Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sehwag’s coach talks about the importance and need of his pupil’s new approach to batting

By Suhrid Barua

There are few batsmen in international cricket who can clinically destroy any bowling on any type of wicket as effortlessly and as consistently as Virender Sehwag. Not since the days of Viv Richards has a batsman evoked so much fear in the opposition ranks.

But that Sehwag may well be a thing of the past. Maturity, they say, comes with age. Sehwag is 32 and has been in international cricket for 12 years. Indication of his changing mindset was his comments just before the start of the 2011 World Cup: “I have never played 50 overs in one-day cricket. The maximum I have played is 43 or 44 overs. But this time I will try to bat 50 overs and give a good start to the team. I have been unsuccessfully trying this for the last 10 years and the effort is still on and will be there."

Sehwag a stayer! Well, the surprise factor was not for long. He almost achieved his stated intent in the World Cup opener against Bangladesh, falling in the 48th over.“Runs are not an issue when Sehwag is at the crease. I have been telling him about the need to bat the full 50 overs because it’s not just a personal benefit for him but also a great boon for the team and country,” Amar Nath Sharma, Sehwag’s coach from his formative years, told in a chat with

Sharma, who first spotted Sehwag at the Government Boys School ground at Vikas Puri in West Delhi when he was just 14, feels that Sehwag would do well to restrain himself once he garners enough in an over. “Just a week before the World Cup, I spoke to him about the importance in exercising self-control. I told him, ‘If you have got 12 or 13 in an over, don’t venture into the risky shots.’ But he says he feels excited to have a go at the bowling even if he picked up 10-12 an over.’ He is very aggressive…it’s difficult to contain him. No bowler can contain him,” Sharma says matter-of-factly.

The coach is pleased with his pupil for staying at the wicket till almost the end of the innings against Bangladesh. “I told him to bat the same way. At least he is trying – that is important, though it’s a different matter that he missed out after getting promising starts against England and Netherlands.”

Sharma has no doubts that Sehwag is crucial to India’s plans to win the World Cup. “Look, if Sehwag bats for even for 30 overs, let alone batting the full 50 overs, India would win the match. Take it in writing from me.”

If there is anything that is causing concern to Sharma, it’s the Indian bowling. “Our bowling is weak. Our batsmen must look to post at least 350 because with our bowling attack you never know what to expect. You saw it against Bangladesh. If we had got bowled out for 300, who knows what might have been the fate of that game.”

Better to play Ashwin instead of Chawla, feels Prasanna

By Suhrid Barua

Ravichandran Ashwin has been a glorified tourist so far in the 2011, but with Piyush Chawla following up his disastrous final over against England with another poor showing against Ireland, the clamour to play Ashwin has been growing louder by the day.

Leggie Chawla has gone for 127 runs from his 18 overs in two games – his figures in the two games reading 10-0-71-2 vs England and 8-0-56-0 vs Ireland.

And the latest to raise his voice in favour of Ashwin is none other than Erapalli Prasanna, the legendary off-spinner who was part of the famous Indian spin quartet of the ‘70s.

Excerpts from an interview with Prasanna:

Q: Piyush Chawla has let us down in the two games he played so far. Do you think that India should bring in Ravichandran Ashwin in place of Chawla?

A: Yes, Chawla hasn’t bowled well in the two games. I think it’s in the best interests of the team to replace him with Ashwin. Playing against a weaker opposition against Netherlands would also allow Ashwin to get some confidence ahead of the bigger games.

Q; Do you think playing Ashwin would add an element of predictability about the spin attack?

A: When you have off-spinners playing, the ball at most times is going into the right hander and it’s becomes more of a stereotype spin attack. But then, we have no option but to try out Ashwin now that Chawla has failed to deliver.

How do you assess the performance of the Indian frontline spinners?

A: While there’s no denying that Chawla hasn’t bowled well, the fact remains that even Harbhajan Singh also hasn’t made much of an impression in the first three games.

Q: In comparison, the part-time spinners, especially Yuvraj Singh, has hit good form. What’s your take?

