THE SEASON AHEAD
EXTRA ISSUE - 1 | SEPTEMBER 2012
Present Perfect, Future Promising Ageless Warrior The Steely Genius Crystal Ball Gazing Five for the ages, from the timeless Master Cause for Optimism
After the lows of last season, when the Test side lost 4-0 to both England and Australia, 2011-12 is a pivotal period for Indian cricket. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – two giants whose contributions we recall in these pages – have departed the stage, leaving India with a new-look middle order. Sachin Tendulkar, like Old Faithful, is still around, and much is expected from Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. India haven’t lost a Test series at home since an all-conquering Australian side triumphed in 2004, and for that record to be maintained, the onus will be on the slow bowlers. Pragyan Ojha has found his feet over the past two seasons, but the leader of the pack is undoubtedly R Ashwin, who has supplanted Harbhajan Singh as the country’s frontline spinner. Umesh Yadav offers a pacy option to buttress Zaheer Khan’s guile, but bowling remains India’s weaker suit ahead of four-Test series against their tormentors of last year. The focus isn’t just on the Test arena either. Later this month, the Twenty20 side journeys to Sri Lanka to try and win back the World T20 title that it won in 2007. The Ranji Trophy format has been revamped, and many eyes will be on the Under-19 cricketers, led by Unmukt Chand, who triumphed at the junior World Cup last month in Australia. An era may have passed, but there are enough shoots of revival to make the Indian fan optimistic about the future. - Dileep Premachandran
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Present Perfect, Future Promising By Shashank Kishore
India were crowned Under-19 World Cup winners for the third time on August 26, 2012, when Unmukt Chand, the captain, led from the front in the final against Australia, till then unbeaten in the competition. India’s wasn’t a perfect campaign. After beginning its run with defeat in the opening match against the West Indies, the team had to dig deep to eke out a one-wicket win against Pakistan in the quarterfinal. The semifinal against New Zealand wasn’t as nervy but it definitely was challenging, while in the final, the side chased down 225, a formidable total given the seamer-friendly conditions in Townsville. Chand, who blew hot and cold till the final, chose the big stage to leave his imprint. His unbeaten 111 was a typically aggressive knock that had poise, elegance, deft touches, immense power and a bit of luck. In the company of Smit Patel, the wicketkeeper, he steered India home from a precarious position. The composure and maturity for someone just 19 was refreshing to see in challenging conditions.
The match-winning knock in the final also established Chand’s reputation as a big-match player. He scored centuries in the finals of the Quadrangular Trophy in Australia in April 2012 and the Asia Cup against Pakistan in July. This was the third successive final where he scored a century to take India to victory, further proof of his steely determination and temperament that mark him out for higher honours. People who’ve watched him closely have always had belief in his abilities. “There was never any doubt about his talent anyway,” said Bharat Arun, the coach of the U-19 side. “He was striking the ball well, it was just that he didn’t convert his starts early on in the tournament.” Chand credited his success to a pep talk session with Sachin Tendulkar prior to the team’s departure. “He has played many matches in Australia and gave tips on the kind of pitches to expect during the World Cup,” Chand said. “He also shared his experiences of combating pressure. So it was very helpful for us.”
The victory put India’s young heroes in the spotlight and even triggered talk of fast-tracking some members into the international gold. Chand, though, has his feet firmly planted on the ground. “When you perform, there is bound to be attention, and I understand that. But I can’t rest on my laurels,” he said. “My immediate focus is the IndiaA tour to New Zealand.” If Chand finished off the tournament in grand style, the seeds were sown by Sandeep Sharma, a lanky pacer from Punjab. He emerged India’s highest wicket-taker with 12 scalps, including a four-wicket haul in the final against Australia. Sandeep’s ability to swing both the new and old ball bears a striking resemblance to Praveen Kumar. If he did not get swing, he resorted to a tight line and built up pressure. The team banked on him for early breakthroughs, and he rarely disappointed.
