Last men standing

Australia have no business being 2-2 in this series. Seven first-choice men out, followed by two of their replacements (Moises Henriques being the latest).

That pretty much sums up today’s game  — and the problem for India not just in this game, but through this series.

The team has taken pride in the knowledge that it has been the only international outfit to consistently push Australia to the limit and beyond, in Tests and ODIs, during Australia’s period of unquestioned hegemony. On the back of that record, and given Australia’s problems fielding eleven fit men, this series should have been lopsided — a 4-0 result heading into the fifth game. And yet, India finds itself even stevens, mostly through its own faults: in the first game, the team was a boundary hit from winning; in the fourth, it bowled and fielded above par to restrict Australia to 249, went into the chase with a 50 balls-to-runs differential in its favor, saw Sehwag rewrite that equation to a 61 differential, and still contrived to lose. All this, despite Australia fielding what started as a second string team and, by now, has become an exercise in stretching the notion of ‘bench strength’ to the limit.

If India wins, it will have only done what is expected of a team aspiring for top of the table status against an opposition cruelly hit by injury; if India loses — and that too at home — against this opposition, its pretensions to supremacy will be badly exposed.

It would be an amazing effort to win, says Ponting in classic understatement; elsewhere in his comments is the clue to Australia’s hopes.

“And we haven’t played our best. With our batting we probably left 30-40 runs out there the other night so, hopefully, that all clicks tomorrow, and if it does we know we’ll be well in the contest again.”

Given the ragtag nature of its bowling attack, it is with the bat that Australia has to win against an Indian attack that started the series shaky, but has grown progressively more assured with each game. If batting is Australia’s strength, it is proving equally to be India’s weakness: both its losses were attributable to poor negotiation of the chase.

With Gautam Gambhir likely to come back into the playing eleven, India solves one of its problems. Virat Kohli is talented and has done well at the sub-international level, but looks less than the finished article at the highest grade [and this against an attack that is under strength]. Part of the blame rests on the team management’s decision to bat him at number three — to take a raw youngster and ask him to occupy the slot, and fulfill the role, a Ricky Ponting performs for Australia is clearly preposterous; even more so when you have a Suresh Raina, who has been groomed for the number three role, batting at six.

My argument for why Sachin needs to bat at three has been made earlier and nothing I’ve seen since causes me to change that opinion. IMHO, India needs to go in with Sehwag, Gambhir, Sachin and Yuvraj in that order, with Dhoni and Raina picking positions five or six depending on the state of the game.

The management’s signals to Ravindra Jadeja are equally mixed. From a batsman who can bowl a few tight overs, he appears to have been reduced to a bowler from whom ten overs, and a couple of wickets, are expected; where batting goes, he seems to be viewed as somewhere between Harbhajan Singh above him, and Praveen Kumar below. That’s a travesty — if in fact Jadeja has been picked for his bowling and the management believes his batting is incidental, the team might as well go the whole hog and pick a real bowler in Amit Mishra.

The other change India will have to make, IMHO, is in its concept of the chase: it will need to move beyond its mindset of gentle progress in the middle overs and learn to run from the front — more so as a depleted bowling attack is especially vulnerable during that middle phase.

Personally, the only point of interest in today’s game is to see how the team processes whatever it has learnt from the first four games, and how it fine-tunes its game. The result is largely inconsequential: if India wins, it is no more than the situation warrants; if it loses against a second string Australian team, then all this talk of team composition and strategy is moot anyway.

PS: Aakash Chopra’s piece is on bowling well in T20s — but most of it is equally applicable to the 50-over format.

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31 thoughts on “Last men standing

  1. Hi! I was just surfing for fun and then I found your web site. Very helpful article. Thanks a lot for sharing! It is nice to experience some people still put effort into handling their websites. Juliet

  2. My take on this Indian team :we tend to make our players instant heroes and some Gods.this Indian team is good enough to constantly chase a 260 score on Indian soil,while batting first they will occasionally put up 300+ scores,this team will more than often find it difficult to chase 300+ scores-they will come close and lose(they will win a few).On overseas tracks they will not chase 250 often,if they cross 250 while batting first they will defend it.
    Our guns appear good fielders but they put on a show,yesterday the Aussie fielding was good even they allowed some through the legs,but overall the Indian bastmen had to work harder.
    Unimaginative captaincy-we made him a God very early and the most successful captain too soon! he might still become as he has age and good players-we are very easy with sobriquets.
    Why can’t we give credit to the Aussie batsmen and fielders for winning it for them?
    Last two games have been enjoyable though we ended losing

  3. btw, I would add that Sehwag is a hugely overrated ODI batsman. When he comes off, it’s spectacular. But, he doesn’t come off, more often than not. His record is testament to that.

