A Test Series for the ages.

England v/s India in 2018 was meant to be the dawn of India’s rise to cricketing supremacy, and then dismissed after two games as a stark mismatch which called for cries of the death of Test cricket, ultimately it ended up as neither.

However for those who remember it years from now, will recall the emotions it aroused, yet be astounded to discover that England won it 4-1.

India scored more centuries, took more 5 wicket hauls, held on to more of their catches, had the better top 4 and the better top 6. India also had the 2 highest scores of the series and the 4 best knocks were all arguably played by Indians (Kohli in Edgbaston, Pujara in Southampton and Rahul and Pant at the Oval). However we still managed to suffer our worst defeat in England for 7 years.

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Anderson ended the series as the most successful fast bowler of all time

It was a worse scoreline than the 3-1 defeat here in 2014, and yet a far superior performance. Unlike four years ago, when MS Dhoni’s side seemed as if they were present on the field and on the plane home at the same time, India fought to the very end. And yet our best batting day of the series ended with Mohammed Shami’s middle stump flying in the air and England being comfortable winners.

Good luck making sense of that.

Nevertheless, it was a series that tugged the heartstrings and toyed with your emotions, from Anderson and Kohli’s constant battles to Pant and Rahul’s swashbuckling centuries and all the emotion surrounding Alastair Cook’s last swansong. However the record still reads one thrashing apiece, and 3 nail biters that could have gone either way. And yet to explain why all 3 went to England one has to go beyond the statistics and understand the essence of Test Cricket, which is a game of moments.

And throughout this series, all the key moments when to England.

Those 15 minute periods where the game is right in the balance and any team who seizes the opportunity will come out in front, all went to England. You can say India were in foreign conditions, or say that they lost all the tosses, but the fact is those key match defining moments where one team had to grab the impetus all went to England. Whether it be Sam Curran’s gutsy knocks or Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid’s crucial breakthroughs, England always managed to get back in the game and stay in front from then on.

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Furthermore, throughout this series the spotlight has been on Virat Kohli and after 5 test matches, he has strengthened his reputation as a batsman but weakened it as captain. Certainly his Herculean 593 run tally will be one of the best efforts in a losing cause in history and he has further cemented his place as the best batsman of this generation. But as a captain, he has been found wanting. He has been guilty of trying to making things happen at every instance, instead of letting the game come to him and some of his bowling changes have been peculiar. Kohli is always looking for the more aggressive option, when sometimes in Test Cricket that might not be the wisest choice.

His God-like status in Indian cricket has driven him to new heights as a player, but may have had the opposite effects on some of his team-mates. Barring Ishant and Shami all of our experienced pro’s have been disappointing. Maybe its time Kohli puts a hand around Pujara and Rahane, who may have more insecurities than him, and assure them of a place in the 11 irrespective of their performances. Maybe then that puts an end to all the tentativeness and we can see the performances they are capable of unearthing.

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Much of the Final Test was surrounded by Cook’s retirement

For England on the other hand, they may have won the series but their team still has more questions than a Spanish Phrase Book. The top order batting is extremely fragile, Jonny Bairstow has regressed as a batsman and all the slip fielders fingers must be laced with butter.

But for now all of that can wait. For it is a time to enjoy this enthralling, nail biting Test series. Two flawed teams leaving no quarter and giving us one of the most exciting Test Series of recent history. A modern classic, which has been a privilege to witness.

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More of the same for India, but signs of so much more.

At 123-3, India were tapping on the shoulder of history, or more accurately Virat Kohli was tapping on the shoulder of history. Victory and the potential of a series decider at the Oval in a weeks time was still far off, but for every second that India’s captain stayed at the crease, it was a lingering possibility.

However, a few minutes before Tea, Moeen Ali, with unerring accuracy throughout the day again managed to land a ball in the rough which viciously turned and bounced off Kohli’s glove before safely landing in the palms of Alastair Cook. Kohli went for the review anyway, hoping for a temporary blip in technology. But there was a clear spike, and Kohli begrudgingly walked off the Ageas Bowl; seemingly with all of India’s hopes. From that moment on, it was more of a procession; the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to get dimmer and dimmer and India were back in that familiar, dark tunnel of away failures.

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Kohli was magnificent all series and became the first Asian Captain to score over 500 runs in a Test series in England.

