Ben Foakes and playing spin

Ben Foakes .jpg

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It took Ben Foakes 44 balls to do what Rory Burns took 3 balls – score the first boundary in their debut Test. Coming in at 103/5, Foakes set about undoing the damage started by Burns chasing a ball down the leg stump line.
He was good while facing spinners – he looked assured of either foot. Today was a day every England batsman who came out to bat before Foakes came with the intention of imposing themselves on the match. What else can explain the shot that Moeen Ali wanted to play off the first ball that he faced? Result? The first golden duck in his career.

Ben Stokes in a similar manner wanted to fetch the ball and ended up stretching more than what was necessary. He was bowled by what could’ve been punched to mid-off for a single. At that stage, a total of 200 looked too far. Foakes walked in at this stage in the match, a situation far from ideal for a debutant. There have only been two centuries from a number 7 on debut for England – Prior walked in when the score was more than 350 and Thorpe had situation similar to what Foakes had today. While Thorpe had Gooch for company, Foakes had Buttler and Curran.

Batsmen have different strategies for batting on the pitches in sub-continent. Some hit their way out, some grind the bowlers out and some devise their plans on specific shots. Foakes, today, alternated between the second and third of the mentioned strategies. In the company of Buttler, he started slowly and picked up pace. After Curran’s wicket, he concentrated more on being there than scoring runs – Rashid did the latter job for him.

Facing spinners can be a tough task. During the IPL when Rashid Khan was wreaking havoc, Sangakkara, in the studio, was asked what would he do counter him. Sanga replied back saying that as a right hander, he would stand on the off stump to negate the power of Rashid’s googly and force him to alter the line. Root, in his brief stay at the crease, was doing the same before rush of blood saw him coming down the track and yorking himself.

Foakes must have seen the dismissal as he set about to be effective rather than pretty. For balls pitched on the stumps line, he went back comfortably and tapped it to the midwicket region. This was what he did till Tea. After tea, he started coming down the track, not in an attempt to force the bowler out of the attack, but to tell the bowler that if he changes the line, he could come down the track and play it to similar areas.

Sri Lankan bowlers would go back and check their line to him. While line didn’t seem to trouble him so much, it would be interesting to see what changes in pace, change in the angle and flight would do to his poise. Day 1 was won by Foakes when it seemed that Sri Lanka would walk away with the honours

The Dhoni Touch

23rd December 2004

Getting out for a duck in your debut game is a disappointment. Getting run-out for a duck isn’t something a debutant visualises the night before his debut. If it was any consolation, his hero, Sachin Tendulkar, scored a duck on his debut. So did Saleem Malik. 

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Dhoni Touch

5th April 2005

After scoring 22 runs in his first four games, he was promoted up the order to No.3. The first four innings he batted at 7. In a way, we could say he was playing for his career in Visakhapatnam. He played a knock that got him into the Collective consciousness of the cricket watching public. In 13 years, there has been a lot written about him. 

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Inspite of the reams written about him, there is a lot unknown about MS Dhoni. Despite having a biographical movie made on his name, there is still a lot that people don’t know about him. He remains an Enigma. Bharat Sundaresan wants to unravel the conundrum. 

He starts the book off with the other thing, apart from batting, that got him into discussions around the country – his hair. The author mentions that both of them would’ve roughly started growing their mane around the same time. While the captain cut his tresses short, the author continues to be loyal to his, leading to jibes from Dhoni and his wife. On a tour of West Indies, they keep telling him, Baal kaatlo yaar (Cut the hair dude)

Despite repeated requests from the author, Dhoni remains elusive and after a long time he relents. He asks him to contact Seemant Lohani aka Chittu. 

The book talks about Dhoni’s life in Ranchi. How  he benefited from being in Ranchi and how Ranchi benefited from its famous son. There is nothing new to learn in these chapters as we have already seen this in the movie. This serves as an insight into his life for those people who haven’t seen the movie. 

