The quick and the dead

The Indian bowling at the start was a bit lacklustre. Praveen Kumar has had a bad day in office. He is a swing bowler with not much of pace and he will find it difficult in these conditions where the ball doesn’t swing much and one will require a bit of pace to be successful on flat wickets. Praveen doesn’t have that and he will have to find out a way to be useful in these conditions.

That clip, from Sourav Ganguly’s column in the Times of India this morning, encapsulates a thought I had while watching Praveen bowl in the first one-dayer between India and Australia. Two contrasting moments in the play underlined the thought: the first came in the 49th over of the Australian innings, when Mike Hussey walked down the track and with consummate ease, lofted a PK slower ball onto the roof of the stadium; the second came in the 37th over of the Indian chase when Suresh Raina took strike after a Dhoni single and was totally fooled by a Mitch Johnson slower ball into popping up a return catch.

A ‘slower ball’ is a deceptive weapon in the hands of a bowler who has pace. Johnson had set Raina up for the deception in the previous over when he bowled a quick bouncer as the first ball the batsman received, and followed it up later in the over with another short, quick ball. Praveen, by contrast, bowls in the low 130s — the sort of speed where the “slower ball”, especially over used by a batsman who finds his stock ball not working, is a misnomer. [In the 41st over, Ishant Sharma started with a good slower ball to Mike Hussey — a delivery that found Hussey back in his crease, scrambling to push it away; the difference in the batsman’s approach to the two bowlers stemmed clearly from the appreciation that Ishant possesses pace].

It might seem churlish to pick on Praveen after his heroics with the bat — but the fact is India lost the game with the ball and in the field, and it is in these two departments that the team will continue to struggle in the remaining six games. On a recent occasion, while watching cricket at Rahul Bhatia’s home, Amit Varma tellingly commented that Praveen was opening the bowling because he was too slow to come on as first change.

He has a point — and that in turn leads to another. There were many oohs and aahs in the commentary box at the start of the Australian innings when Praveen seamed the ball around and either missed the edge, or found it dropping short of slips. Meanwhile, Ishant Sharma — the one bowler we have who has the pace to take advantage of good bowling conditions early on — languished in the outfield.

Ishant got the ball when the mandatory power play was over, and the field was being spread — an increasingly frequent practice for MS Dhoni and one that, IMHO, is a major contributor to the bowler’s effectiveness being reduced. The move is akin to reducing a race horse to a carthorse — coming in after the PPs, Ishant is in no position to attack; this forces him to cut down his pace and rely on line and length in a containing mode, and the more the team forces this role on him, the more his confidence to bowl quick will erode and he will, over time, be reduced to a medium pace stock bowler.

[While on Ishant, it was interesting to see Viru Sehwag take over mentoring duties when the young quick was in operation. Repeatedly, Viru was seen walking up to the bowler with a few words of advice; the most notable intervention saw Sharma switch to round the wicket against Hussey, tightening the angle and ensuring the batsman had no real room to work with.]

Fine tuning the bowling options is going to be critical in a series where India’s fielding will effectively function as a 12th batsman for Australia. By the most conservative of yardsticks, the team surrendered a good 30 runs in the field; acerbating this is the fact that Australia, throughout the Indian chase [including in the batting power play] kept five swift fielders inside the ring to block the singles and thus turn the screws on the batsmen.

One other point occurred to me while watching the game. As early as the second over of the Indian innings, Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box was moved to remark that Sachin Tendulkar had “set out his stall for a big innings”. Maybe — SRT’s game has changed over time, and in the latter half of his career the batsman once known for flat out attack has has developed a tendency to pre-plan his innings. Unlike Sehwag, whose game plan revolves around the merits of the particular ball he is facing, SRT is increasingly prone to determining ahead of time what his approach to the entire innings will be.

Fair enough. India could use a batsman who can bat long, rotate the strike and let others bat around him — but the place for such a batsman is not the top of the order. 22 dot balls in an innings of 29 deliveries that ends in the 9th over is bad news on a big chase, and with the Australian batting lineup in the form it is in, big totals could be the norm this series.