Players were identified and given specific roles, and as the tournament came along, the team had the experience of having played in similar conditions to bank on
“My coaches have always told me the warm-up ball should be bowled at the nets and not in the match,” said Sandeep. “I’ve inculcated that habit which has helped me a lot. In those conditions, all we needed to do was get the ball in the right areas and let the pitch do the rest.” With the need for genuine fast bowlers high on the priority list of talent scouts and selectors in India, Sandeep feels it is important for him to adapt. “I want to improve my pace,” he said. “Swing is important, but if I can do that at fairly good pace, that will add an extra dimension to my bowling.” The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s radical reforms in restructuring the domestic structure seems to have motivated players to perform. “I want to focus on playing regularly for Punjab in the Ranji Trophy. Since the format has been changed, we get a lot more games, which means more opportunities against some quality sides. I want to work hard on my bowling before the domestic season starts and if I get an opportunity, I need to make the most of it. I don’t want to look too far ahead.” India’s hunt for genuine allrounders has been an ongoing process since Kapil Dev retired in 1994. With utility players becoming increasingly the need of the hour, especially in the shorter formats, the U-19 World Cup allowed India to unearth a potential gem in Baba Aparajith. While the focus was on Chand, Aparajith quietly stood up and performed in the most crucial game of the competition. His 50, to go along with four catches and one wicket, was the cornerstone to India’s onewicket win over Pakistan in the quarterfinal. He also
made vital contributions in the semifinal and final. “I’ve always enjoyed batting and bowling, so I’ve never looked at it as a responsibility,” he said. “In modern-day cricket, it is important to be versatile. If I fail in one discipline, I know there is another area where I can make up lost ground. Sometimes, you may fail with both bat and ball, but a crucial catch or saving a couple of runs may be vital. I would call myself a batting allrounder, but I would definitely put my hand up if asked to bowl a crucial over at any stage.” The win wouldn’t have been possible without pretournament preparation, a process initiated in July 2011. Players were identified and given specific roles, and as the tournament came along, the team had the experience of having played in similar conditions to bank on. The upcoming domestic season will be a true test in determining if the next generation of cricketers is indeed ready for the highest level. But the tournament suggested that Indian cricket is in very good health.
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Ageless Warrior By R Kaushik
For more than half a decade, between early 2000 and mid2006, Rahul Dravid supplanted Sachin Tendulkar as India’s most influential batsman. That is no mean accomplishment, not when we are talking about someone who has more international runs and centuries than anyone else in the history of the game being overshadowed. For a large part of his exemplary 16-year international career, though, Dravid operated from the shadows. He seemed to relish the relative anonymity as the spotlight was trained on the more flamboyant players, but everyone, both within the Indian ranks and in the opposition, knew what Dravid brought to the table. When you watched Dravid bat, you felt you could also bat like him. Dravid didn’t make batting look ridiculously easy, which is exactly why he could be emulated. His batting was built around solid basics, tremendous concentration, huge attention to detail, and hours and hours of hard labour in the nets as he mastered his craft. His diligence and desperation to learn from his mistakes were wonderful lessons for aspiring youngsters. It wasn’t said without good reason that if you wanted someone to bat for your life, you would unhesitatingly turn to Dravid. Slumps in form were, therefore, understandably rare. Remarkably, he managed to retain the same enthusiasm and focus right throughout his time with the national team, taking nothing for granted and putting in the hard yards away from probing eyes with an intensity that inevitably took a lot out of him. Under Dravid, India won Test series in the West Indies and England, and mounted a record 17 consecutive run chases in One-Day Internationals, but he will sadly be remembered more for being at the helm when India failed to cross the first hurdle at the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean. It was a defeat that hurt badly, especially because India seemed to have the personnel to go all the way, and had a big part to play in him relinquishing the captaincy without warning later that same year. Dravid’s retirement earlier this year too was, typically, without ceremony. He walked away into the sunset on his own terms, having embellished the game with his dignified presence and his exceptional contributions, as batsman, catcher and captain.