While his friends from Ranchi do tells us about MS Dhoni, it’s the author’s conversations with Shankar Vembu that tell us more about what we want to know about Dhoni. Bharat Sundaresan, slipping in a reference to Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson, is nice and it comes in the context of Patrick Patterson. 

Patrick Patterson is important here because after reading the first chapter in the book, I was wondering if Bharat was self-absorbed because a lot of talk in that chapter is about hair. More about his hair than Dhoni’s. With so many links in the book, he could’ve slipped in a link to his piece about Patterson. In fact, I was half expecting that he would. He didn’t as his focus was on decoding Dhoni for us. 

Shankar Vembu’s stories form the crux of the book. After reading Shankar Vembu’s stories, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if the makers of the movie, Dhoni, would be ready with works for the sequel. 

There is a chapter dedicated to Dhoni’s keeping. This is where Bharat comes into his own. Till here, he was reliant on Shankar Vembu, Chittu and Chottu Bhayya for decoding the man. Decoding the man’s art is simple for Bharat. Rather, he makes it seem simple for us. That’s the level of understanding that he commands over Dhoni’s keeping. 

Over five lines, he lucidly explains how difficult Dhoni’s way of stumping is.  He blows the reader away with the simplicity of it all. Simplicity seems to be the theme of the book as there is a liberal sprinkling of Hindi. If you can understand the language, the pause between shifting from English-Hindi-English creates the desired effect. 

There is a chapter on CSK as well. In it, he delves on what makes MSD tick. At the end when he is acknowledging the help of people, Sriram Veera’s advice stands out: You anyway are used to writing full-page stories which are around 3000 words each. Think of this as writing fifteen of those. 

Santner saunters to success

Mitchell Santner.jpg

When Santner came to bat for New Zealand, they were in trouble. The third ball of the seventeenth over, Jadeja spun one across him and it was called a wide. By then Santner faced five balls  off Jadeja. He didn’t look convincing at all as the runs he got off Jadeja in the first four balls were all extras. After the wide in the seventeenth over, he looked at where the ball pitched, raised his head and smiled at no one in general.

At the same time, there was another script playing out. Jadeja bowled to a plan and while Corey Anderson was around, he kept attacking the leg stump. In the bargain, he conceded a few wides. That didn’t deter him or his captain. When he bowled a tossed up ball after the wide, Santner came charging down the track and attacked him. The very next ball, Jadeja took Santner’s wicket with a flatter and faster delivery. After taking the catch, Dhoni said something to Jadeja. It seemed as if Jadeja didn’t bowl to Santner the way Dhoni wanted him to.

Santner is a left arm spinner himself. Did he smile after the wide because he knew he would be a handful on this pitch when his turn to bowl came? Did he pick some cues from the way Dhoni wanted Jadeja to bowl on this pitch?

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Just before the game began, there was a discussion on how Kohli has improved his game since the tour to England in 2014. Laxman said that Kohli improved his off side game by getting behind the line of the ball rather than reaching for the ball.

They also discussed how Kohli would win the battle against Boult. When Wasim Akram was asked what he would’ve done if he were bowling to Kohli, he said that he would attack the stumps. Yes, in the bargain he might go for a few runs but if Kohli misses, the bowler stood a great chance of an LBW or uprooting the stumps.

When Anderson bowled the second over of the innings, he did the same thing. Kohli looked at ease while playing those sort of deliveries. It seemed as if he figured the pitch and the bowlers out. He had a plan to counter the plans of New Zealand. He looked to get as close as possible to the ball while defending or attacking. He scored 16 runs of the 23 runs he scored on the leg side.

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At the toss, after winning it, Williamson informed that they left out Boult, Southee, McClenaghan and Henry Nicholls. He decided to pack the team with spinners. The XI drew a chuckle from the discerning. After struggling with the bat, New Zealand seemed to have a total to take the game to the 17th or the 18th over.

