Kyle Jarvis – A ray of hope for the beleaguered Zimbabwean team

A decade ago, when Zimbabwe was heading towards lawlessness and virtual anarchy under the tyrannical regime of Mugabe, cricket in the country suffered. Constant players rebellion and lopsided encounters resulting in Zimbabwe crashing to heavy defeats, forced the cricket authorities to suspend them from playing test cricket in 2005. After slugging it out in the backwaters of international cricket for a while, the beleaguered Zimbabwean team made a welcome return to test cricket in 2011.

When Zimbabwe took on Bangladesh in 2011, there was renewed hope and enthusiasm. The political situation in Zimbabwe was gradually stabilising, and they had a team made up of keen bunch of promising young cricketers, hungry for success. The 22 year old fast bowler, Kyle Jarvis was one of those promising cricketers who was thrust into the limelight. The fast bowler, making his test debut didn’t disappoint, as he proved to be the wrecker-in-chief by taking five wickets in the game. As Zimbabwe’s cricketers soaked in their triumphant return to test cricket with a resounding victory against Bangladesh, Jarvis must have been a pleased man.

In that one-off test against Bangladesh, Jarvis’s ability to slant it into the right-handed batsman, before making it leave the right-hander late made for compelling viewing. He also showed that he was a street smart cricketer with a clever piece of swing bowling. In the second innings by bowling from around the wicket and wide of the crease, Jarvis got it to bend it back sharply into an unsuspecting Shahriar Nafees and detonated his stumps. It was a boomerang-bending exhibition of swing bowling from the 22 year old Jarvis.

By taking a 5-for against the touring Kiwis in 2011, he demonstrated that his performance against Bangladesh wasn’t a flash in the pan. In the second innings, Jarvis bowled like a temptress, as he ragged and lured the Kiwis into making fatal mistakes outside the off-stump. New Zealand’s premier batsman, Ross Taylor with a typically bellicose knock was looking to take the game away from Zimbabwe. Enter Kyle Jarvis, who got the red ball to hoop around the corners, and trapped Taylor dead in front. In an era, where drying up runs has become the name of the game, Kyle Jarvis brings a rare touch of adventurism with his craft of swing bowling.

As not many teams want to play tests against Zimbabwe, they were confined to playing mainly a few one-day games and t/20s in 2012. It didn’t help Kyle Jarvis, as control has never been his forte. His 20 wickets in one-day cricket have come at a cost of 48.90, and his economy rate of 6.23 doesn’t make for a good reading. It suggests, Kyle Jarvis has struggled to make a mark in the shorter formats of the game.

Fortunately for Jarvis, Zimbabwe got a rare opportunity to play a short test series against the Windies in 2012/13. In the just concluded first test at Barbados, Kyle Jarvis made his presence felt with a blistering spell of swing bowling, and took a 5-for. As a keen cricket observer, it was his ability to use the crease, and bowl from around the wicket to left-handers that again caught the eye. The left-handed Darren Bravo was looking in good touch, but Jarvis outfoxed him by bowling from slightly wide of the crease, and induced a healthy edge to the keeper. It tells us, Kyle Jarvis has a mature head on his young shoulders.

Kyle Jarvis, the son of former Zimbabwean swing bowler Malcolm Jarvis, was fast-tracked into the system. But after he left everyone spellbound by spearheading the Zimbabwean pace attack in the under 19 world cup in 2008, Jarvis was soon hampered by a troublesome back injury. From a Zimbabwe’s perspective, it is great to see that Kyle Jarvis has battled back from a serious career threatening injury. With Heath Streak as Zimbabwe’s bowling coach, hopefully, he will be able to mentor and nurture the prodigiously talented Jarvis.

In-spite of some sterling performances in test cricket, the precociously talented Kyle Jarvis is known only to cricket cognoscenti. If he was playing for a major test playing nation, there would have been a lot more hype surrounding Kyle Jarvis. It shouldn’t bother Jarvis, as his job is to take plenty of wickets with pace, cut and swing,  and win games for Zimbabwe.

