October 20 (for lack of a better title)
Anyway, what can be said about the 2nd test? To be totally fair to the Indians, the rain robbed them. I know the players (specially the two captains) have been diplomatically talking about the game being 50-50 going into the last day etc, but personally I think we had the thing in the bag and everyone knew it. The hard part was the 4th day last session which Yuvi and Sehwag managed to last out (Yuvi getting a life off a botched chance in slips) ... once they survived the 4th day without a loss or two, the fifth day was always gonna belong to India, 5th day pitch or not. Except for the rain, of course. Now we can only speculate about what might have happened .... ;-(
A lot has been said about Warne's first 5 wicket haul in tests in India etc etc etc ... sounds very nice but look at the 6 he took in the 2nd test - Yuveraj, Sehwag, Patel, Pathan, Kumble and Harbhajan. Except for Sehwag (who thwacked him around a fair bit), none of the others are really a wicket to be proud of. His first test haul (if it can be called thus) was much better in quality simply coz he took out VVS twice. So he took the world record .... so what? He was so close that if he hadn't crossed it, he really should go back to Australia. See, Warne is a great bowler and I love watching him on the field of play ... but his record against India is still atrocious and the 5 wicket haul changes nothing ... that is all I want to say.
Kumble was magnificent, however. I have had the chance to criticize Kumble a lot in the past, specially before the Australian tour (when we went there, I mean) but since the Australian tour, he really seems to have started a second innings in his career. Australia was supposed to be his swansong, in the minds of many of his critics (including me) coz he has that record of doing nothing special abroad and he hadn't been doing anything special for some time before that ... but he did good in Australia and since then has continued doing better every time in tests. Good for India ... bad for the opponents. Murali Karthik and Ramesh Powar etc came into the spotlight for a brief time simply coz Bhajji was injured and Kumble was not performing well ... but with Kumble's performance in the past few series and Bhajji's performance in the first test, I think Murali Karthik etc can prepare themselves to spend another two years out of cricket. That is the point of taking advantage when one gets the opportunity ... it is said that Karthik hasn't been treated fairly and that he gets too few chances spaced out between long intervals. There might be truth to the allegation but if he had taken advantage of whatever few chances he got, he would be in the hunt ... now he simply has to sit back and wonder when another golden opportunity might arise when one of the main spinners is in a very very bad run and the other injured. Pathan is an example ... when he played in Australia, he played coz of the injury to Zaheer ... then the other bowlers screwed up and Balaji got his chance ... and the way they both grabbed it, by the time the regular bowlers came back, they were relagated to fighting for the 3rd bowler's spot in the ODIs. That is called taking one's chances. Murali Karthik can blame his stars but if he is a fair man, he also would be blaming his own ineptitude at taking his chances.
Fate does play strange games ... just as I was typing about Murali Karthik and the chances he got (and didn't take), suddenly in my mind flashed the image of a short, young man with a mischevous smile. India has probably seen its worst keeping for a long time in the past one year or so and it has all been Patel (talking solely of tests here). He has stooped to lower levels almost every time he has stepped onto the field and one is left wondering when he reaches rock bottom. On the other hand, in the same period India has also discovered its best wicketkeeper batsman for a long time. This kid can bat and he has been showing it consistently for the past few series. He is short in stature but not short of guts and while he won't ever be a Gilchrist (he just isn't a good enough bat though he is miles better than the other options tried out in the past ... my frank opinion), here we have a wicket keeper who we can expect to maintain a healthy average of 30 - 35 in test matches. Really, it seems easily attainable, seeing the way he has batted in Australia, Pakistan and now in the first two tests.
Many might argue that the wicketkeeper's main job is to keep wickets and not really to maintain an average of 30 with the bat ... I would agree to this assessment when talking about tests while I wouldn't in case of ODIs (I am a big supporter of Dravid keeping wickets in ODIs) simply coz the damage caused by incompetant wicketkeeping can be deadly in a test match ... in an ODI, the damage will mostly be minimal ... hey, as it is the guy has only a max of 50 overs to screw up for ... how much can he achieve on the screw-up meter? Not much and certainly not something that cannot be repaired!!!
However, this is where the short-sightedness of the Indian team management comes in. They played a game between India (Seniors) and India-A just before the series, where they could have checked out the other two keeping options available; Dinesh Karthick and MS Dhoni. They knew wicket keeping was a problem area and needs a solution; they decided not to play Karthick in the match and MS Dhoni never got to keep to Kumble and Bhajji .... what would have been the big deal had MS Dhoni been made the keeper of the India (Seniors) team? It was a practice game, for heaven's sakes. Then itself, it was evident that Patel would continue to keep wickets until something drastic happened.
People can argue that something drastic has already happened and that Patel has already touched the nadir .... but it cannot be denied that in a team comprising of struggling batsmen, his runs (as have Pathan's) have come in very handy indeed. Yes, a keeper's job is to keep wickets first and score later but when VVS, Ganguly and Yuveraj are batting like they are right now, hey, a 50 from Patel is like a goldmine. Who can afford to let that go? Yes, Dinesh Karthick and MS Dhoni are both supposed to know how to wield a bat but who can afford to find out if that is fact or fiction? Let VVS get back his touch and let SRT come back into the team ... then we can see what the other keepers can do ... till then no chance.
