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25 January, 2018

Last chance for India's non-performing batsmen

Day One, 3rd Test: Do Team India have brilliant strategies up their sleeves to shock SA into submission on Pujara's birthday

By Francis Adams

Today, January 25, is Cheteshwar Pujara's birthday. He has turned 30 years, 0 days.
Cheteshwar Pujara received mixed reactions to his slow innings. Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv

Yesterday, he scored the slowest of Test match half centuries (50 from 179 balls), that earned him scorn, criticism, memes, rebukes, from the trolls and praise from lovers of Test cricket.

Pujara's birthday gift, a day in advance.

"This is one of the toughest pitches I've played on," said Pujara in response to Shaun Pollock's query about describing how was it batting on the Wanderers pitch on Day One of the third Test.

The Rajkot boy's sentiment was backed in a more desperate tone by former India captain Saurav Ganguly, who let out his anger through his tweet: "To play test cricket on this surface is unfair ...saw it in NZ in 2003 ...batsman have a minimum chance ...ICC should look into it."

Whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in consultation with Ravi Shastri, Kohli and others concerned take up this matter officially with the ICC is for the future.

At this moment, India have pride to defend and the claim that they will not complain about any pitch they are made to play on because in Shastri's words,"There are two teams playing on that pitch." This translates to: You are as good as, or better than, the other team in skills and strategy to win the Test, leave aside the conditions.

What is India aiming for?

With 187 on the board and already a South African wicket in the bag on the first day, Team India feel they have a bright chance of turning this Test their way.

"We had to work hard to score runs, but the total we have, I think it is as good as scoring 300 on any wicket. As we saw, we got a wicket, and if we bowl well, I think we'll get them out. I would say it was a good day for us," was how Pujara summed up the status of this Test, thus far.

AB de Villiers has been the thorn in India's progress.
Pic courtesy: Indiatimes.com
We fans do not know whether Pujara's analysis is shared by his captain Kohli and coach Shastri as these two did not speak with the press after the day's play.

The reality is: If India have worked on developing special strategies to price out South African wickets, they should be ready with super special strategy and implementation to see the back of AB de Villiers.

He is the only thorn in India's progress. de Villiers as we all cricket lovers know can dominate any bowling attack on any surface, barring a few hiccups.

His innings, even if it is a cameo is so effective that it is likely to rub off on most of his teammates, also inspiring tailenders Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo to put useful runs on the board. He set the tone for Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj in previous innings.

There are several reports in the media that suggest that this Test will decide the future of few of India's batsmen, such as, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.

There is also talk of how Kohli's arrogance is good for his individual game and stature but not helpful to the team.

Team India's quest to conquer the Foreign Frontier has just begun. These talks and such reports don't convey a positive and happy scenario about world cricket's No 1 Test team.

Team India needs more batsmen to support Kohli. This Test is their last chance.
Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv
Today, January 25, the second day of the third Test at Johannesburg is, hence, the D-Day for Team India. If they strategize well, utilizing their bowlers intelligently from both ends and manage to
curtail South Africa's chase within 150 runs, they'll be able to smell victory.

Then, again, we fans can only hope that, for one last time, batsmen other than Kohli and Pujara will stand up and take ownership in their last innings in this three-Test series.

They owe one big score so that their bowlers have enough runs to put South Africa under pressure, go for the kill and salvage some pride.

23 January, 2018

Will Kohli and Team India lose at the speed of a Tracer Bullet?

Third Test: While Faf du Plessis has renewed his 3-0 whitewash vow, Shastri and Kohli have been subdued in their response


By Francis Adams

One result Team India stayed true to was not losing the ICC Test ranking as No 1 team.

This was made public before India began the tour to South Africa that irrespective of a 3-0 series loss, India will retain their No 1 position as they had amassed 4969 points for a rating of 124 compared to South Africa at No 2 with 3888 points and rating of 111. Australia are the No 3 Test side with 4174 points and rating of 104.

What's the benefit of this?

No one knows, except maybe, David Kendix who developed these rating for the International Cricket
David Kendix. Pic courtesy: Gulfnews.com
Council. And of course, some benefit to the sponsor (advertiser) MRF Tyres, who gets publicity, as well as the ICC which gets paid from the sponsor.

Cricketwise, you the eternally optimistic fan could be feeling the same way Virat Kohli is, at this moment after India's second straight Test loss at the SuperSport Park, Centurion.

Last hurrah for SA Seniors!

These feelings hold little sympathy for Faf du Plessis and South Africa.

Captain du Plessis has been making his intention clearer to the media even before the series began. "I don't know when the next Test series against India is, but it's probably the last time all of us [senior players] play against India and there's no better way than playing a series in South Africa.

We were disappointed the last time we went there and we've got a score to settle, so we're excited for this series," he had said, ahead of the first Test at Newlands,  referring to the 3-0 whitewash they suffered at India's hands in 2015.

Yesterday, he consolidated on those statements. "We don't get the opportunity often to be in a position of strength so that we can beat them 3-0, but consistency is what you want to have as much as possible. Leading into the Australian series, we want to go in with the momentum we have build-up and gathering over the last two games. By now, me or anyone feels that we should not step off the pedal off the gas. We might as well get this 3-0 done."


Shastri's patent "Set the cat amongst the pigeons" and "like a tracer bullet"

Ravi Shastri, center, with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma during practice.
Pic courtesy: newsx.com
Two of Ravi Shastri's phrases, as live TV commentator, have become very popular. There have been millions of tweets, memes and jokes available on the internet about Shastri's frequent use of "Set the cat amongst the pigeons" and "like a tracer bullet".

