My “Almost There” Indian Test 11

Do we ever think of those cricketers who missed out on selection because of stalwarts ? Or those who did not get enough chances to make their mark as Test players?

I tried to select what I call “My almost there Indian Test 11”. Selection criteria is players I have seen, who have not played Test cricket or have played less than 25 Test matches. Hence legends like Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel are not in this list.

Openers

Shiv Sundar Das and Aakash Chopra are both classical openers. Das who played only 23 Tests is the very definition of what Sunny Gavaskar has said about Test Cricket – “Give the 1st hour to bowlers, next 5 hours is yours”. Greg Chappell was on record that Das was the fittest Indian cricketer. He held his own against an Australian attack led by Mcgrath and a South African attack led by Pollock. After only one average series versus West Indies he was dropped from the playing 11. In England however he did not play a single Test and thereafter did not get a chance. Sadly, his last knock for team India was 253 versus Essex, perhaps the last to hit a Double hundred in England.

Aakash Chopra was the perfect foil to dasher Virendra Sehwag. He played only Ten Tests and was unlucky not to continue for long, A failed experiment to have Yuvraj as opener followed by successful discovery of long term player Gautam Gambhir saw Aakash out of the squad. He has since discovered his calling in the world of media.

Middle order bats: Amol Mazumdar, Yere Goud, Praveen Amre and Mohd Kaif ( Captain)

Amol was the schoolboy with pads on when Sachin and Kambli scripted a 664 run record partnership. He started his Ranji career with a glorious 260 and went on to score more than 11000 First class runs @48 with 30 tons but was definitely unlucky to play for India not even once. Just his bad luck that Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly chose the same time to play for India

Yere Goud was called the Rahul Dravid of Railways team by Javagal Srinath. He had more than 7500 Ranji Trophy runs @45 with 16 tons but was unlucky not to play for India.

Amre made his Test debut for India at 24 and scored a century on debut in hostile Durban. Yet, only 1 year later, he played the last of his 11 Tests for India. What a huge loss that this talented cricketer could not play more Tests.

Mohd Kaif is one of the 3 Successful U-19 World Cup winning Indian Captains. He will always be remembered for his 75 ball 87 which helped India chase down 326 in 2002 Natwest Final. Kaif played only 13 Tests for India and promised much but could not continue. He had a match-saving 91 vs England and a 148 not out vs West Indies at St Lucia. Interesting aside is that in the press conference which followed Kaif’s 148, MS Dhoni sat with the reporters and had asked him how he will celebrate his ton. Kaif  replied that he will do so only if India wins the Test Match.  Sad that this team man could not play long for India

Wicket keeper. Sadanand Vishwanath starred in the 1985 World Championship of cricket. He was mesmerising and Aussie media prophesized that he will be India’s best ever. He unfortunately faded away after only 3 Tests and was replaced by Kiran More and Chandrakant Pandit.

Pace bowlers Munaf Patel, Vivek Razdan and Subrato Bannerjee .

Munaf who played just 13 Tests had both pace and control. He played a crucial role in 2011 World Cup, but could not play more Tests. Razdan too played just 2 Tests and in his second took 5-79 vs Pakistan in Pakistan. How strange that he took 5 wickets in his last Test innings and was dropped thereafter.  Subroto Bannerjee played just One Test match and bowled in 1 innings taking 3 wicket, that too those of Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh. He never played for India again. How unlucky can that be?

Spinner  Laxman Sivaramakrishna is in by edging out Narendra Hirwani. Siva’s most famous moment in cricketing history is getting Javed Miandad out stumped by Vishwanath in the 1985World Championship of Cricket tournament. He played Test cricket at 17, but could play only 9 Tests. I feel he could have been a mega star but it was not to be.

Do you agree with my “Almost 11” What’s yours ?

