Saturday, May 3, 2008

There's a time and place for everything

The Indian 1st innings in the 3rd test against South Africa served as a time machine showing us glimpses of the past and future of Indian cricket. The best batting lineup in the world (atleast on paper) was up against the most potent bowling attacks of modern times, and it was a contest to relish by passionate followers of the Test game like me (not that I don't like other forms- I enjoy all forms equally).

We saw how Laxman and Ganguly flowed like a river, while Dravid stood like what has become synonymous with his name- "The Wall". Everybody was in their elements- right from Sewhag up to Dhoni, everyone of them lived upto their reputation.

And we could already see where Indian cricket is heading. Ganguly represents what Indian cricket has been through the years- producing technically strong batsmen whose mode of scoring was more the caressing of the leather than bludgeoning it. In fact, most of the successful Indian batsmen until recent times have been orthodox strokemakers who never really could be called power hitters.Except perhaps Kapil Dev, nobody was a shock force. Sewhag has changed that slightly, but he's an anomaly in the league. The likes of Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman are all strokemakers, and although Tendulkar can hit the ball as hard as Dhoni or Gilchrist, he never feels the need to use brute force.

Dhoni and Yuvraj represent the future of Indian Test Cricket and they are a perfect example of the new Indian mindset. While Ganguly and Co.'s game is based on attrition- protecting one's wicket while despatching the bad balls to the ropes, Dhoni and Co. represent the new brand of Indian cricketers who want to be aggressive in every aspect- like the Australians.

While Dada's way of batting is not to give away wickets while scoring at a decent pace and thereby not allowing any pressure to build up on him while slowly tightening the noose around the opposition's neck, Yuvraj and the other youngsters believe in taking up an aggressive stance and driving home the advantage as soon as possible- hit them hard while they are down.

Dada's way is more like the champion boxer who builds the momentum, letting the opponent waste away his punches, while not harming himself and then when the opponent is tired, he goes for the knockout punch. Dada and Co. believe that when they are in, they must make it count and not waste away starts. Because they know that a long drawn out 150 will drive the nail into the coffin deeper than a quickfire 50. Dhoni and Co., on the other hand, spray punches continously on their opponents- punches with good power, but which waste energy and lack the potency of a knock out punch. Besides, their punches may not even reach delicate regions to have the effect. Thus, they squander the advantage, tiring themselves and exposing themselves for a counter-attack.

They believe by trying to attack at every point of time, they keep the opposition on the defensive. They forget that consolidation never goes amiss. You cannot always blast away the opposition. Quality bowling attacks, with an experienced thinking captain like Smith can always rein in the opposition. The best way would be consolidate after reaching a point, take a pit-stop, review plans and then follow it to perfection. Only a novice would simply throttle wide open everytime he finds himself ahead, without paying attention to various turns in the road.

They might yet learn this- if India lose this test or struggle hard winning it. They had two chances to make their partnership count- Yuvraj and Ganguly were thwarting the bowlers with their ease of scoring. In fact, throughout that partnership, they scored a boundary every 8 balls. Similarly, when Yuvraj fell to a rash shot, Dhoni and Dada forged another partnership, which seemed to have got India to a dominant position, yet the idea of extending the total beyond 350 was wasted on Dhoni who believed that he could stamp his authority on Harris, who bowled cleverly to dismiss him. Dhoni only had to play out the day with Ganguly (only 15 overs remained in the day) and then the Indians could come fresh and totally dominate proceedings. Atleast a hundred more than the present total was on the cards when these two were batting.
But then Dhoni didn't think like a captain, and played his innings like a bucaneer batsman and exposed the tail to the new ball, which the South Africans let rip. Now the Indians have a slender lead, which may not amount to anything, considering the profilgacy of the Indian pace attack, a deficit of 40 might even be wiped off in the first 10 overs. What then? The Indians would be back at square one. It would then just be a one innings dash, and the Indians have the unfortunate task of batting last on this perilous track. It would be nothing short of a minefield by Day 4. An absolutely irresponsible act by Dhoni considering the fact that he is the future captain of all forms for India!

Note the folly of Dhoni who just doesn't learn from one's mistakes. He charged Steyn in the 1st Test match (when India seemed to run away with their scoring after the Sewhag mauling) and was humiliated. Yet again he met his end here charging Harris. Although the latter deed was more prudent (charging a spinner), the situation did not demand such measures.
As the old saying goes - "There's a time and place for everything."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is the composition of the Indian batting order right?

I agree to the fact that the Indian batting order is perhaps the greatest lineup in modern times, and at present it is indeed the best you can get, much better than the Aussie lineup which has become void of Gilchrist. However, a lineup must be multi-dimensional afore it gets the tag of the World's Best. It must be able to bat 2 days in tough conditions, or must be able to score runs quickly in order to force a result. Although the former of the above said conditions the present lineup may do often (sometimes, like in Sydney 2008 or Karachi 2006 they fail), I still feel it may not be able to fulfill the latter. It has got one stodgy player too many for that.

Test cricket nowadays is not played as how it used to be 15 years ago. Teams score at about 4 an over and score about 350 runs in a day. Scores of 300 in an innings is too common with the advent of flat pitches that cater to the crowd's entertainment. So each team, consciously or not has an attacker or two in their lineup to quickly take the game away from the opposition with a brilliant counter attack.

The South Africans had Pollock (remember the last India-South Africa Test series that we lost 1-2? Throughout the series the Indians would have worked hard to take the 5 wickets only to see Pollock come down to the middle and effortlessly carry the game swiftly from our grasp. None of the bowlers knew how to get him out and often he got out only to some brilliant catching) and the Australians had Gilchrist whose potential everyone of us knows. In fact he has made a living out of counter-attacks.

So why does the Indian team not think about the batting composition. So much talk centres around the bowling attack, while the batting attack, which is doing well most of the times, does not get so much flak. First of all, I must say I'm happy with Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and the two openers Sewhag and Jaffer. And for want of a better wicket-keeper batsman Dhoni is the best choice. Then comes the tail. If you look at it, in the middle order- from Dravid to Laxman, everyone is a trademark Test player (although Tendulkar plays in ODIs destructively, he rarely shows such urgency in Tests). Except Sewhag there's nobody who can actually hit some quick runs if the need arises, or counter attack.

Dhoni who was destined to great things as a swashbuckling bucanneer has now transformed into a gritty customer protecting the tail. So when he was given the license to go for broke in the 1st Test at Chennai, he couldn't summon his old game. In fact, none of Indian batsmen could get quick runs even from a position of 480+ for 1. A quick 50 runs would have stretched the lead to about 120, and would have made the South Africans going for damage control.

Every batsman followed the usual get-your-eye-in-and-build-your-innings approach and hence were torn between going for runs or building an innings. It was just excruciating to watch, and exposed India's weakness blatantly.

So who can counter attack? From the present crop of batsmen, and considering the available spots, Irfan Pathan seems the only man who can serve the purpose. He can bowl well and can bat according to the situation (His innings as night watchman at Perth cannot be easily forgotten. It was one of the reasons behind his getting the Man of the Match award). He can also hit the ball hard and far. The team must look to include him in the team more often. It adds to the balance of the team.

However, there's one big problem in this approach. Asking him to raise his batting to the level of Pollock's could be detrimental to his bowling- he has already said many times that bowling comes first and that he is merely a bowler who can bat.

So he must be carefully groomed into the role because if it comes through, India would become a complete team package- a team worthy of being talked about in the same terms as the world conquering Australian teams.