A tale of two number threes

Two captains, both batting at number three, showcased the two ends of the spectrum of playing pivot.

Kumar Sangakkara was brilliant in the way he seized on the momentum the openers had created, escalated it, and took the game away from the bowlers. And what I particularly liked is that for the most part, he did not need to go beyond classical cricket strokes — even the inventive shots, like a breathtaking late paddle that played a delicate angle between keeper and short fine, was a thing of beauty.

At the other end of the spectrum, I am personally no fan of MS Dhoni’s self-prescribed anchoring from the number three position. The mindset of pushing singles along and leaving the charge as late as possible works more often than not in the ODI format, but equally, it is as counter productive in the shortest form of the game.

Consider the arithmetic. Start with the basic assumption that scoring a run a ball is mandatory in any T20 game. The challenge before the Indians yesterday was therefore to score run a ball, and to somehow squeeze in 86 additional runs from somewhere. The only way you win that kind of game is by biting chunks off that differential, especially during the power plays — something Viru briefly, and Gambhir in a brilliant explosion, did to such good effect [those two got 81 from 40 deliveries; that is, between them they knocked the differential back by41, that is, almost half the original ask].

If Dhoni, during that phase, sets his sights on going run a ball, the effect is to push his team further behind, because each delivery where you score just one will actually push the asking rate up. None of this is to suggest that MS lost us the game yesterday — we accomplished that in the field, even before we came out to bat. The point is, MS does not need to play that game; in fact, to do so is actually counter-productive given the lineup he has.

A far better lineup, IMHO, would be for either Raina or Rohit to come in at three [it also allows the team to maintain the left-right combo it seems so hung up on]. Both are good stroke players and can benefit from the little breathing space that position provides; Yuvraj at four, and Raina/Rohit at five with MS at six [with the option of coming in after Yuvraj if circumstances warrant a more cautious approach] and Pathan in the finishing slot at seven [again, with the option of being sent up as a floater if the game situation demands it] is, IMHO, a far better way of optimizing available resources. And MS, with his ability to keep the board ticking over and also of playing the big shots when his mind is free of self-imposed restraints, would be far more useful in that lower middle position.

The positive for me in yesterday’s game was the bowling of Ishant Sharma, particularly that first spell of 3-0-7-0. Oh yes, before you point it out, one spell is too small a peg to hang hopes of a real comeback on — but what there was of it was good.

In recent times, Ishant on his run up has looked like a tired marathoner hitting a heavy head wind as he nears the finish — a sense of pushing himself through those final few paces. When he is feeling good, however, he accelerates smoothly through the early and middle part of the run up and literally hurtles through the final paces, in the process creating a momentum that translates smoothly into his delivery. That is how he bowled yesterday, and the difference was most marked in the way he regularly hit the high 130s while looking like he had plenty left in the tank.

Equally, Ishant when not on song is particularly exposed when bowling to left handers — but yesterday, he was immaculate against Sanath Jayasuriya. He used varying lengths on the short ball to keep Sanath pegged back; he had both deliveries — the one leaving the left hander off the seam and the one jagging back in — going to confuse the batsman and inhibit strokeplay, and neither Sanath nor Dilshan looked remotely at ease during the 18 deliveries they faced off him, to score a sum total of 7 runs while benefiting from one let off apiece.

Now to see if he his recent enforced rest has helped Ishant rediscover his mojo — if he has, then with Zaheer back and Sreesanth “turning into a new leaf” as a friend once said, our opening worries with the ball could be in a fair way to being resolved.

On an unrelated note, here’s just what we needed: another commentator to interpret the Indian team’s recent rise to number one position. Do you get the feeling as you read this that Simon Briggs wrote it to paper over the earlier, and even more ridiculous, piece authored by Simon Wilde? Let’s see: the message seems to be, India [sorry, Wilde] actually “deserves” the number one placing, but cannot “justify” it because it does not have a superstar bowler or bowlers. Err — okay, so which team deserves that ranking because it can “justify” it, then? There is also some unintended hilarity about how Bradman could line up 300-in-a-day efforts because the bowlers then, like the ones enabling Sehwag today, are “subservient”. Harold Larwood and Maurice Tate, who suffered the most during the Don’s onslaught that fetched him 300 in course of one day’s play at Headingley in 1930, will love hearing that one.

Right, so who’s got the next bizarre theory? Step right up, ladies and gentlemen: the comedy club is now officially open.

PS: Voted yet?

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18 thoughts on “A tale of two number threes

  1. I think that Dhoni should have sent Yusuf Pathan at number 3 when chasing a big score like this…if you have him in the team, might as well use him most effectively.

    • I can’t agree more with Ranjeet. Before Yusuf becomes a ‘Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, he should be promoted up the order. “Get me in early,” Yusuf must be muttering in whispers. I think in MSD, he has a captain to whom he can walk up to and vomit his feelings. If anything, he would be content to have put his message across.

  2. I am looking at schedule,

    we played 20/20 at Nagpur, next one is at Mohali thats fine but then you go all the way west again to play odi at rajkot?

    Rajkot is my nearest intl ground but i can not help laughing how many matches they getting.
    if someone is secretary from your region thats reward.
    I cant understand absence of eden from test arena. Earlier there was construction issue but seems its long time since we played there.

  3. 1. Some perspective please – its just a 20-20. Losing at 20-20s while winning Tests is not such a bad thing for Indian cricket right now. Depressing to see how full the stadium was in Nagpur for this inconsequential cha-ching day for BCCI, compared to the Test match crowd here last year when India and Australia played a test match. India should continue to lose and lose big at 20-20 for the next few years. 20-20 belongs in the IPL, for club sides and should be banned for international teams.