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Thoughts on transition from U-19 Cricket to senior team

India and West Indies will contest the final of the U-19 World Cup on February 14. A thought came to me on U-19 cricket in general, whether transition to senior team is easy/difficult and how many made it. Here goes;

Can we choose a current 16 member Indian team for both Test matches and One day Internationals exclusively from players who have played U-19 Cricket for India since 2000. Selection is quite easy. Openers slot is occupied by Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa. For middle order batsmen we have Virat Kohli, Mohd Kaif, Yuvraj, Pujara and Suresh Raina. Rayudu and Venugopal Rao miss out. The two wicket keepers are Dinesh Karthick and Ajay Ratra. Sanju Samson misses out. Ratra i have chosen as i feel he should have been given a longer rope instead of  going in for Parthiv Patel . For spinners we have Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla while for pace bowlers we have RP Singh, VRV Singh and Jaidev Unadkat. This team of 16 seems like a strong team indeed and shows that U-19 cricket in India does go on to produce cricketers capable of graduating to the highest level.

My interest in U-19 Indian team is from my schooldays when my close friend Ranjib Biswal went to Australia for the youth World Cup in 1988. Members of the team who went on to play for India were Praveen Amre, Subroto Bannerjee, Narendra Hirwani, Nayan Mongia and Venkatpathi Raju. Ranjib too i am sure would have played for India for a few years before Harbhajan Singh burst into the scene. However he quit the game at 25 after becoming Lok Sabha MP. Currently a Rajya Sabha MP he played 1st class cricket for 10 years from age of 15 to 25 and had the unique record of being a sitting Lok Sabha MP who was captain of a Ranji and Duleep Trophy Team. Later of course he became National selector and Manager of the senior team for a glorious period of 18 months when India became Test Number 1 team as well as ODI World Champions.

Coming back to U-19 cricket, those days media was not so active nor cricket the multi-crore industry as it is nowadays. If one sees the last decade, we can note increasing focus on the Junior team and many of the players have gone on to play for India. A brief look at the history of U-19 cricket will throw up interesting points.

The 1988 Youth World Cup incidentally was an U-18 tournament. Then there was a gap of 10 years before ICC made it an U-19 World Cup and restarted it in 1998. The 1988 Tournament itself had some youngsters who went on to become the biggest stars in world cricket. I have named the Indian stars above. Some of the stars of other countries are Brian Lara ( Yes, Lara himself was West Indies U-18 captain in 1988 youth world Cup), Jimmy Adams, Ridley Jacobs, Inzamam Ul Haq, Mike Atherton, Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharne, Stuart Law, Chris Cairns, Nasser Hussein and Mark Ramprakash. So wasn’t it a shame that the tournament was discontinued for 10 years? I am sure you will agree it was probably a blunder.

Anyways, after the ICC restarted the U-19 world cup, Australia and India have been the most successful teams with 3 titles each, while Pakistan has won twice, and England and South Africa have won once each. In 1998 when the tournament restarted England won the title, but the shining Star of the event was Chris Gayle. In 2000, India won under captaincy of Mohd Kaif, and man of the series was none other than Yuvraj Singh. Subsequent U-19 World Cups also led to emergence of major talents of world cricket such as Cameron White, Tim Southee and Tatenda Taibu and our very own Virat Kohli.

Is success guaranteed once someone plays the U-19 level for his country and the World Cup. No, it is only the beginning. It is a tough Transition and is not that easy to move on from U-19 cricket to the national team. The pressure, the stress and strain is enormous. Here the most horrifying story is of Jamie Grove of England, who was a member of the victorious English World Cup U-19  winning team of 1998. After he went for 20 runs in a T20 final in 2003 he was given death threats, people used to call him up saying they will rape his wife. Yet his Club refused to allow him to go to the police, finally simply putting a line in the club website that they stood by him. Jamie obviously says “that is not the support i was looking for”. Other stories of course are not as horrifying and are more of maybe missed opportunities. There are many instances of players who were supposed to make it very big in world cricket but just could not do so, such as Owais Shah who has played only 4 Tests and our very own Unmukt Chand, who has played none. We can also include Ambati Rayudu and Reetinder Singh Sodhi as U-19 players who promised much but could not come up to potential.

Coming back to present tournament India’s route to final has been Ireland, New Zealand, Nepal, followed by Quarter Final versus Namibia and  Semi Final versus Sri Lanka. Final is versus West Indies. India will try for their 4th Cup while West Indies will try for their 1st. While one may devalue Namibia and Sri Lanka as opponents, one should not as they reached there by knocking out defending champions South Africa and former Champions England.  The Indian youngsters who are Stars to watch out for are Rishabh Pant, Sarfraz Khan, Armaan Zaffer, Avesh Khan and MK Lomror. I am sure some of them will go on to play for the senior Indian team in future.

