Tag Archives: Test Cricket

Ashes Dream Turns to Ashes

By Madhu Kshirsagar, 25  August 2015

PHOTO-1The hubris emanating from the Australian camp before the Ashes series was very interesting to see.  Their overconfidence in their assumption that the Ashes was well and truly done and dusted before the start of the tour was amusing – their underestimation of the English side was at once comical and staggering.

The Australian bowlers not only bowled badly throughout the series, and most definitely when it mattered, but also batted astonishingly badly for most of the series.  Being bundled out for 60 runs in the first inning of the Trent Bridge Test beggars belief. The looked like a team completely devoid of a plan and had badly overestimated their own prowess in unfamiliar conditions. They failed to adapt to English conditions again, and just went about their merry arrogant way to wing it, and fell flat on their collective faces.

The shot selections from senior players were shocking to say the least, and the bowlers did not have a clue how to swing the Duke cricket balls used in England – again!  All this was known – the conditions; the opponents and their strengths and weaknesses were well and truly dissected – and yet they went about things in the most cavalier fashion, assuming what worked for them in Australia would work for them in England.

Failing to plan is planning to fail; and the Australian cricket team has proven that once again on their tour to Motherland.

It has been well documented that Australian batting struggles when the ball is moving, swinging and seaming. And also when the ball is turning. Well, I guess they struggle pretty much all the time when they tour! To make it worse Australian bowlers can’t swing the ball in the same fashion nor can they bowl good quality spin.  Therein lies the problem for Australia in winning outside the country.

At home they have bouncy wickets and a battery of fast bowlers who will tear the opponents’ heads off with their ‘chin music’. But that brand of bowling does not work overseas, other than perhaps in South Africa or West Indies.

So, what does all this tell us?  Every country plays well at home and plays badly in alien conditions.  Australia is no exception.  They generally huff and puff, and throw a range of non-cricketing artillery at the opposition to salvage a situation; but when cricketing skills are required to be summoned, they are no better than the next average Test playing team.

Michael Clark became a casualty of the English tour. He did not have a single innings of any substance to show from the entire series. His form has been poor for a long time now and no informed cricket follower would have expected him to turn it around in England.

Darren Lehmann seems to have escaped the axe; he seems to be a favourite among the players, maybe because he acts as a friend of everyone. Planning, preparation and execution of strategy for this Ashes series was atrocious and he has to take a big share of the blame.  No use blaming the selectors!

The art of playing Test cricket is perhaps a dying one. Too much instant cricket is taking its toll on Test cricket. The batsmen bat in a cavalier fashion, and the bowlers bowl too defensively.  Aggression should be in attitude of proper shot selection. Patience, resilience and the art of not offering a shot are imperative for Test batting; not seen much these days thanks to slam bang, thoughtless approach of T20.

England on the other hand played well when it mattered. England does not have a great batting order itself, but Australia’s ineffective bowling in the conditions made it easier for them to put up good scores. When it came to bowling, again they were very effective when it mattered and even without Anderson for a good part of the series, they were still a potent bowling unit against a mindless batting side.

One hopes that Australia has learnt its lesson from this tour – but then again it the same lesson from every English tour; and they have shown no signs of wanting to learn.

The only lesson for us as followers of cricket is that all countries play well at home and struggle abroad. There is no incentive for them to change as a collective unit.  Yes, there will be individual performances abroad by a few better players; but except for a sporadic win overseas, most teams will continue to be happy with home domination.

That is where the bread is buttered the thickest.

A look at Indian Test cricket’s perennial mediocrity overseas

Not ready

By Madhu Kshirsagar

PHOTO-1Indian cricket teams have never performed consistently well overseas in Tests, and I have been following Test cricket for nearly 40 years. Yes, it has shown patches of brilliance every now and then mainly through individual performances. No doubt India has produced world class Test players in the past decades, but it has never produced a world class Test team.

So what is in the Indian psyche which prevents them from transforming their home form to the international stage? Believe me, every player and his dog will suddenly come back to form when they reach home. So what is it? Yes they have to play under alien conditions. Are the conditions so different that they are not able to adjust? Did they not prepare accordingly to face alien conditions? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!