Thus, if the brief for SRT — or more likely, the brief he has prescribed for himself — is to bat long, he needs to come in at number three, ceding the opening slot to Gautam Gambhir, who works well with Sehwag, is tuned to turning the strike over rapidly, and is temperamentally tuned to using the power play overs to optimum. One of the odd faults of SRT, among many good qualities, is his insistence on picking his slot in the batting order; IMHO, that will need to change if the team is to fire as a batting unit.

Related, Sidharth Monga has a piece in Cricinfo on how both sides made a mess of their batting power plays. I actually thought India called for the PPs at the perfect point in the game — immediately after the mandatory ball change. After 34 overs, Australia had been 169/3; India was 167/3, and five good batting overs at that point would have made the job considerably easier as the game headed into the slog phase. It is a different matter that the batsmen then muffed it up — but on balance, I thought India called the PPs better than Australia did.

It looks set to be a fairly interesting series; not for the first time, I find myself wishing its length was five games, not seven.

On an unrelated note, back at my desk after four days away; swamped with stuff, back here much later in my day.


26 thoughts on “The quick and the dead

  1. Pingback: Last men standing « Smoke Signals

  2. HI Prem,

    good to see u back in action….

    IMHO, the series will be either 7-0 or 6-1 in Aussie favour (the latter result possible only if Sehwag takes things in his control or if Aussie bowlers get and remain injured)… I am sticking my neck out to predict this result because of team composition and especially seeing Praveen Kumar opwening the bowling for India… that was the worst thing to happen to Indian bowling…We have had a Venkatesh Prasad before, this one is even slower!

    We need to kick the following buttes out of our natinoal team immediately 1) Praveen Kumar 2) Harbhajan Singh

    Till when will then be rewarded for their one or two performances in past??? Bhajji is the pits …

    Seeing Sachin struggle to make 14 runs was painful …

    I htink the team strategy thinking is lost somewhere… people just bat and bowl traditinoally without applyign their minds… I never saw an Indian fast (!) bowler ball a slower one or a shorter one just to make things interesting and difficult for batsmen…

    Dhoni has probably lost the plot!

    I want to re-iterate that these observations are not just based on this one match loss.

    We need to get Irfan back in with a complete focus on his bowling. We need to get Zak back fit fast…Without Zak, the bowling looks at best a threat to Bangladesh and Bermuda (when they start playing cricket)

    Team India: Time to shrugg off the lethargy and clear the cobwebs the and look up in the sun’s eyes to take on the world…

  3. please chant

    Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
    Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

    and be happy!!

  4. @Prem
    Well you have said a lot about Sachin here, thts fyn, bt wht would you say abt all othr batsmen shewag, raina? it was jst bcoz of bhajji n pravin we came close to win. Otherwise i thnk we could hv lost the match by atleast 50 runs….
    you jst pin pointed sachin’s inngns didnt you see the match or u jst saw his inngns….
    Well its nt tht he cannt play aggresv cricket, bt its team plan n i dnt thnk any1 in the team plays against the plan……….
    Reasons for losing match:(According 2 me)
    1] Bowlers didnt bowl well gave away too many runs especially strike bowlers
    (Bhajji, Pravin,Nehra)Ishant also bt he took 3 wickets …
    2] Sehwag was playing as if he wanted 2 finish the match in 20ovrs…
    3] Sachin was lookng 2 build partnership bt failed….
    4] Lost too many Wickets unnecessarly in Batting Power Play where we were in total control of the game….

    So its of no use on pin pointng Sachin’s game he’s a master n knws hw to play under which situation, bt smtims it doesnt works ,it was a team failure tht made us lose…
    Lets hope we dnt make thm again in the 2mrws match

  5. Prem,
    How dare you stir the hornet’s nest? How can you ever write anything against the God of cricket? I dunno if you remember me suggesting during SRT’s 100 in SriLanka that his thinking was not in line with the team’s need. This had something to do with wasting the batting PP. The issue I wanted to highlight then and what you have done now is the same. In a team game, even God should play according to the team plan.
    On a parting note, good that you noticed Gavaskar’s comment. I strongly believe that Indian cricket lost SRT, the team player and SRT lost his batting style under SMG’s influence.

