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Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

The best player never to play the World Cup

Posted by Sports Snob on February 13, 2007

A very very special player, one who has at most times dominated the best team in the World, one who engineered arguably the biggest turn around in the history of the sport and in one fell swoop stopped a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, one who despite all this and much more has never been sure of his place in the team, but has delivered consistently will never play a World Cup.A travesty, something that does happen often in football, whose World Cup hasn’t seen the likes of a di Stefano or a Best or a Giggs display their wares. But it is rare that something similar is happening in cricket. The only other guy who comes even close is Justin Langer, but it can be explained by the fact that the Aussies have always had a comparative abundance of talent during his time.

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Look at the players who have represented India at World Cups, lesser talents like Sadagopan Ramesh, Dinesh Mongia, Aashish Kapoor, Parthiv Patel, Chandrakant Pandit, Salil Ankola have been part of World Cup squads but never him. Ofcourse this year was not his best chance, it was the 2003 edition.

He was cruelly dropped after a dismal New Zealand tour, where everyone except Sehwag failed and he ended up with better averages than Kaif, Dada and Mongia. But in his place played Mongia, who apart from a six off Murali, just free-rode throughout the tournament.

Post the World Cup saw him in his best form, saving a test match against the Kiwis at home before unfolding in totally majestic glory down under. The Aussies had no answer for him. They won a test only when he failed. The ODIs saw even more majesty, three centuries in a week.

Now that the Indian team has been announced, all I hope for is a good performances from our boys. At the same time, an encore of his 2003-04 performances in the tours to England and Australia that are lined up would be even sweeter. VVS Laxman its upto you now to prove the selectors wrong.

Kesavan.

Posted in Cricket | 8 Comments »

Sri Lankan series: An unnecessary outing

Posted by Sports Snob on February 4, 2007

The upcoming Sri Lankan series is another example of bad planning by the BCCI. A series so close to the world cup with matches on featherbeds, under lights is a reflection of the mercenary attitude of the board. All they care for is finding a slot and throwing in whatever matches they can.

This series could prove to be extremely costly if any of our major players gets injured. And this, for the sake of some more money in the BCCI coffers. Even if they felt the series was essential, what is the point of holding matches under lights – no match during the world cup will be played under lights and on batting paradises- the Windies wickets are generally more slow and low with a bit of spin these days.

The argument that it gives us a chance to test out players like Sehwag and Munaf Patel under match conditions is unacceptable. The lack of form and injuries were unexpected and the schedule was drawn up a long time back. It will prove to be a blessing for Sehwag though. He has had a break from cricket though not long enough out of the team in my opinion.  But it has given him time to reflect on his game and hopefully some of the reflection will translate into reults on the field. But on the whole, I think it is a badly times series and the hope is some players will find form and no one will get injured.

Watch out for a sportsnob World cup squad…. hopefully!

Prof  

Posted in Cricket, Indian Cricket | 1 Comment »

Ranji Trophy Semifinals, Cricket ignored

Posted by Sports Snob on January 23, 2007

“It’s Indian cricket that is a religion in India.”
-Sanjay Manjrekar

So very true. While almost the whole of the country has been rejoicing in the aftermath of Dada’s comeback, a group of 44 people took the field today in an attempt to reach the finals of the Ranji Trophy. The Ranji semis started today but the people who matter, the selectors and the team management, just seem to have ignored it. Instead the focus is the pat on the back that Chappell got.

Nothing else proves the ad-hoc-ness of the BCCI in general and the selectors in particular than the selection of Robin Uthappa for the ODI series. He did have a great Ranji season and was rewarded with a place in the squad for the Windies. But instead of warming the bench in Cuttack, it would have been better for him to have had some practice against the likes of the formidable Randeb Bose in the Ranji semi. No, but the powers that be just turn a blind eye to the Ranji.

Instead of wasting time on belters of pitches very different from the ones at the World Cup, it would have been better practice for the likes of Dada and Dravid to be playing on the green top at the Eden Gardens, and it might have also ensured some crowds at the matches. And at the same time it would have given chances for some lesser knowns to stake a claim for the WC team. Dada, Sachin, Dravid, Kumble and Zaheer Khan are certainties in the WC team, so make them play the Ranji while let a second string Indian team take the field against the Windies.

How else will a Sehwag get his form back? Just practice in the nets is not enough as has been shown in the past. Match practice is needed and with Delhi out of the Ranji, there is no other proper way to get his form back than play in the ODIs.

