Empty thoughts and mutterings

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!

Selectors:

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.

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