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Posts Tagged ‘zaheer khan’

The build-up to India’s Test series with Sri Lanka has been somewhat overshadowed by the continuing coverage of Sachin Tendulkar’s 20th year in international cricket, but with top spot in the ICC Test Rankings up for grabs, the contest has much to offer.

Sri Lanka’s record in India suggests that the tourists will face a tough task. The bulk of responsibility for scoring runs is likely to fall on the usual suspects, who have in the past made huge scores on benign pitches but struggled in difficult conditions. As for the bowlers, only Murali has a strong track record in India, so the others will need to step up if the side are to succeed. Herath should edge out Mendis for the second spin slot, although the latter’s magical showing against the same opposition last year may inspire his inclusion at some stage.

For the hosts, Zaheer Khan’s return (along with Sreesanth) should revitalise the pace attack, whilst a chief concern could be adjusting back to Test cricket after more than six months of limited-overs matches. The lack of Test matches has been picked up on by the man of the hour, and many of the players in the side may take some time to realign their approaches.

This is a key series for India in their mission to become the best side in the world, and a series victory for the home side will be widely expected.

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After the sugary delights of the World Twenty20, it’s back to the slightly more balanced diet of 50-over cricket for the West Indies and India with the four-match ODI series which starts tomorrow at Sabina Park.

The tourists have been hit by injury (Sehwag, Raina) as well as the desire to give some key players (Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan) a rest, but a ‘weak’ Indian side still contains the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Ishant Sharma and Gambhir. Whilst their performance at the World Twenty20 was a disappointment, a disappointed India often bounce back strongly, and the inclusion of fresh faces may well prove to be the catalyst for a revival of their fortunes. Dhoni, as ever, will be key.

For the West Indies, an encouraging home Test series (at least in terms of results, the WICB‘s reputation took a bit of a beating) against England was followed up with a seemingly jaded performance against the same side away from home, and the contrast between the Chris Gayle who grumbled and griped his way thought that series and his swashbuckling Twenty20 alter-ego was vivid. The Windies will be hoping that they have the latter at their disposal for the next couple of weeks, as well as his partner-in-boundaries Dwayne Bravo (who is joined by brother Darren in the West Indies side for the first time). Sulieman Benn is also likely to have to play at his best, as he will face a tough examination of his bowling from the side who are traditionally considered the best in the world at playing spin.

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India’s squad for their upcoming tour of the Caribbean makes interesting reading. In the absence of Sehwag and Raina (injured), Tendulkar and Zaheer (rested), and Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan (dropped), there are one or two names that require a little mental exploration before recognition is achieved.

Ashish Nehra hasn’t played for India since 2005, and Abhishek Nayar, is, I must confess, a mystery to me – although he has made an impression on some, and his 99 in the Ranji Trophy final (as well as his IPL experience) marks him out as someone to keep any eye out for.

Ravindra Jadeja is also a relative newcomer to the full Indian side, having only played a single ODI, but he has impressed in the past for the Under-19 side, and featured in the World Twenty20 side.

The squad in full is as follows: MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Yusuf Pathan, Murali Vijay, Subramaniam  Badrinath, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Abhishek Nayar, Ashish Nehra, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik.

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Kings XI Punjab
Punjab have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, having added only Jerome Taylor, Ravi Bopara, and the previously obscure Burt Cockley. Sarwan has departed – having apparently only been on a one-year contract – and a number of key players will only play part of the season (Shaun Marsh, Brett Lee and James Hopes are all likely to be called away by Australia).

As with last season, much will rest on the shoulders of Yuvraj, who will be expected to provide batting pyrotechnics every time he plays. If he can find form whilst the Australians are unavailable, and Marsh can continue his impressive form from last year, then the Kings XI are capable of mounting a strong challenge.

Kolkata Knight Riders
The KKRs build-up has been dominated by talk of multiple or rotating captains, but the unusual situation has partly arisen out of the fact that the side has so many top-class players at its disposal. Chris Gayle is made for Twenty20 cricket, as is Brendon McCullum (who should be available for the whole season). David Hussey, Ricky Ponting and Ajantha Mendis will probably only play cameo roles, but home-grown talents such as Cheteshwar Pujara will be available throughout.

Sole auction signing Mashrafe Mortaza probably won’t alter the balance of the side much, but Umar Gul’s bowling will be missed, putting a lot of pressure on Ishant Sharma.