The Ranji semis started today with Karnataka playing Bengal at the Eden Gardens and Baroda meeting Mumbai in Baroda. Without Uthappa at the top of the order and Ranadeb Bose on the other end and a green top (must be as Karnataka are also playing 4 medium pacers), the team I am supporting, Karnataka have collapsed big time, losing 7 wickets by lunch. So now I will be supporting Baroda to win the Ranji Trophy. Baroda have started better in their match, with the good news for Indian fans being that Irfan Pathan got Wasim Jaffer.

Thanks to cricinfo for covering these matches live. One of these matches should be coming on Neo Sports also, the highlights come sometime around 10 pm.

Kesavan Mukunthan

Posted in Cricket, Indian Cricket | 3 Comments »

Is it time for Sachin to go?

Posted by Sports Snob on January 20, 2007

“…The next six weeks will decide the fate of many cricketers who will be playing against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and Sachin Tendulkar is no exception to that…”

This line in an article here passed off rather silently without raising too many eyebrows and with good reason. After the batting performance in the third test in South Africa, I started writing a post on why Sachin should take a break from the game and come back with renewed energy.

But the selectors had different ideas. Vengsarkar and co have made him vice-captain and if the team fails in the upcoming series, Dravid could very well be on his way out. But is making Sachin captain the right move in that case?

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A long bad run

Sachin’s performance in the final test match against South Africa was embarassing. He was doing no justice to his stature as the world’s premier batsman or a senior member of the Indian team. This isn’t a recent phenomenon though. The little man has been in poor form in both forms of the game for around two years now. He has made just over 1000 runs at an average of 38 in the last 2 years in the one day game and around 800 runs at an average of around 34 in the test game. These numbers stack up poorly against his career statistics and have now put him as far outside the top 10 bracket of International batsmen as he has ever been in the last ten years.

Is it time?

So, is it time for Sachin to leave while still being regarded as a force to reckon with? While he is the best judge of that, I am fairly sure every man and his dog have an opinion on this one. That he still loves the game is obvious from the enthusiasm he displays on the field but seventeen years at the top have taken their toll. There isn’t an unbroken bone or untorn muscle and the body takes longer to respond to what the mind asks of it. Add to this the media and general public speculation on his form, stance, inability to play left-arm spinners and what not. Throw in the burden of expectations that he has worn so lightly for over a decade and we can still hardly fathom what this man goes through. Sachin has rendered yeoman service to Indian cricket and that is irrefutable.

But even a player of Sachin’s stature must deliver the goods regularly and prove himself to be in the team. Atleast that is the expectation, given that the team and the game are bigger than any individual. Sachin has failed to deliver over an extended period now. The fact that he was the second highest run-getter against the Proteans speaks badly of the rest of our batting and is no excuse.

Do I suggest that Sachin be dropped? Sycophants will want to hunt me down for this sacrilegious thought but anyone who has been following his career is now wondering how much longer Sachin will agonize us with his form. He will show us glimpses of genius with stunning drives and powerful cuts and then edge a ball to the slips when on 30. Another bad series and the blood-bayers would probably be right in their demands for a Sachin exclusion.

The End: A forced retirement?

The selectors though, will not drop Sachin, not unless they want to earn the wrath of the entire country and looks like he isn’t going to take the break I suggested. So, the only way for the career to end is a retirement but not just yet. His continued inclusion in the team should be contingent on the performance in the next series. If he fails, I don’t think there is anything blasphemous about dropping the great man from the team the euphemistic way of doing which would be to demand his retirement following a farewell series (which might or might not be the World Cup). But why one more series? Well, most players performed considerably worse in the South African series and I don’t see any replacements really. Also, while he looks like he is over the hill, he might turn in performances in this series and the World Cup that make me look like a fool.

A wish …

These are the last legs of the greatest Indian career ever seen. Miles and miles of newsprint will be devoted to the years at the top and the spanking shots when he is gone. But most cricket lovers around the world would like to see this symphony rise to a crescendo and go out at the top. I hope it starts to build-up now or it might remain forever unfinished.

Prof

What are your views on this issue? Leave a comment. (If you think that I might be missing some parts of my anatomy or should stick things up some place, please keep those opinions to yourself, Thank You. )

Related Post: Sachin’s greatest one day knocks

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Posted in Cricket, Indian Cricket | 3 Comments »

2006: Test Team of the year

Posted by Sports Snob on January 2, 2007

Its that time of the year again- have a few drinks with friends, look back at the cricketing year and try and come up with a world XI which would knock the crap out of most teams (including Australia). Selections were made on performances over the past year and also where they fit in the team ( so no question of selection of say Tendulkar).

Some of the selections were rather obvious but some others were made after some more beer and a great deal of discussion. Selecting a team is not an easy job (unless you are Fletcher in which case you remove logic and reason from your selection process) and we have taken this rather seriously. So let us know what you think and more importantly who would make your team of the year!