A: Look, when regular spinners are bowling, batsmen tend to play them with a lot of caution, but when part-time spinners are in operation, batsmen tend to relax. And this where the chances of part-timers taking wickets increase. Having said that, I must admit that Yuvraj bowled really well against Ireland, scored a fine half-century and is looking very confident on the field.

Q: Do you think that India need to change their seaming bowling attack, maybe bring back Shanthakumaran Sreesanth or Ashish Nehra, if he is fit?

A: I don’t know. The team management would be in a better position to answer it.

Q: How do you rate India’s chances of winning the World Cup?

A: The World Cup is still in its early stages and we have only played three games. It’s too early to talk about whether we are going to win it or not.

Madan Lal reveals little-known fact about 1983 World Cup final

“I was not supposed to bowl the over in which I dismissed Viv Richards,” reveals Madan Lal to Suhrid Barua of the epic dismissal in the 1983 World Cup final.

The 1983 World Cup triumph was a red-letter day for Indian cricket. Kapil Dev’s men rose from being absolute no-hopers to play some inspirational brand of cricket and beat mighty the West Indies in a sensational final.

One man who played a significant part in that magnificent win over was Madan Lal, best remembered in that final game for stopping the rampaging Viv Richards from running away with the final. Richards’s brilliance was truncated by a brilliant running catch by Kapil running a long, long way back at mid-wicket to come up with a blinder.

“Richards was in a destructive mood. He hit me for three boundaries in my first over from the Nursery End. But in the 14th over, Richards miscued in trying to pull me and Kapil did the rest,” Madan recalled.

“Richards’ wicket was crucial for us because he would have finished the game early if he was around for some more time… We celebrated his dismissal, but we also knew that we had a job to do as the West Indies had other batsmen who could have turned things around,” Madan added.

Interestingly, Madan was not supposed to bowl the over he got Richards out in the first place itself. “Kapil wanted to give me some rest. But I told him that I wanted to carry on.”

The wicket of Richards saw an extra spring in the strides of Madan who caused more damage. “I bowled around seven to eight overs on a trot. I got the wicket of Larry Gomes off an away-going delivery,” said, Madan, who started his wicket-taking spree, dislodging Desmond Haynes. He finished with analysis of 3 for 31 from his 12 overs.

Twenty-eight years down the line, India is looking to emulate the Indian team at the 1983 World Cup. Madan felt that collective responsibility is the key if India has to win the 2011 World Cup. “You can’t have all players firing together in a long event like the World Cup. There would be days when a player has to chip in when one of his team-mates fails to perform,” he opined.

He has no doubts that India would go in with seven batsmen and four regular bowlers but is tad concerned about the fifth bowler option. “We need to have a Plan B in place should the fifth bowler gets whacked around. If one of the four regular bowlers gets smashed and we don’t have a back-up plan, we will be opening up 20 overs for the opposition.”

Despite, the perceived loopholes, Madan feels that India has the wherewithal to win the World Cup. “Dhoni has the team to do it,” he asserted.

Madan has high hopes from pacer Shantakumaran Sreesanth for the big-ticket event. “I believe Praveen Kumar’s injury should not be a big miss because Sreesanth is an equally good bowler and should be more than an adequate replacement for him.”

Indian bowlers are unable to handle pressure: Balwinder Sandhu

There was always a lurking fear that the Indian bowling attack would stand exposed at the World Cup when pitted against a formidable batting line-up - precisely what happened in Sunday’s Group B match against England at Bangalore.

The lack of penetration in the Indian bowling attack was evident in ample measure. The Indian bowlers were taken to the cleaners by Strauss and Co. before Zaheer Khan produced something special to trigger India’s fight back where fortunes swung and eventually ended in a thrilling tie.

Balwinder Singh Sandhu, one of the heroes of the 1983 World Cup-winning Indian side and famed coach, talks about the Indian team with Suhrid Barua.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: How do you assess India’s World Cup campaign, especially our bowling performance against England?

A: They bowled badly. If you are not able to defend a score of 338, then obviously your bowlers are not doing their job. Zaheer brought us back into the match with a superb spell at the death at a time when the match was firmly in England’s grasp.

Q: Where do you think India lost the chance to grab a win?

