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A Year of Fresh Hopes

Indian cricket team is about to start its first overseas tour after Sachin Tendulkar‘s retirement. The team has been playing a lot of cricket without Tendulkar over the past few years, but now it is official that Tendulkar is a former Indian cricketer. As India prepare for a challenging and at the same time exciting tour in South Africa, let us look at the year 2013, that has given fresh hopes for Indian cricket.

2013 has been an outstanding year for India. They have won everything, not only virtually, but in reality too. The ODI series against England, the test series against Australia, both at home, the Champions Trophy in England, the tri-series in West Indies, the one day series against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, the one day series against Australia at home, and the test and one day series against West Indies also at home.

It’s a remarkable achievement and a run that could be classified as the stuff of champions. But one diminishing factor about this is that most of the times India have played at home this year. All the six test match victories have been in India, that too against oppositions who were clearly not well equipped to handle sub-continental conditions.

One unquestionable aspect of India’s performance is that they have become a better ODI side over the years. They now play this format better than most teams and are rightly placed as the number one team in ODI cricket at the moment. A lot of the credit for this success goes to the batting firepower that India have at their disposal.

It  has often come to the team’s rescue even when the bowling has been abysmal at times. In fact, India under MS Dhoni’s captaincy have started to win the big moments in a match and they have learnt  to cope with pressure situations and to come out victorious, a trait exhibited by the Australian teams of the early 2000s.

If we look at India’s ODI record from the year 2000, it is in 2013 that India have won most matches in a calendar year, 22 wins from 31 matches.  In fact, even if the list is extended back to India’s introduction to ODI cricket, there is only one year, 1998, when India had won more matches in a calendar year than in 2013,  24 wins from 40 matches.

India in ODIs from 2000

India in ODIs from 2000

Even though, all the test match victories this year have  been in India, it is a significant step in the right direction as far as Indian cricket is concerned. After the much talked about overseas debacles in England and Australia and the home series defeat to England, the team really needed to get its act together in the test match arena.

Post the retirements of stalwarts like Dravid and Laxman, the young batsmen have shown no stage fear and lent stability to the batting order. People have already started calling out Dhawan, Pujara, Kohi and Rohit as the new Fab Four. Whether or not that’s fair, it must be acknowledged that they look every inch, the men to carry forward, India’s batting legacy in test cricket.

India in Tests from 2000

India in Tests from 2000

Apart from the blotch in 2011- 2012,  India have had a decent run in test match cricket too over the past decade. All the captains who skippered during this period valued overseas performance and the results were there to show for.

India had won test series in Pakistan, West Indies,England and New Zeland. Drawn series in Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa. At home, they have lost only three series during this period, one against South Africa in 2000, one against the mighty Australia in 2004 and the other against a resolute and clinical England in 2012.

If India manages to win both the test matches in South Africa, it will be a new record as it will be the first time in their cricket history, they win all the matches in a calendar year. That looks like a far cry considering they have to beat the world’s best test side at their own backyard.

All the fans will be hoping for is a decent fight from a young team, and if they can provide that, India can cap off this wonderful year of 2013, one that may well go on to be known as the year which saw a new a dawn in Indian cricket.

Stats Courtesy : ESPNCricinfo Statsguru

This post first appeared on Sportskeeda

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December 5, 2013 · 10:57 am

That On-Drive

A report from the first day of the historic final test match of Sachin Tendulkar played at the Wankhede, Mumbai on Nov 14, 2013.

This post first appeared on Manorma Online on Nov 14, 2013.

*****

So much has happened over the course of the day. But in the end, what remains in my mind is only the deafening noise accompanying a short man to the field, the sacred turf where he was identified as a child prodigy. Since then he has gone on to conquer the world, moreover conquer our hearts. Our relationship with Sachin Tendulkar has always been about urging him to make us feel good, make us sleep better. It was no different today as well, when he came out to bat.