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When Australia pulled off a thrilling victory in the World Cup semifinal

14th of March, 1996. The stage was set for a high voltage clash between Australia and West Indies in the World Cup semifinal at Mohali. The entire city was buzzing with excitement. Cricket fans thronged the stadium in huge numbers by braving the heavy traffic, the horn-honking and the scorching sun. The hosts India was shown the exit door by a buoyant and exuberant Sri Lankan outfit, in the other semifinal. But that hadn’t dampened the spirits of cricket fans across India. The sizzle of anticipation and electrifying atmosphere in the stadium, just exemplified the extraordinary passion of India’s cricket loving public.

Backdrop

Going into the 1996 World Cup, West Indies’s cricket was in shambles. The once all conquering mighty Windies team seemed to have lost its carnassial teeth. The sharp claws were weak, and eyesight not good enough to hunt down opponents. West Indies’s cricket team just looked a pale shadow of its former self. On their ill-fated tour to Australia in 95/96, they had to endure a host of embarrassing experiences including not reaching the final of the tri-series Down Under. In-fighting and bitterness seemed to be ramapant in the West Indies camp. It is even said that during the 95/96 World Cup, Lara and the then captain, Riche Richardson didn’t see eye to eye.

On the other side of the spectrum, Australia had gone from strength to strength. After sending shock waves through the cricketing world by upsetting the apple-cart and defeating the Windies in their own den, they had quelled the challenge of both Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home. They also won the Benson and Hedges tri-series in 95/96. Those days, it was almost a foregone conclusion about Australia  winning the annual tri-series held Down Under.

It is time now for some lights, camera and action, as we rewind back in time to have a look at one the most tantalisingly edge of the seat thrillers played between West Indies and Australia at Mohali.

Australia won the toss and elected to bat first.

Australia won the toss and rather surprisingly, elected to bat first. The track at Mohali had a bit of juice in it, and there was ample pace and bounce on offer too. With the troika of Ambrose, Bishop and Walsh in their ranks, the Windies had the arsenal to unnerve the famed Australian top-order on a pacy wicket.

The defeat at the hands of minnows, Kenya seemed to have woken up the emperor of fast bowling, Ambrose from his deep slumber. He bowled a hostile and mean spell against the South Africans in the quarterfinal. In the semifinal, the bloodthirsty Ambrose bowled with fire and brimstone to terrorise the Australians.

Having already made three sublime hundreds, the Mozart of the willow, Mark Waugh was in supreme touch. Even when opposition captains set ring fields to frustrate Mark Waugh into doing something silly, he was caressing the ball into gaps with panache and flamboyance. In the semifinal though, it took a mere two deliveries for Ambrose to send Waugh back into the pavilion. The first delivery nipped back sharply into Waugh, who left it to go by to the keeper. Ambrose followed it up with another nip-backer, but this time around, it was bang on the money, as it trapped Waugh dead in front.

All of a sudden, the Australians were in uncharted territory. Since Mark Waugh took over from Slater as an opener in the 95/96 WSC, the Aussies were used to rollicking starts given by Waugh. His dismissal made the Australians to press the panic button, as they soon were reeling at 15 for 4. Bishop detonated the stumps of Taylor and elder Waugh, respectively. Both played poor shots, as they inside edged good length deliveries onto the stumps. The young prodigy, Ponting was taken care of by another nip-backer from Ambrose. For once, the pre-tournament favourties didn’t seem to have a plan B in the bank.

Stuart Law and Bevan rebuild the innings.

All those early wickets brought Law and Bevan at the crease. As Mark Waugh was in supreme touch in the World Cup, the relatively inexperienced pair of Bevan and Law hardly got a chance to bat. At 15 for 4 though, both Bevan and Law were thrust into the limelight. For both men, it turned out to be a war of attrition, when up against Ambrose.

Finally, Stuart Law tried to break the shackles with a pristine drive down the ground of Ambrose. It was a near perfect back of a length delivery on top of off-stump from Ambrose. But Law had the chutzpah to come onto the front-foot, ride on top of the bounce and essay an off-drive back past a stunned Ambrose, for a boundary. It must have brought some cheers in the gloomy Australian dressing room.

At the other end, the wily fox, Bevan was waiting to take advantage of lesser bowlers like Gibson, Adams and Harper. His wish was granted, as Gibson was introduced into the attack. As soon as Gibson bowled a short and wide delivery, Bevan pounced on it with a rapier-like cut shot in the 18th over of the match. Bevan also peppered the covers and extra cover-region constantly. His partner in crime, Law smothered the spinners on the front-foot with nimble footwork, and waited for them to bowl short. When the seamers were bowling, he played them in the V.