A: I thought Munaf Patel bowled a good 48th over but Piyush (Chawla) was taken for two sixes by Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan in the 49th over and that killed off all our chances of winning the match. Even though Piyush got rid of Bresnan, the damage was already done.

Q: Do you think it was a right strategy to go in with two seamers and two spinners?

A: I don’t think so. We would have been better off playing three seamers and two spinners and not leg-spinner like Piyush who relies on his googlies all the time.

Q: Why do you feel India should have opted for an extra seamer instead of Piyush?

A: My point is Piyush is a leg-spinner, but on how many occasions you saw him turning his leg-spinners. It’s better to have a third pacer, who could bowl open the bowling and is good in the death.

Q: The general thinking is that the Indian attack is heavily reliant on Zaheer Khan. What’s your take?

A: There is no doubt that the Indian attack banks a lot on Zaheer. He is not just the pace spearhead but the bowling spearhead. He looks to be the only bowler who looks like getting wickets every time he comes on to ball.

Q: Are you disappointed with the overall performance of the Indian spinners?

A: Spinners have been below par. Getting wickets in the middle overs is the key, but our spinners couldn’t do that on Sunday. Spinners take wickets or tie down the batsmen, create pressure on them and induce them to play a false stroke. Our spinners failed on both fronts.

Q: How do you see India’s chances of winning the World Cup?

A: We got a good chance, provided our fielding improves and our bowling shows penetration and discipline. At the moment, the bowlers are unable to handle pressure. Big matches are won by bowlers, when the batting fails.

Chetan Sharma recalls his historic World Cup hat-trick

By Suhrid Barua

It was not just a game India had to win but also win it comprehensively. The equations were simple and straight: India had to pull off a win at a better run rate if they were to nose ahead of Australia, top the group and avoid the prospect of meeting arch-rivals Pakistan in the semi-finals in Pakistan.

On a day when the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) ground was bathed in glorious sunshine, New Zealand opted to take first strike, which obviously meant that India would have to chase down whatever target Kiwis set in less than the allotted 50 overs.

New Zealand was chipping away nicely, and reached a score of 182 for five and seemed well on course to post a score in excess of 250. From India’s perspective, the need of the hour was to pick up a few quick wickets and restrict the Kiwis to a modest score. Kapil Dev brought back Chetan Sharma in the 42nd over and the bowler dramatically changed the complexion of the match by registering the first-hat-trick of the World Cup, cleaning up Ken Rutherford, Ian Smith and Ewen Chatfield.

Twenty-three years down the line, Chetan recalls the historic moment. “We needed a few quick wickets to tighten our grip on the match. I bowled three dot balls off the first three balls of the 42nd over. Off the fourth ball, I got one to nip back sharply taking Rutherford’s middle stump and then bowled a quicker one that disturbed Ian Smith’s off stump,” he reminisces.

The VCA ground was on its feet, sensing a potential a historic hat-trick. The bowler had a chat with his captain and mentor before bowling the hat-trick ball to tail-ender Chatfield. “Kapil told me to keep it straight. He told me ‘if you get the hat-trick it’s fine, but if you don’t there is nothing to worry as you have got two important wickets which we badly needed. So, I was not under any kind of pressure that I have to make the hat-trick happen,” recalls Chetan, who played in 23 Tests and 65 One-Day Internationals (ODIs).

There were words of wisdom from Sunil Gavaskar as well when Chetan was bowling that hat-trick ball. “Sunnybhai, who was fielding at mid-off, told me to pitch the ball straight and kept reminding me that it was a great opportunity to take a hat-trick.”

The moment-to-savour came when Chetan castled Chatfield. “I was over the moon,” he says.

His hat-trick show was critically responsible for India restricting New Zealand to a score of 221, as any score in excess of 250 would have tested the best out of the Indian batsmen.

Chetan realized the magnitude of his feat later in the evening. “We boarded an evening Indian Airlines flight to Mumbai from Nagpur. All the team members stood up and started clapping on the flight and that’s when I realized that I have achieved something big. Next morning, the newspapers had headlines screaming over my hat-trick,” he reveals.