Mathew Hayden describes the Indian worship towards Sachin as a frantic appeal by a nation. Today, that frantic appeal had a demanding tone to it, a demand arisen purely out of the understanding of the fact that this would probably be the last chance for us to take solace in Tendulkar. Tendulkar came out to bat when India lost their second wicket, that of Murali Vijay with the score on 77. But the whole day, it has been about Tendulkar only.

The morning when I reached the Wankhede, an hour before the start of the match, there were long queues already in place with people wanting to get in and be a part of this historic occasion right from the very first ball. India won the toss and put West Indies into bat on a pitch which had good carry for the bowlers and a bit of sideways movement. Whether it’s his last match or not, whether he is actively involved in the play or not, one cannot escape the ‘Sachiiin Sachiiin’ chants in a ground in India. At once, Sachin himself gestured towards the crowd suggesting that it should not be all about him and that the bowler is the one in need of all the backing when he is charging into bowl.

West Indies lost Chris Gayle to a sharp and well directed short delivery from Mohammed Shami who seemed to be carrying his form from the Kolkata victory to here also. Darren Bravo played some attacking shots against Ashwin but fell prey to him just before lunch. West Indies finished the first session with the score on 93 for 2. Indian captain MS Dhoni must have thought about giving Tendulkar a bowl at some stage in the match, because the crowd was constantly in his hear with “We want Sachin, We want Sachin” .

Dhoni resisted that temptation and the main bowlers were more than par for the course as the second session saw a collapse from the West Indies team that has become a characteristic of their test performances in the recent years. The middle and late order batsmen were sorted out by the Indian spinners with sharp turn and bounce. Once Shivnarine Chanderpaul was caught behind off the bowling of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a procession of wickets ensued. Pragyan Ojha bagged a five wicket haul and Ashwin picked up three. West Indies were bowled out for 182 just on stroke of tea.

One interesting passage of play was when Sachin was employed to field at fine leg for a while. At first, there were only a couple of ball boys patrolling that area. They found a cute idea to get closer to the master. They picked up some bottles of water and went near him and offered that to him without him even asking for it. After a few minutes, when I looked towards the fine leg region, the ball boys multiplied in number there. Surely, the West Indies batsmen weren’t playing neat leg glances one after another for that area to be taken care of by so many kids. They were fulfilling their dreams, a dream most Indians would never be able to fulfill, be that close to their idol.

The third session started brightly for India with a solid and quick fire partnership between Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. they scored at nearly a run a ball before Dhawan was out caught at deep square leg trying to sweep. By then people realized that Tendulkar batting today itself was a strong possibility and the collective wish of the crowd undid Murali Vijay who had been playing beautifully till then. Both the openers were snapped by Shillingford.

So the moment arrived, the moment everyone had been waiting for, but not expecting to come that soon. But that didn’t mean the crowd were any less pumped up in their reception for their hero. We all bowed down saluting the master. Once, twice, thrice and many more. The West Indies team members arranged themselves to give Tendulkar a guard of honour. He nodded to all the appreciations he was getting and took strike, not in any haste. He wanted the noise to subside so that he could focus better. The noise never went meeker. But this was Sachin, he had been to all the rigorous examination by his loyal fans. He knew he couldn’t afford to disappoint his people, both the screaming ones in the crowd at the Wankhede and the millions tuning in from all over the world.

He brought out his A game in place for the biggest of farewells ever known in sporting history. There was a certainty in his footwork today. He went back and forward with clockwork precision and smothered the off spin of Shillingford who had troubled him at the Eden Gardens. He was adamant in punishing any loose delivery that came his way.  Then late in the day, when West Indies captain Darren Sammy brought himself to bowl, Tendulkar came up with his signature shot, that on drive, that head going towards the offside and that bat coming down in perfect perpendicular and meeting the ball dead center. The ball raced away to the boundary and that was relieving for everyone. All is well with the Tendulkar world. He finished on 38 not out at the end of the day. The fans can now have a good night’s sleep and come back hoping for more vintage mastery. But most will concede that that on-drive has already given them the value for their money.

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November 19, 2013 · 7:38 am