By covering the length and the breadth of the pitch like jackrabbits, Law and Bevan kept the scoreboard ticking. Eventually, it took a terrible mix-up between Law and Bevan resutling in Law being run-out for a sparkling 72, in trying circumstances. In a bid to accelerate the scoring rate, Bevan too perished in the 45th over of the match, for a well-measured 69. West Indies must have been already sick of watching Bevan’s houdini acts, as a few months back, he had taken Australia from jaws of defeat to a nerve-wracking win, in a one-day game at SCG.

The experienced wicketkeeper, Ian Healy’s cheeky innings of 31 meant that Australia made 207 in their allotted fifty overs. At 15 for 4, the Australian captain, Mark Taylor would have taken that score. But there was an inkling that a total of 207 was 30-40 runs short of a winning score.

West Indies’s chase.

In an attempt to ape the revolutionary Sri Lankans, the West Indies team opened their batting with the pinch-hitter, Courtney Browne. It forced the shrewd Taylor to introduce his trump card and sheik of tweak, Warne into the attack, in the 6th over of the innings. The shrewd move paid rich dividends, as Browne tried to smash the cover of a shortish delivery, but only succeeded in giving a return catch to Warne.

Despite losing Browne’s wicket early in the piece, Chanderpaul and prince of Trinidad, Brian Lara, took West Indies to a strong position. Lara played a few majestic drives, which sent the delirious crowd into a tizzy. The trademark arc of Lara’s extravagant back-lift was a sight to behold. It took a peach of a delivery from Steve Waugh, to castle Lara for a run-a-ball 45.

The captain Richie Richardson with a maroon floppy hat, and sporting none of the accoutrements that modern day batsmen wear, joined Chanderpaul in the middle. The ebullient Richardson was coming to the end of his illustrious career. He certainly wanted to end his career on a high note with a World Cup triumph. The doggedly determined Richardson along with the calm, cool and collected Chanderpaul took West Indies to the cusp of as famous victory. With 10 overs to go, the Windies needed a shade under 50 runs to win the match.

Taylor’s shrewd captaincy and Warne’s intoxicating brilliance.

When everyone thought West Indies’s batsmen were in a cruise mode, Chanderpaul lost his concentration, and gifted his wicket away. Australia’s captain, Mark Taylor brought his fielders inside the circle, and baited Chanderpaul to take the risk of playing lofted shots against McGrath. Chanderpaul struggling with fitness, duly obliged by spooning a catch to the mid-on fielder. Mark Taylor’s gut feeling worked for Australia.

With seven wickets left in the shed, West Indies were still ahead in the game. It made Taylor to go for the jugular, as he gave the ball to wizard of Oz, Shane Warne. It was basically the last throw of the dice by Taylor. Warne with his bagful of tricks culled the Windies with an enchanting spell of 3 for 6 in 3 overs. The Windies batsmen have to be blamed, as they kept playing across the line against Warne’s deadly flippers, and even the seamers. The worst offender was Arthruton, as he tried to play an agricultural hoick across line, and threw his wicket away.

The last two overs.

With the Windies batsmen falling like nine pins, the captain Richardson cut a forlorn figure. Richardson didn’t give up though, as he played a savage pull of Fleming to bring the equation down to 14 runs of last 2 overs. The capacity crowd was on the edge of their seats, and a few started biting their nails. It was a cauldron of bubbling tension at the Mohali stadium.

In the last over of the match, Richie Richardson used his pyrotechnics to smash Fleming over the mid-wicket region for a boundary.  But there was another twist in the tale, as the next ball, Ambrose went for an ill-judged single, and got himself run-out. It was hard to fathom why Ambrose so desperately wanted to take that single, as Richardson was the senior partner. The swing king, Fleming hammered the final nail in the coffin; by uprooting the stumps of Walsh with a good length delivery, and Australia won by 5 runs. The ecstatic Australians had just snatched a victory from jaws of defeat.