Chetan later shared the Man of the Match award with Sunil Gavaskar after Little Master blazed his way to his maiden century after hundred-plus ODI appearances – his second last international. The effort helped India overhaul a score of 221 in just 32.1 overs when they were needed to knock off the required runs in 42.2 overs.

Sunil Gavaskar played an explosive innings which set up our easy win. Sharing the Man of the Match award with a legend like him whom you grow up watching was a massive thing for me,” he recounts.

It is pertinent to point out that Chetan’s participation in the World Cup was under a cloud of uncertainty. He did not figure in the first three games of the World Cup because of a thumb injury he sustained just days before the mega event. “I chipped a bone in my left thumb while fielding off my own bowling during a World Cup charity game against Pakistan at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi,” he remembers.

Chetan, who owns a petrol pump on the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road, has named it “Hat-trick Filling Station.”

I started it in 2005 and named it after my hat-trick performance at Nagpur,” he says with a glint of pride.His stand-out bowling effort may have sealed India’s berth in the semis as group topper, but the memories of India semi-final defeat to England still rankles. “We made a mess of that chase. I thought we got more cautious and nervous,” was how he looks at that game.

On the upcoming World Cup, he rates India’s chances highly. “In my book, India has their best chance to win the World Cup. They would have the home crowd support and conditions going in their favour. Sri Lanka is also another team who are also stronger contenders,” he signed off.

Sreesanth’s mental preparation was missing, says his mentor

By Suhrid Barua

Team India’s World Cup campaign may have got off to a near-perfect start with their emphatic win over Bangladesh in Mirpur, but the match panned out to be a forgettable one for seamer Shanthakumaran Sreesanth.

Sreesanth was subjected to some pasting by the Bangladesh openers, especially left-handed Imrun Kayes, who clobbered him four boundaries en route to picking 24 from his third over after the Kerala fast bowler was asked to shoulder the responsibility of opening the bowling operations with Zaheer Khan.

Sreesanth conceded 53 runs from his five overs, and was expectedly not brought back into the attack by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Sreesanth’s performance spelt a sorry sight in an otherwise impressive Indian performance. “I didn’t see the match as I was away with some pressing commitments, but Sree bowled badly. Maybe he was trying hard to get wickets,” Sreesanth’s former coach and mentor P Sivakumar told CricketCountry.

Sivakumar felt that Sreesanth’s mental preparation may have not been up to the desired level. “Sree wasn’t supposed to be part of the starting eleven for the Bangladesh match, if media reports were anything to go by. Remember also that it was his first World Cup appearance and maybe he was not mentally prepared as he should have.

"He was also not in the original 15-member World Cup squad. Sree came into the side only after Praveen Kumar was ruled out of the mega event because of an elbow injury and his inclusion happened less than two weeks before the World Cup,” Sivakumar says in defense of his protégé.

But Sivakumar did text message to his pupil after the poor bowling show in Mirpur. “I didn’t want Sree’s confidence to be dented in anyway. I just send him a message saying ‘Don’t Worry, Sree. These things happen. Take care and sleep well’ after the end of the match.”

Sreesanth’s former coach feels the bowler can draw a lot of confidence from the manner in which he dismissed in-form Jacques Kallis with a brute of a delivery in Durban. “It was a peach of a ball. Kallis was in a rich vein of form and to get him out in that fashion was remarkable. He can draw inspiration from that dismissal for India’s upcoming games,” he observed.

Sivakumar, who honed Sreesanth’s bowling skills at the Ernakulam Cricket Club from the age of 13 to 20 before he got selected in the MRF Pace Foundation, says that his ward should stick to basics and results would take care of itself. “Sree should not try anything extra to make things happen. He should concentrate only on line and length,” he says.

Sivakumar, however, paints a realistic picture when he talks about Sreesanth’s role in the India’s upcoming games. “I feel that if India are going to play two seamers against England, I’m pretty sure Sree would have to sit out. Only if we play three seamers, Sree would play,” he signed off.

Interview: “Bangladesh won’t be pushovers”

Shaun Williams, the former Bangladesh coach, talks exclusively to Suhrid Barua about the Tigers’ chances against India and much more.

Bangladesh forced the cricketing world to sit up and take notice of them when they beat India by five wickets in the 2007 World Cup at Queen’s Park Oval, a loss that effectively ensured a first round exit for the Men in Blue.