The Steely Genius By Anand Vasu
There are many websites, cricket books and newspaper clippings in which you will find the numbers: 134 Tests, 8781 runs, 17 centuries, 45.97 average, the traditional means of measuring a person’s achievements as a batsman. There are, thankfully, dozens of evocative passages describing the highlights of the 16-year career in which these numbers were achieved, pausing aptly for an epic 281 in Kolkata in 2001, taking in the golden run of 2010 – 103* at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo, 73* in Mohali, 91 in Ahmedabad, 96 in Durban, all matchwinning or saving knocks – and winding down with a surprise retirement in 2012. But, there is no database yet devised that will tell you just how much joy VVS Laxman gave to his legion of fans around the world. There is no scorecard that can measure the respect opponents had, and indeed still have, for Laxman, especially the best in the business for most of his career, Australia. There is no report that adequately mirrors the sense of calm that the Indian dressing-room felt when they knew that Laxman was in their midst, padded up and ready to do battle. When Laxman listened to what he called his “inner voice” and called it a day, just before New Zealand’s tour of India in 2012, he did not make one public complaint. Laxman did not refer to having to play most of his career with the selectoral axe hanging needlessly over him, the slight of being left out of the World Cup team in 2003, or more recent accusations that he was holding up a place that belonged to a younger man. Laxman left the game in much the manner he played it, with grace. With bat in hand, Laxman seemed incapable of inelegance, and for many years people confused this almost magic touch with someone who put style over substance, as if the two were necessarily mutually exclusive. Laxman might have been blessed with a manner all of his own, but for the rest he worked as hard as anyone who as ever played the game.
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Crystal Ball Gazing
Looking ahead to ... England By Disha Shetty
India’s formidable record at home – just one series lost in the past ten years – has relied on a powerful batting line-up rather than a world-class bowling attack. This season, however, might be different, with middle-order issues to be addressed.
Cook, who scored a century on debut in Nagpur in 2006, will have to deal with the responsibilities of captaincy. If Kevin Pietersen is omitted from the squad, England will be overly reliant on the Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell.
With transition very much the theme in the absence of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the victory against New Zealand has served as a warm-up for a long home season that sees India take on the two sides that they lost 4-0 to not so long ago.
England’s bowlers enjoyed success in the Middle East and Sri Lanka last year, and will look to exploit the frailties that cost India so dearly last season. James Anderson leads the pack, but it’s the tall and pacy Steven Finn who could be their most potent weapon.
Leaving aside wins against Bangladesh, England have not managed a series win on the subcontinent in over a decade. Of the four venues for the Test series, Mumbai is the only surface likely to give England’s potent seam attack any assistance. The other three – Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Nagpur – are likely to be spin-friendly. Dhoni has asked for turning tracks at home and if he gets his wish, the R Ashwin-Pragyan Ojha combination will test the technique and temperament of the English batsmen. England will certainly miss the services of Andrew Strauss, who scored two centuries at Chennai in 2008, and another in Mumbai (2006). Alastair
India’s next overseas assignment is in South Africa over a year from now and they will look to utilise these home Tests to restore their reputation and also put a new core group in place. Youngsters like Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have shown that the batting reserves are fairly healthy, though Suresh Raina’s travails at No.6 mean that the lineup is far from settled. S Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary and Rohit Sharma are among those that could replace him and it will be interesting to see if Raina continues to enjoy the captain’s confidence. If that has ebbed away, the new selection committee will have to make a wise call.
Looking ahead to ... Australia By Sidhanta Patnaik
Irrespective of how India and Australia perform in their respective home series against England and South Africa, there will still be a lot to do to reclaim their lost positions. It is against this background that they will play out a four-Test series in February and March 2013. Australia’s four Test victories in India, ever since the Border-Gavaskar trophy was instituted in 1996, have largely been scripted by the seamers, and Michael Clarke will once again depend on them. The core of the contest will revolve around how an inexperienced Indian middle order tackles Australian pace, and the approach of the new-look Australian batting against spin bowling. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus picked up 50 wickets against India in 2011-12, when India were whitewashed 4-0, and Hilfenhaus proved during the Indian Premier League that he could adapt to Indian conditions. Their experience will guide the other seamers in the team to be patient and bowl in the right areas. On the other hand, there will
be little bounce on worn-out tracks in the second half of the Indian season. India’s batsmen will be better placed to handle the pace attack and wrest the advantage over a side whose spin threat is the relatively inexperienced Nathan Lyon. In favourable conditions, R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will be threatening, but the bigger question is whether the series will help solve India’s pacebowling puzzle. Zaheer Khan will be crucial to India’s chances in South Africa the following season, and managing his workload is vital. With the spin duo likely to bowl the bulk of the overs, it’s not unlikely that he could be rested for a game or two. Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, and any other pace bowler the selectors deem fit will have the opportunity to prove that they’re worthy replacements. With a formidable South Africa team the next overseas opponents, a good outing against a quality Australian side will boost the confidence of a side that disintegrated on its last two tours abroad.
