Archive for November 2011

The Aussie summer is here!

November 30, 2011

If this was anywhere else but Brisbane, New Zealand would have been favourites. I still think they’re the better team, on current playing form.

David Warner has a nice natural batting technique. I don’t mind him playing test cricket before he reached a thousand first class runs. But Phil Hughes is the big surprise. He doesn’t seem to have the necessary tool kit for a test opener at all. I was listening to Sir Geoffrey on ESPNCricinfo and he didn’t waste any time in calling Hughes’ technique as ‘poor’. Hughes has survived with a 126 in the second innings at Colombo and an 88 at Jo’burg.

You have to feel for people like Simon Katich and Chris Rogers.

Now look at the visiting dressing room. Two experienced batsmen, both very good with the short ball, and both have enough ability to make excellent starts on a pitch like the Gabba. A couple of years back, New Zealand had Taylor, McCullum and Vettori scoring the bulk of the runs. McIntosh is gone. There is no place for Flynn or How or the Marshalls. So consider Ryder, Taylor and Williamson behind Guptill and McCullum. This could be the time when the Kiwis can actually start performing big in the test arena.

I wish Grant Elliot made that No. 6 spot ahead of Brownlie.

In this test, I guess it will come down to how well both middle orders handle the short stuff. There is no doubt Southee and Martin will have a go at Ponting and Clarke. Khawaja and Hussey will look to be more disciplined. They’ll have to counter the steady seam bowling of Doug Bracewell. Ross Taylor has said yesterday that Bracewell has the ability to become a ‘great world class all rounder’.  And that was surprising. He was a little better than ‘steady’ at Bulawayo but these are big words!! Will have to see how he goes tomorrow!

It seems Cutting has been bowling extremely well at the pre match training. He’s the home boy as well, so I’ll surely have him play. And let me tell you Nathan Lyon has never visited the Gabba before this week! So it’s a no brainer now. I’ll play four fast bowlers. Moreover, this Kiwi line up, apart from Brownlie and Young, is quite strong against spin. And there’s rain forecast for days 1, 4 and 5. Why would you play Nathan Lyon??

The key for the Aussie attack will be patience. Guptill, Ryder and Williamson are all tough nuts to crack. Mike Hussey has revealed that these young quicks are totally new to this environment and that the players are just getting to know each other! And that’s where Australia stand at the start of this summer. Not too long ago, McGrath would say ‘whitewash’ and look what kind of statements come on the eve of this year’s opening test.

Very disappointing to see Cummins miss out on the Gabba test. He could have absolutely ripped apart the Kiwis here.

My weight is behind the Kiwis pulling off a massive performance and taking the Gabba away from Australia.

Lawry and Taylor are hours away! Can’t wait!

Drubbing for the Windies

November 16, 2011

It’s amazing how the mood of one innings can be so different from another. And how a pitch can behave so differently to two different teams within the space of 2 days. No, clearly, one team is more capable than the other. Summing up the dismissals of the West Indian batsmen in their first innings is of, virtually, no meaning. That’s because the same men showed way more application two hours later. I was delighted to watch the lengths that Umesh Yadav hit today. It gave him results straight away! Bravo and Samuels weren’t quite expecting the lengths that they got. Ashwin’s slider worked well against Chanderpaul and he’s proving a handful to all the left handers there. Amongst the heap of wickets this morning, it was very easy for people to forget Ojha’s contribution. The lad is doing his job in a very efficient manner.

 Carlton Baugh should quickly realize that he can’t get away playing across the  wicket to these spinners. He kept on doing that and that was ridiculous. For all the skill he’s got, he should play straight. I do not rate Marlon Samuels as a test batsman at all. And I can’t comprehend the absence of Lendl Simmons here, given his form this year and the fact that he’s never attempted to murder anyone from THE WICB. Of course, I can start about the other selection howlers but I’ll let that come sometime later.

 India’s plan is very very clear. Ishant and Ashwin for left handers; Ojha and  Umesh for right handers. I now wonder if, while picking a test squad, the wise men choose a careful combination to bowl well against both right and left handers.  Ishant is putting in a lot of effort but he’s still inconsistent. He’s not bowling badly at all and more importantly, doesn’t seem troubled by that ankle.