Suresh Raina, one of the unexpected bowling and fielding stars of the innings, was interviewed at the innings break. He seemed happy with his and the team’s effort. His parting words were, ‘If I get the chance to bat, I would definitely win it for India.’

When Shikar Dhawan was caught plumb in front, it didn’t create a flutter because he was out to a bad shot than a good ball.

Santner set the cat amongst the pigeons when he beat Rohit with turn and had him stumped. He took a second wicket in the over when he got Suresh Raina lobbing a catch to short midwicket with hard hands. Now that smile after wide had an added meaning. Right from his debut, Santner seemed a confident man. Yes, he has dropped a few catches and has had more than his share of misfields, but he seems a confident man. He is a calming influence on this team.

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The selection of Ish Sodhi was met with a hint of sarcasm in the social media. It kept growing as he wasn’t introduced till the ninth over. When he did come to bowl, he immediately rewarded his captain’s faith in him with a big wicket -Virat Kohli. He mixed his leg break and googly well. He troubled Pandya, Jadeja and Ashwin. Dhoni played him well and was clever enough to take singles and get to the other end.

Nathan McCullum, the other spinner, took two wickets. He manned the long on fence and saved crucial runs for his team. The catch that he took to dismiss Dhoni at long on was special. He didn’t even get to complete his quota of overs. Like the commentators predicted, the game was over by the 19th over. New Zealand won.

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Both the teams bowled 56 dot balls. The last three balls of the New Zealand innings fetched them 12 runs. The maximum India scored off an over was 9 runs. New Zealand scored 10 or more runs in an over 5 times. That, in the end, was the difference.

 

Image courtesy – espncricinfo.com

The wrong line by Andrew Ramsey

Andrew RamseyA writer when he begins his touring life with a tour to a tournament which all the teams take lightly, can rightfully say that he began on the wrong line. He talks of being affixed with cricket rather than looking around as all sorts of bookies were involved during the tournament. Thus the book seems to be named well.

He talks of getting into tough situations and also talks of how quickly his views on Hong Kong changed. Initially he comes across as an author who complains a lot. He also introduces us to the division within the team; Julios and Nerds. Julios were named after Julio Iglesias.

He likes to talk about his career as a cricket journalist as though destiny favoured him and he was the right person at the right place at the right time. After the first tour, the cricket that he got to cover was the one day legs of Australian cricket team.

This was also around the time when Australian cricket team started to have different teams for ODI’s and Test matches. So, the newspaper that he worked for thought that it was a good idea to have different journalists to cover Tests and ODI’s

So, his first tour was to New Zealand and it was the first time that he saw the crowd trouble first hand. It wasn’t to be the last time too. It was just to be a curtain raiser for what he was to witness and experience on the caribbean tour.

The writing part in the book goes few notches higher because he decides to infuse the happenings with more than a touch of sarcasm. So, his experiences at the hotels makes you chuckle. While the problems he faces with a dial up connection are unknown to a lot of people brought up in the the broadband era, he manages to strike a chord every single time he talks of internet connection.

After the series he is sent to cover the 1999 World Cup and it’s here that he brings his best ability to the fore – describing cricket grounds vividly. He also starts to talk of the ideas bounced to him from the head office as ‘Ideas factory’. Once he starts talking of the ideas factory, he makes it clear from the outset that he doesn’t like them. It’s on these twin tours that he realised how insecure players can be. They can be as fragile as the next man.

He talks of competition among the journalists – to be the person that breaks a news, to be the person that gets the rare soundbites or to be the person that a player wants to talk to. He says in the book, “In the super-competitive world of modern media, being first is regularly preferred to being right”.