One last issue to be discussed here is whether U-19 players should be allowed to play in IPL. 2015 started the trend with Sarfraz Ahmad being “bought” for 50 Lakhs by RCB. This year he was retained. From 1 player in 2015 from the current U 19 team , as many as 6 were selected for IPL teams, 3 for their base price for 10 Lakhs, captain Ishan for 35 lakhs and Opener Rishabh Pant for an astronomical Rs 1.9 crore. The 6th of course is Sarfraz. Dilip Vengsarkar our respected former Captain and Chairman of Selectors has said that U-19 players should not be allowed to play in IPL and this is a major reason for rampant practice of age fraud going on. Rahul Dravid the U-19 coach has also indirectly said that the players should concentrate on cricket only. Whatever decision is taken by BCCI, they should ensure that the route to Indian team should be U-19 and 1st class cricket rather than U-19 and IPL. Since so many stars have come up successfully through the 1st class route, this should definitely not be tampered with, and if it is being done so, should be stopped. I hope BCCI thinks deep on this issue and comes up with practical, acceptable solution for all stakeholders. My personal view is that let youngsters complete their U-19 and then be eligible for IPL for two reasons, 1- that T20 may affect their skills sets, 2- They may be rushed into international cricket without adequate 1st class experience and 3 – too much money at early age they may not be able to handle

Seeing the interest the current tournament has evoked , certain random thoughts came to mind as above which i thought i will pen down. Right now, the focus is on the 2016 World Cup U-19 final on 14th February. India has done well so far and one last effort is required to win the final. Come on team India. Chak de, Jai ho. …….

Romance of a 4th innings Knock in Test Cricket

Image result for vvs laxman imagesIan Chappell says “I haven’t seen better batting in the 4th innings than Virat Kohli’s enterprising century at Adelaide Oval , where he narrowly missed guiding India to an incredible victory in 2014”. Ian, an aggressive Captain played 75 Tests and the term “Ugly Australians” which stuck was first applied to his team.

Ian’s statement means simply that batting in the 4th innings is special.

Why? After all, batting 1st in a Test match should be tough too. The bowlers are fresh and can make best use of early morning freshness of the wicket, when it “has more juice”`. Let us see what W.G.Grace and Sunny Gavaskar have said on this topic.

To quote Grace, “When you win the toss- bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague- then bat”.

As per Gavaskar, “Bat first, give one hour to the bowlers, next five hours are yours.”

The positive point of batting first is that initially after the storm has been weathered, one can enjoy batting as the wicket will help the batsman. Statistically too if we see the batting averages of almost all great batsmen, their batting averages in the 1st innings is distinctly higher than their batting averages in the 4th innings of a test match.

What about batting in the 2nd and 3rd innings of a Test.  Conventionally speaking, the wicket on the morning of the 1st day of a test match offers some assistance to the quick bowlers and then eases out. On the 2nd and 3rd day, the wicket is at its best. On the 4th day it starts assisting the spinners. Finally on the 5th day batting becomes difficult on a wearing track. Classically speaking therefore, batting is easier in the 2nd and 3rd innings of a test match than in the 1st.

What is different about the 4th innings of a test match? Many factors come into play such as a wearing pitch, sharper turn, unpredictable bounce, target to chase, past history, demons in mind and so on. Due to one/all or combination of these factors, we see lesser scores in the 4th innings than in other innings.

No wonder, in Test cricket’s history only 27 batsmen have scored more than 1000 runs in the 4th innings. Only 6 have an Average of above 50. They are Younis Khan (60.2), Geoff Boycott (58.7), Sunny Gavaskar (58.5), Graeme Smith (53.7), Gordon Greenidge (53.2) and Ricky Ponting (50.4),

Interestingly two great batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara do not have great 4th innings records at all. Sachin has statistically the maximum test runs at 1625 but the average is only 36.93. Lara has 1404 test runs @ 35.1. Three other greats namely Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis and VVS Laxman have 1552 @ 40.84, 1293 @ 40.31 and 1095 @40.56 respectively.

