IPL 2015 – Young talent makes IPL an interesting watch

IPL evokes mixed emotions among fans across the world. Some people call it great entertainment whilst the others call it a meaningless slogathon. The only thing as an Indian fan which compels me to watch this long drawn out tournament is the young Indian players. In the past the only way to know about a young talent is when they made the Indian team. In the last 15 years or so television has brought domestic games closer to us but still not a lot of us get time to follow them. The IPL though is something which sheds light on these young talents. The current IPL is no different. Performances in the IPL need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Even though there are some great bowlers taking part in the tournament, flat pitches and small boundaries kind of negate any sort of impact they might have on the batsmen. In spite of all that it takes a special talent for an uncapped player to perform in front of record crowds and against some international greats. So here is the list of players that impressed me this season. I am only including their list A and FC records as a yardstick as I don’t think performances in IPL should be taken into account when selecting players for ODI’s and test cricket.

Shreyas Iyer (FC: 50.56, LA: 54.60)

Of all the young players this season none impressed me more than this 20 year old. Shreyas Iyer opened the batting for Delhi Daredevils and has performed brilliantly with the bat. Shreyas represents Mumbai in first class cricket and has made an impressive start to his career. He already has 2 hundreds in 10 first class games and averages 50. His List A record is also impressive as he averages 54 with a hundred already to his credit in 6 games. Shreyas looks primed for India debut sooner than they would have imagined but again it will be interesting to see if the selectors go for him in the upcoming tour to Bangladesh. Shreyas looks like a test prospect for India and I hope he is not thrown in too soon in that format.

Deepak Hooda (FC: 50.63, LA: 40.60)

Here is another youngster who has had an impressive beginning in first class cricket for Baroda. Deepak Hooda has 2 first class hundreds in 8 games at an impressive average of 50.63. He had a brilliant start to IPL for Rajasthan Royals but has fallen off the grid as the tournament progressed. Hooda has brilliant hand eye coordination and has shown that even at the age of just 20 he can hit long balls. Hooda looks a perfect middle order prospect for ODI/T20 format for India as he can bowl part time off spin if needed. Hooda is another brilliant find this season by Rajasthan who lead the way in unearthing good Indian talent.

Pawan Negi (FC: Bat – 27, Bowl – 42, LA: Bat – 6.00, Bowl – 33.66)

The Delhi left arm spinner who plays for CSK does not have enough FC experience at this point. The 22 year old though has shown enough spark in the T20 games to suggest that he could be a good back up for Ravi Jadeja in the shorter formats. Pawan is a good lower order bat and a good left arm spinner who has done well for CSK in IPL games. He needs to play more FC games for us to judge if he can represent the Indian team beyond T20’s and ODI games. Pawan has shown great talent with the bat which augurs well for India in the shorter format. Let’s hope that with experience he can become a good bowling all-rounder for India in all formats.

Sarfaraz Khan (FC: 23.75, List A: 29)

Young Sarfaraz is all of just 17 years of age and has been a revelation for RCB in IPL 2015. He has played couple of crucial innings for RCB this season and looks like a great prospect for team India in the future. Sarfaraz hasn’t played too many FC games to take his stats seriously. He is just 17 and has few more years to find his feet at this level. His talent is apparent but we need to make sure that he is not rushed to international cricket. Sarfaraz needs few years in FC cricket before he can be considered for Indian team and I hope that he gets there.

Yuzvendra Chahal (FC Bowling: 40.06, LA Bowling: 23.28)

Chahal is a good young leg-spinner who has held his own this season for RCB. The Haryana leg-spinner does not have earth shattering FC record but has a very good LA record. With India looking for a good leg-spin option in shorter format, Chahal can fit the bill. He has great control for the shorter formats and his economy rate of 3.98 in LA games show that he can be miserly as well. A bowler who can pick wickets and also keep the lids on the scoring is a perfect recipe for shorter format. The Indian selectors need to keep a close eye on him for the future as he can be a useful addition to the Indian ODI/T20 bowling line up.

Shreyas Gopal (FC Bat: 34.86, FC Bowl: 23.55)

Okay Shreyas Gopal hasn’t played many games for Mumbai Indians this season. In fact he just played one game at the start of the season and has not been considered again for MI in this season. Shreyas is a brilliant prospect for India in all formats. A leg-spinner with good control, Shreyas provides great variation the Indian team is looking for in the bowling lineup. Not only Shreyas is a good leg-spin option he also has 2 first class hundreds to his name at an average of 35 which makes him a very good option in tests and ODI. I included Shreyas because he is very talented even though we hardly saw him play this season. Hopefully the selectors are keeping an eye out form as he has performed brilliantly for Karnataka in Ranji trophy.