 Barath and Edwards played late and showed better application in the second essay. Edwards continues to play that loose cut short of balls wide outside off stump. He looks strong on the on side though. Bravo hit one six off Ashwin and Dhoni immediately pushed the man to long on. What confidence will that give the bowler? We all know how many runs India have and the skipper set pathetic fields today.

 The only hope for the visitors in Mumbai would be a better pitch.

Eden test, day 2

November 15, 2011

New ball for spin?

 Ojha and Ashwin looked threatening with the new ball. I hope spinners around the world take note. The new ball bounces more and offers a more pronounced seam for your grip. I know spinners’ opening the bowling is not new but more captains can use this phenomenon better in various situations, especially in tests! As an attacking option!  (I still hate Dhoni)

Farce

When the Windies were bowling early on day 2, it looked an absolute farce. Someone like Bishoo should never bowl around the wickets. If he’s going to bowl two short balls an over and still leak runs, what’s the point? And to watch West Indies, out of all teams, going through the motions on a pitch like this, was sad. An old gentleman sitting behind me was livelier than Roach and Edwards on this pitch. India, as a home team, knows how to exploit these conditions, but in my opinion, this is far from a ‘test match pitch’. Because what do visiting teams do? They’re left clueless and that’s not a contest you want to watch. Sammy, inside their playing XI, isn’t helping the cause at all.

Looking forward

Bravo has to attack. Chanderpaul has to play another Delhi like innings. That will remove some of the bat-pad men and West Indies have to do that as soon as possible on day 3. Things will get easier for them as the ball grows old. Both Ashwin and Ojha depend a lot on their grip on the ball and that will get softer as the ball grows older. I was very impressed with the shape Umesh Yadav was getting today. But I fail to understand the length he continues to bowl. I’ll look forward to big knocks from Bravo and Baugh.

BarBQ

A friend recommended BarBQ on Park Street and it’s certainly a lovely place to hang around, considering the incredible amount of filth in the other parts of the city. The weather and the traffic policemen bring a touch of Bangalore here. Here’s hoping for good sunshine and a more even contest between bat and ball on day 3. I’ll be happy with WI being 6 down by stumps. That will make it 14 wickets for India on the last 2 days.

 

 

Why Spain is not FC Barcelona Yet

November 14, 2011

The Spanish are the World champions and European champions. But are they the best team in the world including clubs?? The answer is NO. They would come second to FC Barcelona. The question won’t be relevant always. But it is, now, because the two teams have the same engine rooms (read Xavi and Iniesta) and play with the same philosophy. More importantly I would say no other club can beat the Spanish team and that includes Real Madrid, Manchester United and other English clubs. The same cannot be said of any other national team that I have seen and hence the question is relevant.

I recently watched the friendly England V Spain, England beating Spain 1-0 scoring of the only chance they had in the entire game. If not for the jersey colours you couldn’t tell the game from any other FC Barcelona league game. But Spain lost it while Barcelona would never have. That brings me to my question of focus –
Why Spain isn’t as good as FC Barcelona yet? An immediate answer would be- Because they don’t have Lionel Messi! Well if that is the case they will never become FC Barcelona as Messi is from Argentina. In that case why isn’t Argentina even half as good as FCB yet? Let us try answering the former question alone because answers to the latter mostly involve events off the field. If the answer is the absence of Messi alone it begs the question whether the system of play in Barcelona is really the best in the world? Can it work without the best player in the world?

The Spanish are the World champions and European champions but they simply don’t have the goals in them that FC Barcelona has. They won the World Cup with a string of 1-0 wins while the possession stat in each match was comparable to what Barcelona would have. They didn’t score many goals. They just lacked that cutting edge. True, Spain will murder lesser equipped teams. True, they created some good chances against England, which had they been taken, would have made it 2-0 or 3-0. But that would be taking false solace as teams are fast finding the way to beat Spain; whereas how to beat Barcelona has been an unanswered question for three seasons running. Add to it the fact that England did absolutely nothing on the counter attack. Teams like the Netherlands and Germany are well equipped to do much better on the counter and had Arjen Robben buried those one on one’s in the WC final we would be discussing something else now. England just sat back (parked the bus as they say), maintained their defensive shape superbly and thwarted Spain all day long. The English will rave about the win while I don’t think there’s much they can take home on the attacking front from that win. England did what Switzerland did better in the World Cup, what the Netherlands could so easily have done.

