Done and dusted

There seems little enough to say about a series in which India, buzzing with the recently discovered ambition of topping the one day table, lost to an Australia missing an entire eleven. Ricky Ponting wasn’t exaggerating — well okay, maybe just a little bit — when he said the series win ranks among the really special moments he has been part of. The money quote:

“India is a hard place to come and win and this victory means a lot, especially when you haven’t got all your players to pick from. It makes it even harder when players are getting off planes and turning up and playing. No one’s shirking and no one’s whining, we have just got on with it and tried to do the best that we could.”

If the Australian effort in this series classically defines ‘collective effort’, the Indian performance has been the reverse. And again, MS Dhoni nails the problem:

“We haven’t backed the opportunities that we have got. A majority of the batsmen haven’t contributed at the same time,” Dhoni said. “In the games where our top order didn’t perform, our middle order also didn’t bat well. In the end we have lost the series. We have done well in patches in this series but we haven’t grabbed the opportunities.”

Bingo. There have been some individual performances of note and, from Sachin Tendulkar, one for the ages. But through this series, the team has consistently failed to perform as a unit. If Australia proved to be greater than the sum of its parts, India got its arithmetic wrong and somehow managed, in most games, to be less.

There’s one more game to go before Australia leaves and India turns its attention to a Sri Lankan team seeking to conquer its ‘Final Frontier’ [now where have we heard that before?]. Post mortems [including here] will likely proliferate after the final game of the series; so also calls for the head of this, that or the other player.

The problem for India’s captain and the team management, I suspect, lie elsewhere. A year and a half ago, the Dhoni-led team had one of its finest moments, when it defeated Australia 3-2. Australia then had Gilchrist and Hayden at the top, followed by Ponting, Clarke, Symonds and Hussey; and Lee, Johnson, Bracken and Stuart Clark leading the bowling. The batting lineup India fielded then read Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni. Raina for Rohit is the only change, and that argues a remarkably settled team.

That team won games it wasn’t supposed to; this one has lost at least two games it should have won. And that is the question the team management will have to find answers for, right quick: If the personnel has remained largely unaltered, what then has changed? On that tour and indeed for the most part of Dhoni’s captaincy, we celebrated the new-found ‘team ethos’ — so what caused an erosion of that quality?

It is this question I’d love to see answered, when the post mortem reports are filed at the end of this series. While waiting for those, appreciate your thoughts.


11 thoughts on “Done and dusted

  1. Prem,
    I have noticed couple of aspects of the Indian cricket team that ,with my limited knowledge of the intricacies of the game, seem to be queer. Both are related to the bowling dept. There was a time when we looked at a large pool of talented fastbowlers , each reasonably pacy and capable of taking wickets. But over the period of time they cut down on pace and gradually the edge in taking wickets. The batsmen in the Indian team often seem to get a longer stint to find their feet- we seem to be more forgiving when it comes to batting failures. We usually dont mind giving a relatively extended opprotunities to an obviously talented batsmen even if he fails in 2-3 matches. But when it comes to bowlers, we usually drop them with a single bad outing. maybe the selectors realise that bowlers usually are less celebrated and hence easier to pick as scapegoats. Maybe, just maybe, this puts the fear of being dropped into themind of the bowlers in every outing- and there is a conscious effort to bowl within themselves , NOT get hit all over and finish with a decent bowling figures. And just as a batsman trying to curb his natural intsinct usually fails more often then not, maybe the bowlers also suffer from some similar syndrome?
    This resutls in the shrinking of the pool of dependable bowlers- so the one or two bowlers with geniune striking ability( Zak, Ishant) end up carrying most of the burden for taking wickets. We play them in all our matches- few inconsequential ODI series, the few tests in between, IPL , T-20 Internationals, Champions League, Champions trophy and what not. That leads to breakdown, loss of form, lack of pace and consistency.
    I also suspect that the alarming loss of pace in any Indian fast bowlers within 2 seasons of his debut is not entirely technique/fitness related- lthough I am sure some of it is. There must be an attempt , deliberate or sub-conscious, to increase ones longevity and to ensure one is picked for the team in next match/series.
    I am not an expert on the game, but I think its fairly obvious that in order to be an outstanding cricket team, you need to win matches in all conditions and all kind of pitches. With seamers who bowl medium pace and rely on movement, you can succeed in taking wickets only when conditions suit you. To beat and dismiss international class batsmen when the conditions dont suit you, you need that extra yard to deny the batsmen those extra seconds to pick you. Even variations like slower balls work when the batsmen fear the pace of your normal deliveries. In tight situations, like the end of Hyderabad ODI , you need bowlers who can break the game for you, run through the tailenders with fast and accurate yorkers. Medium pacers in this situation give that extra hope to the batsmen.
    We dont have a game-breaker among our fast bowlers.
    What do you think?