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Five for the ages, from the timeless Master The wonder of Sachin Tendulkar isn’t just in all the records he has set, some of which may never be broken. It’s also about longevity, of how he has kept going like Tennyson’s Brook, while leaving some of the game’s biggest names behind. It’s now more than half a decade since Brian Lara retired, and almost nine years since Steve Waugh took his bow. Here, we look back at five of his greatest Test innings, while examining how he has been a constant across three generations of greats. By Dileep Premachandran
Old Trafford, 1990 (119*): His first Test hundred, and one that saved
the game for India. Coming in at 109 for 4, he added an unbroken 160 for the seventh wicket with Manoj Prabhakar.
What the Almanack said: Of the six individual centuries scored
in this fascinating contest, none was more outstanding than Tendulkar’s, which rescued India on the final afternoon… He looked the embodiment of India’s famous opener, Gavaskar, and indeed was wearing a pair of his pads. While he displayed a full repertoire of strokes in compiling his maiden Test hundred, most remarkable were his off-side shots from the back foot.
They also played...Michael Atherton made 131 and 74. Having made his debut a few months before Tendulkar, he retired in 2001.
Perth, 1992 (114): On a lightning-fast pitch where no other Indian
batsman went past 50, Tendulkar’s defiant knock clearly marked him out as a once-in-a-lifetime talent. His back-foot play was imperious and those that watched it speak of how he stood on tiptoe to smash the bowlers through point and cover.
What the Almanack said: India’s bedrock was a captivating 114
from Tendulkar from 161 balls with 16 fours, the bulk of them square cuts. He came in at 69 for two and was ninth out at 240, after 228 minutes, and a record ninth-wicket stand for India against Australia, of 81, with More. On the third morning, as he ran out of partners, he scored his second 50 from 55 balls.
They also played...Mike Whitney, the maverick left-arm pace bowler, took 11 for 95, but would play his last international game later that year.
Edgbaston, 1996 (122): This was a landmark game in
many ways, the last that India would play before Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid broke into the Test side. In the second innings, Tendulkar made a belligerent 122 from just 177 balls. The next highest score was 18. With Euro ’96 on, few paid attention to the cricket, but for the 263 minutes that Tendulkar exhibited his mastery, it was hard to tear the eyes away.
What the Almanack said: Predictably, however, the best batting came from Tendulkar, on the third afternoon: as wickets tumbled around him, he made a century of rare brilliance. Neither he nor Srinath deserved to number among the vanquished but they were undone by the poor efforts of their colleagues, a less than satisfactory pitch and some indifferent umpiring . They also played...Nasser Hussain made 128 in England’s first innings, and added 98 with numbers 10 and 11 to swing the match England’s way. He made his debut three months after Tendulkar, but retired in May 2004.
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Sydney, 2004 (241*): The first three Tests of Steve Waugh’s farewell series had seen Tendulkar make only 82 runs. At the SCG, the ground where he had scored his first hundred in Australia (1992), he set about atoning for previous failures. VVS Laxman kept him company, with an innings of such beauty that Tendulkar was moved to comment that he hadn’t even tried to match him. What he did, however, was frustrate Australia’s bowlers for more than 10 hours, ensuring that Waugh’s swansong would be a rearguard action and not a victory march. What the Almanack said: Tendulkar had thought through
his problems to the point of cutting out one of his most distinguished strokes, abandoning the cover-drive and instead just waiting for the chance to hit to leg. He maintained this policy for ten hours 13 minutes and 436 deliveries, scoring an unbeaten 241, his highest first-class score and perhaps the highest ever made by a man still nowhere near his own top form.
They also played...Waugh finished a 168-Test career with a
match-saving 80. Thousands of red rags waved him off, as did the strains of John Williamson’s True Blue.
Chennai, 2008 (103*): Tendulkar calls this his favourite
hundred, coming as it did mere days after the terror attacks on Mumbai, his hometown. Emotion aside, this was a match India had no business winning. No team had chased more than 276 to win a Test in India previously. This team got to 387 with something to spare. Fittingly, it was Tendulkar that finished things off, with a stroke that raised his hundred as well.