Honorable mention: Anureet Singh (FC Bowl: 26.67, LA Bowl: 23.36) and Jagadeesha Suchith

The above players might get a look in sooner if the selectors are going to send in an experimental squad to Bangladesh earlier next month. There are also others like Sanju Samson, Suryakumar Yadav, Sandeep Sharma and KM Jadav, who are consistent performers for their state sides over the years and have also performed excellently in the IPL who will be hoping to get a look in, in the upcoming tour. It will be interesting to see what team the BCCI decides to send to Bangladesh. The performance of Bangladesh against Pakistan at home would probably sway BCCI to send much more balanced squad this time but again there is scope for some experimentation. It will be interesting to see if any of the youngsters find a place in the ODI team. Sanju Samson, Sandeep Sharma, Anureet Singh and Kedar Jadav will be in the top of the pile as some regulars are expected to miss out.

Bowlers need to be nurtured, can BCCI step up?

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Since 2000, India has had embarrassment of riches as far as fast bowling talent is concerned. From no good fast bowling option in the previous two decades, India ended up with too many in the last 15 years or so. Even though we had lots of bowlers except for Javagal Srinath and Zaheer khan, none of the Indian fast bowlers managed to go past 200 test wickets in the last 20 years. India has always found it difficult to manage fast men, in spite of the overseas bowling coaches, the ability of the bowlers after a promising starts dwindles away after a year or so.

The fitness is an issue, they drop pace and in some cases they lose their swing too. The list is endless, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Nehra, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma etc. all fall under the same category. The recent interview of former Indian bowling coach Joe Dawes was interesting. He mentioned that the Indian bowlers bowl too much. The format they bowl in is also pertinent information. The 2 months of grueling IPL season followed by endless ODI games and then the CLT20 at the end of this year saps whatever energy the bowlers might have to be available for test cricket. Till the 90’s fast men used county cricket as their learning ground and were fairly successful at that.

India’s best two fast bowlers of the last 20 years Srinath and Zaheer owe their turnaround to county cricket. Srinath who was a one dimensional bowler until mid-90’s played a full season for Gloucestershire in 1995 and came back as a different bowler. Zaheer Khan who had lots of fitness and consistency issues came back a changed bowler after a full season of county cricket with Worcestershire in 2006. That trend has come to a halt now. Except for couple of short stints by Sreesanth and Agarkar, Indian players haven’t been allowed to play in county cricket by BCCI.

The Indian fast bowlers play in IPL instead which doesn’t help their development as test bowlers in any way. The jam packed international calendar means that the Indian bowlers don’t get to play in domestic first class games either. No wonder the Indian pacemen find it difficult to make an impact in the longer format as they have no experience bowling for that long. India’s current spearhead Mohd Shami who made his first class debut in 2010 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 12 are tests for India. Varun Aaron whose first class debut was way back in 2008 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 5 are tests. Mohit Sharma has 24 first class games to his credit, Ishant Sharma has 88 (61 of them are tests for India), Bhuvneshwar Kumar has 58 (First Class debut in 2007, 12 of 58 are tests) and Umesh Yadav has 40 (First class debut in 2008 and 12 of them are tests). So we see a pattern here.

Indian bowlers are over bowled in meaningless T20 games and ODI games which leave them no time to work on their chinks. The bowlers get paid hefty sum to get hit around the park in IPL, so they hardly have any motivation to work on their bowling at the test level. If India has any hopes of unearthing at least one good fast bowler, they need to keep these bowlers from playing in too many meaningless tournaments. After a long time India has finally found 3 bowlers who can bowl in upwards of 140 KMPH regularly with Aaron able to touch 150 KMPH. This is the right time for BCCI to invest in these bowlers and make sure they don’t fall by the wayside. India also has some young exciting fast bowlers like Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh who need to be nurtured.

It will be helpful for these bowlers to play in county cricket on helpful pitches to learn their trade rather than getting hammered around in the meaningless T20 leagues on flat pitches. These are exciting times for an Indian fan as for the first time we have bowlers who can bowl really fast but unless they are taken care properly we might lose them quicker than we realize. India’s international season starts right after the IPL and hopefully we will have the fast bowlers fit and available to be picked for India. The board and the coaches need to step up and work on keeping these bowlers fresh for international games. IPL is a good launch pad for young and upcoming players from domestic arena and it should stay that way. BCCI has enough finances to keep these young bowlers away from the T20 leagues and allow them to play more first class games which is the only way these bowlers are going to improve their skills. Let’s hope that things will change and the current crop can actually achieve what they set out to do and don’t become another Irfan or RP Singh.

