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Time for CSK to offload old warhorses & inject fresh talent

Makarand Waingankar

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Shane Watson played a valiant knock for CSK in their IPL final against Mumbai Indians. Photos: Twitter

The Indian Premier League (IPL) final remained true to the tournament’s competitive intensity, Mumbai Indians winning off the last ball against Chennai Super Kings.

A close introspection of the tournament would show that most of its matches went down to the wire, decided in the last over, either on the last ball or the penultimate ball.

The participating eight teams put on an exhilarating display, the level of competition was intense and apart from the problem-plagued KKR, teams, comprised of players from varied backgrounds, combined extremely well to put up a good fight.

I was quite impressed with a youngster, of whom I had not heard at all, in action, namely Riyan Parag. When Rajasthan Royals’ Parag was caught behind by Dhoni, little did I realise that Dhoni became one of the handful of cricketers to not only have played against a father and a son, but dismissed them as well!

Riyan Parag was impressive with the bat for Rajasthan Royals.

Riyan’s father Parag Das, playing for Assam, was stumped by Dhoni, turning out for Bihar in a Ranji Trophy match in 1999. This trivia typified how the beautiful game of cricket has the power to bring everyone together.

Apart from being a spectator friendly format, T20s offer an optimum entertainment value, which even its critics, those who feel that traditional cricket is superior and remains the ultimate test for a cricketer (I being one of them), would have to admit.

Aggression was on abundant display in this year’s IPL, whether batting, bowling or fielding. Everything was precisely planned, which gave us the impression that players were gaining in experience in every edition, which is good for cricket.

People are divided as to which run out among Shane Watson and MS Dhoni’s was the turning point of the IPL final.

I feel it was Watson’s run out, because the Australian was looking tired. He is not young anymore and though Ravindra Jadeja is known for his high cricketing IQ, he erred in calling for the non-existent second run.

Jadeja should have kept in mind that a tired Watson, who batted with a bleeding knee which had six stitches, was running towards the danger end. There was no need for Jadeja to call for the second run because Watson was then dealing in sixes, bisecting the field with geometric precision.

But as Sandeep Patil once famously said, “Cricket is not a game of ifs and buts. If auntie had moustache she would have been called uncle.”

So funny but yet true. Watson batted beautifully but the pressure of the final told on certain faces, which is where Mumbai skipper Rohit Sharma excelled. He who now has won the IPL four times as the captain, no mean feat that and it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been named India’s T20 skipper.

His demeanor as captain is as cool as a cucumber. It is not a developed trait and he has been like this since 16-17, not getting too bogged down when he was dropped or not too excited when he scored runs, always taking things in his stride.

You could see his face in the dugout, when wickets kept falling regularly, there was no expression on his face when the cameras panned on the Mumbai dugout. He calculated certain things, tried to keep it simple, but not everybody can handle the amount of pressure he was thrust under.

Rohit Sharma has now won four IPLs as captain of Mumbai Indians.

It is generally believed that T20s are primarily suited for the youngsters. And in a battle between experience vs youth during the IPL final, experience almost won. As someone once wisely said, “you can buy anything in the market but not experience.” Even Dhoni once said, “to be experienced you have to be aged”.

As a result of T20s, youngsters are getting matured quickly. They swiftly read match situations and execute plans immediately, which augurs well for Indian cricket.

People all over the world are praising Jasprit Bumrah. A very cunning bowler, he has made a habit of foxing batsmen with different variations, using the crease and the release of the ball to good effect.

Spending time with the experienced Lasith Malinga, who unfortunately wasn’t picked in Sri Lanka’s World Cup team, has obviously benefitted him immensely.

Which begs the question, what possessed Sri Lanka’s selectors to ignore him from their World Cup squad? Their selections are almost as fickle as the English weather.

CSK now need to inject some fresh talent into their squad. You can’t be hiring players who hardly play cricket throughout the year and expect them to excel in the IPL. There is a point to which Watson can play. Even Raina, one of the fittest players, dropped a sitter in the final.

Overall the IPL fulfilled expectations with the occasional rumblings over the quality of pitches aside.

Jasprit Bumrah was instrumental in Mumbai Indians’ IPL triumph.