Lets also take a look at Test tons scored in 4th innings. Only Younis Khan has 5 while Graeme Smith, Sunny Gavaskar, Ricky Ponting and Ramnaresh Sarwan have 4 each. Sachin has three and Lara has two.

Who are my top five 4th Innings batsmen?

Image result for sunil gavaskar images

Do Boycott with an average of 58.76 and three 100’S and  Gavaskar with an average of 58.25 with four 100’s select themselves ? For me, Gavaskar does but Graeme Smith edges out Boycott simply because of his match-winning feats in the last innings of a Test match. Smith has 27 test tons, 19 in winning causes and 8 in draws. Incredibly South Africa has never lost a Test where Smith has a ton. This master finisher and warrior has 4 tons in 4th innings and all 4 were wins.

Ricky Ponting is next at with an average of 50.3 and 4 100’s. He is followed by Younis Khan who has an average of 60 plus and has five 100’s in 4th innings.  Younis is the only test cricketer to score three back to back 4th innings test hundreds.

Image result for vvs laxman rahul dravid images

VVS Laxman despite a 4th innings average of only 40 is my Number 5. He has figured in two thrilling chases. From 124/8 versus Australia, Laxman with 73 not out too took India to winning target of 216 with Ishant Sharma for company. In the second, VVS with 103 not out helped India chase 257 versus Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Laxman also had a matchwinning 96 in the 3rd innings of a test at Durban and the epic 281 at Eden, which maybe changed teams views of enforcing follow-on forever. Hence for me, he easily edges out others.

Two thoughts come to mind? Is it that batting has become easier in the recent past with pitches remaining true. If one sees the history of test cricket, out of the 49 scores of 350 plus in the 4th innings, 21 are in the last 10 years. 9 Out of 49 resulted in wins out of which 4 are in last 10 years. We are also often seeing 4th day finishes which means the 5th day does not come into equation. So has the value of a 4th innings knock slightly decreased?

I leave these thoughts for you to reflect on.

It would be fair to conclude that ultimately a team to win has to pay well , whether batting 1st or last. For instance India in their disastrous tours of England and Australia lost several times even when they batted 1st . Therefore the only formula to win is to play better than the opposition.

Even so, everything remaining the same, the romance of a 4th innings knock either in a stirring chase for victory or a battling knock for a fighting draw will always have a special place in the history of test cricket.

If I wanted someone to bat for me in the 4th innings of a test match, my top 5 would be Sunny Gavaskar, Younis Khan, Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith and VVS Laxman.

Do you agree?

On Habit, Addictions and How I quit Smoking;

Image result for quit cigarette imageToday on World No Tobacco day, let me tell you about the dreaded smoking addiction and how i quit smoking.

Habit is something done regularly. It is hard to give up and often tends to occur automatically without thinking. Habit can be good as well as bad. While a good habit is welcome, a bad habit should be discontinued.

Habit versus addiction. These two words, often used in the same manner are actually quite different. The difference is that while habits can be both positive and negative, addictions are basically negative and hence described as chronic and persistent behaviour continued to be done by a person despite negative consequences. An addiction negatively affects a person health, relationships, employment and life overall.

Some common addictions are smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, video and cell phone games and so on. Some other interesting addictions are on-line shopping, checking e-mail innumerable times  in the name of productivity , keeping cell phone in silent mode not to be disturbed  yet checking it every few minutes, checking whatsapp continuously and so on. These are in their own way extremely dangerous.

Is internet an addiction? As per psychologists, it is not so much an addiction as it is a recognizable major problem.  (Now what is the difference between both I fail to understand). It definitely is an addiction according to me. In fact studies have been carried out that internet addicts spend up to 11 hours on internet every day and compulsive internet use affects 6 to 14% of all internet users.

The most addictive and common addiction has to be smoking. Generally most smokers start at early and impressionable age with the belief/confidence that it will be one cigarette a few times a year or so on special occasions. Soon it becomes one in every 3-4 days. Then it becomes 3-4 cigarettes in one day, increases further to one pack a day and more.

