgery is performed on the top, it'll be difficult to arrest its slide towards the hell of mediocrity.

History at the Wanderers

There! ... it is done!

India have finally won a Test Match in South Africa. It's a 123-run victory over an opposition that indulged themselves into believing that the Indians would be easy meat. However, India won the match by playing some good, solid cricket. The Indians were, by far, the better team in the contest in all the departments of the game. Yes... even the Indian fielding was on par with the South African effort, if not better. And that is saying a lot!

Of course, the Indian team management has a couple of vexing issues to sort out before the next Test begins, namely the opening partnership (or the lack of it) and the below-grade bowling performance by VRV Singh, especially in the second innings. But that will not take away from this tremendous occasion of a rare overseas win... and that too in a country where victory has always eluded the Indians.

Its difficult to pick an outright man of the match, as far as I am concerned. It's true that Sreesanth's bowling sparked off the South African collapse in the first innings to set up the stage for a Indian win, but lets not forget Zaheer Khan's performance with the ball and the bat! ... and ohh! who can forget his swooping run to collect and throw the ball in one smooth motion, hitting the middle stump and running out AB DeVilliers!

In fact, I feel that the "man" of the match was "Team India" rather than any individual team members. And that's how things should be! Let's hope they stay the same! :-)

Patience and Discipline

Patience and discipline. These are the keywords that have marked the Indian performance thus far, in the First Test Match of the 2006-07 Indian tour of South Africa. Batsmen showed these qualities in ample measure right from the word go, on a doctored pitch that was difficult to bat on. Sourav Ganguly, making a comeback to international cricket, displayed a keen sense of discipline as he consciously (he admitted this in an interview after the close of day's play on the third day of the Test) made an effort to play in the straight V, rather than rely primarily on the slash-drive that he had come to make his own. And in Sourav's effort was encapsulated the Indian batting performance in the first innings. The bowlers, too, joined the party and stuck to the basics of seam/swing bowling by pitching the ball in the right areas with an exquisite seam position and let the ball and the pitch do the rest as South Africa crumbled like they never have, since their re-admission into international cricket. Once again, a normally fast but wayward Sreesanth kept it together for one of the best swing bowling exhibitions by an Indian bowler in recent times. And when their turn came to bat once again, the Indian approach was typified by the partnership between Laxman and Zaheer (who in my opinion is having one heck of a Test Match)... which showed the virtue of patience and discipline in frustrating the opposition.

And now, as the task of finishing the job lies in the hands of the bowlers, one can't help but feel that the qualities that the Indian team has shown right through this match, will be the ones that will win them the match.

Yesterday, towards the end of a day, it was clear that the day belonged to India. However, the bowlers look worn and tired... and were bowling way too short. In fact, they seemed to be in a hurry to run through the South African side once again and when a partnership or two blossomed, the Indian bowlers seemed a little out of sorts. True, it would have been because the ball was nearly 60 overs old and the pitch had eased out a bit. But then, that was all the more reason to fall back on basics and discipline and maintain a tight leash on the batsmen. In the end, India ended up giving around 20-30 runs more than they should have by the end of Day 3.

However, the situation is still heavily in the favour of India. Five good wicket-taking balls are all that remain between India and their first ever Test triumph on South African soil. And I dare say that if the bowlers keep on bowling in good areas at a decent pace, chances are that those five wicket-taking deliveries will come about much sooner rather than later. And unlike most experts, I feel the men for the job are Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth... rather than Kumble. Kumble will have to recognize this and keep up a relentlessly tight line of attack from one end while Zaheer and Sreesanth alternate in quick, fiery spells from the other end. However, the keywords still remain... patience and discipline... if India have to win.

And they sure as hell deserve to win this one!

Update: Anil Kumble has made me eat my words. He did prove to be the man for the job for India... rather than Zaheer or Sreesanth. His strikes to get rid of Pollock, Nel and Prince drove the nails into the South African coffin!

Ganguly: Last man standing!

The morning session of the second day of the first Test match was marked by Sourav Ganguly's grit and VRV Singh's audacity. And later when the Indians came out to bowl, the impeccable seam position that the Indian pace bowlers presented meant that the South Africans went in for lunch rattled and thoroughly on the back foot.

I think full marks ought to be given to Sourav Ganguly for the application and determination he displayed. He has his faults, lots of them, but one thing he has always done is to empower his teammates, encouraging the young guys to take up responsibility... making them feel important and giving them the opportunity to shine. And that is exactly what he did with young VRV Singh today. Taking a run off the first ball of the over when your team is 9 men down is not something that coaching manuals will approve of. But the confidence that VRV Singh got from this support from Ganguly meant that he unleashed his outrageous array of slaps and hoicks with gay abandon. This added those extra runs at the end and made the Indians feel good about themselves as they came on to ball just before lunch. 249 is by no means a good score, even on a difficult surface. But the confidence of the morning's batting exploits rubbed off on the bowlers who put the ball in the right areas and managed to leave South Africa tottering at 21 for 3 at lunch.

Of course, South Africa might come back into the game in the next session. But the morning session did show us glimpses of what determination and team-spirit could achieve for the Indians. And for that... I think we must thank Sourav Ganguly today!

The cricket world at a glance

A week's vacation turned into a much longer hiatus. But better a hiatus than pointless ramblings!

So what's making news these days in the world of cricket... ?

The return of the old guard in the Indian Test team makes it clear that the selectors have taken a somewhat dim view of Chappell's ability to turn things around with the team of his choosing. However, a point to be noted here is that this is the Test team that has undergone a revamp. The selectors, however, still seem to believe that Chappell is good enough to deliver the goods in the World Cup.

PCB has reverted the bans on the two Pakistani bowlers accused of doping. Quite a regressive step this! This quite clearly shows that the doping scandal was nothing but yet another round of political machinations within Pakistani cricket.

Flintoff says he cried after England crumbled to dust in the second innings of the Adelaide Test. I don't blame him. There is a thumb-rule in Test Cricket. A team that scores 400+ runs in the first innings usually does not lose the match. The English scored 550+ runs and still lost ignominiously. Time for some introspection by the English team before they face the Aussies again.

And Mumbai will host the Final match of the 2011 World Cup!! Now that's a surprise, if ever there was one!! Especially after the way the Brabourne pitch in Mumbai came in for criticism in the recently concluded Champions Trophy. But of course, I expect the World Cup Final to be played at Wankhede. But even that pitch has been criticized in the past! Hmmmm... in any case, Wankhede stadium will require extensive overhaul if it has to come up to the standards of some of the other grounds in the world that have hosted a World Cup final match. And I'd like to see a blueprint for the overhaul pretty soon.