However, India didn’t lose this series because of their poor batsmanship on a treacherous Southampton pitch. They also didn’t lose it because Ravi Ashwin failed to land enough balls in the rough on the day before, or the fact that they didn’t know how to get Sam Curran out.

India lost because our batsman once again, failed to prove their worth.

All series it seemed that Virat Kohli was alone at the vanguard, trying to take on every volley of English attack. And to his credit, he was a class apart, the word “2014” seemingly erased from his memory. He scored 544 runs, more than double the amount of the second best batsman in this series and was a class apart. Unfortunately, Kohli was the lone warrior, while his Indian batting partners surrendered instantly as the ball started moving sideways.

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The Indian camp had no answers against Moeen Ali, who picked 9 wickets in the match.

Barring the Captain, India’s batting line up consisted of cover-drive loving openers, 2 out of form and confidence lacking technicians (Pujara and Rahane) and a brittle middle order littered with IPL stars looking little lost at the highest level. While the bowlers were fantastic and gave India 20 wickets in every game, the batsman failed to capitalize on those outstanding performances and it seemed that Virat Kohli was an island in a sea of failures.

India started 2018 with away tours of South Africa, England and Australia in front of them. This was supposed to be the year of change, where history was to be defied and where winning away became fashionable again. India faced the weakest South Africa side in recent memory, and probably the most vulnerable English side of all time, but have nothing to show for it. And in December The Blues take on a Smith and Warner-less Australia who seem extremely fragile and there for the taking.

We let two opportunities slip through our fingers this year, and I am praying that when we go Down Under, we would have learned our lessons and will be prepared to challenge the history books once again.

Boring Boring Test Cricket…

The overcast skies hung low over Edgbaston, even the clouds wanted a closer look. The near capacity crowd, was brimming with excitement and were cheering every ball as if their life depended on it. James Anderson, (bowling his 15th over on the trot) exhorting his body for one last drop of effort, still managed to produce the perfect away swinger. Virat Kohli at the other end was poised, and didn’t give in to temptation as so many of the other Indian batsman did. He gently left it alone, preparing himself for another spell of wizardry from the King of Swing.

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Kohli went on to bat with the tail and score his first test century in England

At times like this, we remind ourselves why Test Cricket is simply the greatest form of the game and why it needs the nourishing and preserving for future generations. We had the greatest batsman of this era facing one of the most deadly swing bowlers with the ball hopping around like a ferret. It’s more than a battle between bat and ball, its the battle of patience and mental strength, and there’s no place for the faint-hearted. This game has been more of a test of character than technique. Sam Curran isn’t the most skillful cricketer in the world, he may not even be the most skilled in his family. But in the biggest match of his life, he showed his true mettle and grew into the occasion instead of crumbling under the weight of expectation. He turned the match with the ball in the first Innings and then went on to score 63 invaluable runs in England’s second, rescuing them from the jaws of defeat at 87-7.

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Ben Stokes got the crucial wicket of Kohli on the 4th morning

Until Alastair Cook safely palmed Hardik Pandya’s faint nick, no one really knew who was going to come out on top. The ebbs and flows of this monumental Test Match were never-ending. On day 1, England seemed safely in control at 216-3 before Virat Kohli’s superb run out triggered an England collapse. On day 2, India’s top order was ripped apart by England’s bowlers before King Kohli scored one of the best centuries of his career and reduced the lead to a meager 13. Finally on day 3 England were staring down the barrel of defeat before 20 year old Curran pulled the tide in their favor with his swashbuckling half century. And on day 4 the jury was still out on who would take the 1-0 lead in this 5 match series, before Kohli got a Stokes thunderbolt straight on his pad.

This was one of the greatest tests of the modern era. It was filled with mini-battles and sub-plots and left the viewer gasping for breath at every delivery. This is how Test Cricket should be played, two teams fighting tooth and nail and leaving everything on those 22 yards. If Edgbaston was just a taste of what’s to come, the rest of this 5 match series could be one of the tightest and most enthralling contests we’ve witnessed. On Thursday, the battle commences at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s; and Virat Kohli and co. will be desperate to even the score.

IPL Review: The Bottom 4

After 56 matches of hard fought, nail biting cricket, we finally have the top 4 teams who have qualified for the play-offs.

