Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A solution to the woes of Indian cricket

Well folks, let’s face it. We all know Cricket in India is a mess right now. Although our team does win now and then- they’re all too few and far between, maybe during dead rubbers or on flat wickets, and besides, those victories are far from convincing. (I’m talking about ODIs, let’s leave out the tests for the time being)
How can a team of such talented cricketers still not be consistent in their victories? Well- I’m here to tell you all about it.

Although this looks like a thesis, I guarantee you, if you are a cricket fan, you'll every word of the following.

Opening Pair:
First of all, let me start with the batsmen and the batting order. From recent matches we can see that the opening pair of Ganguly and Sachin either make or break. In the Aussie series- they only twice produced good stands, while in the rest of the occasions their partnership was broken almost as soon as it started; not to mention the horrendous running (Ganguly to be blamed) between the wickets degraded further by the chaotic calling (both are the culprits). Enough to prove that this is not the best opening pair- although they hold the record for most century stands in ODI history.

The reason is- Tendulkar is no more the player he once was. He is more tentative and less aggressive- befitting his age, with slower reflexes to boot. How many times has he been bowled inside edging onto the stumps (also called "dragging it onto the stumps")? My dad reckons that Sachin actually invented the inside-edge bowled and has named it “The Tendulkar Dismissal”. For an example of his slow reflexes- we can recollect his dismissal (bowled off Fernando) in the crucial match against Sri Lanka in World Cup 2007. His bat came down late and hence the ball evaded the middle of the bat and went onto hit the stumps.
OK back to our topic. Ganguly too is not bent on using the powerplays too well. He is also taking his time to build every innings. So, most of the time- even on flat pitches, the Indians never go past 60 or 65 (which are highly rare occasions) in the first 10 overs. So this pair is out-dated. Its methods of conserving wickets while keeping a run rate under 5 or so is not effective in the modern ODI game (post SA 438 that is). Either Ganguly changes his game and scores fast, or he must relinquish the opening slot.

No.3 batsman:
This is the slot that has been under a lot of scrutiny for a long time, yet nobody has occupied this spot for long. Dravid used to be good until afore the WC 07. But considering his form and strike rate- obviously he can’t be the option. The role of the perfect No.3 is to be fluid enough to sustain the run rate (assuming the openers give a good start) and being solid enough to prevent further loss of wickets (if the first wicket has fallen cheaply). He must play spin and seam well.
A near-perfect example is Ponting.

Of all batsmen in the team, the one who has impressed me most is Gambhir. He has overcome his shortcomings and along with a positive approach he has constantly produced sterling knocks (right from the tour of Bangladesh) whenever he was given an opportunity. He appears to deal both spin and seam well. And he uses his feet wonderfully. Whether coming down the track to smother spin or moving away from the stumps to smash fast bowlers over cover, he has been brilliant. His technique is solid and his running between the wickets excellent. He would fit into the No.3 spot like a cross to the T.

The Middle Order:

For all his flashy manner and extravagant strokes, Yuvraj Singh has inherent limitations that are tough to move over. He cannot play well against the spinners- atleast he is tentative initially, and against the moving ball, his feet do a disco dance while his bat searches for the ball. His T20 success was merely due to the pressure exerted on the bowlers due the brevity of the format.

But he has certain gifts rarely bestowed on Indian batsmen- the ability to clear the ground, against any kind of bowler, in any direction. Although the six is the best shot, six-hitting alone doesn't make a batsmen in the middle order.

When it comes to Dhoni- the point is simple. Everyone knows his technical shortcomings- so many times has he been foxed by champion bowlers.(first ball duck to Murali in WC 07 against Sri Lanka; tormented by Flintoff and Anderson in Englang this year, cheaply removed by Johnson with the away swinging delivery- the list is endless). The rest of them (the lesser mortals) were merely bullied to subjgation. But the mediocre bowlers have understood Dhoni now and have started to cramp him for room giving him the option to only drive the ball (he is not a good player of the drive- he always hits too hard and (or) extends his bat to outside-the-off-stump balls).

And he's never been a good player of quality pace bowling (except during his two great innings against Pakistan in 2005). He can murder the slow bowlers with his massive sixes- but the fine dabs, finding gaps were never his forte, which is indispensable while facing medium pace in the middle overs. Not to mention the weight of captaincy has also curbed his wild-animal instincts.

