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    3+1 (or) 2+2

    Saturday, February 26, 2011
    There is a lot of speculation going around on whether India would go in with a 3(Seamers)+1(Spinner) combination or with a 2(Seamers)+2(Spinners) combination for tomorrow's game against England in Bangalore. Given that Ashish Nehra is (supposedly) still injured, it comes down to a toss up between Sreesanth and Piyush Chawla (or R Ashwin).

    Sreesanth's performance in the opening game might actually make it an easy decision for Dhoni. Also, considering how the spinners fared in the warm-up game at the same ground, it should really be a no-brainer. KP's well-documented history with Yuvi and left-arm spinners in general would tempt Dhoni to gamble throwing the new ball to Yuvi. But throwing pies accurately in the power-play overs might be too much of an ask and India would be better off opening with a specialist spinner instead.

    Harbhajan Singh is needed to control the middle overs, so his overs shouldn't be wasted up-front. Ashwin's supporters might argue that Dhoni has used him a lot with the new ball in the IPL and that experience should make him the front-runner for the second-spinner's spot. But Chawla would be quietly confident of his chances because he is a better attacking option and his spells in the warm-up games have made up inch ahead of Ashwin in the eyes of everyone that matters.

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    Sri offers support for Sree

    Sunday, February 20, 2011
    Courtesy: Javagal Srinath (Hindustan Times)
    Everyone has had a go at Sreesanth for being expensive. He did go for plenty but we need to look at the reasons for his less-than-impressive performance.

    First, we must understand his frame of mind. When the World Cup 15 was announced last month, Sreesanth wasn’t a part of the team. He was a late inclusion and it looked that he couldn’t prepare well. Between the severe sense of rejection and sudden acceptance, his preparation went for a toss. I gather he was also not an original choice in the playing eleven.

    With the swing and pace he was trying to generate, it looked as if he wanted a wicket off every delivery. We should not read too much into his performance on Saturday.

    I do agree with Sri - the team would like to treat it as just an off game for one player and move on. However, it seems unlikely that Sreesanth might get to play in the next few outings. The next couple of games for India are in B'lore and there is a good chance that Dhoni might go in with a 2+2 attack for those games. Given what happened in the warm-up game against Australia and given that India would be playing England and Ireland (with due respect to the spin-playing abilities of Straussy and his men) next, playing Piyush/Ashwin instead of the third seamer sounds like a good plan. I don't think this is really the end of the tournament for Sreesanth. In my opinion, he is still the best early-wicket-taking seam option that India has in its squad and the bowling coach would need to ensure that Sreesanth is ready to deliver when the time comes.

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    Balaji Rao - Who?

    Saturday, February 19, 2011
    Courtesy: Express India (from 2001)

    I hope our boys will halt the winning streak of the Australians,’’ said the National senior cricket selection committee chairman Chandu Borde, who watched the conditioning camp here today.

    ‘‘I am optimistic about the series against the Aussies. Our players are being shaped up for the contest. The camp will give them the required physical and mental strength. The boys are being prepared in the right course by coach John Wright.’’ he said.

    He expressed concern about leg-spinner Anil Kumble not playing in the series. When asked if the the focus would be on the Tamil Nadu leg-spinner WD Balaji Rao, the selection panel chief said ‘‘Balaji Rao is being monitored closely. He has been doing well.’’

    That was the closest that WD Balaji Rao ever came to in terms of playing international cricket for India. The series that the linked article relates to is the one where Harbhajan Singh became the next big Indian spinning star (the series is also known as the 281 series). A bit of luck here and there and it could so easily have been Balaji Rao modeling for Royal Stag and asking - Have I made it large?

    Things have changed a fair bit for him in the last decade. He now plays international cricket for Canada and is back in the sub-continent to prove a point or two.

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    Team India - Preview

    Friday, February 18, 2011
    Sachin "Is there such a thing as 6th time lucky?" Tendulkar
    There is something about these world cup games that gets the best out of Tendulkar. He has had 5 stabs at it and he knows that this is practically his last attempt. His role in this tournament would obviously be to bat through the innings. If he can do that at least 3 times in the next 7 weeks, he would go past 100 international tons. If those 3 efforts come in the quarters, semis and the finals, he would have realized that elusive dream of his.