The league phase in the 11th IPL edition was closer than ever with all teams reaching at least 10 points for the first time in history and the final play-off spot being decided with only 5 overs of the league phase to spare. 2 of the tournaments favorites have already been knocked out of the tournament and the 4 that have made it through are Rajashtan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Here is my review for the 4 teams that didn’t quite make it to the knockout stages:

Continue reading “IPL Review: The Bottom 4”

My IPL XI for April:

The first half of the Indian Premier League has lived up to all of the hype. We have seen some fantastic cricket being played with most matches ending in nail biting last over finishes. Here are the 11 players who have stood out so far and make up my IPL team for April.

1. Shane Watson

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After Shane Watson’s disappointing season with RCB last year, I thought he was a spent force in T20 cricket. However he seems rejuvenated this year at the top of the order for CSK. He is back to his 6 hitting best and has notched the highest score of the tournament so far with a scintillating 106 against his old side Rajasthan.

2. Chris Gayle

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Chris Gayle was caste away by all 8 teams before finally being picked by KXIP in the dying breaths of the Auction. He has only played 4 games so far but already has 2 fifties and a century  to his name once again proving that you can never write a legend off. He is the most entertaining cricketer on and off the field and his comment saying that Virendher Sehwag saved the IPL by picking me may be true with his current form.

3. Virat Kohli

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In a team of falling soldiers Virat Kohli and AB have stood apart like gladiators. They must be facing severe back pain from the weight of carrying this batting line up for all this time. Kohli has scored 317 runs at a healthy average of 63 and has shown some signs of his 2016 IPL form.

4. AB De Villiers

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ABD slightly edged Kane Williamson to earn a spot in my team due to his much better strike rate of 184 compared to Williamson’s 133. The South African has hit the most sixes in the competition (23) despite only playing 6 games and has been simply breathtaking for Bangalore, while most of his team mates have failed around him.

5. MS Dhoni (WK) (C)

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I would say that MS Dhoni is playing as if it is 2008 and has rolled back the years, but infact I have never seen MS Dhoni play like this. He seems to have reinvented his game and has been given a new lease of life by the return of CSK. He is batting with a strike rate of 169 and scored his 3rd 50 of April in only 22 balls against DD. The greatest finisher the IPL is back and looks stronger than ever.

6. Ambati Rayudu

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Although Rayudu has mostly been opening for Chennai, he offers great versatility and can bat at any position in the 11. He is the current orange cap holder and has looked in sublime touch this IPL, striking the ball as clean as ever.

7. Rashid Khan

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The teenage Afghani Sensation is the best T20 bowler in the world and has been superb for Hyderabad. He is no ordinary leg-spinner; he bowls quick, can turn the ball both ways and has immaculate control. He has picked up 10 wickets already in the tournament and is looking extremely dangerous.

8. Sandeep Sharma

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He has only bowled 15 overs and played 4 games in April, but in those games SRH have defended 3 low totals. He has an economy rate of 4.33 which is just mind boggling and unheard of and has picked up 6 wickets as well.

9. Umesh Yadav

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While he has been very expensive at the top of the order for RCB, Umesh Yadav has been very effective. He has consistently picked up wickets at the top of the order and bowled with serious venom and pace.

10. Siddharth Kaul

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He has been the star of the IPL with the ball and currently wears the Purple Cap after picking 11 wickets so far in the tournament. He has an excellent knuckle ball and has a truckload of variations in his arsenal. An India call up may be around the corner for the Punjabi fast bowler if he continues his scintillating form.

11. Mayank Markande

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This wiry 20 year old leg spinner has been the find of the tournament and has bowled exceptionally well for the Mumbai Indians. In his first 2 games he picked up 7 wickets for the boys from Bollywood and has bowled with immaculate control and skill. He has out performed international standard leg spinners like Chahal, Yadav, Mishra and Ashwin and will be looking to continue his form in the back end of this tournament.

IPL 2018 Preview: Sunrisers Hyderabad

SRH without Warner is like Madrid without Ronaldo, Liverpool without Salah or Cavaliers without Lebron. He has been the heart and soul of the team for the past 3 seasons and has scored almost 20% of their runs. To put it into context how important he is to them, he has won 15 man of the match awards for SRH in the last 3 years. That means he has won they 15 matches on his own accord and shows how crucial he is to them.