But still he is a flexible, constantly-thinking player (that's why he is captain), so he can change his game according to the requirements. In fact the only player I believe can take up the mantle of Sachin is Dhoni- life after Sachin would revolve around Dhoni. Along with Sachin and Yuvraj, he's one of the best six hitters in the team. And he's the best runner between the wickets. So he'd make a very good middle overs player.

Uthappa is wonderful prospect to accelerate in the slog overs. He's got all the shots, can hit the ball hard, and the characteristic walk a la Hayden (his walk is as effective as Hayden's). And he runs well.

Sewhag started off as a No.7 and was promoted up the order much later. He has all the shots to cause mayhem in the last ten overs. He can easily clear the boundaries and his slashes and cuts wouldn't cost him his wicket in the final overs as there would no slips or men in catching positions, as they would be busy, guarding the boundaries. On the contrary, they would fetch him runs behind the wicket. He seems perfect for this position.

Ganguly is an aggressive, hard-hitting batsman as well as a thinking cricketer. I would suggest he can be sent in the middle order- No.4 spot seems to be suitable for him. With his experience he can hold fort while others play around him. Although he doesn't run so well, he could make it up with some boundaries. Or he could come at No.6 to go all out against any attack, or bat with the tail (which I believe no other batsman can do right now).

The Lower Order:

Irfan Pathan is a pretty good batsman and his slot viz. No.7 is almost sealed. But the Indians are always botching up the rest of the order. I strongly suggest Zaheer be moved up the order- to come immediately after Pathan. He can hit the ball far (He once did a Mascarenhas hitting 4 sixes of the last 4 balls of an innings) and he has enough experience to bat sensibly (which he has done so well in his career. He won the last ODI for us along with M. Karthik, and made a good knock along with RP Singh to help India get to a decent total in the 5th ODI).

No.9 would be M. Karthik and No.10 would be H Singh (although he seems to be a better batsmen than No.10, he's not been playing sensibly of late). No.11 would be Sreesanth or RP Singh.

So as of now the order is:

  1. Sachin
  2. ???
  3. Gambhir
  4. Ganguly
  5. Dhoni or Yuvraj
  6. Dhoni or Yuvraj
  7. Uthappa or Sewhag
  8. Pathan
  9. Z Khan
  10. M Karthik
  11. H Singh
  12. Sreesanth or RP Singh

The opening slot is still tough to call (that should explain the No.12 in a 11 man squad). We need a batsman who is aggressive and takes the pressure off Sachin. Instantly our thoughts fall back on Sewhag. But he's so unstable. And we need definite starts. Gambhir could fit in well, but who'd take No.3, which is perfectly made for him?? And if Sewhag comes in, who would have to leave?

I would suggest giving Sewhag a second chance- he seems to have calmed down a bit and could be consistent.

And as I already pointed out- though his foolish shots could be fatal in the initial ten, they could be god-sent gifts in the final ten.

So Sewhag gets No.6

I suggest Gambhir must open with Tendulkar. He has shown from his stupendous form in all his T20 matches that he can hit it right from the word “go”. Besides he is also a good runner between the wickets. He will be the perfect foil for Sachin, who can build the innings at his pace. He could also add the effect of the right-left combination. The case of Gambhir being dropped is absurd, given his present form. So Ganguly must goto No.3 (this might well be the weaklink in the team, in the final analysis).

India must decide upon a regular batting line-up where everyone knows their roles, even if some players have to change their present ones radically. (Like Ganguly trying to fit into No.3).
If the players fit into their roles this would be a redoubtable BATTING line-up.

My Choice (for all 5 matches):

  1. Sachin
  2. Gambhir
  3. Ganguly
  4. Dhoni or Yuraj
  5. Dhoni or Yuraj
  6. Sewhag
  7. I Pathan
  8. Z Khan
  9. M Karthik
  10. H Singh
  11. RP Singh or Sreesanth

Yes, after so much sqaubbling I've settled for Gambhir being an opener. This is so because once Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid leave the team, its Sewhag and Gambhir who would open (The T20 line-up). So he'd need some experience there. If at that time (after Ten etc... retire) the middle order needs solidity, Gambhir could come at No.3 as a calming influence and to strenghten the middle order. And as for Uthappa, it remains to be seen how well this combo would work (if at all the people out there think my way and try this out), and then only will we need to see if Uthappa is required at the time being (he is pretty good I admit).

More on the next part...

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