In fact, the Board of Control for Cricket in India had launched a #TracerBulletChallenge for the current stars, among whom Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin had a go at the term. See video courtesy BCCI.tv

Shastri has "set the cat amongst the pigeons" by saying in yesterday's press conference: "In hindsight, I would say, another 10 days of practice here would have made the difference."

Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma. Pic courtesy: Hindustantimes.com
How could the players have left for South Africa for practice when Kohli had invited all to his wedding reception in Mumbai at the St Regis Hotel, on December 26, 2017? Kohli and his beau, Bollywood star Anushka Sharma had planned this reception in advance and the invitation had been sent out.

Could the BCCI have said: "Forget the wedding reception, playing for the country and winning is
important?"

There are talks about how BCCI needs to plan out India's overseas tour properly, in advance and in a professional manner.

Elli Avram was a guest at Krunal Pandya's
wedding in December.
We fans can only hope that this does not remain only on paper. Or, hope that Hardik Pandya, if he becomes a permanent member of the Test team, does not announce his wedding reception with Eli
Avram, who he is rumored to be dating. Avram, whose full legal name is Elisabet Avramidou Granlund, is SweedoGreek and a TV star. She made Mumbai her home since 2012 and has appeared in a couple of Bollywood movies, including Mickey Virus as well as Bigg Boss 7.

Now that India are 2-0 down and lost the series, Shastri raking up the practice issue may come to haunt him "like a Tracer bullet".

There are other aspects, such as Shastri's bold statements before the series began compared to the ones now, after India are out of the series.

His prominent statement before the first Test was "Every ground is a home ground for us. We don't look at the opposition, we look at the pitch and play."

In contrast, he said this yesterday: "Here conditions are different. Conditions back home, we are familiar with. [At home] We shouldn't be in positions where you have to fight back {as far as I am concerned]. Our top order, if we can fire, it'll be a good Test match."

That famed top order not firing (only one 50+ -by Kohli) in four innings at Newlands and SuperSport Park has been India's bane, isn't it?

So, Shastri will at the end of this third Test in Johannesburg, realize: It's not "as simple as that", another of his patent usage these days.

As for you, the eternally optimistic Indian cricket fan, you will have to endure more from our top order batsmen, in Kohli's words: "Every time you step on to the field, it's an opportunity to correct your mistakes. And that is how you progress at the international level. I am sure everyone is looking forward to rectifying those mistakes. And if you are in the same positions, consolidating on the positions."

20 January, 2018

4 steps to improve your business Return On Investment

Are you a small business looking to scale, introduce a new line, have cost factor and ROI to worry about? Here's your answer

By Francis Adams

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Infusionsoft: Finally a complete solution for small businesses. Image courtesy: Infusionsoft.com
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An integrated business to save money and time.
Image courtesy: Infusionsoft.com
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19 January, 2018

10 reasons Kohli's Team India lost the series

Virat Kohli may continue to hit back at the media, but he cannot escape more than 'soft dismissals' his team committed


By Francis Adams

There are Indian cricket fans worldwide who may have missed following Team India's decimation in the Test Series in South Africa owing to studies, work, profession, business and other personal reasons. This includes the Indian diaspora.

You may be checking the news, reports, videos and various cricket sites for the exact reasons on why such a complete team, touted as the best ever to leave Indian shores and aiming to conquer all foreign frontiers, have been relegated to such a dismal state.

Here are 10 reasons why India are 2-down and have lost this three-Test Freedom series.

Leave aside the several stories about pitch and conditions behaving weirdly. They were supposed to.

And in Virat Kohli's words, if "We are prepared what we are going to get here. We are not under any delusion," then these 10 blunders get magnified more.

1. "Nothing shot" outside the off stump

If all of India's frontline batsmen were as agile to the one in this pic, the result of Test matches in Newlands and SuperSport Park, Centurion could have been in India's favour. Pic courtesy: News18.com
Live TV commentator Mike Haysman chose to call them the "nothing shot". Most Team India batsmen, especially the top order got out to deliveries outside the off stump they should have been
leaving.

They did this repeatedly.

It wasn't a surprise to see Kohli sum it up in his post-match response to Shaun Pollock's query. "We failed to get a good partnership and take lead. We have let ourselves down. The bowlers have done the job but the batsmen have let the team down."

His submission only raises questions on what homework (read preparation) did the team, ranked No 1 in Tests, and management, including chief coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun, and assistant coach Sanjay Bangar do?

2. Talismanic Kohli's dismissals

Virat Kohli wouldn't have had to ask for a review had he and the
team thinktank made SA sweat for each of his wickets. 
India's aggressive captain was softened on more than one occasion by the South African bowlers with the incoming delivery bowled after a few bluffs of away going balls. The last nail in the coffin was hammered by rookie and debutant Lungi Ngidi.

In the first Test, Vernon Philander strategized on bowling bluffs at Kohli outside the offstump and 11
deliveries later brought one back to have India's talisman plumb in front.

Faf du Plessis changed tactics in the second innings of the first Test and after letting Kohli taste Philander's Indian-bowler-type-of-bounce brought in Morne Morkel, who with his 6'5" height got the India skipper to chase one to be caught behind.

We fans, happy to see Kohli score a big hundred and expecting a repeat, were in for another jolt in the critical second innings of the second Test when Ngidi repeated a similar strategy that Philander used and got the better of Kohli.

Did India's think tank notice, study and prepare to thwart any such attempts at their price gem? We fans doubt they did, else Kohli would have been alert to such salvos fired at him.

3. Pujara's amateurish run outs

Down and in deep trouble, Pujara created a dubious
record of being the only Indian to be
run out twice in a Test. Pic courtesy: TimesNow News
Pujara became the only Indian player to be dismissed run-out twice in a Test and the 23rd overall since Stephen Fleming in 2000 for New Zealand against Zimbabwe.