It was a sad sight to see the West Indies’s captain, Richardson trudge back to the pavilion. The talismanic captain was left stranded by some farcical dismissals. Unfortunately for Richardson that game against Australia turned out to be his last international match. Predictably, the win  triggered frenzied and wild celebrations from the Australians. On that pleasant night, the Aussies celebrated like there was no tomorrow.  

Nick Compton makes his presence felt

When the World War I I ended in 1945, Britain was eventually victorious, but the long and bloody war that lasted six years had left Britain virtually bankrupt. As the country was reeling from troubled economic times, Denis Compton emerged as a national icon by capturing the imagination of the public with his flamboyant, dazzling and cavalier stroke-play. Even now, a few old-timers romanticise the bygone era, and reminisce about Compton’s thrill-a-minute triple hundred for MCC against North-Eastern Transvaal in 48-49. He strode across the sporting World like a colossus, as he also played football.

More than six decades later, Denis Compton’s grandson, Nick Compton was about to take guard in his debut test at Ahmedabad against India. He didn’t set the World alight in his debut test with scores of 9 and 37. But his three-hour stay at the crease in the second innings of that test showed; the critical art of building an innings was ingrained in his batting at a young age.  In India, it was a constant battle for Nick Compton to come to grips with alien conditions. But his hunger for runs and a sound temperament gave an unmistakable impression of a cricketer, who has the will-power to succeed at the highest level.

In-spite of his hard-graft in testing conditions in India, the critics weren’t impressed. He was criticised for not converting those starts into big scores. One can never understand the psyche of critics, as they are ever-ready to pounce on a cricketer. In the first test against the Kiwis at Dunedin, Compton even got out for a duck. But in the second innings, he gave a fitting reply to those cricket pundits with a backs-to-the-wall century. Compton was an able foil to captain fantastic, Alastair Cook, as both erected a solid platform with a 231-run opening stand to take England out of troubled waters.

In many ways, the mettlesome Compton’s resolute century at Dunedin, encapsulates the essence of his batting. His game is built on the old maxim of knowing your off-stump, and leaving the ball well. He can wait all day long for the bowlers to get tired, and drift on his pads. At Dunedin, Compton showed the rare virtues of concentration and patience. The Kiwis even baited him by throwing the occasional carrot and bowling wide of off-stump, but Compton didn’t oblige.

Compton may not fill stadiums with lissome flicks, silken smooth drives and playing lofted shots with twinkling footwork. But he knows his game, and seems to have that insatiable appetite to get big scores. The industrious Compton is in every sense a utilitarian.

Compton on his method, “I keep saying to myself, ‘Give these bowlers nothing,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “Even after I reach my hundred, I say to myself, ‘Give these bowlers nothing.’ I don’t care what I look like, I just want to give them nothing.” 

It wasn’t always this easy for the quiet achiever from Somerset. When Compton decided to leave Middlesex in October ’09 and play for Somerset, it seemed like his ambition of playing for England will remain unfulfilled. In-fact, the year before he left Middlesex, his career had touched its nadir, as he averaged just 8.50, over five first class games. The 2009 season wasn’t great for him either, as he amassed 860 runs at a disappointing average of 33.07. As he came from a rich cricketing heritage, the weight of expectations didn’t help his cause for sure. The timely decision to move to Somerset though, paid him rich dividends. On good batting tracks at Taunton, he was a thorn in the opposition’s flesh and made gallons of runs.

In 2011, Compton aggregated 1010 runs at an impressive average of 56.11 for Somerset. In particular, 2012 was an annus mirabilis for Compton. He made 1191 runs at a Bradmanesque  average of 99.25. Nick Compton himself has admitted that former Somerset wicket-keeper, Neil Burns played a pivotal role in helping him to develop a sound defence. All those runs for Somerset caught the eyes of the selectors, and he was subsequently drafted into the English set-up for the tour of India. Interestingly, Compton doesn’t open the batting for his County, Somerset.

It is so unfair to compare Nick Compton with his grandfather, as Denis Compton was a true legend of the game. Let Nick Compton tread his own path and make a name for himself in test cricket. With an insatiable appetite for runs and the concentration prowess of a zen master, he certainly can make it to the top echelons of test match batsmen in the future,

Samaraweera – The quiet achiever.