  2. The issues for this team began after Dhoni was made captain of all 3 formats. In all this hand-wringing about “too much cricket” I’m bemused that no one’s talking of how it’s pretty much impossible to lead in all 3 formats. I just don’t think it’s possible.

    Dhoni’s thinking has gotten increasingly muddled ever since he took over leadership in all 3. I think Aus have figured it out pretty quickly (they typically are ahead of the curve on most things cricketing), and split the test and ODI captaincy. I first felt this with Dhoni’s arguments around the idiocy of sending in Jadeja at No.4 in that must-win game against England in the T20 WC.

    It’s a combination of workload, and having to mentally adjust between formats, which is a problem. I think the test captaincy should be handed to Laxman or SRT – or a newly identified leader. Dhoni’s USP is his leadership in the limited overs formats, and he can remain vice-captain of the test side.

    And then… happy times shall return.

  3. Prem

    On the bowling front, we dont have good players anyway. Now, I dont think if we are left with too many good bowlers in the bench. So, on the bowling front, its just a case of trying to reduce as much damage as possible.

    So, our fortunes depend mostly on the batters. In that front, we have some real players who can indeed win matches. So whats the problem? I think the root cause of the problem is the wrong team philosophy towards batting.

    For the last year or so, the philosophy was “flexibility” in a different sense. According to Dhoni, people will be identified with certain natural styles and depending on the situation of the match, a particular player who has the style to fit in that position will be used. Now, I am not sure how much of that theory went into practice(as I see the same batting lineup in every match). But what that philosophy underwrote is this: you can play your natural game irrespective of the situation. In other words, batters became “sub-specialized”. They trained to increase their expertise in their own sub-speciality instead of trying to become all-round batsmen.

    The fall-out of that approach is visible in Sehwag. Howmuchever I try to appreciate his strokeplay, there is one thing- a top order batsman is NOT meant for just 30+ cameos, howmuchever enthralling that cameo is. It is a role that a Harbhajan Singh can play in a team. You dont need a Sehwag for that. Yusuf Pathan is another example. When the team expects only sixes from a player, what else is the player mentally prepared to do? I really doubt if anyone has spoken to Sehwag about his responsibility to give a good opening partnership.

    If I look back, people like Yuvraaj, Raina etc started their career much more one-day-fit than lets say Dravid. Everybody know how Dravid transformed himself into an all-round batsman in the one-day variety. If he can do that, I dont know why Raina or Yuvraaj cannot become a greater one-day player than Dravid. These guys are much more talented than Dravid, no doubt. The problem is with the approach- they need to believe that their team needs them to be all-round player, who can bat according to the situation in which the team is in.

    The trouble with sub-speciality approach is: If Sachin is meant to play anchor in the first part of the innings, and Dhoni in the later part: what happens if both of them get out cheaply? We are left fatherless in the cruel world.

    I think everybody should realize that six Sehwags will not make a batting lineup. Thats the bottomline.

  4. I agree with Manish. It’ll save us a lot of time and energy if we simply accept that Australia is a better team than India. Their players are fitter, they have better work ethics and their domestic cricket is more competitive than ours. It is our mistaken belief that IPL will help us discover future ODI and test players. This series, along with India’s performance in the last few competitions has helped set my expectations for the 2011 world cup.

  5. Well…. I really do not know what to say. It has to be a mental thing. It is a quality in the mental make up which somehow cannot fight back. Our wins are not consistent. An odd Adelaide here and a Lord’s triumph there but not much else. Their second/third line bowlers are made to look like the best in the world. And once they’ve been given a chance they simply grind you to dust. Once they put a foot inside the door, they just break down the house. They never let up. Almost feels like the lion leaping on the hapless deer and ripping it apart. I do not think we are ruthless like them and therein lies the problem. And at the risk of stirring up a controversy…. I do think its not possible to change the Indian psyche. We cannot go for the jugular like they do…time and time again. I feel really sad for Sachin that he’s played so many wonderful knocks over the years only to have them be part of a losing cause. I think….since we are good thinkers…..there has to be Kautilya for the Indian team who will strategise to a T. Someone who’s sole responsibility will be that. If plan A goes awry then plan B….and so on. We are not historically known to be physically ruthless. The Aussies bludgeon with their sheer brute strength. Its time for India to seek its Kautilya. Someone who can decimate with tactics. Until then…. we are deadmeat in the hands of the likes of the Aussies, South Africans and the Indians.

