The art of running backwards

‘A million fans were cheated of a chance to witness history,’ says the reporter on the TV screen.

The decision was dodgy, to put it mildly — but ‘a million fans’ have been ‘looking forward’ to seeing this particular slice of history being created ever since this series started; we can wait for another game. Or two.

What appears to have been reduced to a side-story is the fact that India lost a game it should have won with considerable ease. The wicket was loaded for the batsmen [while on that, India’s bowlers and, for once, the fielding, did outstandingly well I thought to limit Australia to an under-par 249], unlike the Kotla wicket of two days ago. And yet, strangely, India opted to approach this chase as if it was still batting at the Kotla — with an exaggerated caution that at first seemed inexplicable, then progressively ridiculous.

‘Strategy’ is a two-edged sword — it can clear the mind and help you focus on what you need to do. That said, it strikes me that devising a one-size-fits-all ‘strategy’ is equally daft. India’s batting ‘game plan’ appears to be something on these lines: Sehwag is a force of nature, no point telling him anything, so let him do his stuff and get out. Then we will, come hell or high full toss, start “pushing the ball around” till we get to the end game, and at that point we will “explode”.

It is a ‘strategy’ we appear to implement without reference to the ground conditions, the bowling, the wicket or even the size of the target, almost as if there is a court injunction that stops us from playing any other way. And it works just fine so long as our ‘exploders’ manage to hang around till the end.

Yesterday they didn’t, and we paid. The how of it is contained in these two sets of stats: the over comparison [incorporating the run rates and required rate] and the player-versus-player stats, which when parsed [check out the singles versus dot balls; check out what happens when you break a batsman’s score down into its component parts: proportion of dot balls to scoring shots] shows you exactly where, and how, we lost the game.

[Incidentally, in all this talk of how well Doug Bollinger bowled — and yes, he was exemplary in his adherence to line and length — what does it tell you that the best strike rates against him are those of Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar?].

One other random thought occurs: Virat Kohli needed to come in to cover for Gautam Gambhir’s injury [though we do have the more experienced Dinesh Karthick as cover, and likely could have used him to better effect] — but does that automatically mean the youngster, still to play the one innings that will give him confidence at this level, should be inserted in Gambhir’s batting position?

Kohli is as yet too unsure of his own skills, and how they stack up at the international level, to take on the crucial number three position, yet it is in this slot that he gets to bat every single time. The upshot — the innings gets becalmed after the inevitable Sehwag cameo, with the inexperienced Kohli playing for survival and the experienced Sachin playing, presumably, for those impatient million fans the TV reporter is still nattering about. [But I forget: suggesting that maybe Sachin is currently not optimizing his game for the team is fraught with risk — what, have I forgotten the knock he played in Sri Lanka?!].

In passing, a clip from the Cricinfo bulletin:

India’s chase had a terrific start with Virender Sehwag caning Mitchell Johnson for 30 runs off 14 balls. Australia began to fight back after Sehwag fell but India were on course while Sachin Tendulkar was batting. However, his dismissal for 40 – the highest score of the innings – was the beginning of the end as wickets fell frequently thereafter.

Really? Or would it be more accurate to say, Sehwag treated the bowling as it deserved to be, and India allowed the Australian bowlers to catch their breath, recover their wits and get back into the game once Sehwag fell?


29 thoughts on “The art of running backwards

  1. I don’t understand why Dinesh Karthik shouldn’t have had a go here. He has been in really good form and did exceptionally well for Delhi in T20s. He seems to be good technically and in really good form as well.

  2. Personally, I don’t like the “Sehwag is Sehwag. He is simple and plays the same way regardless of what is going on” line of thought. I mean, it is ok to a point. I thought the way he got out last two games were way too similar. The repetition was criminal.
    I think the problems starts from there and if we are going to blame Tendulkar for playing the way he did (some people do) and getting out after those starts, its only fair that Sehwag took some of it too.

    • Well said! Then we will have a lot of these individual styles like a Sachin way,Dravid way and co on.But the reality does exist that some are more special than others.Agreed Sehwag made it look easy but then he always does.

  3. I agree with Prem.

    1) Kohli should bat 4 down, if anyone needs to bat at # 3, it could be Raina in GG’s absence.