Matthew Hayden:

The burly left-hander had one of his more subdued years in 2006.The usual arrogance has been missing from the game and swagger was absent in the middle of the year. Scoring just two hundreds and three nineties, Hayden has still managed a place in the team owing to inconsistent performances of many openers around the world. He might not be at his best but he will fight it out at the center. Never discount Matthew Hayden. Alaistar Cook was a great candidate but on his day Hayden can destroy any bowling line up.

Stats: 10 Matches, 789 runs, 2 Centuries, Average: 43.83

Kumara Sangakarra:

Why is Sangakarra in the team? Ask the Kiwis and the Springboks! Without a doubt, Sangakarra has snatched the title of best wicket keeper batsman from Adam Gilchrist. Consistent performances in England over the summer helped the Lankans draw the three test series with England. Sangakarra then went on to smash 287 as he put on a record 624 run partnership with Jayawardene as the Sri Lankans beat the Proteas 2-0 at home. Sangakarra probably saved his best form for the Kiwis, a century at Christchurch came when there was no hope of victory but that set the tone for a fabulous 156 at Wellington as the Lankans drew level with the Kiwis. With Sangakarra finally doing full justice to his potential both in front of and behind the wicket, the Lankan squad looks a very strong contender for the World Cup.

Stats: 11 Matches, 1242 runs, 4 centuries Average: 69

Ricky Ponting:

Criticized for his captaincy after the Ashes series defeat in England last year, Ponting has made a great comeback as captain this year. Yes, he has a brilliant team at his disposal but he can only be judged by the results and the results have been good. And, he hasn’t stopped scoring runs. He started the year with a remarkable match in Sydney against the Springboks (his 100th test match), Ponting scored a century in each innings as Australia easily achieved the competitive total that Graeme Smith had set his team. Ponting then went on to save his team a lot of embarrasement as he scored 118 to thwart Bangladesh from achieving one of the biggest upsets in test history.

But as expected, Ponting saved his best for the hapless Englishmen. Centuries at both Brisbane and Adelaide have taken Ponting’s tally to an incredible 33 centuries. If he manages to keep this form for the next two years, he might well hit 50 international test centuries. And considering Langer, McGrath and Warne are retiring next year, the Australians will be hoping the Ponting does continue this remarkable run.

The perfect man for the number 3 spot.

Stats: 10 Matches, 1333 runs, 7 centuries Average: 88.86

Jacques Kallis:

Kallis has not had a great year either with bat or ball, falling from his mid-fifties average to an average of 45 with the bat. There might be readers who believe that in such a strong team, the presence of a allrounder is not necessary. But Kallis is more than an ordinary all rounder. He can swing the ball both ways (just ask Tendulkar) and is also a fine slip fielder.

A wonderful player who is also one of the most boring people to have played the game, I think. His century against Australia at Sydney was a painstakingly compiled effort as was his other century effort of the year in Capetown against the same opposition. He brings the kind of balance that most teams would kill to have as would we.

Stats: 8 Matches, 620 runs, 2 centuries, Average: 44.28
491 runs, 15 wickets, Average: 32.73
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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

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.

High point

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.

One-day Series

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.

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Posted in Cricket, Indian Cricket | 3 Comments »

Ganguly: Against the Wall?

Posted by Sports Snob on December 13, 2006

 

Tony Grieg once famously remarked during 1996 when India was touring England, that 1973 was the best year for Indian cricket. It was not just because it was the year that a certain Sachin Tendulkar was born, but because the year also saw the birth of the two batsmen that Grieg claimed at that time had the capability to overshadow the genius of Tendulkar; Sourav Ganguly, ‘The Prince of Calcutta’ and Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid. Both made their debuts at the Mecca of cricket – Lords, and both announced their arrival in typical fashion. Saurav Ganguly, at number 3, smashing 20 boundaries, a good chunk of them in the point region that he made his own, and scoring a 131 that is still etched in many a cricket fan’s memory. Rahul Dravid, coming as far down the order as number 7, scoring a patient workman like 95, with hardly half a dozen hits to the fence, but showing enough resilience and skill to prove to the selectors that he was the answer to all of India’s batting crises. Of course, as the years passed by, a lot of things changed. Rahul Dravid soon became the greatest Indian batsman to have batted at number 3, and Ganguly slowly slipped down the batting order as far down as number 7, and eventually out of the team. With Ganguly back in the scheme of things, this might be an opportune moment to reflect on the paths that the test careers of these two batting stalwarts have taken over the past decade.

