Number three

Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli – three of the most serious talents in the next generation.

All are young, and confident; all three are great runners between wickets and very good fielders both within the circle and out in the deep. And all three have been given opportunities to make the number three spot their own.

That slot is key when it comes to building the team for the World Cup – at the pivotal position, you need to be able to keep the momentum going if the openers have given you a start, stop the bowling in its tracks if the conditions are suitable and the bowlers have built up a head of steam, and overall control the innings, creating the platform for the big push and allowing the strikers to bat around him.

In terms of sheer talent and aesthetics, I’d rate Rohit, Suresh and Virat in that order, but consider the stats:

Rohit had six opportunities to bat at 3 and went 26 against Bangladesh, 24 against Pakistan, 11 against Hong Kong, 22 against Bangladesh, and 4 and 0 against the West Indies before his ‘discomfort against the rising ball’ saw the selectors put him on the shelf.

Suresh has had more opportunities – 16 of them, in which he has totaled 374 runs and averaged 23.37 at a strike rate of 77.43; neither of those indices indicate that he has done enough to seal the slot for himself. In fact, his average and strike rate are both lower than his career stats in those parameters.

And then there is Virat Kohli – the player who, to the naked eye, would appear the least talented of the three, but the one who is rapidly staking a claim to make the number three slot his own.

In that position, he has had knocks of 10 against Australia, 9 against Sri Lanka, a break-out innings of 91 against Bangladesh, 71 not out against Lanka, and now 102 not out against SL for 283 runs in five innings at an average of 94.33 [give that average the weight of two not outs – there is an argument to be made for discounting not outs when calculating averages, but that can wait for another day] and a strike rate of 96.58.

So who’s the one who has made his case with the most emphasis?

If he does not have the outrageous talent of his peers [and yes, before you remind me, it is early days yet – consider this post an early radar sighting], Kohli has two qualities that are worth gold:

He has a clear idea of his strong areas and weak ones, and looks to have learnt to maximize his strengths while ensuring that his weaknesses do not prove fatal. More to the point, he has learnt to put a premium on his wicket – when he gets in, he clearly has the desire to stay in and score as much as he possibly can. Of the three contenders, it is Kohli who has seen his chance and grabbed it with both hands.

If there is to be any gain from the inordinate number of one-dayers the BCCI has built into its calendar for the year, it has to be in providing the management an opportunity to build the framework of a team, and identify both the floaters and the reserves for key positions.

You would have to say that from a team point of view, the goal should be to lock down your top five, and let the players grow into their respective roles so that come the World Cup, each player has a good sense of what he has to do, and what his mates are capable of doing.

The problem is the wild card – Sachin, who when he decides to play, takes one of the two top slots and pushes everyone else one place down [Kohli will, in such a situation, end up batting at 6 since Yuvraj will bat four and Dhoni five; not only will that disrupt the rhythm the youngster is building, but also disrupt the Raina-Dhoni pairing that has performed outstandingly well in recent times.

Consider another aspect of that situation: when picking a player for a slot, you need to pick the one best suited for it. So, when SRT comes back, you have to make a choice for number six between Kohli, in the form of his life, and Raina, who in recent times has settled very nicely into the role of finisher. Who do you pick?

It’s a conundrum the management has to crack. I am not suggesting there is no place for Tendulkar in this lineup – there is, in fact, a fairytale feel to the thought that the veteran, who time out of mind has said his one remaining ambition is to win a Cup for his country, will play his last World Cup on home soil.

The trick for the team management has to be to figure who is absolutely the best for each role, and then lock them in place – in making that determination, the skill sets, form and ability of a player to play a particular role has to be the sole criterion; the personal preference of any player, no matter how senior, can have no role to play.

#Random observation: Keep an eye on Raina when the bowler bangs it in; the lad is yet to develop any kind of comfort level against the short ball. Of late, he hasn’t come up against the kind of opposition, or the kind of conditions, that can exploit that weakness, but in these days of video analysis, it is something stronger opposition will have made a note of.

#Random observation 2: Today there was crackerjack game at the domestic level, and a ho-hum one-dayer at the international level. How often have we been in a position to say that? And while on a great domestic game brewing, did you see the Mumbai batting crack against a good seam lineup on a testing pitch? While watching that, I couldn’t help thinking of the practice Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar are getting in the nets, against club trundlers on flat practice wickets.

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30 thoughts on “Number three

  1. Actually, I’m more interested in the Test No. 3 slot, when it opens up. Rohit has too weak a game against short bowling, as does Viraat. I remember Zaheer working him out nicely in a single Irani trophy game. Raina has footwork, but I doubt his temperament.

    I think the Test No. 3 will come from amongst Rahane, Pujara and Vijay. All three have the technique, although Rahane’s is the most untested. As it stands now, Vijay has the best shot at the position but I’d really like to see some opportunities coming the way of the other two.

    • Haven’t seen Pujara play, but having seen Rohit, Rahane, Raina, Virat and Vijay, I’d say the best candidate right now is Manish Pandey.

