Empty thoughts and mutterings

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stop this retirement madness

After a really bad series like the one we are in, it is critical not to over react. Don't get me wrong - I am saying that we need clear and sure corrective actions but dropping the
wrong player or expediting the wrong player's retirement will also hurt India's recovery process. As Indian cricket fans we are all hurt by how badly we lost this series. Some Ex-players
call for axing of basically all the senior players - without realizing how irresponsible their comments are.

Cricket fans (Indian fans particularly) have the tendency to confuse bad form/technical flaws with aging. Several fans called for Sachin's head when he was going through a rough patch in 2007. Looking back at the past few years - would that have been good for India? - Absolutely not!

I also believe in the Australian way of retirements (for our board in the future). We don't need to squeeze every ounce of cricket from our legends. I think Steve waugh, Mark Taylor, Allan Border etc were good for a few more hundreds when they retired. The board should discuss retirement plans with the player well ahead of time and these plans have to be executed (with all reasonable concessions made). This would also allow the younger cricketers to be groomed in time. All it takes is reasonable long term planning which will prevent us from staring at 3 debuts (or close to it) and 3 retirements in a few months time frame. This medium to long term approach seems to be severely lacking with the committees appointed by BCCI.

The decision to drop legends should be made based on objective comparisons. The fact that a player didn't do well in a series shouldn't automatically lead to a decision to drop him.
For eg: Sachin had a very poor series by his standards - but make no mistake about the fact that he's still the best batsman we have for his position in India.

As for aging criteria - I think it is best judged by how the player moves on the field and his reflexes. Laxman still has signs of his lazy elegance and will still be able to get a few big scores here and there - but he's clearly slowed down on the field (not that he was fast before - but he was at the very least a safe slip fielder). Dravid's reflexes have also started to fail him. Our slip cordon once extremely reliable, is a shadow of what it was.

Dravid's failure this tour in my opinion was due to a new-born technical flaw. In the lifetime of a first class cricketer (even the technically superior ones), you see some technical flaws and bad habits creep in before getting subsequently sorted out. The gap between the bat and pad that Hilfenhaus used to his advantage, was the cause for his bad run. This should not be confused with aging.

Will talk about Dhoni the captain and Dhoni the WK in a separate post.

Ranji Trophy Final

I was glad to catch some action from the Ranji Trophy final between Rajasthan and TN - Thanks BCCI TV. These are some mental notes from the game.

The wicket was not a sporting one not worthy of a first class game let alone a Ranji Final. In a game of this magnitude it's a shame that the toss played a vital part in the final outcome.

That said, Rajasthan seized the opportunity provided to them with both hands. Vineet Saxena was a picture of concentration and to play that long without playing a false shot is testament to the character in the guy.

Aakash chopra played a wonderful supporting role and ensured that TN would have to play out of their skin to even have a shot.

I was very impressed with the batting technique of Robin Bist in both the innings. The Indian selectors I am sure will be taking deeper looks at this guy in the coming months.

3 of the big 4 of TN (Abhinav, Vijay, Badri) did not do enough in this all important game to give TN a chance.In this format, one failure is enough to cost a team the cup.

Dinesh Karthik toiled manfully and it's great to see him do his part to remind the selectors that he can still play.

J.Kaushik seems like a very good prospect for the future. He would do well to focus on keeping the line to outside the off to the off stump. His natural angle seems to take the ball toward middle and leg and good players will take advantage of flaws like those.

Young Aushik srinivas worked hard with decent returns. To bowl 80 overs even for a spinner is a mammoth task and it was good to see him do the task without complaints. He should however look at bowling a little slower and try to beat batsmen in the air.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's ailing Indian cricket?

I write this piece right after the Perth test match where India surrendered meekly to Australia to go down 3-0 in the Border-Gavaskar series. While this is clearly one of the low points in the recent past for Indian cricket, it also provides a valuable learning opportunity if the
people in charge look at it as such. While people are carelessly throwing names out to bring under the proverbial axe, it is critical for the think tank to not go berserk and be prudent with a long term vision in their decisions. The bottom line here is to accept the fact that we are really not a good test team. The #1 test team achievement is a thing of the past. And it is OK to not be good. It only serves as an opportunity to go into the rebuilding mode and find ways to be a good team for a long time to come. Here are my thoughts on a few of those decisions.

Virender Sehwag:

No action required. Yes, it is disappointing that he did not come good in 6 innings. But, let's be honest here - no good can come out of asking Viru to bat a certain way. Viru derives his success from his flamboyance and to take that away from him will not be wise. In my opinion, he is a known commodity and we die by the same sword we live by. I dont believe he has lost his ability to decimate opponents. He is just going through a rough patch.

Gautam Gambhir:

Presents an interesting conundrum. The positive is that he has shown intent to stay at the wicket and play a long innings. If only intents were enough. It's still better than not having one, isn't it? His performance down under poses a few questions.

1. Is Gautam Gambhir not as good as his record suggests or is he just going through a lean phase?

GG really is a fantastic opening batsman that has shown tremendous temparament and hunger for runs over the years. His record really is no fluke.
Having said that, his technique absolutely needs to be sorted out to be able to succeed in seaming, bouncy overseas conditions. Watching him play in australia this series, it struck me that his preparation was either not good enough or did not target some critical areas. He has to learn to leave the ball outside off stump with conviction and that comes with targeted preparation. Some of the decisions he made in the series were questionable to say the least.

2. Should he be allowed to go back to domestic cricket and sort out his issues?

I don't think that's going to be a useful exercise - here's why. He will comfortably dominate the weak bowling attacks and be a top performer at the Ranji level. I also think that he will continue to be successful in test series held in the subcontinent and those againt weaker oppositions overseas. Sending him back to Ranji will not address the problem at hand. GG would be much better off thinking about playing a season in county cricket.

3. How is our bench strength as far as opening batsmen are concerned.

We have 2 front runners - Ajinkhya Rahane and Abhinav mukund. From initial evidence, these guys also have the same issues i.e. outside the off stump issues in seaming conditions.

In essence, GG will continue to be successful in easier conditions and not so successful in bouncy conditions if status quo continues. He has shown the temperament to succeed in overseas conditions (as was seen in Capetown and in NZ). He will definitely need to sort out the issues if he doesn't want people to look for alternate options.

Virat Kohli:

Definitely a positive to come out of the series. Kudos to Sanjay Manjrekar (and other experts) who called for Virat to stay in spite of failures in the first two tests. Virat's 75 and 44 at perth (pretty average numbers by regular standards) will serve to transform him as an Indian test cricketer. It is critical for youngsters to be given a long rope to establish themselves and even more so in testing conditions like in Australia. If he was dropped him in place of Rohit, Virat would have looked at test cricket and cricket in australia very differently from how he does today. One relatively small action of keeping him in the lineup might have saved his test career. And don't worry about Rohit - he will get his due!


Ian Chappell blames the selectors for being short sighted and not rolling the dice earlier with some younger talent. He's infering that the Indian middle order should not have been RD, Sachin and VVS in that order. That opinion of his has the huge benefit of hind sight. The selectors picked a team that had the most experience playing in australia before and who would have thought that all of India's legends would pick this series to collectively lay an egg? Yes, you need to groom younger talent to fill in when seniors leave the team eventually. But for a marquee series like this one, you go with what's worked in the past.