Sri Lanka’s Thilan Samaraweera isn’t the sort of batsman that cricket fans would travel 1,000s of miles to watch him bat. But the quiet achiever from Colombo was one of the cornerstones of Sri Lanka’s stellar middle-order for a significant period of time. Time and again when Sri Lanka found themselves in dire straits, Samaraweera would invariably launch a rescue mission with a bat in hand.

Amazingly, Samaraweera started his international career more as an off-spinner. It was his elder brother, Dulip Samaraweera who was known more for his batting prowess in first class cricket. Thilan Samaraweera though, with sheer hard work and determination, carved a niche for himself, as a test match batsman.

To trace Samaraweera’s career, we have to rewind back in time to 2001. After an uneventful start to his one-day career, Samaraweera made a spectacular comeback in his debut test with a match turning century at Colombo against India in 2001. The injury ravaged Indian side was smelling blood, when Sri Lanka lost quick wickets at the end of the second day’s play. Enter Samaraweera, who didn’t just take Sri lanka to safe waters, but put them in the driver’s seat with a well-measured hundred.

A few years later at the picturesque SSC ground, Samaraweera and his partner in crime, Jayawerdena, grinded the English attack into the dust with a mammoth partnership of 262. At SSC, Samaraweera was a picture of concentration. The English bowlers must have thought Samaraweera has eyes like a hawk, as he presented a straight bat for most of the innings with his trademark stoic style of batting. As the years ticked by, the SSC ground became his favourite hunting ground, as he averaged 77.43 at SSC.

A few critics even opined that Samaraweera was a flat track bully, who got most of his runs at SSC, in Srilanka. The unassuming and the unpretentious Samaraweera made his critics eat humble pie, as he amassed 339 runs at a stunning average of 67.80 in South Africa, during the 2011/12 season. The brave and the valiant warrior like spirit of Samaraweera at Durban helped Srilanka to upset the apple-cart, and beat South Africa in their own backyard. In-fact, a few weeks earlier, they were soundly thrashed on a treacherous track at Centurion. Samaraweera took his good form to Capetown, and frustrated the South Africans with a backs-to-the-wall century in the second innings of that test. In-spite of Samaraweera’s defiant rearguard action, he couldn’t rescue Sri Lanka from hurtling towards a ten wicket defeat. His heroics in South Africa was a timely riposte to his critics. He carried the team on his shoulders in hostile conditions in South Africa.

What made Samaraweera’s herculean efforts in South Africa praiseworthy was the fact that a few months earlier, he was unceremoniously dropped from the team to play Pakistan in UAE, in the year 2011. It must have been a bitter pill for Samaraweera to swallow, as during that time, he had done well at home against the Windies and even in England. Just one bad series at home against Australians in 2011 was enough for the selectors to decide on Samaraweera’s fate.

There comes a time though, when the baton changes hands from a old warhorse to a promising player. As Thilan Samaraweera flopped miserably Down Under in 2012/13, it unfortunately signalled the end of his illustrious test career. In Australia, Samaraweera looked a pale shadow of his former self. Cricket fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief, when Samaraweera played a reckless shot, and lost his wicket at a crucial stage of the match at Sydney. He was subsequently dropped for the test series against Bangladesh, as Sri Lankan selectors opted for fresh blood.  Samaraweera soon announced his retirement from international cricket.

Samaraweera about his omission from the squad, “I was shocked with my omission from the squad against Bangladesh.”  Samaraweera was also told by the national selectors that he maybe needed to play against Pakistan later this year, “There was no point in waiting for nine months. I respect the decision of the selectors to go with young players and decided it was the right time for me to retire.”

If not for anything else, Samaraweera should be remembered for his miraculous comeback after a bullet pierced his thigh, in a terrorist attack at Lahore in 08/09. It would have affected him not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too.

“It was the worst day of my life. Those three minutes in the bus will stay with me forever. But it’s all in the past now and thankfully I am here to tell the tale,” Samaraweera said.

When Samaraweera played for the first time in ’98 in a one-day game at Sharjah, no one could have envisaged a run-of-the-mill off-spinner aggregating 5000+ runs and averaging 48.76. In many ways, Samaraweera exemplified patience, team spirit and a never-say-die-attitude. He was no doubt a huge pillar of strength of Sri Lankan cricket for more than a decade. Well done Samaraweera on a stellar test career!

