Sunday, 30 October 2011



Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. Two young Indian batsmen with completely different techniques, playing styles and temperament, yet two players having a lot in common. Both youngsters were identified at the U19 World Cup, both made their ODI debut against Sri Lanka, both were integral parts of the World Cup victory, both are billed to be the Future Indian captain and both of them carry the heavy burden of expectation, to be the match-winner for Indian every single time. Here is a look at these two cricketers who will lead India into the future – Kohli & Raina – the right & left of India’s future.

Most Indian cricket fans may have first heard of Virat Kohli in March 2008 when India won the U19 World Cup under his leadership. As captain, he led from the front scoring 235 runs in six matches with a healthy average of over 47. It was in the same year that a 19-year-old Kohli got the opportunity to be a part of the national ODI team when he was selected for the Idea Cup series against Sri Lanka when both Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were injured. He managed to impress with his performance but the return to fitness of the two more experienced players meant Kohli had to wait for another year to make his mark in cricket. But when he did, he did it with style helping India win over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in late 2009 and early 2010. He again proved his worth in the Emerging Players Tournament in 2009 where he was the leading run-scorer of the series with 398 from 7 matches and then earned a recall to the ODI team. Since then he has become a regular feature of the Indian batting line up in limited over cricket.

Most Indian cricket fans may have heard of Suresh Raina in February 2004 during U19 World Cup, where he scored three half centuries, including a 90 scored off only 38 balls but India failed to reach the final, or maybe in 2005 when he was selected for the Challenger Trophy in where both Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were unavailable. It was in the same year that a 19-year-old Raina got the opportunity to be a part of the national ODI team when he was selected for the Indian Oil Cup series against Sri Lanka. He had a forgettable debut getting out on a first-ball duck to Muralitharan and an overall disappoint series after which his selection in the playing XI was erratic, depending on injuries to other players. It was only in 2008, post a successful IPL run, that he finally found firm footing in the team with his maiden century in the Asia Cup and other impressive performances to gain three Man of the Match awards. Since then he has become a regular feature of the Indian batting line up in limited over cricket.
Over the last five years, especially after the 2007 World Cup debacle, Indian selectors have made it a point to infuse young blood in the team as and when the opportunity offers. With injuries to regular batsmen and some of the seniors being rested in limited over cricket, there has been scope for younger batsmen to emerge in to their own. Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Murali Vijay, Subhramaniam Badrinath, Wriddhiman Saha, Manoj Tiwary and more recently Ajinkya Rahane, all of them made it to the team on the same principal. But no other batsmen have managed to cement their place in the tem as strongly as Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. Though they are yet to find their niche in the Test team due to the presence of illustrious seniors, both of them have been given Test caps. Today, both of them can be considered as regular batsmen in the ODI team and both have done extremely well to deserve that position. Let us have a look at how their figures compare in the 50-over game –



When it comes to statistics, there is again not much difference between the two players. While Raina has played almost double the number of matches Kohli has played, the difference in runs remains 500 odd runs. While Kohli has a much better average than Raina, Raina has a superior strike-rate. Their highest score is quite similar as are the number of half-centuries. The only notable difference is the number of centuries but that is because of the batting position, while Kohli comes in up the order mostly at Number 4. Raina is a lower-order batsman coming at Number 6 or 7. Personally, I believe that there is no comparison between the two and nor is there any competition. Both play a different role in the team and there should not be any rivalry. For instance earlier this year during the World Cup, Kohli was preferred over Raina in the playing XI for the first couple of games and there were theories floating about how they will have to battle it out for their place. However as the tournament progressed, Raina was brought in lower down the order, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Looking to the future, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are undoubtedly two of India’s brightest prospects. They are the batsmen on whom the successful transition of Team India sans its stars depends upon. I am sure both Kohli and Raina are capable of carrying the burden of a nation’s expectations and cross the finish line with it. Here is hoping that Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina have a long, successful career ahead of them!

Friday, 28 October 2011



Six years back if an average Indian, with some amount of knowledge of sports was asked about Formula 1, the only logical answer you would get is probably the name of Michael Schumacher or Ferrari. The seven-time World Champion and his team were among the phrases synonymous with Formula 1 in India, in the early 2000s at least. I remember as when I was younger all the older sport aficionados I knew, who normally discussed Ganguly's latest innings or Manchester United's position in the EPL, talking about Schumacher on and off during weekends when he won a race. Then around 2003, another motor sport-associated name came into the wider Indian consciousness, that of Narain Karthikeyan. It was only in the year 2005 that India was plotted in the global F1 map when this very Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian F1 driver for the Jordan team. The image of Karthikeyan clad in his canary-yellow driving suit, helmet in hand, flashed on from pages of every newspaper and video clips of him zooming on a race track was a part of every Indian news channel. Media was trying hard to create some resonance in the minds of Indians about this relative foreign sport, called Formula 1 Racing.