What the Almanack said: Scoring a hundred in a successful
fourth-innings run-chase was, according to Tendulkar, something he had wanted, the one achievement missing from his CV: in consequence, he rated his hundred as “up there” and “one of the best”. It was a masterclass in its conception - of what shots to play, and how often - and in its execution, especially of the sweep in all its forms.
They also played... Andrew Strauss made twin hundreds,
which allowed England to dictate terms for more than three days. He played 100 Tests before his retirement in August 2012.
Cause for Optimism By Manoj Narayan
Indian cricket finds itself at a crossroads. A defining era has all but passed; legends have called it a day. The future isn’t bleak though. The talent is evident and a few individuals have already started to make a case for themselves. Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, as they demonstrated against New Zealand, could eventually fill the voids left by Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. R Ashwin, having displaced Harbhajan Singh as India’s leading spinner, has 49 wickets from eight Tests. Umesh Yadav offers the kind of pace India has seldom had within their ranks. With these players showing signs of maturity as well, there is cause for optimism.
Virat Kohli Ambitious, outrageously talented and increasingly mature, Kohli has taken over Laxman’s No.5 spot in the middle order. His composure, fine technique and strong wrists delivered a hundred and two half-centuries in the series win against New Zealand, a far cry from his struggles on Test debut in the Caribbean 15 months ago. While he’s still making his way in Tests, it’s in limited-overs cricket that Kohli has been in his element. During an otherwise bleak CB Series for India (2011-12), he smashed a breathtaking unbeaten 133 off just 86 balls against Sri Lanka in Hobart, as India successfully chased 321 in under 40 overs. He made valuable contributions throughout India’s World Cup triumph, and the numbers – 13 centuries and an average of nearly 52 – outline his role as the new fulcrum of the one-day side. He was touted as a future captain from the moment he led the Under-19 side to World Cup glory in 2008 and if the last year is any guide, the future of Indian cricket will be in safe keeping.
Cheteshwar Pujara Returning to international cricket after 19 months, to an Indian batting line-up under intense scrutiny, he scored a brilliant 159 against New Zealand at Hyderabad, an innings of class and composure. Replacing the retired Rahul Dravid, Pujara staked his claim for the No.3 spot with vigour, having missed most of 2011 with a knee injury. A solid debut, when he scored a measured 72 against Australia in Bangalore (October 2010), suggested a bright future. Pujara exudes confidence at the crease and is equally adept at scoring on both sides of the wicket. The son of Arvind Pujara, a former Ranji player, he built a reputation for scoring big in domestic cricket, with a triple-century for Saurashtra at Under-14 level. A double-century against England Under-19 and a 145 for Saurashtra in just his second first-class match raised his stock. He finished the 2006 U-19 World Cup as the top-scorer with 349 runs, and topped the run charts in the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy with 807 runs. After 66 first-class matches, his batting average touches 54.
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Umesh Yadav What stands out about Umesh Yadav is that he considered a career in cricket only at the age of 19 – when the likes of Kohli won U-19 World Cup trophies. Yadav’s rise has been meteoric. He consistently crosses 140 km/hr and can swing the ball both ways. He took seven wickets in his second Test, against West Indies at Kolkata late in 2011, and repeated the feat at Melbourne early in 2012, albeit in a losing cause. He went on to take five wickets at Perth and was considered one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable tour for India. He hasn’t impressed as much in One-Day Internationals though, with 18 wickets from 17 games at 46.72 since his debut against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in 2010.
By Shamya Dasgupta Not too many young Indian bowlers have managed to become regulars in the Indian team as quickly, and as conclusively, as Ashwin has. Part of the limited-overs team since June 2010, and the Test side from last November, Ashwin has now become an automatic pick. More than the wickets he has taken, it’s his calmness under pressure that has caught the eye, especially for a newcomer thrust with the burden of being the team’s lead spinner. “I haven’t replaced Harbhajan in the Indian team,” Ashwin told Wisden India. “In my book, I have earned my place as an individual.” That he certainly has, and his performance and temperament, across formats, suggests that Ashwin should be at the forefront of India’s plans for some time to come. Not just as an offspinner with a bagful of tricks, but also as a more than competent lower-order batsman.
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