Why is Smoking so addictive? It is because both the body and mind needs it. It becomes a physical as well as a mental need. Cigarettes have Nicotine which provides a temporary high which is addictive. One misses it, and craving starts. Nicotine travels quickly to the brain and provides temporary feelings such as of relaxation, decrease of stress, mood elevation and so on. Hence the mind and body want it again and again.

Further one doesn’t need an occasion to smoke. One can smoke when happy. One smokes when sad. One smokes after dinner or after lunch or after breakfast or before all three. One can smoke while waiting for lunch or waiting for a taxi. Further with every cigarette one smokes one develops a subconscious associative reason which increases the addiction itself .

Is quitting cigarette smoking possible. Yes but the 1st thing one has to recognise is that it is amazingly difficult. Mark Twain had famously said “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because i have done it thousands of times”. This reflects how difficult it is and how easy it is to restart after one has quit. People have been known to restart smoking one hour after they have given up. They have been known to restart (incredible though it sounds) as much as 3 to 5 years after they have quit. It takes only a few seconds of weakness to restart smoking. The stimulus could be anything. It could be meeting an old friend after few months or years, a good dinner, tension before a presentation, or happiness at a good presentation, or even passing a cigarette shop from which one had bought cigarettes years back.

I repeat, it could be anything. That indeed is how strong an addiction cigarette smoking is and how varied the stimulus could be to restart.

Should one stop smoking? This is a no-brainer. Yes, one should, there is no doubt about it. One will gain in immense ways with the most important immediate benefits being money, time and most important health.

How to Stop. Some say that one can start some other alternative tobacco to help tide over the uneasy days of withdrawal symptoms. I believe this is a futile idea in itself and I say a capital NO to this. It may even result in one having a second addiction.

Some say the best way to quit is by a gradual decrease in smoking.from say 10 cigarettes a day to 5 and 3 and maybe 1 and then quit.   This too I believe is not possible. It will take only 1 day of “stress” or “happiness” in which one will smoke more to go back to the original number of cigarettes a day.

Others say that one should not buy packet of cigarettes and buy only loose cigarettes as the extra effort will ultimately result in decreasing and finally quitting smoking. I beg to differ. The smoker’s mind will adjust itself. One fine day the boss will be upset when you are missing when he is looking for you as you have gone out to buy a loose cigarette. The result is one is back to buying and keeping a pack and back to increase in smoking to original level, thereby back to square one.

The what? I firmly believe that the only way is to suddenly quit smoking, Cold Turkey as it is called. The effect is extremely unpleasant but has more chances of success, in my firm opinion.

What happens when one stops smoking with the cold turkey method. The first two days are tough as one has the worst withdrawal symptoms in these two days. Thereafter too for the 1st week or two one continues to have withdrawal symptoms as the body and mind craves for its regular nicotine requirement. After 2 weeks or so something interesting happens. One develops an irritating cough, which continues throughout the day and night too. This is because something called cilia which had been killed by earlier years of smoking starts regenerating. They are like tiny brooms and start sweeping the accumulated tar, causing an extremely irritating cough. This is also the period when one is vulnerable, since one feels that when one was smoking there was no cough but now there is, after quitting smoking. Hence many restart smoking at this time, and one is back to square one.

However if one can have the will power to withstand the two months or so of cough then suddenly one day something miraculous happens. The cough vanishes. One starts breathing better, sense of smell improves, one enjoys the flavour of food better, bad/stale breath vanishes, one’s skin improves and there are many more positive developments. One has become an ex-smoker.

Why am I writing all this. Because I have gone through everything  written above. Each and every sentence is my own experience. I have started re-smoking years after quitting and i remember my sheepish expression on my face when on return from Foundation Course training at LBSNAA Mussoorie, my wife found a packet of cigarettes in my briefcase. I have quit smoking several times only to restart. Each and every stimulus mentioned above as reasons to re-start have been experienced by me. I finally succeeded only through the cold turkey method.

My sincere advice to you friends is that never start smoking. Say No the first time, every time. If you are a smoker, then stop suddenly, Cold turkey method. Have the will power to go through the 2 months of discomfort to emerge a different person altogether. I did so. I can happily say that I am an ex-smoker and i am sure I will remain one.

