Indian Cricket, year in review: 2006
Posted by Sports Snob on December 31, 2006
The Indian team flattered to deceive yet again. It is disappointing that we refuse to learn from past mistakes. Memories of Durban ten years ago came flooding back in as the Indian batsmen failed to put up a fight at Kingsmead. This series best encapsulates Indian cricket this year: incredible performances followed immediately by stunning ineptitude.
Vs Pakistan in Pakistan
This test series was a bowler’s nightmare. The pitches were featherbeds and the batsmen on both sides amassed runs like it was nobody’s business. Mohammed Yousuf, Younis Khan, Rahul Dravid, Sehwag all made big centuries in tests 1 and 2. In the deciding test of the series, Shoaib Akhtar provided the match-winning breakthrough. Needing to play out the final day at Karachi, India was looking towards Rahul Dravid to bat for a significant portion of the day. Akhtar, in a spell of consistent bowling (!), removed Dravid and with him, our hopes of saving the game.
The pitches designed for the series were absolutely unsuitable for test cricket. The ball doesn’t have to jag around and seriously maim batsmen for it to be a disgrace for test cricket. If the wicket fails to produce an even contest between bat and ball, we might as well be playing on mats. With test cricket’s popularity dropping precipitously, series such as India vs. Pakistan provide an opportunity to revive the mass appeal for test cricket. The organizers have failed miserably in their duty towards the game.
The 148 by Dhoni in partnership with Pathan in the second test was a revelation. We needed over 100 runs to avoid follow-on and the century that followed was a Dhoni special. He showed that he was capable of delivering on the big stage when it really mattered. He needs some more work on his keeping but India has found a wicket keeper for the future.
This is where Indians realized their ability to chase down big totals successfully, surprising fans around the world. Followers of Indian cricket know that Indians choke under pressure. We can make heavy weather of chasing even moderate totals and we can’t bat out a day to save a test even if our lives depended on it.
This series was different. The batsmen seemed to come out believing that no total was beyond reach . Has Greg Chappell bought about this change? I don’t know but my own guess is, it is more a reflection of the confidence of our times. Beating Pakistan 4-1 in their own backyard was a perfect beginning to the ODI calendar.
Vs England in India
We drew a test series against England in India. That statement says a lot. The Englishmen are not the best travelers to this part of the world. But the obliging hosts threw away the series with a session of madness in the afternoon heat of Mumbai. The post lunch session on the final day saw India lose 7 batsmen in the space of hundred balls. Nobody would have bet on the unheralded English bowling, bowling the star studded Indian batting line-up out in one day. For all the talk of the reputed Indian batting, they seem to falter rather consistently. Is it time for some change there? Is there sufficient reserve strength?
There were no surprises here as India romped to a 5-1 series victory. England seems to consider playing one-day cricket a waste of time and this reflects in the ODI performances. All focus is on the Ashes all year long and we know how that story runs. Barring Collingwood, Flintoff and Pietersen, I don’t think players in the English side would figure in any international ODI team. While it was good to notch up a series victory, it was more a preparation for the tougher test ahead in the Caribbean.
Vs The West Indies in the Caribbean
The most note-worthy performance by the Indians in 2006 was against the Caribbeans. We managed our first test series victory in 35 years in the Caribbean and played well in the one-day series (not reflected in the series results). The One-day series was not as one-sided as the 4-1 series result indicates. The caribbeans have a good team and players like Sarwan and Bravo held their nerves to deliver in the close encounters. This is a good ODI team they have got but more on that some other time.
The test victory came at Jamaica in the final test match of the series. Batsmen from both sides batted like the pitch had demons in every crack. Dravid won the match for us scoring a half-century in each innings (there were only 2 others in the entire match). His poise and technique make him among the top 3 test batsmen in the world today. He took his blows but never once looking like he would lose his wicket, he ensured that there were enough runs for Kumble to work his magic on the opposition.
People can claim that the victory was due to the slow wickets, weak bowling attack of the West Indians or Lara’s lack of power in team selection. But our bowlers forced the victory through good batting efforts and consistent performance. Kumble bowled well, as always and India’s prayer for a partner for Sehwag seemed to have been answered in the form of Jaffer. The Dravid-Chappell combination’s success was at its peak at this point and Indians looked like they could do not much wrong.
The DLF Cup and the Champions Trophy
The tri-series tournament in Malaysia for the DLF trophy featured the Aussies, Indians and the Windies. I don’t recall too many memorable moments from the tournaments. But suffice to say we were badly beaten and did not make the finals of the tournament.
In the Champions trophy, big things were expected of the Indians. But the team failed to deliver being beaten by the Aussies and the West Indians in consecutive games to be knocked out in the group phase of the tournament. The cracks in the team started appearing. Dravid and Chappell don’t look so bright any longer and the chasing magic of the team was gone by this time. Our bowling attack looked weak and there was pressure to fall back upon Anil Kumble. Kumble was re-inducted to the Indian one-day squad and Pathan and Sehwag’s presence in the team continued owing to past performance (Even Sachin’s?). Lots of things about the team had changed but it seemed like we were back where we started.
The Series in South Africa
The one-dayers were the same old story. Our miserable record in the country continued and so did the poor form of our leading batters and bowlers. Needless to say, we did not have a chance. Going into the test series, the team wasn’t in the best of shape. Dravid had suffered an injury, Pathan looked a better batsman than bowler and we had brought back Sourav Ganguly.
What transpired was a remarkable victory in the first test with gritty performances by Ganguly, Laxman and Sreesanth. This was a more enjoyable victory than the win in West Indies. The opposition was better, the pitches were more alien to us and this was our first test victory in SA. Just as were thinking that Indian cricket had turned a corner, we were subjected to the dismal batting performance on the final day. 354 did not look an achievable target but batting out a day did not look out of question. The application that was required was displayed by our lower-order. The batsmen let us down again and India is looking to ensure that we don’t lose the series. We needed to bat for some time as wether forecasts seemed to indicate strong chances of thundershowers. But this task proved too difficult for such accomplished batsmen. Sorry to say but till we learn from past performances and prepare better, we are not deserving of victory.
The bright spot has been Sreesanth. He looks sharp and can surprise the batsmen with his pace and movement. He is aggressive and let us hope he works hard at his game, suffers no major injuries and plays for a long time. In recent years, our big discoveries- Pathan, L.Balaji and Zaheer Khan have faded rather quickly either through injury or too much of cricket. It is good to see Zaheer back and it would be good for Pathan to pick up some wickets in the domestic league, regain his swing and be back in the international fray. Kumble has been doing well too, we had called for his inclusion way back in July. I hope to see these cricketers do well in 2007 and a win in the third test would be an auspicious beginning.
I might have missed a few good performances and some interesting matches. But I blame this on limited memory and an overkill of cricket. (Also, bad coverage.) Are we playing too much cricket? That’s another post, another time.
A very Happy New Year to all you folks. May you have a great year ahead and read our posts regularly.