A glittering career comes to an end

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It was 1991 and the game was India vs. Pakistan at Sharjah. I had never watched a cricket game before and I thought that Sachin was this young boy who just appeared with Kapil Dev in the Boost advertisement. Pakistan had batted first and score 257 in 50 overs and India was chasing a difficult score against a great bowling lineup. India had a great start but lost their way in the middle when this young boy walks in and plays a beautiful innings getting India close to the target. I still remember Sachin hammering Mushtaq Ahmed for two consecutive sixes and getting out trying to go for the third.

That was the day I got glued to the game of cricket and the reason for the same was the little master. Everyone knew that this young boy is going to be a great player then but even his strongest supporter would not have imagined what this great player went on to achieve in his 24 year career. Sachin Tendulkar gave the Indian fans lots to cheer in a particularly poor decade for Indian cricket. This was the phase where the Indian hopes in every game lay on just his wicket. The opposition knew that and so did every Indian fan. There were lots of fans who would just turn off their televisions as soon as their idol got out.

We need to understand that Sachin was still just a young man and to handle that amount of pressure was truly remarkable. I remember he was the only batsman who always looked at home even on the overseas tours when all his fellow team mates struggled to put bat on ball. The brilliant hundred in Perth and the fantastic innings in Johannesburg as a 19 year old were able testimony to the fact. Sachin had amazing composure for a young man and his balance at the crease was phenomenal. He did not have any noticeable weakness and even if he had he had the ability to iron them out before he stepped out to bat again.

 His child like enthusiasm for the game and his great dedication made him a stand out player of his generation. His achievements are there for everyone to see. In spite of enjoying a god like status in India, he still remains a humble human being. He has achieved everything a cricketer could dream of. The 2011 world cup win for sure completed his cricketing resume and for sure will give him utmost satisfaction. Sachin was also part of the world number 1 test team and his IPL team Mumbai Indians gave him a fitting send off with a CLT20 win.

It will be sad to see Sachin go. I have watched Sachin Tendulkar throughout his career and he has been part of my growing up years. As a cricket fan in the 90’s Sachin has given me lots of fond memories which I would always cherish. The brilliant hundred in Benoni, the desert storm innings, his brilliant performance in the 1996 world cup and many more such performances will forever be etched in my memory. Sachin Tendulkar will be sorely missed by every Indian cricket fan. It will be hard to imagine an Indian cricket team without the little master in the lineup. I hope that he has a great farewell in the final two tests he will be part of later next month.

I wish Sachin remains attached to the sport in some vicinity, imparting the vast cricketing knowledge he has. Thank You Sachin for all the great memories and as a diehard fan of yours I will for sure miss watching you don the Indian colors again.

Champions Trophy – Confusing team selection

The Indian team for the upcoming Champions Trophy was announced a few days back and there were for sure some surprises. The biggest surprise was the selection of Murali Vijay. Vijay had a great home series against Australia in tests but he hasn’t done anything for India in shorter format to inspire any confidence among the fans. He has struggled for CSK in the ongoing IPL season and does not look like a right candidate for the ODI’s.

The selector’s argument is that Vijay is technically equipped to see off the new ball in England but again is he the right candidate to accelerate in the ODI format is the question everyone has in their mind. This seemed in the lines of Rahul Dravid’s selection in the 2009 Champions Trophy. Gautham Gambhir should probably have been selected in the squad for some experience in the top of the order. Gambhir has struggled in the recent times in all forms of cricket but again in the absence of Sehwag, Gambhir would have been an ideal player to have in those conditions.

Dinesh Karthik’s selection raised little concerns considering his brilliant form in recent times. He has been in excellent form in domestic cricket and also has done brilliantly well for Mumbai Indians in the current IPL edition. Shikhar Dhawan is another expected selection as he has been in wonderful form recently. He has been in brilliant form after returning from injury for the SRH in the current IPL season. Irfan Pathan makes a comeback to the Indian team as the bowling all-rounder. His comeback was expected as the champions trophy is being held in England and a pace bowling all-rounder in the X1 is an asset.

Amit Mishra’s selection raised a few eyebrows too as India already have Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja already in the squad. Mishra has been in brilliant form and his IPL performances this year have probably forced the selectors to include him in the squad. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the overall picture considering India already have two inform spinners in the squad.