  4. Is it just me? Or does anyone else think that Sachin’s batting has actually improved over the past couple of years?

    He seems to have got this to almost a science now. He even managed to look unhurried chassing 350 and almost got there all by himself. What has changed? The bat, the coach, a captain who lets him be?

    • 🙂 It’s not just you!I feel the same too.He has become solid.Leave Sachin alone!He needs freedom to be his own!Thats the reason why I find suggestions after couple of failures to make him bat down the order outright silly.

      • Reg him batting down the order – it is quite clear for sometime now that its not the best for the team either. It’s just the usual impatience some people have with Sachin(usually the ones who are vocal about claiming that anyone defending Sachin is a worshipper and then go ahead and expect Sachin to play God).

        I personally think that Dhoni is a great captain for Sachin(his philosophy of how the game should be played in general and the overall attitude on the field is a perfect environment for someone like Sachin).

      • Since June 2007 (England series), he has been amazingly consistent in ODIs.

        51 matches
        2321 runs
        4 centuries and 15 fifties (7 90+ knocks off which 3 were 99)
        Average 48.35

        Off these 51 matches, India won 27. Tendulkar’s contribution in these 27 matches include:
        3 Centuries, 9 fifties (including 5 90+ knocks)
        Average 55.84
        Runs 1396

        That is something!

          • Yuvraj has 2647 from 75 matches at 42.69 in the same period. It’s 1940 from 46 matches at 55.42 in matches won.
            Dhoni has 2642 from 75 matches at 53.91. And it’s 1716 from 43 games at 78 for winning games.

            Sachin has done better than Yuvraj over this period.
            Dhoni overall has done better during this period.

            However, my feeling is that Sachin has been more impressive in the bigger tournaments/matches( i might be wrong though) – the england series, CB series, the finals in SL where we had not won for over 10 yrs etc.

  5. I have been a long time follower of Indian cricket. You can count me as one of those really mad follower since childhood. Even went through the grind of watching test matches in WI back in 90s skipping my engineering classes. I would like to consider myself as a reasonable, practical follower of cricket. I would neither get too critical nor shover unreasonable praise of the cricketers.

    As an Indian cricket fan, we are accustomed to the underacheivements, the disappointments and the heart wrenching defeats and the saddest fact is it’s not solely because of talent.

    I was there yesterday at the Uppal Stadium. The most disappointing fact was why are we so crazy about 17000 runs. Ok if its 10000 runs, 20,000 runs may be its a landmark. So from now on for every 1000 runs which Sachin scores, should we go through this tamasha. See all the media and you can see that’s their main selling point and even the fans in the stadium are more concerned about 17000, Sachin’s century and even envisioning about his double. The Win if a byproduct, would make the meal sumptious. May be it’s because of our failures in the past. Sometimes I feel we deserve the team we get. Just like the leaders we have.

    Before you guys jump on me, I have been a great fan of Tendulkar(like every one else). The only thing he has to do to tell himself..”No hitting in the Air..Come what may in the last 3 overs when the equation was run a ball” and we would have been through most certainly. The power play was the bane.Otherwise, 5 would have been outside and Sachin would have just knocked them in singles. I am sure Tendulkar would have been the most saddest person on earth yesterday. He was so pissed off with his team mates effort in the field, that he just blasted the ball to the ground after he took the diving catch on the last ball. He wears his passion on his sleeve and for the last 20 years unflinching. If only he could rein that mind for just 3 more overs. Alas, what can we do if this effort would only remain as a footnote for critics who claim he would do only for records and can never win a tight match.

    Our fielding has been pathetic to say the least. The amount of negative energy which the team mates feel (even in the stadium)when people like Asish Nehra, Munaf patel field is absolutely pathetic. In my view, no matter how good you bowl, how good you bat there is no place for a BAD FIELDER in an ODI team. Give me an average bowler with the right attitude towards fielding skills, we would win more matches than ever. I heard from the press bytes that Munaf is really bowling fast knocking heads and wickets. I was waiting for his bowling and alas it’s the same story. Where is the killer spirit? Again the same negative energy when bowling too, Just keeping the ball without completing the action. Why should we invest in people who don’t have the mind in right place.

    Why should sehwag be always be sehwag. When you consider his immense talent, his batting average in ODIs is a joke. Please don’t give the impact reasons. If only he applies his Tests mental attitude to ODIs!!

    For all the compliments Dhoni received as a captain, I am sorry to say after 2 years or more at the helm, He has been institutionalized just like our fast bowlers who bowl slow after a season or two. He is not willing to look at the faults and giving lame execuses. If he can’t see the limitations of poor Jadeja as a batsman. He can’t make a decision w.r.t Harbhajan who clearly needs a rest and rethink about his bowling. The last year was so refreshing for an Indian fan with the fearless cricket (eg NZ ODIs) played under Dhoni in ODIs. Now I don’t see the fearlessness in him or the team.