India has come a long way since then. Today India is all set to host her first F1 race at the Buddh International Circuit, in Noida, near capital New Delhi. India has finally awakened to a new sport, Formula 1, and things have changed. When asked about F1 drivers most people can confidentially rattle out Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton thanks to their visits for McLaren promotion, this year’s Champion Sebastian Vettel is a name on every young sports follower’s lips, and most people also remember that Ferrari is driven by Alonso and Massa and that Schumacher drives for some other team. But the fact that every Indian is proud of is that we have a Formula 1 team named after our country, Force India, or as it will be called from now on, Sahara Force India. The team was formed in October 2007 when a consortium led by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya and Michiel Mol bought the Spyker F1 team for € 90 million. Since then, F1 racing has slowly but steadily making its way into the Indian psyche as a sport.

Now with the Indian GP finally here, it is time India got acquainted with the sport! What does hosting a F1 race in India mean to our not-so-sport-friendly-unless-its-cricket nation mean? As usual, there are the supports who are all out waving the chequered flag and saying that it is the best thing to happen to Indian sport after our World Cup win earlier this year. And then there are the detractors out with their red flags who think this sport is a waste of money, or even worse, racing cars is not even a real sport! But what about the average Indian sport lover? What do they think? So I decided to do a quick poll among youth who follow some sport and quizzed all my known friends and associates on the topic. Unsurprisingly I found that most young fans were excited at the prospect of the Indian GP. Even those who did not normally follow F1 were looking forward to see the race on Sunday. Many actually consider it as a proud moment for India, and rightly so, this race has firmly put India on the global F1 map. Few of them actually said how the success of the Indian GP would be successful in erasing the shambolic memories of the Commonwealth Games held last year. Another interesting perspective was provided by one of my friends who blatantly sated that this race was Indian only by name and location, nothing else. He says the Force India team doesn’t employ Indian drivers, all off their technical staff is not Indian and the only Indian element in the team is the Indian owner and his semi-Indian son. I strongly disagree with this sentiment, to be honest. Even though the drivers are not Indian, the team very much is. In addition we have two Indian drivers in the circuit currently, with Karthikeyan driving for HRT and Karun Chandok for Lotus and even though the latter will not get a chance to participate in the final race, it doesn’t change the fact that he is part of an F1 team.

One thing I found extremely interesting over the past few weeks is the news promotion for the Indian GP. How the presence of cricketers is being used as the crutch to rope in followers. “Sachin Tendulkar given the honor to flag off the race”, “Sourav Ganguly makes an appearance at a F1 function by Sahara Parivar”, “Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag to attend the inaugural Indian GP” and so on and so forth. Isn’t it interesting that F1 needs the support from cricket to garner popularity in India? A sport which is globally followed has to depend on cricket to find a base in India! Is that how narrow-minded we are towards other sports? I hope not. Then again, the mass appeal will only be restricted to the urban areas in India where the media penetration is high. This, I believe, is a consequence of the sheer size and diversity of India and not because of cricket being the primary sport.

Being an idealist, I think the F1 can carve a niche in the minds of sport lovers in India. If not the fanatical loyalty that cricket and our national team inspires, then at least a regular following. I hope that sooner or later Indians embrace Formula 1 racing as they have embraced the EPL and European clubs. Till then, let us tune on to the inaugural Indian GP and enjoy action like we may have never seen before! Here is hoping that the race weekend passes without any glitches, any calamities and any other issue that will embarrass us as a country.  Instead be a stunning success so that no one can ever sat that the only sport India knows is cricket. 

Formula 1 in India, it’s time to hit the road!

Thursday, 6 October 2011



He was called as India’s answer to Pakistan’s Wasim Akram when he made his debut back in 2000. He had the pace, the action and the enthusiasm that a 22-year old fast bowler would have. Running in following a longer than usual run up, he would hit the deck hard and could topple any well-set batsman as he proved in his very second ODI disturbing Australian captain Steve Waugh’s stumps with a full length Yorker in the ICC Knockout Trophy match.  Zaheer Khan had arrived.