New Zealand’s batsmen struggle in revolving-door-policy

Ever since the retirement of legendary Martin Crowe, New Zealand have been hard-pressed to find world class batsmen. On numerous occasions, New Zealand’s batting line-up has capitulated like a pack of cards, resulting in heavy losses. Recently, against a hostile South African pace attack, New Zealand’s batsmen constantly floundered, and invariably found themselves in dire straits.

When we consider New Zealand as a country, we have to understand that they will always struggle to churn out world class cricketers day in and day out. A statistical count tells us, there are 11 sheep for every person in New Zealand, which means, there are approximately about 44 million sheep to 4.1 million people. It also has to be said that most of those 4.1 million people are hooked to another sport called rugby.

In-spite of severe limitations faced by New Zealand, there is an inkling feeling that by pursuing a haphazard selection policy, the selectors have done more harm than good. A slew of young batsmen have come in and disappeared into oblivion. The likes of Sinclair, How, Vincent and Hamish Marshall showed flashes of brilliance, but just weren’t able to make it big at the international level.

In-fact, Mathew Sinclair arrived on the test scene with a bang, as he made a swashbuckling double hundred against the West Indies in his debut test in 99/00. He followed up that double hundred with a valiant century in a losing cause against the mighty South Africans at Port Elizabeth, during the 2000/01 season. The opposition attack boasted of names like Donald, Pollock and Ntini in their ranks. Sinclair continued to churn out big scores, as he made a doubled century at home against Pakistan at Christchurch. It was a significant moment in Sinclair’s career, as after a succession of low scores,  the selectors were ready to wield their axe, and drop him from the test side.

Mathew Sinclair soon became a victim of New Zealand’s bizarre revolving-door-policy. He was virtually on a perpetual trial. Sinclair was dropped from the team, after not doing well in Australia, and at home in 2001/02. Those were the days, when the Australians were known as invincibles. So, it wasn’t a major surprise that “Skippy” flopped miserably Down Under.

In 03/04, in one of Sinclair’s comeback tests, he made a well-measured 74 against South Africa. The gritty knock didn’t help him to be picked for the tour to Old Blighty. He must have been crestfallen, as despite doing well, he wasn’t selected. Sinclair even tried his hand at opening the batting in 04/05 in Bangladesh and in Australia, respectively. But as he wasn’t a regular opener, he struggled to make that chance count. The last time we saw Sinclair playing for New Zealand was in 09/10 against Australia. He seemed like a cricketer full of nerves and jittery thoughts. No wonder, after failing in just one test against Australia, he was dropped for the umpteenth time. A test batting average of 32.05 doesn’t do justice to his potential. Even now Mathew Sinclair continues to serve his first class team, the Central Districts, with dedication and devotion. 

More than a decade ago, on a typical trampoline wicket at WACA, Lou Vincent made the entire cricketing world to sit up and take notice of his batting talents with a brilliant hundred against Australia. In 03/04, Lou Vincent also made a gutsy hundred on turning tracks of India. Since then, it was a case of never ending barren patch for Vincent. Constant chopping and changing didn’t help his cause either.

When Vincent announced his retirement this year, his test average of 34.15 didn’t make for a good reading. Lou Vincent’s sparkling century at WACA in 01/02 even made the hard-nosed former Australian captain, Ian Chappell shower praises on him. Unfortunately, a combination of revolving-door-policies, and maybe Vincent’s lack of test match temperament meant that he lost the plot.

Jamie How made his test debut back in ’06 against the Windies. But it was in 07/08, when he stamped his class in the international arena with a classy 92 against England at home. New Zealand went onto beat England in that test match. During that time, How also made an enterprising hundred in a high scoring one-day game against England at Napier in New Zealand.

On a tour to England in ’08, How made an encouraging start by doing well in testing conditions at Lord’s and Old Trafford, respectively. After a string of low scores though, How was finally dropped in ’09. Since then, he hasn’t donned the black cap for New Zealand.

Hamish Marshall, the stylish middle-order batsman from Warkworth had a promising start to his test career. In just his second test, he stood up-to the might of all conquering Australians; by making a hundred. He also played an eye-catching knock of 160 against the touring Sri Lankans at Napier in 2005.