In spite of the greatest creativity on the field, Spain lack goals. The reason for that is not because they don’t have Messi. It is because they lack width as a team. They simply don’t field players who like to run on the flanks, run at the defenders to create gap between defensive lines for their forwards and attacking midfielders to exploit. They were plagued by the lack of width in the WC and not much seems to have changed, if the Engalnd friendly is anything to go by. No, I am not suggesting in the very least that they should change their formation, go 4-4-2 or anything like that. It is just that this system of Spain or Barcelona, which is outstanding, needs players who can run on the flanks to create gaps in the middle. Spain can retain the system but will need to field players who can go wide. Barcelona has so many such players who run the flanks all day, many of them even being wing backs. Daniel Alves is the first name you would mention and Arbeloa or Sergio Ramos can never match him at right back. Adriano, Maxwell and Abidal are other wing backs who derive a lot of joy attacking the opposition wing back. Jordi Alba was efficient at left back against England but will need to offer better in the attacking third. Barcelona also has players like Ibrahim Affelay and Alexis Sanchez (when fit) who can provide width every day of the week. The other player from Barcelona who can do that, who also performed spectacularly for Spain in his short stint at the WC, Pedro Rodriguez was missing from the Spanish line up surprisingly. Injured?

A look at the Spanish line up and you cannot see many players who can provide width. Vicente del Bosque has always played all the four of Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, all of them being central players. Del Bosque’s formation I would imagine is a 4-3-3 (Iniesta being a part of the front 3) and the 3 in front rotating themselves which is very much like Barcelona. The two forwards they started with were David Silva and David Villa. David Villa was a fantastic marksman for Valencia, then started playing the role of the withdrawn striker and has a penchant to cut in from the left. He often starts wide left during the play for Spain and is always going to cut in. One can seldom see him take on the defender on the outside and play a cross in, which makes it quite easy for defenders. David Silva who played on the left flank for Valencia has abandoned the position to revel in a more central role for his country as well as the new club. His exploits as a play maker at Manchester City need no mention here but he hasn’t played wide for more than three years now. The players that came on- Cesc Fabregas, another playmaker who plays centrally. Santi Cazorla is another class act, who can run the game at any top club, but another central midfielder. Juan Mata- when I saw him at Valencia three seasons back, he played on the left wing, but now runs the game at Chelsea playing more centrally. So where does the width come from? I recently came across this article where I read the term ‘Media Punta’ and how Spain is extremely gifted with so many players who run between the lines. All the players mentioned above, fall in that category. Excellent! So many players run between the lines but who pulls the lines apart? Who drags defenders wide? Anyone who watched the game can vouch that Engalnd were comfortable sitting back protecting their goal centrally and knew nothing would come in from wide. Spain derived some width out of Torres and Villa in the WC and now Silva replaces Torres. Not much difference is it?

One player I wished, would come on for Spain when they were 1-0 down against England was Jesus Navas, the gifted winger from Sevilla. Now, he is a player who can play wide and can challenge any wing back, put them to shame on his day. He showed flashes of brilliance in the WC before Pedro came on to the scene. Pedro himself is another such player for Spain. From the fantastic talent pool of the La Liga such players are bound to be found as well. If Spain is to match the higher standards of Barcelona they will have to fit in such players into the system for better execution of Plan A and more importantly to have a plan B. An immediate retro fit would be start with Pedro in place of Silva or Sergio Busquets, the latter being a more attacking option. Irrespective of what line up they start with Del Bosque has to bring these players on as impact substitutions instead of may be a Fabregas, especially when the going is tough with the opposition defending well. Spain will also need better output from their wingbacks in the attacking third. The system with which Spain plays is a fantastic one which denies the opposition of quite simply the ball itself, places deep faith in possession. But when it is only possession without clear cut chances, troubling the opposition keeper it suffocates the team and opens them up for a counter. If Spain is to conjure up goals from high percentage of possession with scores of 2-0 or better, they need to find the width to stretch defences. That is the benchmark set by FC Barcelona and till they reach that, they are not the best team in the world yet. Or Spain isn’t FC Barcelona yet.