Four years on, Bangladesh would be seeking a Port-of-Spain encore while India would be looking to exorcise the ghosts of that defeat when the two sides meet in the World Cup opener at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Saturday.

Williams, who was then assistant to head coach Dav Whatmore, has since seen the Bangla Tigers grow in stature.

Excerpts from an interview with the 41-year-old Australian:

Q: Can you take us through the memories of that famous Bangladesh victory over India at the 2007 World Cup at Port-of-Spain?

A: The win was a huge moment for Bangladesh cricket. It gave the boys tremendous self-belief that they have it in themselves to beat the big teams. Mashrafe Mortaza got the early breakthroughs before the left-arm spin duo of Mohammad Rafique and Abdur Razzak frustrated the Indian batsmen with their tidy line and length. Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim then batted like seasoned campaigners to give their side an unforgettable win. The boys went on to beat South Africa at Guyana as well and reached the Super Eights which I thought was quite an achievement.

Q: Coming to Saturday’s match at Mirpur, do you think Bangladesh have done enough over the past few years to shed the tag of minnows?

A: I definitely think so. Bangladesh cricket has evolved over the years. They have narrowed the gap in terms of staying competitive against the major teams. A lot of talented players have come through the ranks and I think Bangladesh would back themselves to do well not just against India but also against other major teams like England, Australia and South Africa.

Q: The new breed of Bangladesh cricketers like Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Abdur Razzak bring a refreshing look to the side. What’s your take on this new generation of players?

A: They are a talented bunch. Tamim scored two Test centuries in England last year, including one at Lord’s. Shakib Al Hasan is considered one of the top all-rounders in world cricket (Shakib is ranked fifth in ICC ODI bowler rankings). He is a batsman who has all the shots in the book. Mushfiqur Rahim is solid behind the wickets and very doughty with the bat. Then, you have somebody like Abdur Razzak who has come up in leaps and bounds and taken over the mantle of the spin department ever since Mohammad Rafique called it a day.

Q: Mohammad Ashraful is considered the most talented cricketer to emerge from Bangladesh. He lost his captaincy and also his place in the side but is in the World Cup side. What do you think has gone wrong with his game?

A: Ashraful is a batsman who knows only one way to bat, and that is to attack. I agree he has been bit inconsistent, but I’m sure he is due for a big one very soon. Remember the 2007 World Cup game against South Africa? He smacked a delightful 87 at Guyana which shaped up our win. One can never write off a guy like Ashraful because you never know when he will surprise you.

Q: Pace spearhead Mashrafe Mortaza is out of the World Cup with a right knee injury. How much would Bangladesh miss him at the World Cup?

A: Mortaza is an important cog of the Bangladesh bowling attack. Bangladesh would certainly miss his experience and expertise with the ball, but it’s an opportunity for the other seamers like Shafiul Islam and Rubel Hossain to stand up and be counted.

Q: How would you assess the behavior of the wicket to be used for the Mirpur match?

A: It’s going to be on the slower side. Spinners should enjoy bowling at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium track. I would not be surprised if Bangladesh go into the game with four spinners. I guess India would go in three spinners. I think somebody like Piyush Chawla should do well on this wicket.

Q: Would you like to predict the outcome of the match?

A: I wouldn’t like to predict anything. This World Cup is a huge opportunity for Bangladesh cricket, the Stadium would be packed to capacity and the atmosphere would be amazing. I really hope Bangladesh win the toss, bat first and get a score in excess of 280. If that happens, it will be an awesome contest with India chasing a good total. But India has a strong batting line-up and equally potent battery of spinners and would definitely be the favourties. But Bangladesh won’t be pushovers.

Pravin Amre talks about the ‘Nostradamus’ who prophesised his debut century

Test hundreds are always something to cherish, but when it comes on your debut, it is even more satisfying. Pravin Amre experienced that rare high when he scored a fighting 103 in the Durban Test against South Africa in the 1992-93 series – an innings that was largely responsible for India forcing a draw in the match.

