I've slipped a couple of additional blogs into my roll over the last week or so. The first, Stumped, is the work of Venkat Ramnarayan, a former Indian first-class player of the 1970s, and contains some rich and enjoyable descriptions of games and players from India's past. Well I, as someone with a bit of a fetish for the Indian game since 1979, like it, and look forward to seeing more of Ram's writing.

The other is the new blog by Iain O'Brien, the Wellington seamer who's become an unexpectedly important member of the Kiwi attack over the past year. O'Brien's been known to me for a while because of his range of wry and amusing contributions to a message board about club cricket in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (where he spends every summer), and his blog has opened in the same vein. It remains to be seen how long NZ cricket's media managers allow him to get away with publishing such an unsanitized account, but as a revelation of what actually goes through a Test player's head during a game, it is brilliant.

Enjoy it while you can.

Shah's Time

After what happened in Mumbai yesterday, which is bound to cast a shadow - and very possibly curtail - England's tour, it seems a bit passe to bang on about the inadequacies of English selection, but it's an easy target, so why not? With England posting a decent total but still losing at a canter yesterday, you were left wondering what on earth Alastair Cook was doing there, but, more specifically, what has Owais Shah done to deserve such consistently inconsistent treatment?

Having made 72 at number three in Bangalore (to add to his 58 in Indore earlier in the series), Shah was again shunted down to six, from which position he made a coruscating 66* in support of Pietersen's century. With everyone rightly adamant that England need more ODI centuries, and Collingwood once more in awful form, it seems illogical that Shah hasn't been trusted with a higher position in the order throughout the series.

Shah has been an international since 2001 but his career at the top level has taken a long time to mature. His fielding was initially a real weakness and is often ponderous still, while his right-hand dominated technique is hardly a thing of beauty and can tend to detract from his very real qualities of class, confidence and aggression.

All the evidence was that Duncan Fletcher didn't trust him, but Moores and his selectors have at least seemed happy to give him a run in the side, and Pietersen, as an attacking batsman of genius, recognizes him as a kindred spirit.

With just two Tests behind him (an impressive Mumbai debut in 2006 and a nerve-ridden one-off against the West Indies at Lord's in 2007), now increasingly appears to be the time to look again at Shah's credentials in the longer game, and I fervently hope he gets the opportunity to show what he can do.

Whether that opportunity comes in India before Christmas remains to be seen.


Compensation Culture

As the fourth ODI finally came to a conclusion last night (with England, hardly surprisingly, losing again) it was amusing but just a tad annoying to listen to Jonathan Agnew getting more and more frustrated at the lateness of the finish. Apparently it was nearly midnight in India, and, as Agnew had mentioned earlier in the day, he and his media colleagues (and the players, presumably) would have to get up at six to catch the plane to Orissa for the next game. Oh, and Gus Fraser didn't like the hotel in Kanpur and hopes the city won't get an IPL franchise until it improves (not that he needs to worry unless Middlesex join the IPL).

It could be worse, lads. You might not have someone willing to pay you a large amount of money to travel round the world watching cricket. And the six a.m. starts are even more taxing when you've got a crap job and it's winter in England.

I think the BBC Cricket Correspondent's job has more than enough compensations, even if you've seen enough ODIs to last three lifetimes and England still keep losing.



While I was getting ready for work this morning, I was aware that, in the background, Yuvraj was doing what Yuvraj does best: destroying an England bowling attack with the headiest mixture of elegance and power you will ever see. I saw a few of the best shots but couldn't really follow the innings as I had other things to do.

At the same time I was aware that the TMS team - Agnew, Simon Mann, Gus Fraser and Steve James - were raving about the innings, although Agnew did spend a long time banging on about the fact that Yuvraj had a runner (which did seem ridiculous).

The strokes I saw were sumptuous but such displays by him seem so commonplace now, especially against England (Durban, his sublime century in the ODI at Goa in 2006) that I almost wondered what all the fuss was about.

Yuvraj is a batsman who makes the extraordinary look ordinary. That is what he does.

As I've mentioned before I regard him as one of the very best attacking batsmen I have ever seen, and, unlike the England bowlers, I'll be happy to see as much more as he can produce in the rest of the series.

Bring it on.


Batting with Attitude

With Australia out of the way and England yet to offer themselves up for humiliation (although they got most of the way there yesterday), the obvious thing might be to write a valedictory piece about Sourav Ganguly. I'm not going to do that, although, like everybody, I recognize the contribution which he made to Indian cricket over more than a decade. I saw his debut century at Lord's in 1996 and always enjoyed watching him, with a representative memory being the sight of him in one-day mode, taking a couple of steps down the pitch and one back before thrashing a seamer high over the offside. That was the essence of Ganguly; aggression, attitude, and plenty of style.