The Prince

After a blazing start to his test career, though there weren’t too many memorable knocks (with the exception of probably the Brisbane ton which set the tone for India’s awesome display for the rest of the tour), Ganguly’s ability to galvanise his side into a fighting unit, his ability to effortlessly pierce a 7-2 offside field when he was in the mood for it, his aggression that was a rarity among Indian cricketers, and to some extent the destruction he havocked at the top of the Indian ODI top order meant that Ganguly’s position in India’s all-star batting order was relatively safe and cemented.

But then, post 2004, the downward slide took a turn for the worse, patchy batting form aside, his injuries, some real, and some apparently-not-so-real meant that he missed quite a few matches, where Dravid riding the crest of his life, would lead quite impressively (impressively enough to even let critics praise in hindsight the decision to declare an innings when Tendulkar was on 194*). The powers-that-be soon realised that Ganguly’s captaincy skills were not enough anymore to override his batting failures, and after the much talked about Ganguly-Chappell fiasco, the board decided that it was time to take away the crown from the Prince.

The Wall

Unlike Ganguly who took the scene by storm, Dravid almost nudged into the team without being noticed. Over the next few years, with his dependable batting, he laid stake and won his rightful number three position. He was building his career as he did his innings. He recognized fully well, the importance of staying there and that the runs and power would both come to him when they were due. Over this period, he proved himself to be the complete team man: batting at number five if required, keeping wickets in the shorter version.

Dravid’s batting is the work of a mechanic. Imagine Dravid batting and the picture is one of immense concentration, sweat dripping off the forehead, the perfectly poised head, the back-lift just right. When the stroke is played, the head is steady, the footwork decisive and the follow through complete. Every ball is a test and every shot is an answer, evaluated in terms of runs and correctness (defined by a copybook). He was making runs where everyone else was failing and significantly, when everyone else was failing. The chips are down? Dravid is the man. He had become the most prized wicket for any opposition. Dravid was also the poster boy of the Indian middle class: an educated youngster who had worked hard, understood his limitations and risen to the top through sheer hard work and strength of performance in the domestic league. Dravid’s was another face of the new India, reflecting a quiet confidence of the times.

Over the period of the Ganguly captaincy, Dravid had risen up to the top rungs of power and was the trusted ally of the Prince. When the opportunity presented itself, Dravid took over the reins with a defining victory in Pakistan. As a respected senior, an astute thinker of the game and the most prolific batsman, Dravid seemed the right man for the job. In fact, Team India was as much Dravid’s as it was Ganguly’s. He had the support of all members and with Greg Chappell backing him, was turning things around for the team. The team had become the most successful chasers in history, youngsters like Raina, Dhoni and Pathan were playing well, Dravid was batting well, the birds were singing and spring was on.

The future

The honeymoon is now over: poor forms of Sehwag and Pathan, dismal Champions trophy performance, inept display in South Africa means that Dravid is under some pressure. And to strengthen the middle order, Ganguly has been resurrected. It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming series. Ganguly has shown that he is a hard man to keep down. With the fighting innings in South Africa he has indicated that he is likely to breathe fresh life -or atleast try to- into his rather ordinary test career. Dravid is too much of a team man and nice guy to field anything but the best eleven of the fittest for the test. This probably means that Ganguly will play the first test against the Proteans. But with all this history behind them, how will their relationship develop from this point on? As a lover of Indian cricket, I hope to see another successful Ganguly-Dravid partnership. Ganguly batting in the form that earned him praises in Brisbane and Dravid doing what he does best, bat intelligently and score prolifically, and a resurrected Indian team coming away with a drawn Protean series would be a good start.

Will we see a beautiful friendship or are there more surprises in this story? I don’t expect another era of Ganguly captaincy but we will wait and watch this space for further developments.

Prof and Thejaswi Udupa

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Posted in Cricket, Indian Cricket | 21 Comments »

Bats, balls and beer bellies.

Posted by Sports Snob on December 9, 2006

You know, I don’t write here very often… I guess I’m rather lazy. A lot of the time, I’m much happier off watching the stuff, and when I’m not, I’m sleeping. Thankfully, today I sat down in front of the telly to watch India vs. South Africa. So I find myself here, writing, thanks to Pat Symcox.