Eighteen years down the line, Amre recounts the highest point of his Test career. “I walked into bat with India in a spot of bother at 48 for four. The Durban wicket had a lot of bounce and South Africa had a potent bowling attack in Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Meyrick Pringle and Brian McMillan who were peppering me with bouncers. I took a lot of blows. For a 21-year-old debutant, it was a challenge not just to stand up to them but also to do something for my team,” Amre recalls.

The Durban deck is different from most other wickets as it used to offer prodigious swing towards the latter part of the day. “Before the start of the Test match, the late Malcolm Marshall, who was playing for Natal at that time, told us to be careful about the Durban wicket because it starts to swing in the post-tea session because the ground is near to the sea. I experienced it when the South African bowlers especially Pringle was moving the ball both ways when the survival at the wicket was the only thing on my mind at the start of my innings,” he recalls.

The century effort had its share of struggles when runs were difficult to come by with the South African seamers sticking to a probing line. “I clearly remember Day Three of the match when I was struggling to get a single run for an hour as McMillan was reeling of maidens from one end.”

Even today, Amre is indebted to wicket-keeper Kiran More for helping him get that coveted hundred. More helped Amre string together 101 runs for the 8th wicket at a time when he look in danger of running out of partners. “I am really thankful to Kiran for the dogged resistance he offered from the other end. Without his support, I don’t think I could have reached my hundred.”

The Amre-More partnership also ensured India garnered a slender 23-run first innings lead. He also shared a 87-run fifth-wicket stand with skipper Mohammed Azharuddin after India lost Ravi Shastri, Ajay Jadeja, Sanjay Manjrekar and Sachin Tendulkar cheaply.

At stumps on Day Two of the match, Amre was unbeaten on 39 in India’s total of 128 for six. Though things looked very dismal for India, one man was confident that Amre would get to a hundred and boldly predicted it. Amre recalls: “He (Abu) was a South African-based entrepreneur who used to bring food for our cricketers. Abu told me at stumps on Day Two that I would get my century on debut the next day. He said that he could see that happening from the dedication and determination I showed.”

Amre got to his hundred when he lofted Omar Henry over the bowler’s head that forced umpire Steve Bucknor to duck as he raced from 98 to 102. “Every time I see that shot, I fondly remember Abu because he was the one who rushed to the ground to hug me as I crossed the milestone,” recalls Amre. Sadly, Abu died in a road accident five years ago.

The Durban Test was historical in more ways than one. It was South Africa's first home Test since March 1970 and the home side included a non-white player for the first time in Omar Henry, who became their oldest Test debutant at 40 years and 295 days.

It was a match that featured a number of firsts. The match saw Tendulkar become the first player in the history of Tests to be given out (run out) after the ground umpire (Cyril Mitchley) referred the matter to the third umpire (Karl Liebenberg) on the second day of the Test.

It was also a match in which South African captain Kepler Wessels became the first man to score centuries for two countries – Australia and South Africa. To top it all, South African opener Jimmy Cook made his Test debut at the age of 39 and became the first Test debutant to be dismissed off the first ball.

South Africa fielded a very inexperienced team at least at the international stage, though most of them were vastly experienced at the club level or first-class level. As many as five players – opener Jimmy Cook, left-arm spinner Omar Henry, the all-rounder McMillan, the brilliant Jonty Rhodes and fast bowler Schultz were making their Test debuts. “Most of the South African players were richer on experience at club or first-class level, so we had to be wary of them. We knew that they were going to be tough,” he observed.

Indian batsmen have traditionally been uncomfortable on wickets that offer pace and bounce and not many have done well in bowler-friendly conditions overseas. Considering that, some would say Amre deserved a longer run in Tests than just the 11 matches he played. But Amre does not wallow in self-pity. “I’ve no regrets. I did what was in my control - to give my best whenever I got an opportunity to be part of the national team. I feel pretty satisfied to have finished my Test career with a Test average of 42,” he says matter-of-factly.

The 103 at Durban also made the critics questioning his ability to play fast bowling eat a humble pie. “The so-called cricket pundits said before I left for the South Africa tour that I would flounder against genuine fast bowling and that I was only good at playing spinners. This hundred at Kingsmead came under difficult conditions and was a fitting response to what I was capable of,” Amre signed off.