I don’t blame the curators for the slow and low nature of pitches on offer. In this season the venues have been overworked with over 2,000 matches played in eight months. There wasn’t even enough rest after the end of the first class season, for the grass to grow back.

Having said that the pitch in Hyderabad was good, as was the Wankhede wicket. The Feroz Shah Kotla track fell below expectations. I hope the pitch makers plan their work better next year.

After eight weeks of wholesome entertainment, will the cricket lovers be allowed to take a break?
Of course not, for the World Cup is staring at our face. I am happy that almost the entire India team has played all the IPL matches without injury.

Many including myself were scared at the thought of key players picking up injuries just ahead of the World Cup. Credit must go to the players that they have handled their physical fitness and freshness of mind beautifully.

After countless debates over squad selection and team composition, wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant being the most prominent name to be left out, it’s time to back the 15 men chosen to win the quadrennial showpiece event.

Opinion

Why flat pitches suit Australia more than India in World Cup

Makarand Waingankar

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Australia have won the World Cup five times. Photos: Twitter and Google

The nature of wickets could play a crucial role in determining who wins the World Cup in England and Wales

India’s No.4 batting slot for the World Cup is far from settled but KL Rahul was well and truly thrown in his hat with a productive run at the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Initially, Vijay Shankar was believed to have been ahead in the race to play in the crucial position, where batsmen are tasked with negotiating the tricky middle overs (15 to 40) of an innings.

But Rahul’s excellent run with the bat, coupled with his composed demeanour and orthodox batting style, make him an able candidate for the job.

Many are of the opinion that he is primarily an opener, having batted at top for India in Tests. But those who have not followed his career should know that his journey began as a middle order batsman at the age of 11.

I am among the fortunate few, as consultant of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), to have seen his progress from close quarters.

Rahul, then barely 11, came with his coach Jairaj to a selection trial at Mangalore’s Gandhi Maidan. The trails were conducted for two age groups – 14-16 and 16-18.

KL Rahul has increased his chances of playing in India’s World Cup team with an impressive run of form in the World Cup.

As he was only 11, I spoke to KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel and decoded to take a look at him, but only after ensuring that there was no air of grievance from parents of other 11-year-olds over allowing Rahul to attend the trials.

He batted for around 10 minutes against boys aged 14-15. The first ball he faced, a copybook forward defence, had the stamp of class. He was a tiny fellow back then and showed his potential when leaving the ball outside the off stump.

Later on when we put him in the age group of 14 to 17, he turned out to be their main batsmen. When he crossed 16, the coaches at the KSCA felt he should bat only in the middle order, because if he opens and gets out early then his team would be under pressure, thus putting a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

For Karnataka U-15 and U-17 sides he batted mostly in the middle overs. So, it’s not as if he hasn’t ever been a middle order batsman and has played only as an opener. He adapts himself as per the batting position and is adept at pacing his innings, be it for ODIs or Tests.

Rahul needs to ensure that he has the right mindset to play in an ODI World Cup. Nowadays, the players are playing too much of T20s. Apart from international T20s, they play seven weeks in the IPL.

So players need to change their mentality from T20s to 50 overs, that too quickly. The IPL got over a week back. The players must be focused to play in ODIs now and need to prepare mentally much before they take to the field.

India’s chances depend heavily on Vijay Shankar (from left), Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav.

If the recent England vs Pakistan ODI series is an indicator, then pitches in the World Cup would be absolutely flat.

During the April-May season, outfield are lush green in England, with a tinge of grass on the pitch.

Usually the ball swings and batsmen are forced to play cautiously. But in the England-Pak ODI series, batsmen were bold enough to plant their front foot and hit through the line of the ball.

That is something one doesn’t get to see in England in May. In England, summer stars from June. In April and May weather remains wintry and chilly and the ball, generally, moves around a lot.

But if the pitches during the WC are as flat as in the Pakistan ODI series, then I would put my money on Australia to win the World Cup. Simply because they have more all-rounders and have also got four left hand batsmen. These are two important issues. They have peaked at the right time, having beaten India in India.

Pakistan’s Babar Azam is in rich vein of form.

Pakistan batsmen, particularly Babar Azam, did well against England. But their bowlers, so often their strength, have faltered. Pakistan on their day could beat any team in the world.

India’s lack of all-rounders could peg them back. We only have Hardik Pandya and too some extent, Shankar.