Little said the better?

ESPNCricinfo went few steps further, running an extensive article titled "Pujara, the run-out specialist" and detailing how Pujara has been involved in six out of India's last eight run-outs in Tests.

It definitely hurts fans to see the anchor of the team get suicidal and push the team further into an abyss. We deserve better, especially when all players proclaim how passionately they play for the country.

4. Wonderboy Pandya's run out

Seeing is believing. See this corresponding picture. It says everything how a batsman playing a Test match for his country ought not to be taking the opposition casually.
Such runouts seldom happen in Test cricket. 

India needed Pandya, particularly after his gritty 93 in India's first innings in the first Test
at Newlands.

As cricket fans, we understand Pandya has been allowed to play his natural game, but repeating the ramp shot when not needed and getting out to it will now be seen as throwing your wicket when India required him to stay and save the Test match.

5. Ashwin's same-pace bowling in the second innings of the second Test

India's leading spin bowler returned figures of 4 for 113, second only to Graeme Swann's 5 for 110 at the SuperSport Park, Centurion in December 2009.

So remarkable was his bowling effort that 94% of his deliveries (219 from 233) were pitched at good length. And off the 219, 81 were pitched outside the off stump that fetched him his four wickets.

Suddenly, this feat dried up when South Africa batted second. Ashwin ended up with figures of 1 for 78 runs from 29.3 overs, allowing South Africa to pile up 258.

Why this difference?

It's because during the first innings the pitch was comparatively faster than the second innings. As a result, when Ashwin should have adjusted his pace and bowled quicker, he continued to bowl at the same pace, allowing the opposition batsmen, including tailender Kagiso Rabada sufficient time to play him.

Could coach Shastri, a respected spin bowler during his playing days, have read this change in pitch behaviour and alerted Ashwin? Yes. Shastri could have. Unfortunately, this did not seem to have happened.

6. Dropped catches. Hands on knees. 


India's slip fielders are known to have this habit of
standing with their feet apart as this file picture shows.
This video, published by ESPN Cricinfo, explains in the most simple ways what international and accomplished players playing for their country must not do while taking up responsibility as slip fielders.

Daryll Cullinan discusses India's slip-fielding woes with Sidharth Monga during the second Test in Centurion

What made, Kohli, Dhawan and the others stand with their hands on their knees while the bowler is about to deliver? Why did they continue to stand with their legs stretched out instead of being in the wicket-keeper stance? These are habits, not corrected at the international level but when these Test players were youngsters and playing domestic cricket.


7. Giving away runs at crucial moments

Could Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India's spearhead in the bowling attack in the first Test have spoken too much and lost his place in the side for the second Test due to this? It could be a possibility.

The paceman from Uttar Pradesh was only being honest.

Sent to address the media after this spell of 4 for 87 in the first innings of the first Test, Bhuvi in his candid manner said: "It is a concern for us. During the break also, we were talking about bringing the run-rate down because in Test cricket four runs per over is a lot. This is something we want to improve when we bowl in the second innings but overall we are happy with the lines and lengths we bowled."

Bhuvi felt that India's attack gave away, probably 30 runs more to allow South Africa reach 286 in their first innings.

"If we want to be hard on ourselves, then yes we did give away a few too many runs to South Africa. I think they scored 25-30-odd extra runs. In every hour of play, there were 2-3 overs, where we gave away easy boundaries. That is an area we can improve on," Bhuvi said.

It's an irony that while the only player who spoke so openly about this fault was rested for the second Test while those playing in the XI in the second Test continued to give away crucial runs at critical moments.

8. Shami, a second innings bowler

Mohammed Shami seemed to have suddenly found his mojo as he turned lethal in South Africa's second innings with excellent figures of 4 for 49 from 16 overs that included India's nemesis AB de Villiers's wicket.

This same bowler looked blunt in his first innings stint as he laboured, partly owing to a bout
Mohammed Shami's inconsistent bowling was a
contributing factor in India's twin losses.
of giddiness, with his runups and ended with 1 for 58 from 15 overs.

This pattern was a repeat of the first Test, where Shami turned dangerous for the South African batsmen only in the second innings, snaring 3 for 28 from 12 overs.

How did he bowl in the first innings? 1 for 47 from 16 overs.

Sunil Gavaskar, doing live TV commentary and an expert sharp at observing such irregularity, commented on how Shami looked labouring in his stride on a pace-friendly Newlands pitch in the first innings.

The term "Shami, a second innings bowler" was coined by Sanjay Manjrekar in his analysis from the SonyLiv studio.

Did this low-high from Shami affect India? Yes, it did.

9. Lack of bite from the other end

Twice, India's frontline bowlers, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah respectively, wreaked havoc on the South African batsmen.

The first golden opportunity for India was created by Bhuvi who had South Africa with their backs to the wall, reducing them to 12 runs and three wickets down.

The next wicket fell at 126.

The second such opportunity arrived during the second innings of the second Test when Bumrah pegged South Africa back at three runs for two wickets. He sent back first innings star Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla in quick succession.

The next wicket fell at 144.

On both occasions, Team India were found wanting an incisive and penetrative bowler from the other end who could have kept the relentless pressure on and dash any South African hopes of recovery. 

This wasn't to be.

10. Rowdy screaming when SA wicket is down - emotional overflow

India, under Kohli and led by his antics have been excessively vocal.
The Indian team, led by their captain Kohli could be seen celebrating in a raucous manner, even when a South African tail-end batsman was out. This waste of energy wasn't needed, feel experts. 

Kohli, who continues to be the most vociferous of such celebrations has been accused by former players watching the game as showing excessive "emotional overflow."