After a rather frustrating time at the 2007 World Cup, where Marshall was only picked as a replacement for the injured Lou Vincent, he got disillusioned with the system. In search of greener pastures, he turned down a central contract for the 2007/08 season, and joined Gloucestershire. A test batting average of 38.45 suggests, he could have done well for New Zealand.

New Zealand’s growing list of under-performing batsmen also includes names like Shane Thompson, Bryan Young, Blair Hartland, Cumming, Matthew Bell, Michael Papps, Gary Stead, Craig Spearman, James Marshall, Aaron Redmond, Peter Ingram, Tim McIntosh, Broom, Peter Fulton, Flynn and Guptill.  It is sad but true that since the retirement of Martin Crowe, only Astle, Craig Mcmillan, Mark Richardson, Fleming and Ross Taylor have bucked the trend of sustained under-performance and done well.

Recently, Martin Crowe was vociferous and unsparing in his criticism of New Zealand’s cricket academy, as he believed, they were partly responsible for such sustained under-performance by the batsmen. Martin Crowe on ESPN cricinfo,  “Biomechanics became the new buzzword for New Zealand’s finest batting talent. The theory passed on was that hand speed and power efficiency through the shot was everything. Out the window went footwork, body position, soft hands and hitting the ball late below the eyes. In came heavier bats, high backlifts, minimal footwork and going hard at the ball.”

He said, “The net result was faster strike rates and shorter stays at the crease. For a whole decade this theory was passed down to the next line of coaches, and from them to young players, who were too frightened to disregard the instructions thrust at them.”

As a keen cricket enthusiast, I do believe a combination of factors that includes bad coaching and  revolving-door-policies have hurt the prospects of New Zealand’s cricket, in the last decade. For the test series against England, New Zealand’s selectors have picked the “two metre” Fulton. Going by how New Zealand’s selectors operate, one can safely say that they will drop Fulton after one bad game. As a cricket fan, it is frustrating to see New Zealand adopt an ad-hoc approach to selection.

The test series against England which starts tomorrow can be a stern test for New Zealand’s batsmen. The likes of Anderson and Finn will explore every nook and cranny of their batsmen’s defence. From a New Zealand’s perspective, it is high time that selectors give everyone a decent run in the side. If a cricketer is assured of a fair run in the side, he can concentrate on his job better, something New Zealand’s cricket board ought to learn as early as possible.


Murali Vijay answers the critics with his bat.

The entire Indian team was in a jubilant mood, after a resounding win against the touring Australians at Chennai. The champagne would have flowed liberally in the dressing room, to celebrate the victory against a formidable opponent.  But in midst of that euphoric celebration, the Indian opener, Murali Vijay wouldn’t have been happy with his own performance in the 1st test.

The dejection was written large on Vijay’s face, when for the second time in the 1st test, he lost his wicket to Australia’s spearhead, James Pattinson. In his comeback test, Murali Vijay seemed to be a man full of nerves and jittery thoughts.

In a stark contrast to the first test, Murali Vijay at Hyderabad, dug deep to battle his inner demons, and make a well measured century. Vijay’s brisk gait to the crease and his his dogged determination, gave you an impression of a cricketer, who wanted to prove a point.

At Hyderabad, Vijay was duly rewarded for his hard-graft. At the crease, he personified calmness with a serene approach, while facing Australian bowlers. He was quick to judge the pitch and the bowlers, and modify his technique accordingly. As the track tended to stay low, he presented a dead straight bat, and left the ball well, to negate the threat of James Pattinson. It could be seen that essence of building an innings has been ingrained into his system, during his formative years. Only when the opposition bowlers got tired, did Vijay open his shoulders, and played expansive strokes on the up.

In the second session, Vijay played with a refreshingly positive attitude. He played some elegant shots, against both the quicks and the spinners.The exquisitely played well-timed flick shot through the mid-wicket region of Siddle was a sight to behold. It was Mark Waugh-esque in its style and elegance. Whenever both Doherty and Maxwell came onto bowl, he showed excellent footwork, and played with flair. It tells us, Vijay has a wide array of shots, and picks the length quickly.