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He however, is ineligible to play because of the unfortunate ball tampering incident that occurred in South Africa couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, while they may not have their captain and opener, they still have a very decent team that is capable of winning the IPL. They made some smart buys at the auction and look a very well balanced outfit.

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Strengths: With Bhuvi, Basil, Siddharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma, SRH have the best Indian pace bowling quartet in the IPL. They may only play 2 of them but have enough good quality back up in their ranks. Their batting line up also looks strong and deep despite being Warner-less. Also they boast the best bench strength in the IPL which is one of the key things teams need if they are to go the distance in this 50 day tournament. There is bound to be loss of form or injuries and in that case good understudies are required, which SRH have in spades.

Weakness: Lack of X-Factor with the bat. They have plenty of good stroke-makers but no batsman who can change the game instantly like a Maxwell, Pollard or Russell.  No one in the batting line up can take the game by the scruff or the neck and lead his side to victory. As you enter the business side of the tournament its these characters that win you games and SRH do seem short in that area. Also they don’t have a marquee Indian spinner and have to rely on the foreigners like Rashid or Shakib to do that job.

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X-Factor: The 19 year old spinning sensation lit up the IPL last year with his magic and will be looking to do the same this year after helping Afghanistan qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup last month. He is probably the best leg-spinner in the world right now and will hold the key to SRH’s fortunes in the IPL this year.

My First XI:

  1. Shikhar Dhawan
  2. Alex Hales
  3. Kane Williamson
  4. Manish Pandey
  5. Shakib Al Hasan
  6. Deepak Hooda
  7. Wridhiman Saha
  8. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar
  9. Rashid Khan
  10. Basil Thampi
  11. Billy Stanlake

Player to watch out for:

Billy Stanlake (Australia)

Will they make the play-offs:

Yes

Leave your thoughts and first XI of SRH in the comments below!

IPL 2018 Preview: Royal Challengers Bangalore

The biggest under achievers in the first 10 years have unfortunately been the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Despite all the firepower and batting prowess that they had in their arsenal they have never won the IPL and have failed thrice at the final hurdle. Each year we ask ourselves, surely this time it has to be their year, and each time they come up short.

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However this time at the auction they adopted a more balanced approach and looked to invest in all-rounders and bowlers and not just marquee batsman. This gives them a better chance of winning the IPL as I believe that while batting wins you games, bowling wins you tournaments.

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Strengths: In terms of strengths you can look no further than the fact that the 2 best batsman in the world are batting at Number 3 and 4 for your side. Virat Kohli and AB De villiers have formed a frightening pair for the last 7 years and will be the batting core of this team as it looks for its first IPL title. They also have the likes of De Kock and McCullum who are very explosive at the top. Their other strength is their spin bowling as they have Indias best limited overs spinner in Yuzvendra Chahal who has done exceedingly well in recent IPL’s. They also acquired the 18 year old offie Washington Sundar who recently won the man of the series in the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka. He can bowl economically in the power play and always makes early inroads.

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Weaknesses: Their fast bowling is not as strong as it could be and could be quite expensive. Mohamad Siraj and Umesh Yadav are their Indian pacers and they can have very high economy rates which makes them a liability. Even the likes of Chris Woakes and Tim Souhtee are not the cream of the crop in terms of T20 bowlers. Moreover they don’t have a clear cut death over bowler which other teams possess and that could be the difference between RCB and their opposition. Also their batting line up after AB is relatively inexperienced and they could be reliant on the top order to do majority of the scroing.

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X-Factor: When you have the top 2 batsman in the world batting at 3 and 4 at a batting paradise like the Chinnaswammy it sends chills down oppositions necks. They can change games in an instant and are capable of winning 3-4 games on their own per season. This gives them the best batting line up in the tournament arguably and with an improved bowling line-up this could indicate that this is RCB’s year.

My First XI:

  1. Quinton De Kock
  2. Manan Vohra
  3. Virat Kohli
  4. AB De Villiers
  5. Mandeep Singh
  6. Colin De Grandhomme
  7. Washington Sundar
  8. Chris Woakes
  9. Umesh Yadav
  10. Yuzvendra Chahal
  11. Mohamad Siraj

Player to watch out for:

Washington Sundar

Will they reach the play-offs:

Yes

Leave your comments and first XI of RCB in the comments below!