No, I'll write about Dhoni. The Dhoni who, when he came to England with India for the first time last year, had acquired a reputation as an unsophisticated if dangerous hitter but who showed straight away that he could do more, much more, and has shown since, most recently in Nagpur last weekend, that he can play with patience and selectivity when necessary while never losing touch with the fact that bad balls are there to be dispatched. Throw in serviceable keeping, which will improve, and his astute captaincy, and you have a really impressive figure who looks at the moment like just the man to guide his team through the choppy waters which are bound to accompany its inevitable reshaping. Indeed, Dhoni's apparently effortless ability to hit the right tone was encapsulated in his decision to allow Ganguly to captain the side for the last few overs of his final game. He didn't have to do it, but he did, and it looked and felt absolutely right.

India's future is firmly based around Dhoni as batsman, as wicket-keeper and as captain.

And it's bright.


Done and Dusted

With a decent Test series done and dusted and Australia, ultimately, well beaten, India appear well-placed to challenge for the world number one spot.

However, any assessment of where they stand now has to be coloured by the fact that they're on the verge of having to rebuild. Kumble and Ganguly are no more, and, while the early signs from Amit Mishra have been good, I'm less than convinced about his future in the side, with Chawla probably a better bet in the long run. Dravid's future must be uncertain, with runs needed against England to prolong his career, and Tendulkar and VVS clearly can't go on for ever. For India, over the next 3-5 years, everything depends on how their replacements shape up, but, with the brilliant Ishant Sharma there and the hugely impressive Dhoni pulling the strings, the future looks relatively bright.

For Australia, on the other hand, the future looks rocky. While the batting still appears strong, too many of the major players are the wrong side of thirty, Haddin is no Gilchrist (who is?) and the attack, for all the individual merits of Lee, Clark, Johnson and, well, Krejza, isn't what it was (how could it be?). Seeing them slide to defeat this morning one had the first inkling for a very, very long time that this was just another side, with strengths, sure, but a number of clear weaknesses which better teams, like India, will exploit.

At this stage England will fancy their chances for next summer too, and, while there's a lot of water left to flow under a number of bridges before then, at the present moment I'd probably back them.


Generational Shift

The now retired Anil Kumble was, in an Indian (and probably a world) context, a great bowler and, just as importantly, perhaps the most mentally-tough Indian player of his generation (although Dravid in his pomp and of course SRT would have something to say about that).

He never seemed to have too much in his armoury at first glance (just ask Keith Fletcher), but to watch him bowl a long spell, especially in Indian conditions with smog and spices in the air and the sun on his back, was to be educated in the art of the spin bowler as water-torturer. Accuracy, repetition, variation, aggression and intensity combined with enough spin as was necessary to ensure that few batsmen were ever completely comfortable against him, whatever they thought. Which was part of his greatness, because, if anyone ever started to think they had him, he would have them.

And now, with Kumble gone, Ganguly on the verge of going, and the bell tolling for Dravid (if not Tendulkar), India are suddenly in the midst of the generational shift which they've been on the verge of for what seems like years. And all at a time when they're looking like the type of united, determined side which can put away an Australian team that still has plenty to offer.

They'll come again. But the catching does need some work.

(How To) Get Rich Quick (or Not)

Like virtually everybody else in the known cricketing universe (it seems) I was watching as things started to go wrong for England on Saturday evening. I couldn't however, manage to summon the energy or interest to watch until the end, as it was pretty obvious what the outcome was going to be. And, without trying to come across as too much of a purist, I was more interested in the Test match in Delhi, even if it subsided into a tame draw, than I was in anything which happened in Antigua.

I can't add anything original to what's been written by innumerable other people already, but I think that Rob at Cricket Forever and Patrick at Line and Length summed things up very well.

As Patrick says, it'll be great if what Stanford's team have achieved (and how they've done it) has a lasting influence on the game in the islands. While I can't agree with Stanford's pronouncement that the victory meant that West Indian cricket was back, it does at least look like a vague step in the right direction, something they've taken very few of in recent times.

And, as Rob says, England choked. Partly, I suspect because they wanted the money too much but at the same time weren't really sure what they were doing there. They were only too well aware that their week in the Windies constitituted a poor preparation for the imminent Indian tour, but they were only doing as they were told (and, as a by-product, hoping to get rich).

I think it's about time we moved on to something which really matters.

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