Zaheer Khan came into the cricket consciousness of India during the 2000-2001 Ranji Trophy season where his team, Baroda were crowned Champions. Zaheer was one of the main architects of their triumph becoming the Man of the Match in the finals vs. Railways with eight wickets including a five-wicket haul. In him, Indian cricket looked at a complete fast bowler. He was economic with the new ball, accurate with the old one and could bowl with decent consistency on Indian dustbowls. Maybe this was the reason why Zaheer was among the first entrants to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) when he was elected in 2000. He made both his Test and ODI debuts in the same year and cemented his place in the side by his consistent performances. By the time 2003 came, he had moved on to become India’s strike bowler and skipper Sourav Ganguly’s go to man.

Till 23rd March, 2003, Zak was the darling of Indian cricket aficionados. He was hailed as India’s best pacers, placed on a pedestal with the likes of Kapil Dev, Venkatesh Prasad and even contemporary Javagal Srinath. He was proclaimed as the example of national integration and secularism. When he hit the winning runs in the historic Nat West series final in 2002, the image was frozen on a million minds. All throughout India’s dream run in the 2003 ICC World Cup, he was the key providing breakthroughs at regular intervals. His four-wicket haul against New Zealand earned him his first World Cup Man of the Match. And when India was facing defending Champions Australia in the finals, Zak was believed to be biggest threat. But that was all before the first ball to Adam Gilchrist, the first ball in the World Cup final that India had reached after 20 years where captain Ganguly had elected to field first, the first ball that went for a wide and the first over that went for 18 runs. Australia amassed 359 runs and India had lost their golden opportunity to be World Champions. That was the beginning of the end for Zaheer Khan, or that was what everybody said. Later that year India went to Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and in the first Test at Brisbane bowled wonderfully getting a fifer. But then he got injured and there began his downslide. He returned after injury but was unable to regain his place in the side with the likes of Irfan Pathan and RP Singh in the team. Eventually he was dropped in 2005.

But Zaheer Khan did not give up, instead he went ahead and proved to the world that he was made of stronger stuff. In 2006 he went to England for a county stint with Worcestershire that changed his career forever. Replacing Shoaib Akhtar, he took 10 wickets on debut against Somerset and from there went on to become the lead bowler for Worcestershire, even taking nine wickets in an innings, narrowly missing Laker/Kumble’s record. Following his impressive county performance, he was recalled into the national side for the tour of South Africa where his performance on the bouncy Protean tracks was instrumental on India drawing the Test series. Since then, there has been no looking back for Zak. He became the leader of India’s pace attack and still continues to be so. On the tour to England in 2007, he was in the form of his life taking a career best 9 for 134 at Trent Bridge and was the hero of India’s Test victory winning the Man of the Series. But the highest point in Zaheer Khan’s career came in early 2011 when India finally won the World Cup. Zak finally put the trauma of the 2003 finals behind him and emerged as the joint highest wicket taker in the 2011 World Cup.

In a career spanning over a decade, Zaheer Khan has seen more than his share of highs and lows. From being the young leader of the pack to being dropped for younger players, he has gone through the grind that Indian cricket is for fast bowlers. But what has set Zak apart is his tenacity, his ability to bounce back effectively every single time. He completely reinvented himself to make his comeback – shortened his run up, changed his bowling action, reduced his pace. But what he compromised on in terms of speed, he made up with his accuracy. After his return, Zaheer became more of a thinking bowler. He would outsmart the batsman by his plan rather than pace, and that made all the difference. He has been plagued by injuries on numerous occasions and his fitness remains his biggest drawback but his consistency and accuracy make up for that. He has been a mentor to all Indian pacers, with Ishant Sharma, Sreenath Arvind and others crediting him with their success. He has played the role of India’s bowling captain, as Dhoni himself called him once. His worth in the Indian side is highlighted the fact that when he walked out of the Lord’s Test in England in July, people said that there went India’s No 1 ranking and unfortunately that is what happened. He has become the cornerstone for India’s international success over the past few years, a fact accentuated by his receiving the prestigious Arjuna Award this year for his contribution to Indian sport.

On the occasion of his 33rd birthday on 7th October, this is just my small tribute to one my favorite cricketers. Since I saw him in 2000, I have been a huge loyalist of his. My only regret has been the fact that he has been one of the most underrated Indian cricketers. Zak has never been given the due that he deserves. I hope that one day he goes on to become one of the worlds’ most successful bowlers in terms of wickets. Zaheer Khan, the best left-handed fast bowler in the world!