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."

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