Indian Test teams have been in the preparation phase for the last 40 years; means they don’t prepare or don’t care. Yes you can blame tight schedules these days. But India has always had this indifferent mind-set, even before the advent of tight schedules and instant cricket.

Winning and losing is part of the game. But the team has to show enough fight in them to wriggle out of tight situations, create opportunities out of seemingly hopeless situations, and occasionally turn the tables on the opposition. These are qualities of a competitive team. The way India loses Tests overseas – just consider the last Australian tour and the previous and current English tours – is a sports fan’s nightmare. They just do not show the spirit of a competitive force on the ground. They seem to compete equally well these days on meaningless cricketing sideshows, but when it matters on the field they are almost always found wanting.

After being out of form for the Lord’s Test, they came roaring back to form for the rest of the series. Sorry, I couldn’t help that sarcastic remark.

True, all world cricketing teams of today are only lions in their own den. When they tour they generally fall apart. Some teams have been marginally better than others when touring but there is no huge difference. But some top sides at least show a lot of fight even when going down, and there lies the difference. India unfortunately has not measured up in this department as well.

The leadership conundrum

I have never been a fan of Dhoni’s Test captaincy as you might have noticed from my previous articles. There is no doubt that he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Twenty-20, both as a player and a leader, but a curse to Test cricket as the leader. Furthermore, his wicket-keeping in Tests is falling apart.

Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes all 3 ICC titles. His strategies and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanour and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during often chaotic situations. And when he comes out to bat towards the end, he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style – slow first and demolition later. In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.

But his record as a Test captain overseas is nothing short of abysmal. Sure, the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team”, is not something we should forget. But strategy, incisive thinking, marshalling troops and risk taking are also things that matter in a game. A captain can’t continuously make tactical mistakes and selection blunders and expect everything will sort itself out.

An average captain can lead a good team well, but it needs a good captain to lead an average team well. Dhoni unfortunately is not a good Test captain, and he is leading an average Test team.

But coming back to the reason why Indian players do not perform as well overseas; more so today than in the years gone by; it must have something to do with the new found treasure chest of IPL. India is the only country currently where Twenty-20 is played for sickeningly high stakes. This has clearly adversely affected the quality of young cricketers being churned out by the system. This rot has to be stemmed and pronto. If Indian cricket officials do not take corrective action to somehow curtail the adverse impact of Twenty-20 then they might as well give away playing Test cricket.  Test cricket fans will not tolerate this complete indifference and lack of skill and application from young cricketers for too long.

But the most important reason for India’s consistent poor show overseas, in my opinion, is that it has never had the luxury of a Test class fast bowling option. Kapil was exceptional and Srinath, Zaheer Khan and others have had some success, but there never has been a fearsome or at least a functional fast bowling option from both ends. And spinners who are unplayable at home suddenly become toothless tigers.

At best some great and classy Test batsmen in the past have always brought joy to Indian supporters overseas.

But thanks to the new found IPL mania even that morsel of joy is in jeopardy.

Will Test Cricket Become Redundant?

By Madhu Kshirsagar

April 2014

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How many codes of cricket are really sustainable at the same time? It is not practically possible for all varieties of cricket – Tests, one-dayers and T20s – to survive in the current form forever. Something has to give!

Judging by the enormous popularity of T20 in India, which is gradually spreading to other cricketing countries, as well, it is arguably the most attractive and the most sought-after form of the game. It is more than a game: it is a family event, a carnival and a lot of fun. As an added advantage, there is great scope for it to spread to other countries where cricket is not currently popular, as it conforms to the shorter ‘time parameters’ of most team sports in the world. I believe that it is a sporting bushfire waiting to happen.