Such celebrations also cause distraction from the target you are aiming to achieve. This is not a comparison, but South African players did not start celebrating until they knew full well and were assured that victory was theirs during both Test matches.

Finally, if you are told by Kohli like he did to a South African journalist: "You tell me which XI, we'll play that," what would be your response?

My reply to Kohli would be: Now that your team is down 2-nil in this three-Test series, South Africa is out to avenge their 3-0 whitewash suffered in India in 2015.

They are asking for a pace-bowling friendly Johannesburg pitch for the third Test, starting on January 24, 2018.

Your pace bowlers have proved they are no less. And you have nothing to lose. So why not unleash all your pace bowlers in this match and have a go at the South Africans like Clive Lloyd's pace battery used to, so regularly.

The XI you should be playing is: 

Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Parthiv Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma.








16 January, 2018

5 aspects Kohli, Shastri will need to save face from

Fourth day: At 35/3, with a cursing captain Virat back in the pavilion, India's remaining top order have more than job satisfaction to achieve

By Francis Adams

"We know how to win Test matches now and that's a very good habit and knowledge to have," said Virat Kohli, during a press conference on December 30, 2017.

Virat Kohli resurrected his batting with a hard-fought 153, but he will
also be responsible for his team's failures. Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv
It's January, 17, 2018 and the final day of the second Test versus South Africa. India, already 0-1 down in the three-Test match series, are staring at defeat at 35 for 3, with their lone ranger in the top order batting, the captain courageous himself, gone.

Here are five aspects that Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, part of India's famed top order will need to do and lead India to a respectable draw.

If they squeeze out a win, it'll be seen as a miracle or an act of redemption and bravery. It'll go down in the history of cricket as a textbook lesson for future generations of Indian cricket.

1. Staying true to big talks

"[So], I feel the kind of bowling attack we have now and the kind of balance we have in the side, we definitely believe that we can win here.  There's no two ways about it. If we wouldn't have that mindset, there'd be no point in getting ourselves on that flight.

We have come here wanting to express ourselves, believing in our abilities, knowing that we have the right balance to win Test matches in any conditions we play at," said Virat Kohli ahead of the First Test in his first press conference after landing in South Africa.

Pujara and Rohit Sharma are only the two accomplished batsmen left who can prove Kohli's assertion that India has the right balance to win Test matches in any conditions they play on.

There's evidence that the SuperSport Park pitch at Centurion is treacherous, devilish and yet the sub continental type.

These two top order batsmen will have to play as the fulcrum and inspire, guide Parthiv Patel, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, and the tailenders Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah to turn this match around in their favour.

2. What's the thinking in the dressing room?

India and cricket fans cannot expect Ravi Shastri to step in an save the team
on the field. He was a respected allrounder when he played.
Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv
Sunil Gavaskar, doing live TV commentary from the venue, said "I don't know what's the thinking in this [Indian] dressing room." He said this exasperatedly in response to a query from Harsha Bhogle from the Sonyliv studio.

Gavaskar was obviously hinting at the exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane (from both first and second Tests) and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar from the second Test.

Reckoned as an all-time great opening batsmen in cricket history, Gavaskar, popularly known as Sunny wields that authority to offer opinions. "With Kohli gone, it looks difficult for India to win here," he said.

Having done live TV commentary for decades alongside Ravi Shastri, India's chief coach, Gavaskar may not feel appropriate to take names. But he is dejected and shocked at the way both, Shastri and Kohli have approached their South Africa tour.

The remaining seven India wickets have this herculean task now to justify every decision taken in the dressing room has been correct.

3. Top order a failure

Apart from Kohli, who salvaged his pride with face and innings saving 153 in the first innings, all other top order batsmen including Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan (rested for second Test), Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma have failed miserably to put into action what the team management had proposed to do.

"This once again, is an opportunity for us to play good cricket. We are not thinking whether we are playing in South Africa or any other country. For us, it's about winning sessions, being in the present, executing our skills well, not looking at history as to what's happened at a particular point in time. I think the most important think is to not get surprised by the pace and bounce. You believe in your abilities and take it [conditions and situations] head on," are Kohli's bold statements made to the press and the cricket fans worldwide.

M Vijay and KL Rahul will not get an opportunity to prove true Kohli's words in this second Test. They got two good attempts and came a cropper.

You, dear cricket fan, can only pray that Pujara and Rohit put on imaginable or invisible warrior's armour and stay at the wicket the entire day five to bail India out with a draw.

4. Rohit Sharma's acid test

Just the way former cricketers and experts have been analysing the omission of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar from the second Test, they have been equally vocal about Kohli and Shastri preferring Rohit Sharma over Rahane.

“It’s funny how things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days. Before the first Test no one thought that he [Rahane] should be in the 11 and now suddenly people are looking at the other option. For us as a team it’s all about finding the right balance. If players fit in the kind of balance we want to go in with as a side then they will fit in," Kohli had said.

The captain's response was seen as a retort and in strong defence of his authority, on "I know what's best" for Indian cricket at this moment.

These replies, all of which are on record, will now haunt both Kohli and Rohit.

It is in this innings, on this fifth day of this second Test, when Rohit was shielded from facing fire with India at 35 for 3, that the Mumbai Indians skipper has the opportunity to keep his own, Kohli's and India's pride intact.

On the fourth day, Parthiv Patel was sent to bat ahead of Rohit with an acceptable reason that his left-hand bat will combine well with Pujara's right-hand in stifling the pitch and the South African attack.
No one can shield Rohit except himself on this fifth day, January, 17, 2018.

5. Lack of any practice games

Preferring net sessions to practice games will be talked about should
India lose this second Test and with it the series. Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv
"We'd rather have practice sessions that are in our control. The way we want to run them," said Kohli when asked about India's refusal to have any practice games to get their batsmen ready to play in South African conditions.