In flat tracks, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav might not get a game. His performance in the practice games could well be an indicator how his English summer could go.

India could suffer if they don’t play their two all-rounders Pandya and Shankar. Where and how to fit Shankar would be the big question. They could try and make him play at No.5. Shankar would face competition from right arm batsman Kedar Jadhav for a spot the playing XI.

Our pace battery is potent. India would play at the venues which would have good batting tracks. If India don’t put up 350 on the board then, despite our formidable bowling attack, anything less than that would resemble a small total.

All teams have been selected keeping in mind a lot of permutations and combinations. Having taken a close look at all the World Cup bound teams, Australia remain the most impressive. Let’s see how it goes.

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Opinion

Is AIFF employing a divide and rule policy for I-League clubs?

Jaydeep Basu

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Minerva Punjab FC won the I-League in the 2017-18 season. Photos: Twitter and Google.

The AIFF has imposed varied range of punishment for different I-League clubs who have not played in the Super Cup.

Ranjit Bajaj is not exactly the most popular person in All India Football Federation (AIFF). Despite his team’s impressive runs in the recent past, he has often been accused of being haughty and disrespectful to the system.

Yet, the best remark of the day came from the Minerva Punjab FC owner after five clubs were fined Rs. 10 lakh each for not playing the Super Cup and were burdened with another Rs. 22 lakh each towards compensation.

“In the past four years, my club has been fined more than Rs. 40 lakh for different reasons, which is perhaps more than we have earned towards prize money for winning different AIFF tournaments. Is it a kind of ploy to weaken the club, so that we slowly go out of business?

Is it a plan to bleed us with thousand cuts? Who are these people plotting the demise of I-League clubs?” asked Bajaj.

Minerva Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj is a constant critic of the All India Football Federation.

The Minerva owner could be charged with exaggeration but the suspicion does remain. For I-League clubs like Minerva, Gokulam, Neroca or Aizawl FC, a fine of Rs. 32 lakh and a possible disqualification for non-payment is a huge blow and could easily dent their prospect of building a decent squad in the coming season.

Is that what the federation wants – elimination of I-League teams?

AIFF’s keenness to replace I-League with ISL as country’s top league is now the worst kept secret in Indian football.

It is now public knowledge that the federation, prompted by some marketing mavericks, wants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to be included in the ISL and relegate the rest of the I-League to second division.

Is it the reason why the two Kolkata clubs were let off by the disciplinary committee with less punishment? Bajaj, of course, terms it a divide and rule policy once followed by the British government.

In this regard, one suspects, federation means business – the clubs will not have any respite even though they have the right to go to the appeal committee. In fact, some stakeholders in AIFF are believed to be not happy with the amount of fine imposed and want it to be increased immediately.

Not playing the Super Cup was not the clubs’ actual fault, they would have to pay the price of defying people, who actually run the show in AIFF.

Interestingly, people in Indian football had previously got away with bigger wrongdoings.

In 2013, Mohun Bagan refused to play the second half of an I-League match against East Bengal citing security problems after their player Rahim Nabi (pictured) was hit by a missile hurled from the crowd.

In 2013, Mohun Bagan did not field the team in the second half in the key I-League match against East Bengal citing security problems. In any other country, it would have invited ban for at least a couple of seasons but the country’s oldest club surprisingly got away with a Rs. 2 crore fine.

In the 2002-03 season, Manipur hosted the Santosh Trophy and they were accused of not being able to control the crowd’s continuous hostility towards outstation teams.

The championship for all practical purposes was reduced to a mockery. Manipur were simply fined but were never banned from the competition.

I-League clubs demanded a meeting with AIFF president Praful Patel (pictured) and decided to boycott the Super Cup as a protest against the federation’s unwillingness to come up with Indian football’s future roadmap.

A few years ago, five of Jharkhand footballers were found over-age after the state won the under-16 national meet. The trophy was taken away from Jharkhand but the state remained a part of AIFF executive committee!

But then, under the current circumstances, the clubs will have to suffer despite the fact they had written to the AIFF that they were not interested in playing the Super Cup as a protest against the federation’s unwillingness to come up with the future roadmap of Indian football (well, it is still awaited)!

Worst is the manner in which Mohun Bagan and East Bengal were let off despite very much being the part of Super Cup boycott.