    2) Millions of fans were watching NOT for Sachin’s 17K, but for India to win the match!

    3) Also, one hopes that Bhajji and Praveen aren ot persisted in the team for their batting powress(!)

  4. “Then we will, come hell or high full toss, start “pushing the ball around” till we get to the end game, and at that point we will “explode”.”, that is not the ‘strategy’ ‘we’ have embibed. Check out the start that Yuvi and Dhoni had at Kotla. A few boundaries, some initial momentum, and then settle down things, flow with that momentum for a while.

    We did not do that here. Yuv hit no boundaries, nor even attempted! Same Dhoni and Raina. They decided to ‘push’ around right from the beginning.

    So yes, we fell into the trap of our own strategy. But only by not following it to perfection.

    Anyway, having said all this, Dhoni is still the best, by a far margin, in terms of reading and planning as well as executing to the game situation.

    After all, we are second best by design and serious implementation. Not by vagaries of FTP (as is the case with SL being no 2 in test rankings!)

    Oh and Sehwag is still not nearing his best. His best ODI game is when he plays with test mindset. Attack…get a blazing start…rotate strike…consolidate (in Sehwag terms).

    As for Saching…yes I would not disturb him. Despite his obvious flaws…his approach has a purpose. And IN THIS PARTICULAR UNIT…that approach is fitting well.

    Together they win us more matches than we ever did. And almost as many matches as our potential deserves.

    That, after all, should be the bottomline?

  5. If all 6 batsmen bat like Sehwag India will end up losing more matches than it would win, especially against Australia. His career ODI average is only 34 and his average against Australia is a pitiful 22.7 at a strike rate of 88.04. If you think the analysis cannot become more cruel, you are wrong; his average against Australia in Australia is an embarassing 18. Sehwag’s average contribution with the bat when India has won against Australia is 24.

    It is all fine to “break a batsman’s score down into its component parts” but it amounts to cow’s shit if the batsmen can’t score more than 20-odd against the best team in the world.

  6. We know Tendulkar gets bogged down when he close to a landmark, a record. So let us leave him for now. He will be back to his usual form once he gets past this record that Gavaskar has been harping about for sometime now.

    Pl remember that not so long ago Tendulkar played some of his best ODI games in a few years now. He helped India win in Aus, SL. One bad series should not be reason to write him off.

    • None of us will forget what SRT has done. The point is we are in a job for what we today, not what great things we have done in the past.

      Another way to think is – What contribution am I doing to my job/team’s cause. if i cant contribute, i dont deserve to be in there;).

      One doesnt want a situation where all of us will silently pray that SRT quits. He is too great a player. Should walk off when he is still on the highest pedestal. Media has been fair to him. But will media spare him for long. Some one will bite…

      • I agree. But you do cut some slack for the best dude you have in the team, even if at times he is not a team player. If you are looking at the long term – i.e. 2011 WC – SRT is a must in this team if it is to get anywhere close to the finals.

        Secondly, he still top scored, and no other batsman seemed intent to stay there and fight. You cannot blame just him for the loss. At least he tried. The rest just gave it away.

        Poor team selection is another reason for the loss. Kohli, Jadeja, Bhajji.

        • at the end of it all…we mortals debating on God ;).

          Look at MSD’s plight – he can only smile at whatever SRT does.

          its probably that SRT is also thinkin toooo much about his game. he has reached the pinnacle. should relax and play and not stiffen and play.

          Which player in the indian team can afford to play thinking that he cannot be dropped from the team. For the rest of them – its perform or perish.

          jadeja – is wannabe allrounder, with kind of contribution with the bat from him – one may as well try out mishra or tyagi or patel.

        • So its OK not to be a team player, as long as you are the best dude in the team? I guess if you decide not to be a team player & go for your personal scores/statistics you can end up to be the ‘best dude’ & of course by that time you are already ‘not a team player’. Strange…

        • “Secondly, he still top scored, and no other batsman seemed intent to stay there and fight. You cannot blame just him for the loss. At least he tried. The rest just gave it away.”

          Had Dravid done the same ..people would have blamed that he took the momentum out of the game and this put pressure on the younger, free stroking players ….