Patel's stars are shining ... that is the best way of summing it up. Optimists can also point out that the only way for him is up since he cannot go any lower ... but I am not so sure of that. Seriously, I keep for kicks when we play cricket in office (unless they make me 12th man and then I carry water bottles) and I could have collected stuff that was bouncing out of Patel's gloves every now and then. Sheesh!!!
As of now, SRT is supposed to make a comeback in the 3rd test ... though he will undergo a fitness test, they seem to be sure of his being OK ... at least, that is the way it sounds to me. He is supposed to have had a practice session yesterday (Tuesday) and will be tested properly today. It has been widely quoted in the media that the physio / coach / captain all have been talking about the final decision being with Sachin and that he was the best person to judge etc. While SRT's opinion of his own fitness is obviously of great value, the statement as such is nonsense and I don't know why they have to talk like that. If a player (yes, even SRT) himself can judge these things, then why are we paying the physio / team doctor etc etc etc? Obviously, the issue will be decided with full discussions between the player / physio / doctor etc ... I have no doubts about that ... but when statements like this r given, it pisses me off coz it doesn't really mean anything. It just sounds good, that is all.
Anyway, in my mind at least, I am already counting in SRT for the third test and so obviously we are in with a problem. Kaif did well in the 2nd test and Yuvi screwed up but Yuvi is the captain's boy so he might not be chucked out so easily ... and u can't chuck out Kaif when he made 60 odd runs and saved India's bacon. So what do u do? This was precisely the possibility I had raised in my post before the 2nd test and here it is, a reality!!!
Really, if SRT comes back, the game is up - in this series at least - for Yuvi. It will break Ganguly's heart but it is bye bye Yuvi for the third test if SRT plays. Yes, Yuvi can still open and Kaif go out but that would be so brazenly partisan that I can't believe it will happen. So does that mean welcome back, Akash Chopra? No sir ... no way .... Chopra is not the captain's blue eyed boy ... why the hell will he come in ... my prediction here - Yuveraj goes out, Chopra doesn't come in ... Patel opens and Kaif plays at 7 . There, I said it!!! I have had a great record in wrong predictions but I somehow believe this is what will happen.
Pathan broke down for the first time in his short career and won't play the 3rd test. Yes, he has bowled a lot in the short time he has played in the India team but still, when one has such a sound bench strength in terms of physio / trainer / doctor etc, this shouldn't be happening. Dravid plays many marathon innings, keeps in ODIs and stands crouched in slips all day long in tests. I haven't seen him yet breaking down ... agreed that the physical strains of a fast bowler are different from what I just mentioned but still ... it is not necessary (as a rule) for our fast bowlers to break down and I don't think we can simply shrug it away with a "too much cricket" comment. That is just taking the easy way out ... before we had the trainer / physio / doctor team as part of the official team entourage, I think we used to have lesser number of injuries. Hey, to top it all, we are just coming out of a break in cricket ... its not like we have been playing non-stop cricket for the past 8 months.
Anyway, this one is a big loss. Apart from his bowling, his batting has really saved India in recent times ... I repeat, he will never be a centuries man .... frank opinion, he isn't that good and I doubt if he will be ... but like Patel, I think he is one guy who can easily maintain a consistent average of 30-35 in tests. But he is lost to injury and we may yet live to regret that loss.
Nehra comes in to replace Pathan but Nehra is a lottery .... with Zaheer also being a lottery currently (yes, I read reports too of his bowling well etc but still if he doesn't get wickets, then what is the use) I think Agarkar has the best chance among the fringe bowlers of getting a game. Zaheer will play for sure and I for one am certain it will be Agarkar who will be opening the bowling with him. I have been yattering since the beginning of the series that Agarkar can cut Langer down before he can do damage and that makes it worth it to keep Aggu in the team .... and finally I think my theory will be tested out.
Will post when more details emerge. All that I have written is pure conjecture at this point of time and hopefully within a day or two, it will be known if SRT is fit enough, whether Kaif has recovered from his dehyderation or whatever it was (hmmm ... the fittest player in the team is the one to go down .... geez) and what kind of plans the team management have for sorting out the Kaif / Yuveraj / Chopra situation.
To end this post, a non cricket item which I can't help but talk about. Since I am in Hyderabad, I have had my eye (no, not romantically, thank you) on a young tennis star called Sania Mirza for the past two years. She is 17 now, gonna turn 18 in November. The papers here really focus on her a lot and that is something newspapers editors in other cities can really learn from ... if one's own city doesn't support (even through publicity) a sportsperson then who will? Anyway, after Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, India finally have a female tennis star ranked inside the top 200. "Sure", I can hear a few of u snicker, "Top 200 ... ain't that great??? We should be ashamed to be making a noise about this". Anyway, shamed I am not coz from hope comes optimism (or is that the other way around) and Sania Mirza has been giving us hope for the past year or two (at least those who follow the Hyderabad papers ... recently even Rediff has started following her fortunes). News is that she will most probably get a wild card for the Australian Open next year (January 2005). She lost in the finals of a tournament, the winner of which gets a wild card to the Australian Open ... and the winner of that tournament, a Chinese girl, has a good enough ranking to make it to the open on her own without the help of a wild card. Which means - the losing finalist gets it. Get ready to see an Indian representation (nopes, the Uberoi sisters can't be yet called that) in the Australian Open.
Till the next post, Cheers.