Mohun Bagan remained untouched because they did not sign the participation form. East Bengal’s fine was halved because a faction within the club (which says the club must play the ISL) pleaded for mercy!

Is the whole thing a part of a bigger game plan?

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Opinion

Stimac’s appointment a familiar story in Indian football

Jaydeep Basu

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Croatian Igor Stimac has been named Indian football team's new football coach.

From Harry Wright to Stephen Constantine many foreign coaches have flattered to deceive Indian football

The selection of Igor Stimac as the national coach has come less than a month before India play the King’s Cup in Thailand – their first international campaign since the first round exit in Asian Cup.

The technical committee seems overwhelmed by Stimac’s presentations and according to Shyam Thapa, the head of the committee, the Croatian is “an impressive personality, with considerable knowledge of Indian football”.

A familiar story. Previously, whenever a foreign coach had been appointed, the situation looked hunky dory with the sun shining and having a comfortable temperature until dark clouds started to spread overhead.

From Harry Wright to Stephen Constantine, all were welcomed with great enthusiasm but things, somehow, were never the same at the end of their tenures.

Briton Harry Wright was India’s first foreign coach.

Wright was India’s first foreign coach – the Briton took over from legendary SA Rahim in 1963. Under him India finished runners-up in Asian Cup next year. But once India lost the double leg Olympic qualifiers against Iran, his coaching abilities were under scanner.

There were allegations that he encouraged indiscipline and indulged in long drinking sessions with some team members.

British coach Bob Houghton faced bigger trouble despite doing so much during his six-year stint between 2006 and 2011. He took India to the final rounds of Asian Cup after 25 years only to leave hastily after allegations of making racist comments surfaced against him.

Interestingly, a bunch of Indian referees accused Houghton of hurling racial abuses against them in September 2010 after India lost a friendly tie in Pune. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) sat over the complaint and raked it up in March 2011 when they wanted him out.

Houghton, they felt, was getting too big for his boots and his no-holds- barred approach while dealing with federation officials was creating lots of problems. The allegations of racial comments were used successfully to see the back of Houghton, arguably the best foreign coach to manage India.

Bob Houghton took India to the Asian Cup after 25 years but left on a bitter note.

“It is the lack of balance on part of both parties that causes the trouble,” says Shyam Thapa. “Some foreign coaches are too dominating. Unfortunately, they are being encouraged by a section of the AIFF officials.

“On Thursday, while the technical committee was conducting interviews for coaches, I was surprised by the attitude of one of the aspirants. Such practices should be curbed at the beginning,” added the former India footballer.

The federation faced similar problems with Stimac’s predecessor, Stephen Constantine. Despite his considerable successes, the Anglo-Cryptic coach was hardly popular with officials and senior footballers. They all wanted him out but it was too late.

The Asian Cup was fast approaching and bringing a new coach was out of question. Earlier, no one said a word when Constantine threw a senior member of the national team on a flimsy ground. To give him a long rope was a mistake.

Anglo-Cryptic coach Stephen Constantine was not a popular figure among Indian officials and senior footballers.

Stimac, according to one member of the technical committee, said during the interview that he preferred leaving midway through his contracts unless given the promised facilities to run a team professionally. One hopes nothing of that sort to happen here but few other foreign coaches faced such problems in India.

Milovan Ciric introduced modern coaching system in India but was forced out of the job.

Yugoslav Milovan Ciric was one of world’s most reputed coaches when he joined India in 1984. He made sweeping changes in the set-up, demanded top class facilities for players and introduced modern coaching system in India.

The team qualified for the Asian Cup final rounds but he had to go thereafter. A concerted campaign against him within the AIFF hastened his exit.

Hungarian coach Josef Gelei had similar experiences in India. He was an Olympic gold winner for Hungary in 1964 and managed the Hungary goal in the 1966 World Cup.

But here, he failed to manage the ever-interfering officials of the AIFF. Having taken up the India job in 1990, he left a bitter man within a year.

Things, definitely, have improved over the years; but again, not as much as claimed by the officials. Stimac said he has the vision to take India to the next level.

Hopefully, all stakeholders would extend the necessary cooperation to achieve the target. Unlike some others, the Croatian should leave India with happy memories.

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