  6. over the years he has been scoring runs consistently wid spectacular averag and with a much betta strik rate is asked to step down th order. Somebody tell him one match doesnt decide th fate of a batsman of his calibre and dont go far the way he played in th compaq series finals was a perfect exampl of wat he is best at. he is th best player of swing,bounce and turn that today India has,best adjudicator of match conditions and situations, then y should he step down…… I dont understand this prem panicker ..guys let that man play his game naa, this is rubish. he steps perfectly with shewag as opener bcoz he can jus giv away strik and relax on othr end while monitorin th inings this gives even betta platform for him to set in between.

    • Where in my piece did you see the words “step down”? Frankly, I get increasingly bored with this business of lionizing one individual ahead of the team. What I wrote was from a team perspective — if the only reason you watch cricket is to see a particular player bat, that is entirely your business, but it does not mean I too have to think that way.

  7. Agree with most of this except the comment about Sachin’s position in the batting order. Granted, yesterday was a poor innings (though in the context of the brief partnership with Sehwag, we were going ok then in terms of run-rate) but in recent times, he has delivered at the opening spot, especially when he succeeds in not getting out (which is frequent enough for him to average ~45).

    Over a 50+ ball innings, he usually manages to pick up his run rate to strike at about 85-90 runs/100 balls (believe his strike rate over the last 2 years in one days is ~90). Opening the innings allows him to settle in – something that usually enables us to post big scores, especially over the last couple of years. Of course, the match before this that we played, he struck a chanceless 130+ in a final.

    Gambhir definitely is a great partner for Sehwag at the top, but he’s an equally effective one-drop batsman. (Yesterday / the tri-series in Australia where he first established himself as a one-day batsman). So, in the context of the team, Sachin opening and Gambhir at one-drop does work, rather than the other way around – i.e. to maximize the team’s chances of scoring big.

    • Ajay, the problem arises because we tend to view an individual innings and go, oh, he was slow at the start, but then he picked up.

      Yeah, *he*, whoever the he is, picks up on some occasions, not on others. But the game is not about an individual “delivering” — it is about a team optimizing every situation. For a batsman — any batsman — to go slow during the PPs because he is focusing on a big innings is bad news for the team, irrespective of what he does later in the innings. The first ten overs are intended to take the momentum away from the bowling side, and maximize scoring opportunities provided by the pulled-in field.

      Hence my argument that if a batsman — never mind names, it is true whether it is SRT or RD or tomorrow, Viru — is at that point where his best utility is in playing the waiting game, the place for it is outside the mandatory powerplays.

      • Prem, agree with you that it is a team game but this is 50 over game not 20 over…how many times we have seen team losing because they lose too many wickets in the PP overs .
        To score around 300 it is necessary for one team member to score 100 or have at least 2-3 good partnerships in excess of 50. Agree that we need to maximise the PP overs but that is just one part of the team strategy, the other is to see that one of top order plays a long inning.
        I think the openers have the best opportunity to do that and one of them goes for big hits while the other maintaining his strike rate goes for long inning.

      • Prem,

        I agree with you that you have to optimize resources and given that powerplays are a key resource in an ODI innings, you want the two best batsmen who can optimize that playing during those overs. What I believe though is that in the current team, with Sehwag opening the batting, the other person can be in the SRT mould (SRT of now) who can take a bit of time and build an innings. Given his consistency, when he comes off, he will invariabl score a biggish score at a good strike rate that allows the team to build a ~300 total (especially with Yuvraj firing later). I’d argue that there is little difference between Gambhir and SRT in that aspect when they are partnering Sehwag – Gambhir has a better understanding with Sehwag, yes, but in terms of boundary hitting, I doubt he will be much better off than Sachin. So, unless there’s another obvious choice as an opener who brings a different skill set as an opener (for example, a Gayle or Gibbs-like batsman) I think we are better off with SRT opening in the current team. It should have nothing to do with his preference.