Players can be men of moods depending on the way they perform on the field. They can range from being nice to being surly. If they realise that a same publication or the same person is criticising them more often than not, they resort to the simple question, “Have you ever played cricket?”. Andrew counters this by saying,”You don’t need to have killed anyone to report on a murder”

Warne is a regular feature in the book. Be it describing his abilities or his frailties, Andrew doesn’t flinch. When the whole saga of removing Shane Warne played out, Andrew describes it saying, “The nation’s cricket administrators had made it clear that vice was no longer a prerequisite for the vice-captaincy”

Gilchrist also comes in for some major praise from the Andrew as he presented him with impeccably clean columns, to the comma. The next person whom he ghosted for, did not leave him with good experiences. In fact, towards the end of the book, coupled up with his own frustrations he lets go. He talks of the man he was ghosting for, in a none too pleasant manner.

He is brilliant with conveying his emotions at a moment with few words. When he is sent off to cover the Test series v Pakistan and has to describe Sharjah, he does it by saying, “Western morality may be a crime but western extravagance remains an essential status symbol”

Yes, he does put his opinions bluntly and is off the mark when he is forming opinions, but that does not deter you from the fact that he wants to tell you what he thinks. The fall out with the “Ideas factory’ starts to happen on the return trip from Sharjah.

He gives two reasons that made him feel bad about the job. First was the instance when he was asked for a vox pop piece. Instead of approaching people, he made up names and views and sent it back. Second and the major one was after submitting to the ‘Here’s the headline , give me a story to fit beneath it’ principle, he refused to toe the line. There were many things that brought up the realisation. One of them was him going after Mark Cosgrove. After that, he quit the job

New Zealand’s bowling

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library 2 December, 1995 – Last over of the third day of the third Test was bowled by Shane Warne. The batsman facing was Basit Ali. Shane Warne didn’t seem too happy with the way Basit Ali faced him. He didn’t like the fact that he offered his pads as the first line of defense. On the last ball of the day, after a prolonged discussion with Healy on whether to eat Mexican or Italian for dinner, he pitched one outside the leg stump. Basic moved his front foot to the pitch of the delivery. The sharp turn was something he didn’t account for – not on the last ball of the day. The turn was enough to beat the pad and crash into the stumps. Richie Benaud, on air, said, “You wouldn’t believe it. He has done him between his legs.”

30 March, 2004 – Moin Khan was nervous going into the final over of the day. It increased with every ball that was bowled in the over. He faced up to the final delivery of the day and was done in by a googly. That proved to be the turning point in the game as the Pakistan innings folded up soon after and they lost the game after following on

21 March, 2015 – Buttler was on 67* as Boult came on to bowl the final over of the day. It was a day of varying fortunes for the New Zealand bowlers. They started brilliantly and had England on the ropes. But England recovered well through the efforts of their middle order batsmen. Buttler looked assured for most part of the innings. As the final over approached, he seemed to have relaxed his guard a bit. The assuredness with which he approached things was missing. In the final over, he left a couple of deliveries alone, played a couple to the leg side and solidly defended one. The final delivery was one which could’ve been defended too. He didn’t. He missed it and was plumb in front.