The bowling attack is on the expected lines. Ishant Sharma will be leading the pace attack in the absence of Zaheer Khan. Umesh Yadav is back in the squad after a long injury layoff and so is Bhuvneshwar Kumar after his brilliant performances in the home series against Pakistan and England. Ashwin will lead the spin attack with Jadeja taking the spin all-rounder spot. Vinay Kumar is yet another baffling selection. His good performances for RCB notwithstanding, he hasn’t done anything great in the past in Indian colors. Shami Ahmed who impressed one and all with his pace in the home series against England and Pakistan would have been a better choice. It will be a huge disappointment for the youngster to lose out after a good performance in the home series.

The team overall seems to light on experience especially in the batting department. The absence of Gambhir at the top of the order and Yuvraj in the middle will be a huge disadvantage for the team. In the absence of the experienced campaigners the onus will be completely on the trio of Dhoni, Raina and Kohli, since the rest of the batting order is either inexperienced or inconsistent.

The absence of Manoj Tiwary due to injury also played a part in selection but one would have expected Pujara to be selected in the squad to add some solidity. It will be very interesting to see the combination India would play in the tournament. It is going to be a tough tournament for India and it will be a challenging one for Dhoni and Fletcher to get the combination right.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik (wk), M Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Vinay Kumar

Can India take care of the new crop of fast bowlers?

Fast bowlers are a rare breed in India. India haven’t had many world class fast men and have only 3 bowlers in their entire cricketing history who have gone past 200 test wickets. Zaheer Khan is the last fast bowler who has gotten anywhere close to being world class. In the 90’s India struggled to find a decent third seamer to consolidate the good first spells of Srinath and Prasad but at the end of the decade there were some promising additions. Zaheer was the first to emerge in 2000, followed by a plethora of young fast men who promised a lot but faltered to deceive in the long run.

The problem with the Indian pace men over the years has been their fitness. Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Sreesanth etc.  All began their career with lots of promise bowling quick and swinging the ball. But none of them were able to convert their earlier promise into performance over a sustained period of time. The trend is extremely disturbing. The emphasis on fitness is something which seems to be lacking in these fast men. Within just a year in international cricket, these bowlers have lost their fitness, pace and ability to swing the ball.

The number seems to be increasing over the years. In 2007 India possessed one of the best pace attack for a long time. Zaheer, Sreesanth and RP Singh bowling in the excess of 135 KMPH and swinging the ball both ways was a great sight for an Indian fan. The joy just lasted for a year before RP Singh lost his way and pace. Sreesanth has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Ishant Sharma who bowled India’s fastest delivery in Australia and troubled the best batsmen in business with his length and bounce has lost the attributes which made him an instant success in his first year of international cricket.

It is hard to understand how a cricketing board can turn deaf to the problems causing this decline of the fast bowlers. Fitness is an important aspect for a bowler in International cricket. It is also important for the bowlers to keep evolving and learn new tricks as they advance their careers. The Indian pace men have faltered on both counts. The reason can be many and one of the most important reasons in the recent times has been the excessive cricket the bowlers have been subjected to. The IPL/CLT20 followed by countless international games can only break a bowler.

 Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav spend more time recouping from an injury than to play for their country. Playing excessive T20 games also gives no option for the bowlers to work on their bowling. The Indian board has to realize that Zaheer’s stint in county cricket in England was the reason for his evolution as one of the best bowler in the world for about 4 years. The BCCI has blocked that avenue too. The county cricket can be a great learning ground for these bowlers and will be much more beneficial than playing in meaningless T20 games in India.

Now we again have talented new crop of bowlers like B Kumar and Shami Ahmed and it will be interesting to see how the board handles these bowlers. The BCCI have the finances and resources to keep the promising Indian bowlers away from the T20 leagues and keep them fresh for International cricket. It will be great to have Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, B Kumar, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Shami Ahmed fit and available for an international series. Constant cricket can only be detrimental to Indian cricket future. If India needs to become a force to reckon with at the international level we need a pool of good pace bowlers and this is the time to preserve the resources we have.

Selectors need to look past Rohit Sharma

When Rohit Sharma walked into bat in the 2008 Commonwealth Bank Series final in Australia, India were in a bit of strife. Chasing 240 to win India were 87/3 in the 20th over. Rohit Sharma joined a set Sachin Tendulkar in the middle and played one of the most mature innings you would see a youngster play. Rohit was only 20 then and the kind of composure and confidence he showed at the crease made everyone think that here is a guy for the future.