        I completely agree that someone slowing down in the batting powerplay to reach a milestone is wrong and maybe it’s my Tendulkar worshipping that gets in the way, but I’d like to believe he doesn’t do that. I am prepared to concede that on occasion, he probably does/did.

        In a t20 situation, you need 2 explosuve batsmen from the get go, but I agree with Robin that in a fifty 50 game, especially with Sehwag as a co-opener, the right combination is an innings-builder. Not a completely stodgy batsman of course, but someone in the mould of SRT/Gambhir.

        When Dravid comes up the order (as he recently did) then we are definitely screwing up chances.

        • Why is it that we have different yardsticks for different people? When SRT opens with Sehwag, everyone agrees that Viru will be the attacker & SRT the protector. Why doesn’t the same apply when Dravid open with SRT? In that case, SRT is the attacker & Dravid the protector. Given that these are the roles, what did Dravid do differently than what SRT is doing now? His strike rate was definitely better than what SRT had the other day. I admire the fact that you admitted that you worship SRT. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to denigrate other greats.

          Yes, RD has this image cultivated by media of being stodgy (The Wall). But, anyone who has watched him play the role of finisher in ODIs & has watched the IPLs know how easily he can switch gears.

        • Boss, I am not questioning Sachin’s place in the side or even suggesting he is playing for milestones. Far from it — he is playing the way his game has evolved, thanks to experience, age, injuries and a heap of other factors. All I did suggest was that Sachin’s game today is best suited to playing the anchoring, guiding role — where, unlike say a Dravid, he is capable of quick strike rotation and opening up the field — and since we have a good partner for Sehwag in Gambhir, maybe we should team those two up during the PPs and have Sachin come in one drop.

      • At the risk of belaboring the point, just ran a crude analysis on statsguru to see SRT’s specific performance since Jan 1.

        He has played 46 innings, and in the innings where he’s been dismissed within 15 overs (I used the proxy of him having faced 45 balls and have taken 15 overs given most bowling powerplays are taken immediately after 10 overs), he does strike at a low 68.43 runs. This is in exactly half the innings (23). In the other half, he strikes at 88.90. I am pretty sure this would be different from his record in the latter half of the nineties when he would have been striking at close to 85-90 in the first fifteen for sure.

        The question is would Gambhir/some other batsman do better? I’d argue unlikely given consistency of SRT (50% of innings over 15 overs is pretty decent). if that number was say about 25-30% where he exceeded 15 overs, I’d probably say he should be demoted. So from a maximing chances of victory through a big score idea which is prioritized over maximing powerpla runs, I think continuing opening with him makes sense. (Trying not to be a rabid fan, but I must admit a strong SRT bias; so possibly there are flaws in my thinking)

        • Oh okay — so in exactly half of the innings that turned up in your filter, SRT is going at a low 68. Which is okay why — especially when you consider his strike rate in the other half of the innings?

          If you want to really do a stat based analysis, look at the team performance in the PPs during this phase; then check to see if SRT playing the slower role has impacted on partners who feel the pressure to maximise the PPs, etc. Then ask yourself this — wouldn’t that style of batting, plus the man’s experience, be ideally suited to guide a team that so obviously needs guiding, *after* the field restrictions are off?

          Also, where you ask whether a Gambhir would do better. You have the tools, no? Check the record — including when GG and VS opened in tandem across a period of time.

          • Hm, ran the crude analysis on Gambhir, and you are right. Corresponding nos. over the last 2 years are: 29 innings; 18 innings dimissed within 15 overs; strike rate in those innings – 81.27; strike rate in other innings where he exceeds 15 overs 100.24. So though he misses out a bit on the consistency bit (which can be addressed by SRT/MSD down the order as stabilizers), he does score considerably faster in powerplay overs.

