Random thoughts on a lazy Monday

‘Lazy Monday’ is such a luxury, no? 🙂 Happy Dussera all — in a few hours from now, India will look to slay the Australian Ravan to keep its hopes alive… okay enough already with the festive metaphors.

We seem to have a positive genius for finding ‘solutions’ to problems that don’t address the problem. Take for instance the case of the number three in the Indian batting lineup.

‘India can’t play the short ball,’ someone said; the cry got amplified and the selectors promptly picked Rahul Dravid to “step into the breach”.

Which breach? This is the 50-over format. A bowler can send down one short ball per over, max. And that is the huge bogey forcing us to rethink our batting strategy? [A corollary problem with our publicly voiced fears is that it has given the opposition a handy fright mask to scare us with — vide Mitchell Johnson’s comments here].

While on that, memo to writers of cricket reports:  “holding one end up” is not an absolute, but a qualified, good — it works only if something constructive is happening at the other end.

It is not fashionable to question Dravid’s inclusion in the side, or at the least his batting position, after he top scored in the failed chase against Pakistan — but while watching the game, it was hard to escape the thought that his taking root at one end [literally, since he was for long stretches unable to place the single and turn the strike over] was turning the screws on Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina in succession. We picked a player to solve a non-existent problem, and in doing that appear to have created other, more crucial problems.

The tragedy is the problem was predictable [Harsha for instance said as much in a chat some three weeks earlier], hence avoidable.

Here, on the basis of what we saw in the India-Pak game, is a list of things I’d like to see today:

First, the team in batting order: Tendulkar, Gambhir, Raina, Kohli, Dhoni [any higher, and he tends to go into a shell in the name of controlling the chase], Dravid [this low down, you take away from his mind all thoughts of defense, and give him the space to return to the finisher role which is the only time he has excelled in the one day squad],  Pathan, Bajji, Amit Mishra, Ishant, Ashish. With the proviso that if we get a good start, I’d like to see Pathan floated to the number three position with the brief of producing a momentum-providing flurry of big hitting.

Pathan clearly lacks the confidence to finish games — an act that is not merely about hitting the cover off the ball. Free him of the pressure of having to calculate the later stages of a chase and let him free higher up with an uncluttered brief, and you likely will get the best out of the bloke. Plus, Pathan coming in early will force the bowling side to delay its Power Play, where with Dravid at three they will tend to take it between 10-15.

While on power plays, I’d like to see India take its batting PP somewhere between the 20th and 35th overs. A batting lineup without Yuvraj in the middle lacks the batting muscle to delay its batting PP right to the end — deploying it in the middle ensures that qualified batsmen can use those five overs to provide a boost just at that point when the game is drifting into a holding pattern; the additional plus is that it disrupts the bowling side’s option of sneaking in some non-regular overs and thus saving top bowlers for the death.

The news out of Centurion is that India is set to go into the game against Australia with five bowlers, “putting the onus” on its batting lineup. I’m a huge fan of playing five regular bowlers more often than not, but IMHO this batting lineup without Sehwag and Yuvraj is not the sort of form where it can absorb the added pressure.

Besides, Sambit Bal has a point when he says spin, not pace, will be the ideal weapon against Australia — more so as the wickets thus far have shown a tendency to aid spin more than pace/seam. Three seamers are an unaffordable luxury for this game, and in any case RP Singh in his current form is more handicap than help [his presence means India is forced to waste Ishant Sharma in the first change position where ideally he should be bowling with the new ball].

I’d like to see Ishant open with Nehra; Bajji to come in first change [with his head screwed on right], and for India to use Raina [not using Raina was among the glaring errors in India’s first game} and Yusuf in brief bursts at one end while Bajji rotates in the attacking role with Amit Mishra at the other.

One final item in my wish list for the day: during the middle overs, when spin is being used, I’d like to see the fielders within the ring come right in to where they can stop singles. Throughout their partnership, Yusuf and Malik routinely stroked pressure-free singles to point, cover, mid off, mid on, midwicket and square leg, though most or all those fielders were in the ring.

There has to be a definite point to where you place a fielder — he is there either to stop singles, or defend the boundaries. A fielder on the edge of the circle does neither — the fours come through the gaps anyway, and there are too many easy singles on offer. Block the singles with a tighter, closer ring and force the batsmen to take risks going over their heads, would be the final item on my wish list.

A win against an Australia on form and on a winning streak would be close to miraculous, more so for an India missing three of its key players. A more likely result would be India’s premature exit from the Champions’ Trophy — but what the hell, it is Dussera, time to slay demons. 🙂

For the duration of the game, will be on Twitter. See you there — and back here tomorrow.