Now, most of you will remember Symcox as that massive South African off-spinner from the nineties. He was a fair bowler, I suppose, but the thing that (I felt) stood out about him was his size. Huge bugger, this fella. Which got me thinking… what happened to all the big men of cricket. I only started following cricket in 1993, but there was a bunch of cricketers who played around that time who were, well, rotund would be the word. Being rather rotund myself, I tend to have a soft spot for these undoubted connoisseurs of a good night out (I imagine). Here are a few that come to mind:

Merv Hughes

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This guy was amazing. An Aussie quick in the late 80s and early 90s, Hughes had a walrus moustache and a belly which was, well, rather large. (An understatement, really). He would come steaming in from what appeared to be the boundary and hit the deck pretty hard – a good bowler, most people would concur. It baffles me to think about the stamina he must have had, no doubt camouflaged brilliantly with that beer belly. Hughes is now a national selector and has in fact appeared on reality tv shows built around losing weight.

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Shane Warne: Old Wine, Old bottle

Posted by Sports Snob on December 8, 2006

 

Some men you just don’t discount. The Englishmen learnt this lesson at the Adelaide Oval on day five. When the bowler is Shane Warne and the press is going hammer and tongs at him, it is time to be on your guard. Say what you will, but this man is the best of our generation and probably the best bowler of the last 15 years. And as always, a thorn in the side of the English batting line-up.

When Shastri and Sachin were tonking him all over the ground, nobody would have predicted over 600 wickets. But then, nobody knew what the essence of being Warne was. He is a great bowler with many variations but at the core of his success lies his hatred for losing. Connors was probably saying for him, “ I hate the look on the opponent’s face when he beats me”.

After the first innings, many a critic had written Warne off saying he probably did not have enough fuel in the tank to play back to back tests, the Englishmen like Pietersen had figured Warne out, Warne was another Giles and the like. In the final day’s play, Warne showed us what separates him from most players, delivering when it counted. It is true that the batsmen played too defensively but that isn’t Warne’s fault! He bowled tightly, teasing the batsmen, turning deliveries viciously, mixing them up well and being the bowler that the batsmen had nightmares about.

He might no longer be the bowler he was four or five years ago but this man is ageing quite like the Bordeaux reds. He has shown us many times over that he is capable of this kind of performance. I wonder what the critics were thinking writing him off like that. Why would you bet against him? Many a columnist was forced to swallow his words at another famous Australian victory engineered by Warne.

“Nanner Nanner”, from Shane Warne.

-Prof

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Australia 2 : England 0;I told you so!

Posted by Sports Snob on December 6, 2006

The English cricketers, for the first four days of the second test match nearly pulled off a stunt that would have made the above headline impossible. In fact, if someone had asked me on the morning of the fifth day whether there was any other possibility apart from the match petering out to a boring draw, I would have probably put my odds on a Pietersen-fronted all out batting assault for a session and a half, which would have then made way for an exciting last couple of sessions if a couple of Aussie wickets had fallen early. As it turned out, the only thing I was right about was a couple of Aussie wickets falling early (they lost both their openers within the first six overs). Such was the confidence inspired by England’s first innings batting display, that no one in their right cricketing mind would predict that the Poms would score only 70 runs off the 54 overs they faced today, far less an all-out batting collapse. But then, such is cricket.

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Apart from the Australian ‘good’ there has been a lot of English ‘bad’ that has contributed to the defeats in the first two tests. For one, the selectors’ inexplicable stupidity in not playing Monty. If they are so intent on playing Giles for the 20 odd runs that he purportedly contributes with the bat, they could have kept him, and ditched the totally out-of-form Jamie Anderson. In any case, England’s past formula of a four-pronged pace attack is not working, so they might well try out a 2-spinner approach; one to bowl outside leg-stump and generally bore batsman out, and the other to bowl teasing flighted deliveries and mesmerize the batsmen into giving up their wickets. That leads us to the second English ‘bad’. It’s more a case of ‘never been worse’ actually – their ‘pace’ attack. The only thing imposing about Harmison these days is his height. James Anderson is bowling like some teenager who is called upon to bowl at batsmen in the nets to give them some morale boost. Freddie Flintoff is still confused whether he is a captain, a fast bowler or an attacking batsman, and until he assures himself that he is all three I don’t see him doing justice to any of them. Hoggard has finally got his wily cutters in place, so that may be some consolation for England. 

But a few positives have also emerged in these past two tests. Collingwood playing Steve Waugh-esque innings; Pietersen making Shane Warne do a Ashley Giles (bowl a negative leg-stump line), and still managing to thulp him at will. Ian Bell, might have lost a bit of the fluency of the Pak tour, but is still making runs. Most importantly, England have not really been complete doormats that most people expected them to be for these first two tests. And the long break until the third test should give the English team management enough time to read all the things that have been written about what’s going wrong, and allow them to set right at least a few of them. All of which boils down to good stuff for cricket lovers. Expect some bounce in WACA; not just on the pitch, but in the strides of the cricketers, both teams.

Thejaswi Udupa

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