Remarkably little heartburn in the papers Saturday, following India’s collapse chasing an improbable target of 308 against a well-rounded bowling attack backed by superb fielding. Nice. The team after all is easing back into competitive cricket after a decent-sized layoff, so any breast-beating at the symptoms of rust would have been premature. Come to think of it, if India loses the Compaq Cup final today, I still wouldn’t worry.
That said, there are signs that should begin to seriously worry selectors — and the first is Suresh Raina. Along with Rohit Sharma, Raina is being groomed to bat at 3 or 4 in the order in the new dispensation. Watch him play Shane Bond, though, and you realize just how far he has to go before he can live up to that billing — Raina was distinctly discommoded by anything that didn’t pitch in his own half and, in fact, was in such a state of chronic apprehension that once, ludicrously, he jumped onto the back foot to a ball of good length, and got into a horrid tangle. He may have been working on remedies, but clearly he has a heck of a long way to go still, and that opens up a major vulnerability within the lineup.
The other was the Yuvraj Singh sideshow on Friday. The one time contender for captaincy is a notoriously slow starter even when in prime form, but at the start of a season he is just plain flat-footed — and that is in large part the result of a lifestyle that avoids anything remotely resembling practice in favor of the bright lights of the Mumbai party circuit. During his time as coach, John Wright had identified the tendency to slack off during the off season as the single reason why the team invariably starts the new season slow. Years later, though the symptom was identified, there still seems no cure in sight. Do we even have an off season schedule, and does anyone actively monitor what the players get up to when there are no international commitments?
The third problem, unfortunately, is not something the selectors or the team can do much about just now. In ODIs, you need the ability to maximize the possibilities of the first ten overs — and absent Viru Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the team lacks that ability. A slow start, compounded by Dravid at three, means pressure all the way down the line, and that pressure is falling on the likes of Raina and Yuvraj who, at this point, are just not equipped to turn it around.
At the end of Friday’s game, MS Dhoni said the toss was 50 per cent of the battle and if you can put up anything in the region of 250 batting first, that is 80 per cent of the game won. I don’t know if it is that simple — the team at this moment has a sluggish look about it, especially in the field [against Lanka, fielders routinely conceded twos where there should have just been brisk ones; against that, the Lankan inner ring routinely denied singles and had the Indians under enormous pressure]; even if they were to win the toss today, I don’t see them winning the game, not with rust so thick in all three departments of the game.
In any case — how many of you watched the two India games thus far? Just taking the temperature. 🙂 I’ll likely watch the first half of today’s game, anyway, before heading off to meet some friends just in from London — thoughts, as and when the occur, on my Twitter stream.