We all have to remember this was Murali Vijay’s comeback test series. So, when he went into bat today, there would have been that extra added pressure on him. To make it worse for Vijay, his twin failures at Chennai meant that critics and fans were baying for his blood. In many ways, Vijay’s elegant display of batsmanship at Hyderabad was an eloquent riposte to his critics.

Back in 2008/09, when Vijay made his test debut against Australia at Nagpur, it seemed like he had a bright future ahead of him. But instead of establishing himself in the test side, what transpired was a stop-and-start career. He had to constantly live in the shadow of India’s formidable opening pair of Gambhir and Sehwag. Even when he got an opportunity to make a name for himself during the tour of West Indies in 2011, he flopped miserably.

Vijay didn’t have a good season in domestic cricket in 2012/13 either, as he averaged just 17.25 in Ranji Trophy. The tide soon changed for Vijay, as he made a gritty hundred in the Irani Cup against Mumbai. As the luck would have it, the selectors noticed that fine effort from Vijay, and he found himself in the Indian test side.

After playing for Rest of India against Rajasthan last year, Murali Vijay told, “It’s not all in my hands, I can just take it in my stride and move forward, be a better cricketer,” he said. “It was really a test for me, initially I was disappointed and I accepted the reality, you know, you have to work on your game, and this is a nice chance for you to analyse yourself and become a better cricketer.”

Hopefully, Vijay’s test hundred at Hyderabad will kick-start his second coming in test cricket. The Indian cricket team is going through a transitional phase. But there is hope for a die-hard Indian cricket fan, as the trio of Vijay, Pujara and Kohli can become the fulcrum of Indian batting line-up, in the near future.

Moises Henriques – An all-rounder of great promise

Moises Henriques was all of 18, when in the ING cup final against South Australia in 05/06, he played with grit and dogged determination, and helped New South Wales Blues to a nerve-wracking one wicket victory. A few years earlier, he was also the top performer for Australia, in the under 19 World Cup played in Sri Lanka. He was already a star in the making.

Fast forward to the just concluded 1st test at Chennai.  Before the test series, critics opined that Moises hadn’t done justice to his potential in first class cricket. But in the 1st test against India, on a treacherous track, Henriques in his debut test, stamped his class; by notching up half centuries in both the first and the second innings.

At Chennai, Henriques’s ability to play late was a revelation. It was a stark contrast to how the more experienced trio of Wade, Cowan and Hughes continued to grope for the ball. Henriques used his reach and showed exemplary footwork to smother the spin, and counter the Indian spinners in their own den. Unlike other Australian batsmen, he was refreshingly positive in his attitude. Above all, he showed an unflappable temperament in tough conditions for batting. His valiant battle in the second innings could have just lifted the drooping shoulders of Australian batsmen.

Henriques’s brisk gait to the crease, his impeccable shot selection and and an uncomplicated technique, gives you an impression of a cricketer, who belongs to the big stage. For the second test, the Australian think-tank should look at promoting the confident Henriques to the number six slot in the batting-order.

It is too early to judge Moises Henriques’s ability as a cricketer. But a rousing start to his international career augurs well for Australian cricket. There have been occasions, when Henriques was criticised for his inability to convert starts into big scores in domestic cricket. During the 2012/13 season though, he chalked up some impressive numbers, in the Sheffield Shield. He averaged 77 as a batsman, and took his wickets at the cost of just 18.

Henriques was largely ineffective as a bowler at Chennai. But the experience of bowling on a track that didn’t assist the seamers, would stand him in good stead for the future. The true test of a seamer is bowling seam-up in extreme hot and humid conditions, dusty wickets with barren outfields. Hopefully, in the near future, he will pass the litmus test of bowling on flat decks with flying colours.

In recent times, Henriques has looked up-to his Australian and New South Wales teammate, Watson for inspiration. Henriques on Shane Watson, To have one of the greatest allrounders in the world at the moment in the dressing room is certainly a great advantage and to be able to bounce ideas off someone like Shane (is a bonus),” he said after the two-day game at Chennai’s Guru Nanak College Ground against India A.

In many ways, Henriques is still a work-in-progress. Unfortunately for Henriques, a few journalists have already labeled him as the next Steve Waugh. The history of the game is littered with numerous examples of promising cricketers being unfairly compared to legends of the game that prevented them from soaring to greater heights. Just allow Henriques to develop his game, and make a name for himself in the international arena.