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.