"If you look at the wicket we are playing right now, it is not even 15% of what we are going to play
on. We understand that. There is no point in wasting two days, you know, guys going in and scoring quick 50s. We'd rather do sessions like today, test ourselves.

Here we have the freedom to water the wicket, bowl at the wicket harder and get conditions we want."

A complete disregard to practice games as is evident from the captain's piercing comments will be talked about should India lose this second Test and with it the series.

Sanjay Manjrekar, disliked by few fans on the social media for what they accuse say "he makes personal comments  on players" was spot on when he summed up that because India did not play any practice matches going into the series, all the mistakes in batting they could have ironed out in those practice matches came out in the first Test. And as we fans have seen, even in the second Test.

15 January, 2018

Kohli redeems self, will the others stand up?

Captain Virat Kohli made amends for his First Test failures by emulating his idol Sachin Tendulkar. Where are the others?


By Francis Adams

Virat Kohli, India's lone ranger in batting in the second Test. Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv
You'll find several stories of redemption about our icon and God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, among
them helping win the World Cup in his sixth appearance.

On Monday, Virat Kohli, who idolised Tendulkar while learning the ropes as a chubby-boy cricketer, redeemed himself with a sublime 153 in India's first innings. By doing so, he emulated Tendulkar as only the second India captain to notch a hundred in South Africa.

While Tendulkar used to look heavenwards after scoring a hundred as if thanking his late father for watching over him, Kohli set the social media buzzing by kissing his wedding ring from Bollywood star Anushka Sharma, after he reached his century.

His innings looked effortless to us cricket fans, yet judging from expert comments and Kohli's own chatter grabbed by the stump mic, especially during his 45 runs partnership with Hardik Pandya, you as an ardent cricket fan, could understand it was tough.

Apart from the onus of proving his critics wrong, Kohli also owed 17 teenage boys, currently playing for India in the ICC under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, a big hundred. A day before, he had exhorted these youngs boys to convert 50s and 60s into 130s and 140s so that they can stand out from the rest and get noticed.

"If other people get 50s and 60s, I would tell the batsmen to go out and get 120s and 130s at that level. And that's how you stand out. And people take notice of you," he had said in his special message. See video here, courtesy hotstar.com

Kohli was speaking from his own experience. He played few mesmerising knocks in the 2008 edition of the under-19 World Cup as he led India to the trophy.

Among the most watched from that edition is his 100 against the West Indies. See video here, courtesy hotstar.com

Back to the Centurion, at the end of Day 3, South Africa galloped ahead on the back of AB de Villiers, another flamboyant strokemaker and a good friend of Kohli. AB made matters worse for India with his quickfire 50 off 78 balls.

The more Kohli hopes he can get a foot in the door and see a ray of victory for India, the more de Villiers scuppers that plan like he did in the First Test.

And Centurion is de Villiers's home ground where he has scored seven fifties in the last eight Test
Although AB de Villiers played onto his stumps in the first
innings, he made good in his second. Pic courtesy: BCCI.tv
matches he has played.

South Africa will look to pile as many runs on the foruth day. Their aim will be to bat the day out and put India under pressure with an unachievable fourth innings score and, probably, the entire fifth day to bat.

How many from India's playing XI, other than Kohli, will stand up and be noticed?

Only Ravichandran Ashwin in both batting and bowling, and to some extent Ishant Sharma in his untiring bowling effort.

The others, including Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Partiv Patel, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami have done little in this second Test to make themselves standout with their performance.

They will provide you --  the eternally optimistic Indian cricket fan -- the opportunity on Tuesday and Wednesday (January 16 and 17), to red-ink their report card or blue-ink it.

14 January, 2018

Daggers still drawn at Kohli

It's practice what you preach time for Virat Kohli now after India's top order batsmen fail to earn back their pride

By Francis Adams

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Pic courtesy: India Today
Celebrated badminton coach Pullela Gopichand is known to take away P V Sindhu's smartphone days before she was preparing for crucial international matches so that it did not cause any distraction in
her quest for victory.

Team India coach Ravi Shastri may not get to hide Virat Kohli's mobile phone, although he should until this second Test match gets over at the SuperSport Park, in Centurion. .

Such has been the criticism by former players on Kohli resting Bhuvaneshwar Kumar for this second Test that should you face such sharp remarks from critics at your workplace, you'd be prompted to put in your paper (read resignation).

A little after India's playing 11 was announced on Saturday, January 13, 2018 for the second Test,
Pullela Gopichand and PV Sindhu.
Pic courtesy: The Indian Express.
former South African pace bowler Allan Donald was among the first to express shock and disappointment.

Sunil Gavaskar, VVS Laxman and Virendra Shewag were other prominent former players making their disagreement with Kohli public.

"@BhuviOfficial left out..you are kidding me??" Donald tweeted from his @AllanDonald33 handle.

In India, Virendra Sehwag, also a Delhiite as Kohli, unleashed his verbal attack just the way he would to bowlers worldwide with his bat.

"Watching Virat Kohli exclude Shikhar Dhawan for just one Test failure, and Bhuvneshwar for no reason at all, Kohli should drop himself in the third Test at Johannesburg, if he fails to perform in Centurion," Sehwag told India TV.

Gavaskar, who like Sehwag felt Dhawan deserved another chance, said this about Bhuvi's exclusion: "I also don’t understand why Ishant came in for Bhuvneshwar when he [Bhuvi] had taken three wickets on the opening day at Cape Town. Ishant could have replaced Shami or Bumrah but leaving him out, I don’t understand."

Laxman, known for bailing out Team India in Tests with his batting, said: "I am surprised not to find Bhuvi in the playing XI today. In the first Test, he took the most number of wickets [6 wickets] showing skill in using the new ball & batted quite well showing patience nd resilience. Am I missing something here ??"