Mumbai Indians
A disappointing start last time around saw Mumbai fail to make the play-offs, and the Sreesanth slapping incident stirred controversy. He’s out with an injury, so discipline may be less of an issue in 2009. Dwayne Bravo’s recent form has been impressive, suggesting that he will be a key player with both bat and ball, and the additions of JP Duminy and Graham Napier should boost the batting.

Zaheer Khan has also come in for Robin Uthappa, whilst a number of the overseas players can offer something with both bat and ball, leaving the side well-balanced in the middle order. Harbhajan has so far failed to impress in Twenty20 cricket, but is likely to feature throughout.

Rajasthan Royals
Rajasthan confounded a lot of people’s expectations with their victory last season, but key player Shane Watson could miss much of the 2009 season due to international call-ups. Tyron Henderson comes in as cover, but the lack of big-name players (Graeme Smith’s recovery from injury may also prove more costly for the Royals now that they have lost the element of surprise.

Rajasthan, of course, are nominally my team, so all the best to them.

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The second season of the IPL (or the first season of the SAPL, if you prefer) gets underway this weekend, so here’s the lowdown on the teams taking part:

Bangalore Royal Challengers
Bangalore’s main pre-season activity was the purchase of Kevin Pietersen and KP will join a host of his fellow countrymen in Kallis, Steyn and Boucher. Last year the Royal Challengers finished seventh of eight teams, with only 4 wins, and Rahul Dravid didn’t look much of a Twenty20 batsman last time out, so it is to be hoped that the signing of Pietersen and the availability of Nathan Bracken following injury last year will improve things.

Zaheer Khan has departed to the Mumbai Indians in a swap deal for Robin Uthappa, but Steyn and Bracken – when available – should be enough to keep the bowling up to standard. Nevertheless, the Royal Challengers are unlikely to be amongst the favourites for the competition this year (although as Rajasthan showed last year, the odds may not be a fair indicator of each team’s relative chances).

Chennai Super Kings
Initial indications are that Chennai look strong again this year. Matthew Hayden’s retirement from international cricket means he is available for the whole competition, and new signing Andrew Flintoff, if fit, could potentially be the archetypal IPL all-rounder. In addition, MS Dhoni remains a potent threat.

Last season, the Super Kings lost out to Rajasthan in the final on the last ball, and the squad looks good enough to go one better this time around if fortune (and fitness) favours the Super Kings.

Delhi Daredevils
Dehli have been hit by the loss of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Asif, but have added Australian master blaster David Warner and English duo Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah. Perhaps most important of their new additions is ‘Dirty’ Dirk Nannes, a Twenty20 specialist who has been part of successful Middlesex and Victoria teams in the shortest form of the game.

Dehli also have the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Vettori, de Villiers and McGrath at their disposal, so if the Daredevils can get the make-up of their side right, they have a strong chance of success. The fact that most of their overseas stars will be available throughout may lead to the odd selection problem, but they will be problems of the sort that other franchises would like to have.

Deccan Chargers
Last year’s wooden-spoon winners in dead last place, the Chargers suffered heavily in the batting department as Shahid Afridi, Scott Styris and even Herschelle Gibbs failed to live up to expectations. he has been recalled, and they have a preponderance of all-rounders having also added Dwayne Smith and Ryan Harris.

RP Singh is also under pressure after a disappointing season last year, as is Chaminda Vaas, and Fidel Edwards’s arrival should improve the effectiveness of the bowling unit. In all, there is some hope for a better performance this year, although it would be hard for the Chargers to do any worse.

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India go into the ODI series against Sri Lanka riding a run of good form – the tourists beat their hosts 3-2 last year without Sehwag or Tendulkar, and have since pummelled England 5-0 at home. Aside from tournaments such as the Kitply Cup and Asia Cup, their last series defeat was way back in 2007, and their professed desire to be the best in the world is constantly gaining credibility, especially now that the pace attack is so strong.

That pace attack is likely to comprise Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel and one other, given the fact that chief spinner Harbhajan is injured. The batting line-up looks as strong as ever, even if Tendulkar isn’t the archetypical modern ODI opener.

For Sri Lanka, much will depend on whether Muralitharan and Mendis can improve on the less-than-exemplary performances they put in the last time these two sides met in an ODI series (which of course followed a Test series where they had made mincemeat of India’s batsmen). The former is poised on the verge of a world record, which should be motivation enough. If those two take wickets and Nuwan Kulasekara continues his recent good form, India will have their work cut out for them.

Nevertheless, India will be favourites, given their form and the sheer quality of their side.

