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.

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19 thoughts on “Random thoughts on a lazy Monday

  1. I saw both the matches and found one big flaw in the team – captain’s attitude!

    Yes, a captain cant do much when the bowlers bowl loose deliveries without any variation, or when batsmen play loose shots or when fielders fumble easiest of chances, it is a team game after all. But still, I saw that most of MSD’s decisions were just like ty[ical Indian captains decisions for last 3 decades or so… very conservative and defensive.

    Take for instance the fact that while chasing a large total set by Pakistanis and losing Sachin early, there should have been a Yusuf Pathan who should have been sent in instead of Dravid. Worse was when Virat followed, I felt that MSD, being the captain, should have come up the order to play a captain’s innings to the hilt – it takes courage to face fire and if you send in Virat Kohli to face that fire, what are you the captain for?
    Sorry, I dont quite get this coming from MSD.

    While bowling to Pakistan or to Aussies, I saw again a defensive captain all along….as Yusuf pointed out, it wasa relief for them to not face Harbhajan when the chips were down and instead be fed the part timers whom they milked so easily.

    Ishant has been out of form for a while, Praveen Kumar somehow does not seem to eb a good one day bowler (neither pace, nor swing are there). Bowling is hit big time by Zak’s absence as is batting by Sehwag and Yuvi’s absence. Yes, this is not the best team to lead, but as a captain you got to lead by example. Take theb ull by its horns, not shield yourself behind Kohli and others…

    Let’s face it. The teasm isnt good enough to reach Semis. And this is what the captain seems to have convinced himself at the start of the tournament.

  2. This batting lineup makes the most sense. Doesn’t it seem that Dhoni seems to be over-analyzing the batting order? I couldn’t understand why they sent Raina so far below the order (I’d have switched Kohli and Raina). He’s talking about “process” a lot more now. Gives me a queasy pre-2007 World Cup feeling.
    btw, I’m sure Gambhir was very frustrated with Dravid’s calling. I’ve also not heard any positive comments from the rest of the team about his re-inclusion. How well is Dravid’s return being accepted by the team?
    I also cannot quite get a fix on Kohli as a batsman. He is not a powerful, aggressive batsman; doesn’t strike to me as a patient builder of innings in the Dravid mode either. I suppose we could call him an accumulator – a poor man’s Gambhir.
    With Kohli, Dravid and the new Dhoni, we have 3 accumulators in a one-day side. Unless we bowl out of our skins (tad unlikely), we have to hope the Aussies screw up for India to win.

    • His return, as far as I know, is accepted quite happily. More so with Sehwag not in the reckoning, and Rohit out with one thing and another.

      Kohli is a fairly aggressive kid when he has the wind in his sails. Trouble is he is not seasoned enough in this format to have the mental nous — what he needed was some early innings sheltering; a senior player to, say, tell him okay, you chill, turn the strike over, I’ll play enough shots to keep us in the game till you get set.

      Absent that, the pressure is too much, not just for Kohli the individual but for any young kid in that situation, in a game that thanks to the historical baggage is hugely high pressure anyway.

      • When India wins with the young turks,we say they do well because they do not bring the historical baggage associated with the seniors,and when convenient use that as an excuse to shield the kids.
        Yuvraj,Dhoni,Sehwag,Dravid,Sachin all siezed their chances when they were presented remember Sachin made his debut in Pakistan in a high pressure series.Why can’t we have a fair yardstick for all.
        I am not against the youngsters coming in-I want them and more,but want them to have a consistency which does them proud,and maybe the media does not make them a one match wonder.
        SR ,Rohit Sharma, Ishant and the Pathan brothers have to have the self confidence that they are good enough to belong at the highest level and need the support of the administrators.The competition for slots is high as every year the next round of youngsters will crop up.The incubation period will be very short ,with IPL and all they can get the experience of international teammates through the extended season.

  3. Prem

    The link to the Mitchell Johnson comment takes to your twitter page ! Didn’t think Mitch would tweet you personally informing that he is planning to bounce out India !

    While on that, I’m sure India would hope he does that today, considering the pitch Eng – S Af played on last nite. Mitch would be on a hiding to nothing if he bounces on that pitch !

  4. I am not sure it was so much RD’s fault last night. I can understand one getting frustrated by his run rate, but to say that is what cost India the match am not sure is the logical conclusion. The match was lost, as sunny points out, cause of the supporting act. The match was perfectly ours to win if Dhoni and Kohli had scored some 50-60 runs between them. RD played his part pretty well, I thought. Even with the slow run rate the match was ours, so the slow run rate per se was not the problem. It was on track till Kohli shot himself in the foot the way he did, and Dhoni got out … doing what?

    I mean, leave aside the name of the player, and the pre conceived bias that comes with it, and judge the innings. The idea of 1 down playing 30-40 overs has almost disappeared, which is what the 1 down (esp when the first wicket goes cheap) is supposed to do. And do that at a strike rate of 70+. Whats to blame in that?

    • No, keep the name of the player in mind — RD has been a friend of over 12 years standing, and remains one. So much for “pre conceived bias”. Ironically, when earlier, everyone wanted his head and I wrote articles making his case for him, people in comments used to say he is my friend, hence my arguments are biased.

      Well, he still is. That said, a strike rate is not the ideal measure. The problem is if say a batsman takes a single off the first ball, and the other batsman stonewalls the next four. It checks the flow of the game, the first batsman gets antsy, and as asking rates rise, he tends to try too hard, which is when mistakes creep in.