Had Virat Kohli read these comments with the help of his smartphone, he'd have have felt his head and feet heavy to take the field the next day.

By the end of the first day, Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya had helped restore pride for India -- Ashwin with his three wickets and Pandya with a brilliant run out of Hashim Amla.

The daggers are still drawn on Kohli. India managed to get South Africa all out for 335 in the first innings. Restricting them to below 300 would have been ideal and a psychological plus.

Virat Kohli with the ICC U-19 World Cup trophy, 10 years ago
with Ravindra Jadeja to his right. 
What lies ahead for Kohli and the top oder?

The only way India's top order batsmen could have earned back their good reputation was by accumulating a total close to 650 plus so that they don't have to bat again. And then hope their bowlers bundle out the opposition below 300 runs.

Unfortunately, and very amateurishly, they lost two of their top batsmen KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara, with the team total at 28. Murali Vijay followed them after losing his focus when batting on 46. So did Rohit Sharma, who has continued to betray the trust reposed in him by his captain as well as coach Ravi Shastri.

Both, openers Vijay and Rahul, along with Pujara were expected to ensure they bat out the remainder of the second day, not requiring a night watchman.

This would have also ensured they provide Kohli ample time and runs on the board to come in and show his batting prowess.

Kohli, who led India under-19 to their World Cup victory 10 years ago, on Saturday offered encouraging words for the current team under coach Rahul Dravid.

Members of the current India under-19 team with coach Rahul Dravid.
Pic courtesy: Hindustan Times
"[You should] really look to stand out from the bunch. That should be the mindset of each and every player. Becasue it does present an opportunity. If other people get 50s and 60s, I would tell the batsmen to go out and get 120s and 130s at that level. And that's how you stand out. And people take notice of you," said Kohli to the u-19 boys ahead of their opening match against Australia, which
they won by 100 runs.

It'll be now upto Kohli himself to put his words for the under-19 team into action and score a big hundred for the senior team in Centurion. In other words: Practice what you preach.

Expecting wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin and the tailenders to cover up for the top order's failures would be akin to picking up a bad habit and enjoying it.

Pandya and the tailenders did impress in the first Test. The runs they score in this second Test should be considered as bonus runs that'll work as cushion for them when they bowl to South Africa in their second innings.


12 January, 2018

India and Indian cricket fan's Board Exam moment

Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Ian Chappell have made bold statements. Faf Du Plessis has been quietly confident. Who will pass this test?


By Francis Adams

As news of South Africa winning the toss and deciding to bat first has poured in, Virat Kohli's Team
Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis at the Toss. Pic courtesy: @BCCI
India are seeking a victory, and in the captain's words "The most important thing is that we don't give up."

The Supersport Park in Centurion, venue for the second of the three-match Test series, is 4000 feet above sea level. Such places are called high ground. It is here that India, who have never won a series in South Africa, are aiming to bounce back after the low in Newlands, Cape Town.

Will they be able to?

You, the eternally optimistic Indian cricket fan will confidently say, "Yes, this Indian team have it in them to win, if they play Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul."

However, reality bites big. Virendra Sehwag has given India only 30% chance of winning this second Test. The Nawab of Najafgarh's observation may have come owing to his vast experience as a former
Virendra Sehwag. Pic courtesy: sports.ndtv.com
India opening batsman, but it also lends credence to the statements made by the two captains to the media during pre-match press conferences.

Faf du Plessis has very calmly said: "The first priority is to win games. We prepare bowling friendly conditions because we want to win Test matches."

In contrast, none of Kohli's statements have the word "win" in them.

His responses, although positive sounding, have been guarded. "Even after being put under pressure, we are a team that looks to get up and fight back and get back into the game," the Indian skipper told the media.

It is considered normal for visiting team captains to be cautious in their replies and this is where this Test and series may be won and lost.

South Africa is already thinking and talking victory in public. India is reluctant to speak about it until they cross the bridge.

Few statistics also favour South Africa at Centurion.

They scored the highest team total of 620 for 4 declared, here, against India in 2010.

Hashim Amla, who is raring to be among runs after failing in Newlands, has the highest individual innings of 208 to his name at this venue. He scored this double ton against the West Indies in 2014.

Kagiso Rabada, outshined by Vernon Philander in the Cape Town Test, holds the best match bowling figures of 13 for 144 against England in 2016, here at Highveld.

What should inspire Kohli and Team India is:

1. Jasprit Bumrah's statements

2. Ian Chappell's "A fake world championship" article on January 7, 2018 on ESPNCricinfo.com

Bumrah, who made his debut in the first Test in Newlands, Cape Town told sports reporters: "[Team's] Confidence is not dented after one match. If it happens, then you don't deserve to play. Learn from the mistake you made and go forward. There is not a single cricketer who has not made a mistake."
Jasprit Bumrah during his Test debut in Newlands, Cape Town.
Pic courtesy: BCCI.TV



These are very strong statements by a player who is only a Test match old. It's an encouraging sign that also speaks well about the team management which is letting youngsters in the team speak to the media so freely.

This wasn't the case previously. Debutants and one-Test match olds were either shielded completely from interacting with the media or coaxed into responding in mono syllables.

On his part, Chappell, after enjoying watching Australia dominate England in the recently concluded The Ashes series, is projecting this ongoing India vs South Africa and the upcoming Australia vs South Africa Tests as the benchmark for deciding which team can claim to be the world's No 1 Test team, not considering the ICC Test rankings.

The ICC Test rankings does not display a team's standing based on merit. India, which is perched at
Ian Chappell. Pic courtesy: Foxsports.com
the top as No. 1, have earned most of their points by winning at home.