    India may well win the next 2 matches, with the weakest Aussie bowling I have seen. It really doesn’t matter with the flaws on our team and mindset.

    So there is no light at the end of the tunnel for an Indian cricket fan even in this generation. Why should I go through this pain at 31 years wasting hundreds of hours of time fighting my wife’s and friends banter about my madcap following of cricket and emotions? How much can I love the team? The hopes are dying. Should I quit watching now? Can I do it? I would love to do that. It gives me so much more time and happiness without these disappointments. Alas! if only was it that simple.

    • Why do tie winning and losing a match to your interest/passion for the game? You can enjoy the game even when India loses – if the cricket played is good. Like it was yesterday. If winning is all that matters, then you are no different from the folks in the media who whip up a frenzy every time the team wins a game only to lambaste the next time it fails.

      It was an evenly contested match yesterday and did it matter who won? How will it make a difference to you as a fan of cricket had PK not been run out, had he scored yet another boundary hit to win the game? It would have made a statistical difference with India leading 3-2, with India managing yet another ODI win in an already meaningless 7 game series.

      But if you look at yesterday’s match in isolation, just the intensity of the teams, the brilliant batting by the Aussies and Tendulkar’s response, the fight that the Aussies gave to the end – all provided enough entertainment to cherish for a life time.

      • Kalki, You got me wrong! Please don’t tell me you don’t like winning. I told you I am an Indian cricket fan! So don’t categorize me under people who only watch for the game of cricket neutrally(I am yet to find one)! I am no different, but I want to consider myself as a reasonable fan. The attitude aspect doesn’t apply to this match in isolation. It was more for tendulkar’s sake that he should have somehow reined in that mind for a few more balls. He would have been the most happiest!

        Yes it matters to me if India has won! It doesn’t matter if Tendulkar has made a duck and still if India would have Won! Regarding the intensity, I found zero intensity in bowling and fielding! So it’s not a good match in that sense.

        Ofcourse I would reflect in more grand words, that I was there at that ground that day when Tendulkar made that maginificient 175 and it was a terrific match. But the bottom line is we lost from an easily winnable situation from 50balls (when Raina fell) and at 18 balls.

        Why should we always be happy that we came close? I have never posted before, so it’s perfectly alright for you to judge me that way. I think you are at the stadium too. Some people take it well. Some people can’t.

        Winning is always joyous! Still there are some fundamental things which has to be changed in the Indian team and we as fans, that TEAM, ATTITUDE and ofcourse WINNING should matter.

        • I used to be obsessed about winning. The late 80s and 90s team would leave me frustrated after mainly spineless shows – with the bat or ball or both.

          There were times when I have felt that it is winning that matters.

          But I have gone past that nowadays. And that is because I do not get to watch cricket regularly these days. I watch it once in a while. And I got to see a part of Sachin’s innings yesterday….I had gone out with my family, saw a huge crowd in front of an electronics store, realized Sachin was doing something special and returned home to catch the action.

          Am I ready to trade in this innings for an India win? No. I wanted Sachin to win the game for India – because the innings deserved a win. But even when he was batting I realized that such supreme levels of batting can be brought down with one false stroke. I was expecting that with every ball – especially after Raina left. Too much pressure, too much responsibility, too many expectations – all unrealistic – from one man, who has batted almost 50 overs scored the bulk of the runs, single handedly, running like a hare even for his partner’s runs, and with such single minded focus to win. And it did take that one false stroke to get him out.

          This innings provided me more joy than an Indian win. The win would only have been an icing on the cake. To me it was the joy of someone taking on the impossible, of trying to win a team game single-handedly, of being determined to test the odds.

          I would not have come back home to witness a clinical Indian win where the bowlers stuck to their tasks to restrict Australia to 280 and the batsman all combined to score the runs with a couple of overs to spare.

          What I enjoyed yesterday was one man’s demolition job, his display of skills that are far superior to many greats who have played this game, from someone who has played at the international level for 20 years and can still play with this kind of passion, determination.

          • The win was necessary more for Tendulkar than you and me and the entire nation. Like I said, he would have been the saddest person on earth yesterday! The win should have been his selfish motto. For that the ball wasn’t needed to go in the air at that point of match! I know how you feel as a purist. Even Tendulkar would have traded a win for India than his Knock!

            See I am harping why Tendulkar hit that ball in air. I am sure lot of people may share the same opinion. When we go out to bat in our gully cricket tennis which we play when we are small, most of the times..there will be lots of overs left. Still we hit that tennis ball in the air and get caught at Long on or Long off..Ofcourse it stays a longer time there. Anyways we are just chota tennis ball cricketers only. More people here who played professionally can explain. It’s so simple to COMMENT, I know. But he could have simply refused an aerial SHOT. I know it sounds very very CHILDISH IMMATURE to COMMENT when he played such an astounding INNINGS and yeah I was there!!(there you go). It was an awesome experience live in the stadium! Even I would reflect this experience more pleasantly by just today evening 🙂

            But my harping was not because INDIA LOST(ofcourse it exemplifies it) but the signs I saw in the stadium in the team (atleast on the field) are really of the teams of 80s and 90s. I am very glad to be wrong and hope this is just an aberration!(poof there goes my thoughts about not watching the game any more).