    2. Dhoni cannot do any thing right for some people. Its not been a week since he scored 2 test hundreds in a series and took his team to 2 consecutive innings victories and the world’s number 1 Test team ranking. What have you done for me lately MSD? Enough said.

    3. Rohit, Raina, Yusuf are fast approaching end of shelf life and with a new IPL auction coming up after the 2010 edition, they need to step it up or lose out. Raina specially needs to start doing something to justify his billing. I don’t much care for Yusuf, but Rohit and Raina need to be banned from 20-20s altogether and forced to play only longer versions (read real cricket).

    4. 20-20 is Total Cricket – one dropped catch or misfield can lose you the match. One wicket at the wrong time can lose you the match. Indians are not genetically built to play Total Cricket, say what you will. Even Aussies and Saffers are getting injured more frequently since the advent of 20-20. Its taken years off the careers of Hayden, Gilchrist, Lee etc. It really hurt us last year when Sehwag and Zaheer got injured at the wrong time and we lost the ICC Champions trophy which should have been rightfully ours.

    5. If you insist on taking 20-20 so seriously, ban anyone over 25 years of age from playing it, and separate the team totally from the India Test and ODI team. Let Irfan Pathan play 20-20. Why risk injuring Ishant for nothing?

    • Gaurav,
      I cannot agree more with your point 1. Exactly my thoughts. In addition, I also want people to get bored of an overdose of T20. However, I don’t agree to your point 2. I don’t think anyone (or at least me) has an issue with Dhoni, the Test & ODI player. But, let’s admit it. He has been a total failure in T20. Have a look at his career figures below. He has a very poor Strike Rate by T20 standards. Also, he doesn’t hit enough 4s & 6s.

      Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s

      19 18 4 310 45 22.14 308 100.64 0 0 20 5

      I personally feel Dinesh Karthik is better suited for T20.

    • Speaking of perspective, mate: the problem is, while I will happily join you in wishing T20 to perdition, or at least to the club/IPL circuit, it is now enshrined in the international arena, and will get even more so with the ICC realizing its money making possibilities. So since it won’t go away, you might as well optimize your abilities at it, no? We had this same attitude once about ODIs — said this stupid thing is not for us, and went on to serially embarass ourselves before doing a U-turn and embracing it tight.

      As for Dhoni — I don’t know who the “some people” are, but I’ve certainly credited Dhoni with all the good things he does. Which is not to say that I need to turn myself into a glee club and applaud everything he does irrespective. And again, speaking of perspective — this is T20, mate; what has his Test centuries got to do with it?

      Point 4: Almost unnoticed, all cricket is becoming Total Cricket — even Tests. Those days of ambling your way through five days are gone. But even ignoring all of that, I don’t buy this “genetically” business — probably because I grew up hearing that Indians are not genetically built to bowl fast, for instance.

      Point 5: Where is this about “my” insistence? It happens to be an international sport. It is for the authorities to make the call: if you think it doesn’t rate, don’t play it; if you do, play it to the best of your ability.

  4. I have a colleague of mine, who will deliberately f**k up even the most menial job given to him. This is to ensure that no one gives any work to him.

    I was reminded of him when I saw the Indian fielding yesterday. It looked like a message to Mr.Young – “Better take the next flight home mate, unless you want to spoil your reputation ‘coaching’ us”.

    Indian prima donnas wont put in the hard and long hours of fielding practice required. I am tired of SMG describing Yuvi as the best fielder in the team – and he promptly dropped a sitter next over. In Yousuf Pathans first over, Yuvi was fielding in a deep leg slip, the ball was played to him straight, the batsman ran a single comfortably, while Yuvi picked the ball and fiired a wild return to Dhoni – all the while Ravi Shastri was gushing about Yuvi’s fielding. If it were the Aussies, the batsman would have been on his way home, not even in the frame.

    Also, we need to really have a serious look at MSD’s Wicket Keeping. He is woeful on the leg side. We are so used to seeing sub standard Wicket Keepers over the past decade (since Mongia) that we accept something which is just about average. There was a ball yesterday from Rohit that missed the pads of the batsman, hit Dhonis pads on the knee roll and went away for 4 byes. Dhoni had got up too early and his gloves was no where near the ball. And this is not the first time this has happened of late. Also, watch how lethargic is he to get behind the wicket. More often than not, he is off position.

    • Totally agree with you on Yuvraj’s laziness on the field and Dhoni’s below-par keeping. Dhoni’s keeping, especially to spinners, is at best amateurish. He does not rise with the ball as good keepers do and he usually sticks his gloves in front of him when the batsman makes room to cut the ball. In fact, I have never seen him take a catch of a spinner using soft hands.

  5. I have to agree with the batting order you proposed. That looks like the most ‘common sensical’ thing to do. Also, I wonder if MSD would have merited a place in the XI if he were not the captain. Dinesh Karthik looks a better option.

  6. Losing 7 of last 10 T20 games, surely has something…no… everything to do with batting, given the design of game’s new avatar. Wonder why ‘Midas’ Siingh Dhoni hasn’t turned it into gold yet!

  7. Wonder what problem these Brits have with India… W.Indies have/had Lara(no idea if he’s still playing), a definite superstar but where were they as a team when it came to winning matches? His selfish 400 & 300s just resulted in draw matches… Nice post btw

  8. I dare say, MSD with his panchant for lately developed ‘calculated’ and ‘percentage’ style of batting, is not fit for a t20 format. His t20 record stands as a testimony to that. His controled aggression, while an asset for ODIs and tests to some extent, has not helped much in t20s. A fine example would be the game aginst England in the last t20 game?

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