The 2007-08 Cricket Season - Update
The first skirmishes of the 2007-08 cricket season are nearly over. England have indeed turned the corner, continuing their impressive ODI year with a series victory over Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. South Africa have won their first Away series victory against a top team other than the West Indies since they won in India (Cronje led them). India have reached a point in their home series against Australia where they can at best draw the series.
Inzamam Ul Haq's career which had to have a sadly leased ending, ended without a bang. It was all set up on the last day, but the underrated Paul Harris snared him second ball. It also brought Inzamam's career average below 50 - compounding the injustice to the great man. The last former captain to be selected for a game on the understanding that it would be his "farewell" game was Mohammad Azharuddin at Bangalore against South Africa, and he made a century.
Paul Harris was South Africa's bowler of the series in my view. He took 12 wickets at 20.66 (the numbers matter - he took lots of wickets and took them cheaply). This in my view ought to get all those Indian fans who were so abusive of a couple of very skilled batsmen during the Cape Town second innings think. Harris is turning out to be a really good bowler.
India should have been favorites for the home series against Australia, but proceeded to concede 280+ in 4 consecutive ODI games (this is becoming such a habit, that nobody thinks conceding 280 is the result of poor bowling anymore), losing 2 of them (would have lost 3 if it hadn't rained in Bangalore). Yet, typically, the debate amongst the pundits is about "carrying" the seniors. The way ahead apparently is to phase out the seniors to compensate for the poor, inconsistent showing from the fast bowlers - which is the weak link in the current Indian side. The one time when that weak link demonstrated that it was not quite so weak, India won in England. Contrary to phasing out the seniors, the idea ought to be to find ways to lengthen the careers of the seniors - by allowing them to pick and choose tournaments (ODI games, not Test matches), so that India don't get hammered too often and yet give themselves the opportunity to find new players. That Australia lost the one game where they matched India's bowling in terms of profligacy, should merely underline the fact that the bowlers have let India down in 11 consecutive ODI games now - 7 in England and 4 in India. Even by playing two spinners, and even if those two spinners bowl reasonably well (and they have), India cannot hope to carry two new ball bowlers and win an ODI game against good opposition.
Rahul Dravid is short of runs in Tests and ODIs, after 7 phenomenal years where he established himself as one of India's finest ever batsmen. It would be foolish and shortsighted to drop him in favor of someone who hacked his way to fame in Twenty20 and is not worthy of cleaning Dravid's boots as far as serious batting stakes go. There ought to be no question of dropping him. Dropping Dravid won't be the "hard" decision that so many claim it will be. It will be a silly decision, which will hurt India. This business of giving youngsters "chances" - is as damaging to the youngsters as it is to the Indian team. Spots have to be earned. If a young batsman comes along with 1500 runs in this year's Ranji season and a century against a touring side, and then makes the squad (not the eleven mind you, the squad), that will be how it should be. Utthappa, Gambhir and co have done nothing to deserve Dravid's spot in serious cricket. We have to realize the phenomenally high standard which has been set in the Indian middle order. Yuvraj Singh is approaching that standard. The Indian middle order batsman has to be amongst the best in the world. In my view, at the moment we have two candidates for middle order slots who are head and shoulders above the rest - Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag. Both have proven their ability in international cricket and have a good claim on a middle order spot. Badrinath, if reports about him are true, may follow. But "isko bhi chance do" is a one way ticket to cricketing mediocrity. We ought not to confuse form with class and quality.
Speaking of quality, Munaf Musa Patel destroyed the Mumbai line up on the third day of the Irani Trophy at Rajkot to set up a thumping win for Rest Of India. Badrinath and Kaif didn't make too many runs. Parthiv Patel made a terrific century, and we might soon see the bizarre phenomenon of an Indian side with three wicketkeepers in it! One has to commend the selectors eye - they picked him at a very young age as a prodigious talent, and even though his wicket keeping went downhill, he keeps providing evidence that he is above the level of the average Ranji cricketer. That Patel opened the batting is indicative of his clear eye on Dinesh Karthik or Wasim Jaffer's spot.
England showed the value of quality fast bowling in Sri Lanka. Their bowlers rarely let three high quality batsmen - Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and Sangakkara dictate terms to them, and their sustained accuracy brought them wickets and control on the run rate. Yet, these were the very same bowlers that Zaheer and co. out bowled in the Test series in England recently. Can we really refrain from asking serious questions of Venkatesh Prasad any more? It is time for India to find a head coach and possibly a replacement for Venkatesh Prasad - his public rant against Munaf Patel should have been the telling straw.
India tour Pakistan next, England and Sri Lanka play a Test series and South Africa and Pakistan play an ODI series. Pakistan have cleared the ground for Shoaib Akthar to be available for that series. The "one last chance" saga continues. It is amazing how everything else recedes into the background when India play Pakistan, even though it is true that this series is gradually losing its edge.
The biggest story in the last two weeks though, is Inzamam Ul Haq's retirement. I leave you with Osman Samiuddin's comment about the dazzling batsman's reassuring presence. Several former players bid him farewell. An era has come to an end for Pakistan cricket.