    Virender "Need to bat long" Sehwag
    Viru wants to curb his merry ways a bit at the start of the innings and look to bat long. There is no doubt that if he bats 40 overs, it would mean that the opposition has signed-sealed-delivered the game to India. He looked a bit confused in the warm-up games about how he should go about building his innings. But for someone with the most uncluttered mind in the business, he shouldn't take long to sort it out. His running between the wickets was a bit iffy during the warm-up games, but hopefully his feet would be all warmed-up for the first game against B'desh. Not sure how his shoulder is holding up, but it would be great if he could bowl a few overs in games where the main bowlers get tonked.

    Gautam "How do I show Kohli that I deserve to be at No.3" Gambhir
    Virat had made the No.3 slot his own with some consistent performances. It was always a known fact that Virat had to move (down/out) when the big three returned. But Gambhir, the Gambhir that he is, would want to show one and all why he is the best man to do the job at that slot in this tournament. I must say that he looked pretty good in the warm-up game against NZ, especially after he reached his 50.

    Virat "Sorry Suresh" Kohli
    I'm glad that he is going to be in the starting XI. Dhoni would be looking to be fluid with the batting order for slots 4 to 7. But Yuvraj's indifferent form with his batting would give Kohli the opportunity to bat at No.4 in most games. He may not know how to hide a hickey, but he does know more than just a thing or two about keeping the scorer busy during the milking overs.

    MS "Gotta do this for SRT - Well ofcourse, for Gary too" Dhoni
    The world is his oyster. He was not his usual self with the bat in SA, but that ton in the last warm-up game should give him a lot of confidence going into the tournament. He is at the top of his game when it comes to captaincy and those skills of his could just be the differentiating edge that India has over the other contenders. I'm not too concerned about the lack of the reserve keeper in the squad. Virat can do the job for a game or two if Dhoni catches a niggle.

    Yuvraj "Thank GOD for my bowling skills, thank GOD there is no Dmitri" Singh
    India desperately needs Yuvraj to bring his A game to all departments. Right now he is struggling a bit with the bat. If not for his bowling skills and his uncanny ability to pick wickets, he would have struggled to justify keeping Raina out of the starting XI. All it takes is one knock in the middle to get back into the groove and I sincerely hope that knock comes in early in the tournament.

    Suresh "Hmm.. after all the sacrifices I made batting down the order" Raina
    You have got to feel for the bloke. Batting down the order is never easy and he has done exceptionally well for India (especially in the sub-continent) in the No.6 slot in recent times. But there are only so many batsmen that a team can play. He is still one of the best finishers in the game and he might get a chance based on how the middle order fares in the opening games.

    Yusuf "Ask them to bounce me out on these pitches" Pathan
    Those 2 ODI centuries that he scored in recent times have completely transformed Pathan's stars. Before those 2 knocks, he was just another fringe player. Now no one in his right mind would argue against why he is considered a must pick. If the top order does its job right, he might not have to play a major part in this campaign. But with him at No.7, any target the opposition sets would now seem like a Pathan-able target.

    Harbhajan "Has Swann made it large?" Singh
    He has sounded pretty wise in some of his recent interviews. He still sounds as cocky as he was as a 17 year old, but he sure does put in a lot more thought into his bowling these days than he ever did. India go into the tournament with their frontline spinner in good form and that augurs very well. For India to nurture any hopes of winning the cup, Harbhajan needs to deliver and deliver large.

    Zaheer "Just need 7 injury free weeks in a row" Khan
    On days that Zaheer is fit, he lifts himself and the others in the attack to a very happy place. He has this amazing knack of seizing the moment (hate to sound like Shastri) and making it his own. All the Indian fans would be hoping that their best fast bowler stays supremely fit for the next 7 weeks.

    Munaf "I'm the second best seamer in the squad" Patel
    He is supposed to provide the "steady" option in the seam attack. He is done well in the recent past and has shown that he has remarkable control over line and length. But on the sub-continent pitches where anyone can be taken to cleaners at anytime, he would have to be his guiling best from the start to the finish. He has worked hard on his fitness and fielding levels, but is still a level below what you would expect from an international fast bowler.