Wikipedia describes "High ground" as an area of elevated terrain, which can be useful in combat, which also means "to fight; to battle."

Five days or, maybe even lesser, from today will provide the answer whether Kohli and Team India meant "victory" when the captain said "We don't give up."

10 January, 2018

6 loopholes Kohli and India did not prepare for

Virat Kohli insisted Team India were prepared to take on South Africa and win the first Test. He was wrong. No one from the media dared to ask him how.

By Francis Adams

If you are a die-hard Indian cricket fan, you would have come across several analysis, criticism and blame-game by former India Test players, the media and fans as to why India lost the First Test at Newlands, Cape Town within four days on Monday, January, 8, 2018.
   
   Amidst all these opinions, the most interesting came from captain Virat Kohli in his post-match media conference. "We were very well prepared. I don't think we felt any lack of preparation," were Kohli's first sentences during the conference which is available on video on BCCI.tv. See here

   Either Kohli was in denial, trying to defend the top-order batting failure or was totally mistaken about what "being prepared" means.
 
    If the team had prepared then they would have covered these six loopholes that brought about the defeat.

1.  SA's plan to keep Kohli quite.

Virat Kohli walks off after being dismissed by Morne Morkel.
Pic courtesy: The New Indian Express
You would have seen experts including our legend Sunil Gavaskar discuss during commentary on how teams target the captain of the team and plan his cheap dismissal so that the entire team comes under pressure. Australians have been doing it regularly. India did it with some success against Steve Smith recently and exceptionally well with Sri Lankan Test captain Dinesh Chandimal.

    Did Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri and batting coach Sanjay Bangar prepare? No, they didn't.

You can figure out from what Player of the Match and wrecker-in-chief Vernon Philander had to say in an interview published in The Indian Express. "Virat is a quality player, and the key thing is to keep him quiet, and make sure that we set him up with the other one. I always knew I had the one coming back," said Philander, referring to the LBW dismissal of Kohli in the second innings.
 
   "It was probably two-and-a-half overs of away-swingers and then back at him (Kohli). It was definitely a plan to keep him quiet, and also to drag him across to make sure that when you do bowl the other one, he is on the other side of the off-stump."

   This is not all.

   In the first innings, Kohli played a delivery from Morne Morkel to be caught behind. He had a little earlier played Philander.

   South African captain Faf Du Plessis seemed to have prepared for Kohli's wicket as he quickly replaced Philander with Morkel. "They (India) should have known this fact that deliveries bowled by Morkel rise higher compared to Philander because of Morkel's 6'5" height," said Jonty Rhodes while analysing Kohli's dismissal in the studio, along with Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle.

   Only the hard-working Bhuvaneshwar Kumar seemed to have prepared and done his homework, maybe, by using video footage of South African batsmen's weakness, again maybe, from the quietness of his room.

   Bhuvi set Dean Elgar up beautifully in the first innings by bowling the first two deliveries outside leg and then bowling the third on the off and moving away, thus, becoming the only frontline bowler to take a wicket in the first over of a Test match after the legendary Kapil Dev did it in 1992.

2. What happened to "Well-left" star  Murali Vijay?

Leave alone Shikhar Dhawan's flamboyant manner of batting, be it Test, One-day or the T20, you as a cricket lover should be asking: "What preparation did Murali Vijay do that he changed his famous batting style of leaving deliveries outside the offstump and instead began playing them in Cape Town?"                                                                                                         
Murali Vijay: Pic courtesy - News18.com
                     
    Coming back from a long layoff due to injury, Tamilnadu's other star apart from Ravichandran Ashwin in the current Indian team, M Vijay is seen as a role model for aspiriing cricketers on how to be patient and leave deliveries outside the off stump on pitches abroad. He has proved this in Australia and England.

    In an article titled "The secret of Vijay's success" on ESPNCricinfo way back on December 31, 2014, former India player and now commentator Aakash Chopra wrote: "Vijay's head when the bowler releases the ball is in line with the top of the off stump. That gives him a fair judgement of which balls are to be left alone and which are to be played.

   "He has left alone about 34% (the highest percentage for any active international batsman today) of the balls he has faced in Test cricket since 2011. Most of these are deliveries bowled in the channel outside off. If you regularly allow the ball to go through to the wicketkeeper, bowlers will have to come closer to the stumps in search of the elusive outside edge, which works in your favour. Vijay is old-fashioned in the way he leaves a lot of balls alone and then punishes the full balls that are close to him."

    Manjrekar, analysing the top order's mistakes from the studio, made this observation on the loss of M Vijay's "well-left" approach.

3. Where were the singles?

Sunil Gavaskar, who is the only expert invited from India to do live commentary in South Africa, was a master at taking singles. So was "God of cricket" Sachin Tendulkar. Their class as prolific run scorers in Test matches were not only due to the exquisite boundaries they would hit, but also due to
the singles they would steal.

     This was mainly to unsettle the opposition's bowlers and field placements.

Sunil Gavaskar.
Pic courtesy: Wikipedia
Singles are handy and part of winning matches. Let's look at the first innings of the Capetown Test. You can understand M Vijay defending 16 deliveries and scoring a single run in 17 before getting out. His job was to stay at the wicket to the point of carrying his bat.

     But how can you explain Rohit Sharma's 7 singles from 58 deliveries (his innings: 11 runs, 59 balls, 4 x 1)? Or Cheteshwar Pujara's 6 singles from 81 deliveries (his innings: 26 runs, 92 balls, 4 x 5)? Even if they were playing anchoring roles, did that mean that batsmen of their calibre could ignore singles or found them impossible to take ?