Unfortunately for the Indian cricket team and fans Rohit was never able to consistently replicate that performance in the 5 years he has been part of the Indian set up. The 2007/08 season was probably the best time in Rohit’s career as a player. Rohit Sharma has received unanimous support from the selectors and the team management over the years but he hasn’t been able to fulfill the early promise he had shown. In the last few years he has been able to sparingly remind the Indian cricket fans what he is capable of but has lacked consistency.

Table 1:

Performances of Indian batsmen since Rohit’s debut:

stats1

The above table further emphasizes Rohit’s struggle with the bat. He features near bottom of the table just ahead of Rahul Dravid and R Jadeja. Rohit’s struggle with the bat can be attributed to his lack of temperament. His constant swipes across the line to straight deliveries and playing ridiculous shots to get out after a decent start shows that he does not have the temperament to play at this level.

Rohit needs a break from International cricket and needs to play couple of seasons in domestic cricket. There are lots of players in domestic cricket who haven’t received the kind of chances Rohit has in the past few years and they would be feeling hard done by the selectors. Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu and Manoj Tiwary need long run in the ODI team and it is time we look past Rohit Sharma in the ODI squad.

Rohit is a great talent but talent alone isn’t sufficient to succeed at the highest level. The Mumbai batsman needs to work on the mental aspect of his game to be successful at the highest level. The only way he can do that is to play lot of games away from international cricket. If possible Rohit should consider playing county cricket for a season if he is offered an opportunity. Rohit can still be India’s future middle order batsman in all formats but at this point he is not the answer to our batting woes.

5 years and 86 games is a long time to judge a player and I feel Rohit has been given enough time to succeed and now is the time to reprise the same faith on other youngsters to see how they do.

Indian T20 team needs a revamp

The Indian team’s performance in the World T20 was not a bad one but the think tank must now think ahead. The biggest problem for India in the championship was their bowling. The next T20 world cup is in 2014 and this is time for India to build for that tournament. The fact that India improved quite a lot from the last two editions should not pull down the wool over the frailties of the bowling attack.

The Indian team was highly reliant on Ashwin and Yuvraj with the ball and the new ball pair of Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan was not consistent enough. The rest of spin attack wasn’t given that many opportunities but again the sight of Chawla and Harbhajan with the ball did not instill the necessary confidence among the Indian fans. The Indian batting too struggled with the consistency. The lack of runs from the openers was a huge disappointment and it is time for India to look past Sehwag in the T20 format.

India needs to probably take the queue out of the 2007 T20 world cup. The team was in shambles after the shock exit from the World Cup and the decision to go to South Africa with a young team worked wonders. I am not sure if Dhoni is the right captain for this format either. He is good but probably the time has come to bite the bullet and make Kohli the captain of the T20 team. India also needs to identify a good wicket keeper for this format. The name of Robin Uthappa comes to mind immediately. He did keep wickets for Royal Bangalore Challengers in the IPL and he is pretty good with the bat too. Ambati Rayudu is another player who will be excellent in this format and he kept wickets too for Mumbai Indians in the IPL.

Ajinkya Rahane needs to get a look in as an opener. The bowling too needs a rethink. It is hard to imagine Zaheer and Balaji playing in the 2014 T20 world cup, so I guess India need to unearth some quality pacers suited for this format. Varun Aaron comes to mind and he seems well suited for the shorter format. The spin combination too needs to be rethought too. Piyush Chawla isn’t consistent enough in this format to be a regular, so probably someone like Rahul Sharma can get a look in. He has the bowling style of Anil Kumble and can be more suited to this form of the game than Piyush. Again like Zaheer it is hard to imagine Harbhajan playing for India in the T20 World cup in 2014.

India needs to look to have a young set of players in the T20 format and needs to implement the same starting immediately. Even though people will argue that 4 wins out of 5 isn’t a bad result, the team combination just did not look right. The selection by the team management wasn’t smart either in the individual games but those are just in the hindsight now. India hasn’t been great in this format for a long time now and the selection committee needs to completely revamp this side with some young blood. The selection committee has changed and possibly will have some tough decision to take in the coming months. Let’s hope that the committee comes in with some fresh ideas and gets the right kind of people for this format.

Sehwag, Dhoni, Harbhajan and Zaheer have been brilliant for India over the years but the time has come for them to bid adieu to this format. They are still the key players for India in the other two formats but realistically India needs to look past these legends keeping the 2014 world cup in mind.