    Ashish "Seriously, I'm the second best seamer in the squad" Nehra
    Nehra has done enough in the past 18 months to deserve a spot in the squad. But he has had a few ordinary outings in the last few games. His rhythm is just not there. He is still the one who put in the best bowling performance from an Indian in WC games. But that was 8 years ago and it is amazing how fans still hope that he would be able to dish out at least one such performance in this year's edition. It is also a troubling thought that if both Ashish and Munaf play together, Dhoni would have one too many fielders that he would have try and hide in the field.

    Shantakumaran "MUST not irritate anyone - especially team mates, umpire and fellow Indi Commandos" Sreesanth
    He was supposed to be just cheering for the team with his music-band. But fate intervened, poor Praveen got injured, and Sree is now up for a shot at WC glory. He may currently be the fourth in the pecking order, but I would pick him in the playing XI (ahead of both Nehra and Munaf) just for his ability to bowl some real jaffas in the first 10 overs. He may end up not being a part of the first few games. But I've a feeling that fate would intervene again - Sree would play against Pakistan in the later stages, Misbah would play a scoop straight into Sree's waiting hands in the final over and all would be forgotten (including those ridiculous loser gestures).

    Ravi "Hope the captain shows the same faith that he showed in the IPL" Ashwin
    Ashwin would be called upon if the captain feels he needs to use more spin in the initial power-play overs. Based on how the seamers fare in the opening games, Ashwin's chance to showcase his skills would come sooner or later.

    Piyush "Don't really need any hugs to perform" Chawla
    Piyush might have started off the campaign as the third choice spinner in the attack. But his more than impressive performances in the warm-up games have ensured that he is now second in line. Dhoni is likely to go with with the "3 seamers + 1 spinner" attack in most games. But if the idea is to just go in with the 4 best bowlers in the team, Piyush might get a look-in.

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    Opening with the youngest and the oldest

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011
    In today's warm-up game against England, Canada opened their batting with John Davison (yeah that bloke - the one who once held the record for scoring the fastest ton in WCs) and Nitish Kumar. John is 40+ and is the oldest player in the tournament. Young Nitish at 16 is the youngest player in this edition.

    The difference in their ages (24) has to be some sort of record for opening pairs (provided the partnership is retained when the real matches get underway). Incidentally, their other opener Hiral Patel is also a good 20 odd years younger than John Davison.

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    Virat vs Suresh (or) Virat vs Gautam?

    Sunday, February 13, 2011
    Virat has shown time and again what he is capable of doing at the top of the order. You would think that the warm-up games would be used to gauge how he goes when he walks in after the 35th over. I would have liked to see Yuvraj come in at the fall of Gambhir's early dismissal.

    Is this an indication that Raina is the preferred man to bat at No.6 in the starting line-up on Feb 19th? It could also be mean that there is a likely jostle between Virat and Gambhir for the No.3 slot. It really would be a shame if India cannot find a way to fit in the second best batsman in the world (based on current ICC rankings) somehow in that lineup.

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    8 days to go..

    Friday, February 11, 2011
    I have been away from this space for a long time for various reasons. But with 8 days to go for the biggest spectacle of all in World Cricket to commence, I'm giving myself an opportunity to get back into the cric-blogging scene (if there is such a term).

    willow.tv has the 2 Indian warm-up games listed in its live line-up - so, the live action starts this weekend. Here's to hoping that the next 8 weeks would provide some memorable moments and also in the process help me revive my penchant for dishing out mundane (yet prolific) pieces on the progress of MS and his men in blue (or red?).

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    Gambhir <=> Intense, Steady, Deep

    Thursday, February 03, 2011
    Courtesy: Hindustan Times
    What are the changes you foresee if India win the World Cup?
    I believe the citizens of our country are left with very few things to have faith in. The past year has been one of scams and we are now reeling under double-digit inflation. Getting a child admitted to school is like climbing a mountain; Delhi is called the rape Capital. Religion is still being used to push political agendas and then we have our quota of natural mishaps. Amidst all this if cricket can provide some respite, we'd have done our job.

    No wonder his folks named him Gambhir

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