  6. Prem, Aus was a better team in this tournament. No doubt. But they were second string (or third string etc) is all bullshit.

    Aus won this tournament mainly because they batted better/consistent than us. And in their batting lineup, they were missing only Clark. In fact, Clark is hardly missed, since I don’t remember when he last played a match winning knock. And that too against us.

  7. Prem-On that tour and indeed for the most part of Dhoni’s captaincy, we celebrated the new-found ‘team ethos’ — so what caused an erosion of that quality?Haha!
    That was and in most cases is Media created hype where we went overboard with Dhoni’s captaincy and the performances of the so called young guns.India won that series as they collectively did well,as they do anytime India does well collectively.
    Look at Australia 2003,Australia 1985,England 1983 (WC) and more where India did collectvely well,we made Ishant an instant hero,we made Dhoni an instant hero.If we look back we will notice that players like Sachin Dravid,Kumble,Kapil and all had those kind of records after playing for more than a decade-i doubt whether any of the current lot will last more than 7 years.It also boils down to temperament which is needed to play at the highest level continuously-manage the law of averages.
    This bunch of players has talent-but not the attitude towards the game.For all of Sachin’s greatness-I haven’t seen him being flexible ie open in Tests when India needed a good opener while Laxman and Dravid were thrust into that role.Similarly we see that reluctance to come down at No 3 when Sehwag and Gambhir can open,it is altogether a different matter that Sehwag can be rested from ODIs.
    Did India run the Aussies close in this series not at all-in the two matches we lost closely-while we were 2 strokes from victory-the real picture was different.
    India needs to develop a solid pool of players we tend to try way too many players and drop too many-Rohit Sharma,Ojha,Badrinath,Parthiv Patel,M Vijay to name a few.We are also focussed on becoming the number 1 side which is just an effect-if we do well consistently-the rankings would happen automatically.
    When India did not do well in the CT-we gave an excuse that we our team was missing key players,this current crop was also there in WC 2007.It is the mindset which matters-Dhoni referred to it!I remember India in WI 2006 with no Sachin and no Ganguly and everyone expected India to get trounced-we didn’t (Tests).It was the mindset.
    Now everyone expects India to be a tiger at home-but with this loss maybe every team will feel they have a chance (Final frontier)
    You asked what’s unchanged (changed)the current set of players are feeling secure?the captain is feeling secure (no challenger in sight),IPL-too much of cricket?Can always blame BCCI when we lose?The captain did not get his team? too packed a schedule?
    the grounds were in favour of the opposing team?Maybe the sun rose from the east?Maybe Gary Kirsten .

  8. I think that India believed its own bullshit and thought it only needed to show up to win. The thinking, from what I could see, was 4-3 was certain, 5-2 was probable. So, when they found that the depleted Australians were not obliging by rolling over and dying, they did it instead.

    A good lesson in what it takes to become, and stay, No. 1. Hope it was not wasted.

  9. good god! isn’t bcci the doer of all things evil with the indian cricket team, followed by sachin playing his selfish, rubbish game, relying on his stats, that caused our downfall? :O

  10. Venky Prasad was removed as bowling coach. Many thought he was not a good influence to the bowlers in the squad. well from average prior to this series…they have gone to bad.

    Gauti hasnt contributed much one-down. He gaves an aggressive and somewhat arrogant start most of the times when he opens. But then with SRT around, he has to adapt himselves and play at 1 down. The stars who have played their ‘natural game’ like Sehwag, Yuvi, Raina has resulted in more problems for the team.

    There seems to be a simple strategic failure in the way the team approaches batting. India’s top 5 are flexible enough to adapt to situation. they failed to play in pairs – where one anchors and other attacks and ensure team benefits.

    Did India believe that with this Aussie lineup they could blast their way with a series win. i think they won the series in the mind and lost it on the field. Empty statements like the one that india would win 5-2 by Bhajji became a big laugh …as he himself didnt have a good single innings where he could rip the Aussie btng.

    All in all a case of no heart in the odi series

  11. Just my optimistic side’s views
    Aus injuries were, I think, a blessing in disguise. It almost made them field a different team (fresh legs) for many games . Its v. difficult to do an ODI every other day for two weeks st. Moreover 2-3 games could have easily gone India’s way.
    There were some +ves – atleast in one game bowlers and fielders did v well – so its not that we simply cannot do those things. If its possible once, with more training, should be possible consistently. Jadeja was good in a couple games.

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