            • He did not intend to play that ball in air. It was one of those padel shots that he plays all the time and they go along the ground b/w keeper and fine leg. It is more of a premeditated shot and he was already in position to play it then realized that it was a slower ball so as opposed to just touching it, he tried to HIT it which made the ball ballon in air.

  6. Someone said Sachin should be batting at no.3 .

    Sachin’s reply : Today’s innings.

    Someone said ( After the first 2 games) : Sachin needs to score 30 to 40 runs consistently.

    Sachin’s reply :30,40 and 175.

    I dont need to present these dumb statistics but those who seem to judge a great great man by giving silly arguments.If Sachin bats with incredible strike rate in a run chase ( 141 ball 175) ,people dont notice that Sachin with his experience paces the innings beautifully,plays risk-free cricketing and inventive shots ,takes calculated risks and brilliantly runs between the wicket.He does not need to come down the pitch anymore and heave or play Sehwag-like innings.FU to ALL who criticize Sachin! He is God!

    • One of the best, if not the best ODI innings in recent memory. Agreed that Sachin alone could have done it – meaning tilting at the windmills. (Graeme Smith comes close for sheer bloody mindedness)

      If he is getting 30s and 40s and taking away the initial momentum in manageable chases – he should not be opening. There was a case for VS and GG together at the top – that they are more mentally suited to using the powerplay overs.

      All due respect to SRT and salute yesterday’s innings – but for balance and better utilisation of resources, I would think he should let GG in with VS.

      Once the excitement subsides about yesterday’s encounter – the bottomline- 2 bad shots, 1 silly run out, 1 instance of batsman not diving in the crease and one misused PP3 that did India in. PP3 in overs 35-40 or even 40-45 shud have done the trick. When the tailenders bat and 6 men are in the circle, they panic and run helter skelter – courtesy the number of runouts in the last game and this. Top order batsman – in a good rhythm can make it count better.

  7. Sachin played like this as he had to go after the bowling. They had no choice. It really came off for him big time today. So many adjectives are wasted on players of half his talent. It was great that he showed what the word class really means.

  8. ugh. its impossible to please u.

    of course its India’s fault that its Australia’s second string line up.

    and anybody who says that we should have been 4-0 up just because its not their first team never picked up a bat. or has forgotten how it felt.

  9. Hope atleast this innings spurs the young “guns” to perform better and take the series… half of the australian names you cannot even recognize but even then we keep losing!

  10. As Sachin does most of the times, played a jem today. Wonder why this guy plays any other way when he can do this e.g. coming down the track to the spinners, going inside out etc?

  11. A fitting reply to the Tendulkar doubters. But then, the folks will always come back with a “see, he still could not win it for India. All he wanted to was a personal milestone, one more century”

    To me, this was one of his most outstanding innings. Brilliant is an understatement. Genius is just par. What a man! What a reply to his detractors! And what an emphatic response! He almost made it. If only Jadeja had some sense in not getting run out, if only Harbhajan showed the pluck he had displayed so far. If only…..!

    This innings from Sachin proves two facts – one, that SRT is still India’s best batsman, and miles ahead of the rest.

    Second – despite his presence, it is still a team that wins or loses. One man can only do so much.

  12. I think that Aussies have built a superb opening partnership – not only because they are talented – but also because Indian bowling looks pedesterian – Nehra is the only good bowler who bowls well – Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel should not be in the national team.
    Ravindra Jadedja needs t be persisted in the team as a batsman and played accordingly. Bhajji should be asked to go and Ojha should be in his place. Ishant should be picked in place of MUnaf and Irfan in place of Praveen. And the captain / coach needs to tell these international bowlers some simple things like to bowl with a vatriety if they dont have pace!
    TheIndian batting line up looks good today with GG back in.

  13. IMHO, had India done following things, they would be 4-0 in the series now:
    1. Asked Tendulkar to bat at #3
    2. Dropped Harbhajan/Ravindra Jadea in favor of Mishra/Ojha
    3. Replaced Virat Kohli with someone else- anybody. I can’t tolerate Virat with that pout and trying-to-be-macho look. I am 100% sure, he won’t go anywhere in international cricket.

  14. Aus is picking up useful lessons for 2011 even with an injury ravaged side. India is struggling to strategise inspite of home conditions and better players available. Brings to mind one of your earlier posts about the difference in hyping this series as a battle for the No.1 spot and using it to plot for the WCup.

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