IPL is a form of Soccer League, AFL or a NFL type event in India. This form of a tournament is the ideal recipe for creating a mass following in a cricket crazy country like India. The enormous divisions between various states and cities and the cultural and the economic differences of the North and the South can be exploited to the fullest, too. The tournament has given the young and the old a sport that they can all follow, and the rivalry is very localised within the country. It has become the water cooler topic in offices and workplaces; school children enter into healthy debates and feel a sense of belongingness, with house wives, grandpas and the grandmas also happily joining the cheer squad. Within a very short span of time, local T20 Clubs have become the talismans for their states and cities.

The craze and fanaticism generated in India during the IPL, and for the rest of the year, is something that no other sport enjoys anywhere in the world. Yes, the soccer fans are fanatical and the NFL/AFL football fans talk about nothing else, but the sheer size of the market in India has created a juggernaut of passion and fervour in the sports world. Suddenly Indians have a local club that they can all follow and brain wash their young ones and newborns into doing the same. The young ones can be indoctrinated to think and act in a certain way, and this will ensure that generations of followers will be created. The formula is so simple and so potent that it is scary! It is an intoxicating mixture of brand loyalty and sport following that is here to stay for many, many years.

On the other hand, we are looking at Test cricket – a form of the game that has existed for over 100 years and, as a result, has become tired – especially after the advent of T20 and IPL.  Yes, the dawn of one-day cricket in the 70s was revolutionary, and some predicted that Test cricket would fade away at that stage. People who used to play Test cricket, however, took to media and since then have forever been singing the praises of Test cricket. Vested interests and the lack of alternatives have kept the fires burning for at least the last 30 years.

Test cricket is a unique form of sport that is played over 5 days – it used to be 6 days and before that it used to be timeless – and therein lies the strength and also the curse of this form of cricket.  As you can see, cricket has forever tried to reduce the time period it is played over, thereby resulting in the birth of one-day cricket. Even one-day cricket is too long for the current generation and, therefore, the birth of T20. Financially, the model makes even more sense, and the Indians have lapped it up by the bucketsful!

In T20, the world has a sport to rival football. In India, they have the instant mass following and the perfect environment for the sport to thrive with divisions of all sorts between the different parts of India, and there is plenty of money for all involved in the sport. So this form of the game is well set for the next few decades at least.

What happens to Test cricket, though? The logical guess is that it will fade away in the next 15 to 20 years. If India doesn’t support Test cricket, then Test cricket will fade away sooner. Yes, there will be some who would reminisce and be consumed by nostalgia. Cricket players-turned-commentators and other vested interests will scream the loudest; but already the niche of supporters is becoming smaller, and, in another couple of decades, that niche will be so small that it would not matter.

Imagine what would happen if India increased the duration of IPL from 6 weeks to 6 months of the year and make it something like the English Premier League or Australian Football League? It will kill cricket, as we know that a sport cannot survive when 75% of its funding disappears. Cricketers from other countries will join IPL as mercenaries – as is happening to a certain extent already – and IPL will have more teams and play a longer tournament over an even more extended period of time.  So what will be the cost? Test cricket will be slowly put out of its misery.

What about one-day cricket, then? Well, I think it could be the new Test cricket! It will become the new long form of the game; however, for it to work in the long term, the authorities have to make it more attractive, as it is losing some of its gloss with the advent of T20. They can introduce 2 innings of 25 overs for a start, and this would reinvigorate the sport. It will retain a lot of the Test cricket values and nuances, albeit over a shorter time period, and this would appeal to the connoisseurs of the game to a certain extent.

Time and tide waits for no one, and the only constant thing in life is change. Time is changing, and cricket is changing with the times. The new generation has succumbed to instant gratification in all forms of life, and it could very well happen in cricket, too. Old hats will complain and will find it hard to accept the disappearance of Test cricket, but they will grudgingly change over time and start enjoying the short format. After all, Twenty20 is less about cricket and more about entertainment, rivalry, brand-loyalty and a feeling of belongingness; ask any Manchester United, NFL Cowboys or AFL Collingwood supporter what that means!

And I am sorry to say that India is creating millions of such fanatical supporters in every corner of the country, or am I really?

Politics, movies and IPL: grand entertainment in a great country! Oops, sorry for clubbing politics with entertainment. But then again, why not?