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Much talk in the lead up to the Test centred around how New Zealand players, especially the ones coming back from IPL, were going to cope the return to Test cricket. McCullum, their captain, proudly proclaimed that they were not going to rest on the achievements of the previous year – their best in Test cricket. He said that they would make the charge to the top of the tree. The first over bowled by Boult, backed his claims. He found swing immediately and on the final ball of the first over, he showed the batsmen that he could swing it both ways. Southee, on the other hand, was a bit off colour, as he found it difficult to find the movement and the swing found by Boult. He took the first wicket to fall. Henry, on debut, bowled a peach of a delivery to get rid of Bell – It pitched on the off stump and straightened just a touch, to hit the top of off. He hurried Cook into a pull and dismissed him. At the other end, Boult noticed Ballance’s to hang around on the backfoot and exploited it. He bowled one full outside the off stump, getting Ballance, on the backfoot, to drive at it. Expectedly, it found the edge and was caught at the third slip. After Cook’s dismissal, at 30/4, it seemed as if England were ripe for picking. That was when the seamers lines and lengths suffered. Mark Craig, the spinner, bowled well to Root. He had his wicket too, but the umpire, M Erasmus, found it otherwise. The seamers, probably bowling to a plan, concentrated on bowling it short to Stokes and the line, for most of his innings, was around the leg stump. The England batsmen counterattacked and the seamers wilted. With the second new ball looming, an England collapse was expected. South and Boult failed to find the swing and there was a drop in the pace as well. From the moment, Root came on to bat, the seamers weren’t as effective. The shoulders didn’t drop, but you could feel that the effort they were conjuring up wasn’t enough. Just when the crowd, England players in the dressing room and Buttler thought that they had seen the day off, Boult had enough to find a moment of inspiration. He fooled Buttler on the final delivery of the day. The wicket of the final ball speaks a lot about the mindset of the bowler. It speaks of his mental strength- the ability to keep thinking, on how to get a wicket, till the final delivery of the day. It also sends a message across to the opposition to never let their guard down. Whatever the position of the team, a wicket off the final delivery, more often than not, brings the teams to even level.

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As a team, New Zealand are cut from a different cloth. They were always not like this. Not this good, not this likeable. Therefore, an insight into what changed it all for the team would be brilliant. Not for them is getting into the face of the batsmen after taking their wicket. Their celebrations are more inclined towards the joy at taking a wicket. When Moeen Ali was rushing back to the dressing room after he came to know that his team were 30/4, he was greeted with a smile by Boult and, possibly, enquiries about why he got late. There were no sledges nor stares directed at him. They learn well. After the mistakes on the first day, they came back well to clean the tail up and set the game for their batsmen. The fact that England bowlers struggled on the same pitch shows how good the New Zealand bowlers were on the first two days.

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England’s middle order

At 30/4 the first thought to cross the mind was the number of balls that would be taken by either Martin Guptill or Brendon McCullum, though he wasn’t slated to open, to overhaul the England score.

Lord’s is a ground that has seen performances which can delight many. It’s a ground where the captain of the present England team averages not more than 2 runs per innings than the number 11 batsman of the present team. At 30/4, that’s not a stat you want. At 25/3, strode in a batsman whom many consider to be among the best today – Joe Root. The first scoring shot he played today was a picture perfect cover drive. That he has two centuries at Lord’s and averages close to 100 runs a game is the stat that England would’ve wanted to seek comfort in, at that moment.

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Ian Bell was cleaned up by the debutant – Mark Henry – with an unplayable delivery. It pitched on the off stump line and straightened just a touch to hit the top of off. That dismissal prolongs the horror run for Bell. He, now, has 1 run in his last three innings. At the fall of his wicket came Stokes. Stokes batting at 6 was an accident because Moeen Ali, confident in the batsmen above him, went to the nets and didn’t come back till the fall of the fourth wicket. Stokes had a horror summer last year at home. He didn’t trouble the scorers in each of the three innings he came out to bat in against India. His last two innings at Lord’s yielded him no runs – He got a pair in the last Test he played at Lord’s.

As he got confident at the crease, he looked like the force of nature England would need in the absence of Kevin Pietersen. His first authoritative stroke was a hook off Mark Henry. Though the pace bowlers failed to trouble him, his lack of scoring shots against the spinners might be an aspect he would like to improve. Perhaps the New Zealand seamers had his dismissal in the second innings v India at the same ground, last year, in mind as the kept on banging it short to him. Stokes, expectedly, fed off the short deliveries as he hooked and pulled with authority rarely seen in him. It was also baffling to see the line bowled by the New Zealand bowlers to him – a lot of the balls were pitched on the leg stump or outside the leg stump. No wonder then that Stokes got 70% of his runs on the leg side.