  7. Another thought is that…Aussies treasue Bhajji’s wicket the most;) bhajji the batsman has got on to the Aussie nerves. I think players like Kohli can take a leaf out of them and play fearless cricket. Whats the use of talent if you are playing with a mindset- whether i will be there in the team. Well if u play like this – u wont- so best is to play the ball – on merit as they say- and in India – people who wack the ball are revered…Even Praveen Kumar seems to be able to wack it around a fair bit

  8. Even though Sachin is revoured to as God in India, I think as a very ardent fan, I think either he should take a break or take a break from the game for Good. His strike rate has been pathetic the last few games. He scratching around is not a good site and especially as the momentum is never there in the beginning of the match. Even though Sunny says the best player should play the most number of overs, I dont think that today he is the best player on form.

    Records apart – why not Sachin as a finisher – is that demeaning for a player of his stature? its a Team game – and it should be that way itself

    • To reiterate what I said once before, I firmly believe that the scratchy Sachin of today is a result of being under the influence of Gavaskar. The statement that I will play till I make 15000 test runs because Sunny bhai has asked me to do so shows the extent of that influence. Who knows if Sachin is trying to emulate his master’s feat of 36 not out from 60 overs?

  9. Agree on most things. But aren’t you being a little unfair to Kohli ? He had a great outing in Australia in the Emerging players tournament, he played well against WI in that Champions Trophy match & DK doesn’t seem to be in form. Your thoughts ?

    • I’m not saying Kohli shouldn’t play. What I said was that he is too raw to be pitchforked into the number three position — especially when the pressure ramps up because the momentum falls away as soon as Sehwag is gone.

      Blooding young talent is about more than including them in the playing XI. Ironically Suresh Raina, who for a year or more we groomed as our number three, is now batting at five, six or lower, while the young, untried Kohli is expected to go up the order and deliver. What will happen is that he will fail — not because of his shortcomings so much as because of the expectations — and get dropped; thus, rather than groom a talent to fulfill his best potential, we will give him responsibilities he is not yet ready for, judge him unfairly, and dump him.

      • Sometimes I wish we just drop in a pinch-hitter just for fun, once in a while, like in the nineties. Yesterday would have been a good day to promote Bhajji. Yeah, I know, with the top 5 that we have, we shouldn’t resort to lower order batsmen but it will be good time-pass now? And when scoring a 250-type score, a quick 25 can make the chase so much easier!

        Clearly, yesterday, Raina should have been in at no. 3.

        And sad as it is, Sachin played an awful innings. When you do what he did yesertday – either you anchor the innings till we win or you are responsible for messing things up. Yesterday, it was the latter.

      • With the kind of injuries that seem to happen very often-and we do not believe in our young players grabbing their opportunities,why can’t we have our man for all seasons in the playing 15?he can fill in when they need experience to cover the short ball,overseas conditions,injuries to experienced! The selectors and Captain Midas need to look towards the wall.if not in the 11 then at least in the 15 and he will get more games that way than if he is out and we come up with excuses for Raina or Kolhis of the world.

          • LOL! We are losing with or without his ass,only thing is it becomes convenient to blame his ass when India loses.(Success has many fathers-failure only the Wall or so it appears)

  10. But, then he is the God of cricket. We, mere mortals will not be able to comprehend what God has in his plans!! BTW, What is your bet on God being ‘rested’ (you cannot drop God) for the remainder of the series?

    • Where are the alternatives? If GG is injured, Kohli plays! If SRT is to be ‘rested’, who will come in? Kaarthick? Abhishek Nayar? Rohit Sharma? Manish Pande?

      • The result can’t be worse than what has been happening recently, right? If India has to win, Yuvraj, Dhoni or Gambhir has to click. Isn’t that the pattern we have been seeing for some time now? So, why not experiment with the remaining slots?

  11. One other thing which needs addressing immediately is the #7 spot. Jadeja seems ill-suited for that (Or even for a higher spot), especially given that WC2011 is to be held on sub-continent pitches.
    Dhoni does not seem to have confidence in him (rightly so) for big hitting – In the Nagpur match, Bhajji and Praveen Kumar came ahead of him. On the other hand, RJ does not seem to be able to guide a chase either (Examples – yesterday’s match, WCT20 match).
    That begs the question, is he in side primarily for his bowling? If yes, then Mishra and Ojha should probably roll-over and die.

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