An analysis of forthcoming T20 series versus Sri Lanka

India becoming the Number 1 T20 team in the world has made news. Its great, but what has to be realised is that teams play very few International T20 games. A few wins can take a lower ranked team higher while a few losses can take a top ranked team several places down. Exactly this happened recently. India’s 3 wins versus Australia at Australia resulted in a 8th ranked India jumping to 1st spot while Australia slid to 8th spot. In this context let us also remember and keep in mind Novak Djokovich’s analogy about a hungry wolf at the top of mountain while there are hungrier wolves waiting and wanting to reach the top. This is applicable to both individual as well as team sport.

Therefore, without thinking about the rankings too much, what one should so is concentrate on the next tasks/jobs at hand. Whats next ? There is a T20 series versus Sri Lanka at home, the T20 Asia Cup and finally the T20 World Cup. This means that India have got their plans and preparation for the T20 world Cup correct, since after 5 ODI’s versus Australia we played 3 T20’s versus them and thereafter will play 3 T 20’s versus Sri Lanka at home followed by Asia Cup T20 at Bangladesh.

Lets take a look at the T20 series ahead and have a sort of preview/analysis with regard to different aspects of the sport, namely Batting, bowling, allrounders, fielding and Captaincy.

Batting. There seem to be no worries at all. Virat Kohli who is in the prime form of his life has been rested. However Rohit Sharma who showed remarkable consistency like Kohli is there. Shikhar Dhawan with his 9 ball 26 in the 3rd T20 versus Australia and his taking apart the fast and erratic Shaun Tait has shown that Gabbar is back. Suresh Raina too has demonstrated that in T20 he remains a force to reckon with while Yuvraj can only get better and better with more games. As for Dhoni, he can be expected to play the X factor. Jinks will definitely get a chance to play and it will be interesting at which spot he plays in. With Manish Panday too in the squad there seems to be a problem of plenty which definitely is a good thing to have.

My View. Playing Yuvraj at 4 or even 3 in place of Kohli would be ideal in my view. If Jinks is to be played at 3, then Yuvi definitely has to play at 4. Who knows, he could be the difference between World Cup Win or/and simply being a participant host.  Dhoni seems to have full faith in him, so lets hope the skipper plays him at 4. Manish Panday i feel has to wait.

Bowling. Umesh Yadav has been dropped and Bhuvaneswar Kumar (BK) got back from fractured thumb injury. The veteran Nehra and youngster Bumrah are there and the bowling looks ok. As regards spin, there is an embarrassment of riches, with Ashwin, Jadeja, Bhajja and new selection Negi being available. Probably we may go in with 3 spinners. I would like Bhajji to play all the 3 matches as he in his own way can be a match-winner many times over.

Allrounders        Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat have been dropped. However in the 1st place itself they were selected as cover for the injured BK and Rahane who are now back in the squad. Hardik Pandya seems to have the Captain’s confidence. Interestingly Hardik calls himself a batting allrounder. Lets see if he can walk the talk. Otherwise too, in allrounder category we can include Yuvi, jadeja and even bhajji and Negi so there seems not much worries in this front, with even Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma capble of bowling an over or two.

Captaincy. The shorter the format, the more comfortable MSD seems to be, so no issues. I wish however he does these 2 things, play Yuvraj higher, and play Bhajji. Lets see.

Now a quick look at the opposition. Sri Lanka is being captained by the talented Dinesh Chandimal who is one of the talented young batsmen in world cricket today. He is also one of the few players who has and can shine in all 3 formats. For instance he scored an ODI ton vs India in only his second ODI and followed it up with an ODI ton at Lords versus England. In Tests he scored 50”s in both iniungs of his debut test Versus SA at Durban, a test which SL won. In T20 he has flopped so far with only one 50 in 31 matches and a horrid average of 13. This time he has a chance to show his mettle. He will be helped by 2 stalwarts Dilshan and Dilhara Fernando. Being a young team Sri Lanka is not to be taken lightly.

Looking forward to 9th, 12th and 14th of February and at least a 2-1 win to keep us on track for World T-20 Cup  2016.