     As comparison, take Kagiso Rabada, a tailender. He took 20 singles from 65 deliveries batting in SA's first knock (his innings: 26 runs, 66 balls, 6 x 1).

Had these two frontline Indian batsmen given singles all the importance they deserve in a Test match, the result would have been in India's favour.


A joke or meme doing the rounds, as normally happens in such situations, is that: All of these top-order batsmen (Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit) are not single anymore.

4. Where did the anchor-hitter combination vanish?

You may ask: "If Du Plessis and AB de Villiers could do it, why not India?"

You are correct in your question. India, on paper or on the field, have the most potent combination of anchor and strokeplayers.

If M Vijay can play the anchor, Dhawan can upset any world-class attack with his swashbuckling
The Virat-Pujara combination. Pic courtesy: Firstpost
batting. Then comes the patient Pujara, also called ChePu by fans. Experts, including former players worldwide know Pujara can bat long hours and has done so for 11 hours in one of his previous innings.

Following him is another strokemaker, Kohli, among the most dangerous top-order batsmen in the world. With two rock-solid anchors and Rohit Sharma as the third strokemaker, couldn't have any of these combinations taken a cue from the Du Plessis-de Villiers pair and done an encore for India?

They could have. They just did not prepare for it.

Any one among Dhawan, Kohli and Rohit were capable of playing unconventional shots like de Villiers did in the first innings to get South Africa out of the stranglehold Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has put them into.

5. Did India bother to take tips from Tendulkar?

The touring India team had couple of options. To seek tips from Tendulkar while all of them were in Mumbai to attend Kohli and Anushka Sharma's wedding reception on December, 26, 2017. Tendulkar attended this reception with his family. Few days later, The Times of India ran an interview with
Tendulkar about how India should approach the Test in South Africa.

Sachin Tendulkar. Pic courtesy: News18.com
"Negotiating the first 25 overs will be crucial," said the master blaster in response. If they found it beyond their ego or did not find it appropriate to speak with him, the India touring team should have at least assigned their media manager to keep an eye on any such tips offered by former players to the media, which in India works relentlessly for exclusives.


Why was it important to listen to what Tendulkar had to say?

It's because this cricket icon knows full well what "being prepared" means.

Shane Warne, among the cricket world's bowling legends, wrote an article for London's The Telegraph on 9th November, 2013 headlined "India batsman Sachin Tendulkar was my greatest opponent, says former Australia spinner"


In this article, Warne devoted extensive space in describing how Tendulkar prepared himself in tackling or countering bowlers plotting his downfall.

Now read an excerpt from that article in Warne's words:

"I saw Sachin play some great innings but two stand out. In the 1998 Test in Chennai I dismissed him fifth ball in the first innings. In the second he hit me for six second or third ball and went on to make 155 in tough conditions to set up India to win the Test.

Shane Warne. Pic courtesy: Wikipedia
Six years later at the Sydney Cricket Ground he made 241, his first Test double-century. I was injured at the time so was commentating but I had a great view of his innings from the box.

He had been dismissed a few times in that series by Australia bowling full and wide. He nicked off to slip and the keeper and went into the Sydney Test on the back of scores of 0, 1, 37, 0 and 44. He decided he would respond by not playing a cover drive. Now the cover drive is a fairly large part of a batsman’s armoury. When bowlers are pitching it up and trying to swing it you tend to play a lot of cover drives, but he did not play a single one in more than 10 hours at the crease.

It summed up his mental strength. He let go every ball that was pitched up outside off stump. If they dropped short he cut it, or if the bowlers were a fraction full, he would straight drive it. He would block the odd one through the covers for a single but never hit a full-on flourishing cover drive. A truly amazing innings that summed the guy up."

Note from this blogger (not Warne): [I want to add here that, at the nets,Tendulkar called for local leg-spin bowlers ahead of his second innings in that Chennai Test, scratched up rough patches outside and on the leg side of the practice wicket and asked these local bowlers to bowl on the rough patches so that he gets good practice in facing Warne.]


6. Why was the centuries-old proverbial phrase "patience is virtue" not heeded to?

Sunil Gavaskar, the only former Indian cricketer (all others are commentating from the studio) to be invited to South Africa for expert TV comments, said for the Indian team to win patience was virtue, especially in the second innings when almost two days were left for Kohli and his boys to bat and win
Gary Kirsten. Pic courtesy: Hindustan Times.
the match.

Gavaskar echoed what Tendulkar wanted the Indian batsmen to follow when they began their batting.

This Indian team, after several professional encounters with foreign coaches, prominent among them Gary Kirsten, are trained into approaching an innings session-by-session.

Had Kohli and the other top-order followed this method, along with plugging all the five loopholes listed above, India would have started their foreign soil challenge on a winning note.

Myth-buster:

There are talks about whether Ajinkya Rahane, who averages better overseas than at home, should have been playing instead of Rohit Sharma; Whether KL Rahul should have been shown preference over Dhawan; whether Ishant Sharma, on his third tour to South Africa should have been selected ahead of either Mohammed Shami or Jasprit Bumrah.
Anushka Sharma, along with wives of
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Sanjay Bangar. Pic courtesy: Indian Express

There are other irrelevant discussions such as whether players' wives should have been allowed to travel to South Africa causing distraction; lack of practice matches (true to some extent)..

The truth is: After all these years, India's bowlers showed that they can collectively get the opposition all out twice in a Test match or take 20 wickets, a big worry during previous tours.

The ones who were not prepared were their top batsmen.

This same team, without a single change, can win the second Test in Centurion beginning 13th January, 2018, Saturday, if they adhere to and plug the six loopholes listed above.

                                                  ........................................................

If you, dear reader, feel strongly for or against the six loopholes presented in the article, please feel free to comment / ask questions. I promise to respond promptly.