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The IPL trading window is about to close, and what is likely to be the biggest transfer (at least until the auction, when England’s players will be available) has just gone through. The Mumbai Indians have traded Robin Uthappa to the Bangalore Royal Challengers in exchange for Zaheer Khan. The deal reunites each player with his ‘normal’ domestic side.

No money changed hands, which suggests the players are of roughly equal worth. But which team got the better end of the deal?

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All over England, people are bemoaning the national side’s run of ODI defeats to India. Some are pointing to an outdated attitude to the batting order, others to a fundamental misjudgement of Indian conditions, yet others to the general attitude to limited overs cricket that, it is argued, persists in the UK.

There is another possibility, though. What if India are, simply put, now the best One Day side there is?

From the breakneck acceleration of Sehwag and Gambhir, through the middle-order fireworks of Yuvraj and company, the Indian batting lineup is as good as any in the world. Although Tendulkar isn’t quite as ‘modern’ in his approach as some of the younger stars, having a player of such quality in the side is anything but a hardship.

As for the spin bowlers, only Sri Lanka can table a serious claim to superiority over the likes of Harbhajan. In comparison, the part timers of Australia and England are hardly worth considering.

Even the seam bowlers, traditionally India’s weak spot, are world-class. Ishant Sharma has exploded onto the international scene, and Zaheer Khan continues to attract plaudits from all directions.

The experience that most of the Indian side have gained, partly from two recent confrontations with Australia, partly from the brave new world of the IPL, has given them an edge over most, if not all, of the planet’s One Day sides. Whether or not they can maintain their current form for long enough to overhaul Australia and South Africa at the top of the ODI rankings, and whether they can produce such electric performances away from home, remains to be seen – but I wouldn’t bet against it.

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Australia ended the fourth day of the First Test with a 263 run lead and five second-innings wickets still standing.

With Stuart Clark picking up an elbow injury and unable to bowl this morning, potentially complicating the Australian attack plan for the fourth innings, the tactical imperative for the tourists was quick runs.

India, though, had other ideas, and Sharma and Harbhajan took a couple of wickets each to put Australia in trouble at 128-5. Zaheer Khan had earlier continued his key contribution to the match by making 57 not out (the top score in India’s 360 all out), and taking his sixth wicket of the match, dismissing Matthew Hayden cheaply for the second time in four days.

The picture started to improve for Ponting’s side as Brad Haddin and Shane Watson dug in, and Australia still have a good chance of victory, but a draw (despite a rapidly deteriorating pitch) seems by far the most likely outcome now.

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Yesterday, I wrote that Australia might find it hard to dismiss India cheaply. It turns out I wasn’t too far wrong on that front, but “the experience of their top order” didn’t have as much to do with it as I predicted. Dravid made 51 (youtube here), and there were notable contributions from Sehwag and Ganguly, but it was – of all people – Harbhajan Singh who steadied the ship, making 54 thrilling runs (youtube here) after Mitchell Johnson had taken a number of key wickets.

Australia will have been frustrated by the lower order’s resistance, and need to mop up the tail early tomorrow. Zaheer Khan is still there on 35 not out, and Anil Kumble has five test 50s and an unbeaten century to his name, so this won’t necessarily be a simple task.

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India edged ahead in the series with victory over Sri Lanka in the 3rd ODI at Colombo.

India’s 237/9 from their 50 overs came largely due to MS Dhoni, who played the leading role in the tourists’ fightback from 91/4 , making 76 from 80 balls before falling to Mendis. The main support came from Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, both of whom shared 50-run partnerships with the Indian captain.

Sri Lanka’s response stalled early on, and the margin of victory would have been considerably more than 33 runs were it not for Mahela Jayawardene‘s battling 94 from 111 balls. The rest were swept away by India’s bowlers, mainly Zaheer ‘Wrath of’ Khan and Munaf Patel.

Neither side’s batsmen have really got going up until now, but this match had signs that there may be bigger scores ahead, after the first two ODIs of the series were dominated by the ball.

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After humiliation in the first ODI against Sri Lanka, India turned the tables on the hosts in the second match, largely thanks to Zaheer Khan, who took the wickets of the Sri Lankan top 4, finishing with figures of 4-21 from 9.5 overs. Sri Lanka were all out for 142, 4 runs less than India managed on Monday.

India made hard work of chasing down this meagre total, though. Only four of the nine Indians that batted got into double figures, with the top scorers being Dhoni (39) and Kohli (37).

The series resumes in Colombo on Sunday.

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