March 18, 2012

India unsure of a place in Asia Cup final despite another Kohli special


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan may win the Asia Cup and India may not still reach its final. That’s how the situation remained even after Virat Kohli’s spectacular 183 off 148 balls that helped the Indians reach the stiff target of 330 with 13 deliveries remaining.

The scenario is not much different to the one at Hobart, Australia, a little while ago. India had needed a massive win over Sri Lanka in their last league outing to stay afloat which they did achieve, mainly due to the heroics of Kohli.

Despite the sensational victory at Hobart India’s fate had depended on the outcome of the Australia-Sri Lanka. Not surprisingly the Sri Lankans prevailed over the hosts to send India home early.

Sri Lanka can spoil the party for the Indians once more, having done it so many times in the past. India will exit from the Asia Cup if Banglalesh defeats Sri Lanka in the last league fixture of the tournament. It’s not the question of claiming a bonus point. Bangladesh will walk into the final only if they win their last game.

India would have paid the price of what looked like having gifted the match to Bangladesh in the process of securing 100th international ton for Sachin Tendulkar, if they are denied a place in the final even after having overpowered Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

India’s successful run chase against Pakistan on March 18 underlined the growing confidence of their young guns and the uncertainty in the minds of the old guard. Now Tendulkar, with nearly every batting record under his belt, has to play second fiddle to Kohli.

The enigmatic left-hander Gautam Gambhir somehow got a hundred in the opening game but he flopped miserably in the following two matches. He has already lost the vice-captaincy and if he contunues to fare inconsistently he could well be thrown out of the team too.

The promising youngsters like Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina have sit on the sidelines for quite a while in order to accommodate the veterans but now the time has come to move forward and bring about a change in policy.

With Kohli having matured into a top-class batsman, the Indian selectors need to be brave in giving longer runs to the likes of Sharma and Raina to let them get the feel of playing in all sorts of circumstances.

The Indian batsmen may be vulnerable to the short balls on the bouncy or seaming tracks but they seem to be in total control when playing on the docile sub-coninental pitches where the ball barely rises and hardly ever moves, particularly with the majority of the games being day-nighters.

That’s how they chased down the target of 330 with remarkable ease against Pakistan at Dhaka under floodlights. That’s why their inability to score briskly in the previous game against Bangladesh looked strange and raised questions. Isn’t it incredible that they managed scores in the excess of 300 against stronger and more resourceful bowling attacks of Pakistan and Sri Lanka but failed to do so against the hosts.

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Match gifted to celebrate Tendulkar’s 100th ton?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

How to classify the Asia Cup encounter between hosts Bangladesh and defending champions India at Dhaka on March 16, 2012? Was it the most memorable day for Indian cricket when Sachin Tendulkar completed the much awaited 100th international ton? Or was it the most shameful of days when succumbed to the minnows?

The majority of the people as well as the common sense say that a win-win situation was created by the stakeholders to let the Little Master reach the milestone which was haunting him for over a year.

Tendulkar did get the 100th hundred but at the cost of yet another match. Whether it was by design or by default the bottom line was that the team lost the game. As a newspaper highlighted in its report, it was his 25th century having come in a losing cause.

This is not to suggest that whenever he scores a hundred his team is going to be the second best on the day but there are valid reasons to prove the point that his centuries have not won matches for India.

Have a look at his last three centuries for example. The Indians were humiliated by Bangladesh at Dhaka when he scored his 100th century. India had lost to South Africa at Nagpur during the 2011 World Cup when Tendulkar amassed his 99th hundred. In the same competition India’s match against England at Bangalore was tied after he scored his 98th ton.

There are many people who believe that Tendulkar plays for himself rather than for the team. After all it can’t be mere coincidence that India rarely wins when he scores heavily. He has not been in the business of saving Test matches either for a very long time.

His records are unlikely to broken but it’s for the analysts and the statisticians to work out exactly if he has caused more damage to the team or has helped it. Wasn’t his latest century as forgettable as many of those that harmed the team’s interest?

It was an ordinary innings by his high standards. It was a patchy knock that cost his team immensely. He was not on top of the bowling at any stage and when he tried to make amends he was scalped.

It was the easiest of pitches to bat on and the outfield was very quick. The runs were there to be taking against a friendly bowling attack lacking fire or intensity. But it became much too obvious that the basic purpose of the proceedings to let Tendulkar get to his landmark.

Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, in mercurial touch, kept on providing the strike to Tendulkar rather than going after the bowling to post a big total. The master batsman was unable to dominate the Bangladesh bowlers and even his 100th run reflected nerves and uncertainty.

The low-key celebrations that followed had conveyed the message to many people that things were manipulated to ensure the 100th century. The refusal of the Indian batsmen to attempt quick runs in the death overs with wickets in hands dropped hints that the plan was not to set a daunting target for the home side. As was being anticipated in the knowledgeable circles Bangladesh did reach the target later in the evening.

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