            I’d also imagine some of this is to do with running singles as well (which is good from the pov of not frustrating Sehwag) as much as clearing the infield. Also, I guess a set SRT during the batting powerplay would be quite useful. (Some of these innings maybe were where SRT and GG opened, but that doesn’t matter.) So I concede the point – my gut instinct was wrong about SRT = GG in initial powerplay overs. So there is a very good case for GG opening with VS and SRT coming one down, YS 2 down and MSD 3 down.

            • A radically different approach to another I spotted, and deleted, from this thread — “f*** your a**”, I think it said. *L*

            • Incidentally, in game two, GG is after 8 overs striking at just 64 rpo. the difference is, there is never a period of four, five deliveries where he is on strike and VS is forced to stand at the other end — GG rolls it over so VS can keep his personal momentum going. it was SRT’s inability to do this last innings, coupled with savvy field setting by Ricky, that made me write that comment in the first place.

              • Yeah, which is what I guess explains the different strike rates over a longer period of time. Sachin, even in his 90s avataar was primarily a boundary hitter during the restrictions; and a fantastic manipulator of strikes after that. That was fine when Ganguly was at the other side. Gambhir rotates the strike which is tremendously useful when Sehwag is on song.

                Btw, I always though that Ganguly fans are by default, illogical (all the ones I know, are)! On a more serious note, what matters is how each guy helps the team win; else it’s useless to watch a team sport. Of course, I am partial to SRT and sensitive about any comments directed against him (after all, there are several random comments directed against him as well) but as far as supporting him is concerned, he usually makes it easy to do that with his performance. Despite his flaws!

  8. As you have commented in the past that Dhoni’s interviews are refreshing – to which i def. agree – but i wonder if he’s giving out too much info however obvious it may be… yesterday in the post-match brief he said the team gave out 20+ more runs and that the ideal situation team wanted was to chase 120 in 17+ overs with a batting powerplay and 7 wickets in hand !! now, have we ever seen previous captains respond as analytically and clearly like this? While the student of the game in me loves reading these instead of cliches, the fan in me wonders if it plays into opposition hands on how Dhoni the captain thinks ?

    • I doubt that it tips Dhoni’s hand, mate. He was referring to this particular game — saying that on knowing what the target is, the team decided to position itself in a certain fashion towards the business end of the chase. Doesn’t mean he always thinks that way.

  9. Agree on almost everything except India selecting their powerplay at the right time. In general India have usually picked the timing of the PP better than most teams and I think the 34th over makes sense in most cases, but in this case they’d just come off a drinks break and history suggests its usually the bowlers who end up coming off better in the first over after one. Losing Gambhir first ball to a full toss he would have usually put away was where the game really fell away, the ball may have swung a bit but had he not been looking to do something different he might have kept it out. The subsequent pressure to score off the PP overs saw us lose Raina and Dhoni. I believe an over to get back into the groove would have helped, and even if Gambhir was dismissed immediately they could have delayed it until the 37th maybe.

  10. Srikanth – Bhajji is another who is sure of *his* place in the Indian team – in any format. Sadly, Dhoni too does not seem to have given a kick on his backside. So
    10-0-50-1 is all that we will get from our frontline spinner for another decade in ODIs.

  11. During the innings break, I heard Chetan Sharma saying ‘India need to pick bowler on his merit not by his name’ he was referring to Harbhajan Singh.. Ideally this applies to all 11players… Now that Bhajji has batted well to take India to the brink of victory… I doubt if they’ll opt for Mishra for second ODI…

    Also the case of Ishant, the best fast bowler out of the current lot… He is best suited to open the bowling along with Nehra and Munaf can easily fit in as a first change. I hope PK makes way for Munaf…

    @Prem.. Do u think Sachin will bat one down? IMHO never he will… He is the demigod of Indian Cricket and as Sourav Ganguly once said, he is the only one who is sure of his spot in the team!!

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