      I have no problem with RD batting 45 overs if it comes to that. What I’m saying is, take the single and get to the other end, if you don’t want to risk the big shots. Heck, check out that Pak game — guys like Gul looked tame when Gambhir was out there. But in came Kohli, RD kept playing it copy book, straight to fielders, now see it from the point of view of the youngster. Could he have done the same thing? No, he would have been crucified if he had played like RD. So you have a situation where the experienced batsman is playing the safe game, and forcing the inexperienced kid to take risks.

      • If RD is able to get at least a single of every ball his strike rate would be 100+. I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation from a sheet-anchor role. Gambhir should have shown the maturity to be patient enough to give his batting partner the time he requires to settle down as SRT has done in the past with Ganguly and other partners who were not as gifted as he was in rotating the strike. In fact right through their partnership Gambhir kept calling for non-existent singles and finally paid for it when it pressured RD in doing the same.

        • Tea Cup-agree with you,what’s strange in Prem’s write up was crucifying one player (RD) right from the selection policy of short pitch balls to his inability to rotate strike.We lost the match due to plain ordinary stuff from the bowlers and ordinary captaincy,coupled with sensible batting from Malik and Yousuf.
          RD was not responsible for Sachin,SR,Kohli,Dhoni,YP getting out.
          Coming down to yesterday’s match-Ishant and Bhajji looked ordinary.A break before the test series may do Ishant a world of good,he needs off the field nurturing.Amit Misra looked good.

  5. i am not quite sure blaming dravid is the solution. his brief was to bat long…if the supporting act can’t keep it together why fault rahul?

    the point is that rohit sharma was one of the best batsmen in IPL2 in south africa. selectors in their infinite wisdom decided not to bring him along. especially when the batting was already thin on fire power.

    • The thing with a brief is, it is not carved in stone.

      For instance if it is SRT or an in form Gambhir at the other end, the “brief” works — all the batsman has to do is turn the strike over and let the other guy do the hitting.

      But what if it is a Kohli at the other end? He is young and inexperienced; early on, he needs to be able to have the leisure to settle in. Here you are chasing 300 plus, he comes in aware of the mounting ask rate, and at the other end is a batsman stonewalling. He begins to feel the pressure to produce runs, and is forced to take risks he is not yet prepared for.

      That is when a batsman with years of experience takes charge, lets the youngster fly under the radar while he takes the onus of keeping the tempo going. To say my brief is to stonewall and do it no matter who is at the other end is not, IMHO, the right thing to do.

      • The run-rate required at the time of Kohli’s dismissal was well within manageable levels in-spite of all the “stonewalling” at the other end. Kohli just lost his mind – end of story.

  6. RD putting pressure on others is what I have been screaming to my friends since the matches in SL. On the night of Ind-Pak match, I was absolutely livid with RD. With him at the other end, I think no one gets any relief; only the added pressure of making up for run-rates from both ends. Not only that, in this particular match, he did not even calm down Raina. At the time Raina got out, India cud hv easily managed without taking risks. As the “senior” and “experienced” batsman, he was supposed to have guided the chase and the other batsmen.

    Just like we have separate Tests and limited over teams, why cant we have separate teams for pitches also? If there is a <225 run pitch, then play RD by all means. If its a belter and a 300 runs kind of a pitch, RD does not have a place in the team. If we loose wickets, 300 cannot be made, especially with RD "holding" up one end, so whats the fun.

  7. Agree with all points except for the ‘short-pitched bogey’. Even though only one bouncer is allowed in ODIs, a clever fast bowler will bowl short balls which may be anywhere from rib-cage to head-high and Raina, Sharma, Yuvraj, Dhoni all struggle against it. It also depends on how juicy the wickets are and how good the bowlers are in mixing things up to have the batsmen keep guessing while slipping in good-length balls to have them caught behind with feet rooted to the crease or going back in expectation of a short one.
    Selecting RD for a tournament in SA was a good decision.The problem is he is not in good form. The Wall epithet has usually gone against him in the ODI format. The good thing with RD is that just because he is in bad form, he doesn’t throw his wicket away which can be considered a bad thing if other batsmen don’t know how to protect their team-mates. SRT managed very well with the same form of RD in the final against Sri Lanka not so long ago; Gambhir did fairly well against Pak;Dhoni did NOT. That’s the reason why you are hearing all this about Dravid’s batting.
    I don’t think he is in the right form to be playing in the finisher’s role!

  8. Our Captains look good when things turn out well(wins),else they seem to run out of ideas.Dhoni has the midas touch,he seems to have got off lightly after the loss for his captaincy and slow batting,and I disagree- it has become fashionable to criticise Dravid whether he does well or not !What about the other ten blokes or it does not matter-we can credit them when India wins?
    I would go with the batting line up you suggest SR at 3,Kohli at 4 and Dhoni at 5 if India gets a decent enough start,however if India loses an early wicket would prefer RD at three,when batting first.
    Similarly when it comes to bowling-why not give Praveen a chance or maybe Nayar?Why are there if not good enough to play at the highest level?
    Dhoni’s comment that IPL is no base for Tests and ODI selection is good but not well times in MHO-as wonder if it helps YP do better or turn him into a wreck

    • I’ve never been a particularly fashionable guy. My criticism is not of Dravid the player, but of a mindset that it is necessary come hell or high water to “hold one end up”.

      No problem with giving everyone a chance. In picking sides, though, I prefer to look at conditions and the opposition and pick the guy most suited — and I can’t seem to find a good argument for going with a pace centric attack against Australia on the kind of pitches we’ve seen in SA. If this was England, whole other story.

  9. Awesome. It’s not often that I agree so completely with an article. I think you made over 10 points and I agree with every single one of them. Guess 5 bowlers is a done deal (perhaps Dhoni feels if the Aussie bowlers couldn’t dislodge the Windies, surely India can manage with 6 batsmen + Bhajji), but I seriously hope he does a few of the other things you have suggested.

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