Early last year, Martin Crowe rated Joe Root as one of the four best young batsmen in the world. He bears no resemblance to the batsman who saw his average drop by 6 runs in 10 consecutive tests against Australia. After that horror run, he seems to have made the number 5 position in the batting order all his own. He has scored all but one of his centuries from number 5. It seems as if he reads the game well from that position. Today too, while Stokes was taking his time to get his eye in, Root went on the offensive and had the bowlers on the backfoot going into lunch. After lunch, Stokes attacked and he took a backseat. He had a good partnership with Buttler after Stokes’ dismissal. Buttler looked confident till the last over of the innings. In that last over, he looked like a man who would require the help of a nightwatchman for the rest of his career in the overs that bring the day to a close.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler during the England v New Zealand 1st Investec Test match, day one at Lords Cricket Ground, on May 21, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Moeen Ali,Jos Buttler

Moeen Ali, looked assured in his stay at the crease. He chose the balls he wanted to attack and was solid in defence. Perhaps, the shot of the day was his cover drive off Boult. He would want to resume from where he left off tomorrow. A lot hinges on how he plays in the first hour on the second day.

The first hour today must have sent shockwaves but these four batsmen have proved that the middle and lower middle order is in safe hands in the years to come.

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Love for McCullum

McCullumAs the winning captain today, McCullum had a few things to say. What he said was

This was more of a subcontinental wicket than a New Zealand, or Australian one, but it is good to still pull through with the win. I cut my hands a couple of times (diving in the field), but we have to be desperate in the field. It is an attitude we need to bring to the table. If we are serious about going deep, we got to keep it up. It doesn’t bother us who we play next. We just need to reach the levels we are capable of, just be on song, and then make sure we turn up and deliver come the quarter-final.

We are used to such war talk and hyperbole from the present day captains. With McCullum, what he talks about fielding, is what he does on the field. Sometimes he is successful and sometimes he isn’t. If you see both the videos carefully, there is a similarity apart from McCullum’s effort- he crashes into the advertisement hoardings and the commentator’s concern following soon afterwards. McCullum himself appears nonplussed in both the efforts. In the latter effort, he does look at his right palm twice; as if he is shocked that it couldn’t manage the effort in the microseconds that were afforded.

Why he places such importance on fielding can be judged from this clip, where drops the catch, but has the presence of mind to throw the ball back in to the bowler, thus effecting a run-out. That these efforts can be inspirational are well known.

While talking of New Zealand’s fielding, Andrew Fernando had this to say after the second Test against Sri Lanka in Wellington

When Kaushal Silva cut a ball behind point early in the 29th over of the innings, third slip, fourth slip, gully and point peeled off to give chase.

Kumar Sangakkara had already been dismissed. Sri Lanka were 66 for 3, in pursuit of 390. Most teams would commit one man to this errand, some might send two. But here was more than a third of New Zealand’s fielding resources tearing after it; in each other’s slipstream like a track cycling outfit, even though this ball seemed destined for the fence.

Somehow, between the four of them, they found a way to haul it in, one man scooping it back from the rope, another plucking it up and returning it. Each of the four fielders then high-fived the others – even the two that had not touched the ball. Seven high-fives in all. One run saved.

Talking about their fielders, he said

Occasional mistakes are made, of course, as they always will be in a sport played by humans. But even after a chance is shelled, each New Zealand fielder seems to want the next ball to come to him. In Christchurch, Ross Taylor let a simple slip catch spill from his bucket hands, but held firm to a more difficult chance moments later. In the same match, Sangakkara grassed one off McCullum, then within half an hour, had dropped James Neesham as well.

My favourite lines from that piece are

Sri Lanka’s fielders were virtually dragging the meat of their own carcasses around the Basin Reserve towards the end of New Zealand’s second innings. New Zealand were whizzing about the same ground like pinballs during Sangakkara’s day-two onslaught

A lot of people in India don’t rate New Zealand highly. I have come across as a lot of people like that. Some have gone on to the extent of saying that his efforts are fluke! Well, in my defence, from IPL is this

Yes, New Zealand are my favourites to lift the World Cup