  2. Dear Prem
    Congratulation on the new job. I completely agree with your analysis. In terms of talent, your rating is perfect. But in terms of grabbing opportunity, I think Rohit comes the last. Also, his body language seems to suggest that he doesn’t enjoy playing the game.
    However, I don’t sometime understand this obsession with building up the team. I don’t know if BCCI was even aware of the term in 1983 or for that matter during the T 20 world cup that we won. I sometimes feel that we put too much emphasis on structuralising the game which more often than not has the tendency to move beyond any set structure.

  3. No one seems to have mentioned Jadeja or the #7 slot.
    With Yuvraj bowling well and options of Raina & Sehwag available, and also the fact that the WC2011 will be held on sub-continent pitches, there is a case for a better batsman than Jadeja coming in.
    So, with SRT coming in, probably Jadeja should sit out; though exact batting order would still need to be sorted out.

    • Another player who I felt was not given a fair treatement is Yusuf Pathan. More or less in the mould of Jadeja but a much better bigger hitter of the ball. His future in the team is now dependent on IPL 3. Considering WC’11 is in India he should be given a look in.

  4. When Sachin Returns to the team Kohli has to sit out it is as simple as that . All his recent runs have come against a second string Sri Lanka ( No. 7 in ODI rankings) attack at best ( Without Murali, Malinga,Kulasekara to name a few) and against Bangladesh. the opportunities he wasted in the home series against Australia and in the Champions trophy match against Pakistan to name a few.
    He has to deliver against quality attacks like Australia and South Africa to be even considered as a regular in the team.

    On another note Kohli drops too many catches as well. and Raina can bowl as well it adds another dimension and he is a clever bowler with the pause in his bowling action.

    As the WC 2011 is the goal right now Raina’s inability with the short ball should not be such a concern as the lack of ace on the subcontinent pitches should do it for him.

    All this hoopla and hype about Kohli is media hype. I am not undermining his achievements but observe him for a longer period of time and let him perform against decent bowling attacks.

    Gambhir is a good no 3 and should return to his place after Sachin is back in the team. Iremember Gambhir had his turnaround series batting at No 3 in the Tri-series in Australia at the start of 2008.

  5. Prem,
    Another thing I wonder right now is with Sachin not there why aren’t they giving some consistent run to Sehwag-Gambhir opening pair to really see whether they do better than what Sachin-Sehwag usually do? I haven’t really compared stats but my guess is amongst the top order batsmen Sachin and Gambhir (individually) have been the most consistent in the last few months. If that’s the case then they should be in the team either way.

  6. great to have you back. hope you are enjoying bangalore. interesting insights (the SRT wild card factor) from what is an otherwise dead tri-series.
    do you think this oft-stated wish of his going out on a winning note in the WC might end up becoming a un-necessary burden on the team in the lead-up to & during the tournament?

  7. Sachin needs to be there in the ODI team for WC 2011. For some of us the fact that Sachin wants to be there is enough to say that. For the rest, his performances since mid-2007 indicate he has been his best form of recent years, in both tests and ODIs.

  8. Interesting observation Prem,i would also like to see a comparision between Gautam and Kohli at numbe 3 in the last 5 matches.With Sachin opening with Sehwag,if our intent is to play the best-then why not Virat (if he is good) and push Gautam back or maybe he sits out.Or a comparision between Gautam and Sehwag as an opener if we take sachin for granted.In that scenario we have Sachin,MSD and Yuvraj confirmed for the WC and Sehwag,Gautam,Kohli,Raina,Karthik,Yousuf r Rohit Sharma in the squad and playing some matches.We may still end up fielding our best team.
    What will be interesting is how the youngsters cope with crunch games like the T20 WC in ODI WC,as the added pressure of home grounds will be there.

  9. I would like to hear your thoughts on Dinesh Karthik … he has done exceedingly well for Delhi Daredevils in both versions of IPL (1st in India and 2nd in SA). If I remember correctly, he did well on the tour to South Africa (Ganguly’s comeback series). He seems to have the technical skills to succeed on difficult surfaces and he was matching Dilshan stroke-for-stroke during Delhi’s games in IPL2. I wish he would get a proper run in the side.

  10. One sacrilegious thought – “who time out of mind has said his one remaining ambition is to win a Cup for his country” – win one for the country is a little different from ‘be a passenger on a team that stands a chance to win the world cup, thus adding the one missing trophy/medal to his collection of silverware’. India may well win the world cup, but whether Sachin will be the decisive factor in securing that win, in the way that he was in 2003 for example, is highly doubtful. 2003 was his best chance, and he screwed it up royally in the final match. For that matter, if the idea was simply to win one world cup trophy/medal, his best chance was in South Africa in ’07 at the 20-20 worldcup, which he magnanimously opted out of. He could have had his open bus parade in Mumbai and retired with grace. In hindsight, that was a stupid decision, specially since he was in very good form then, unlike Rahul, Kumble or Saurav.

    • While I agree that this sentiment of “we will try to win the 2011 Wcup for SRT” is not appealing to even a big SRT fan such as myself, I will, however, take exception to the statement – “2003 was his best chance, and he screwed it up royally in the final match”. Seriously, SRT screwed it up? I know he contributed close to zilch in our run chase, but I must’ve missed the part where SRT screwed it up, which allowed Aus to pile on 350+. The final was as good as lost by the time SRT/SG came out to bat.

      • Yep, seriously. He did not screw it up for India, for the reasons you point out. What I wrote – “2003 was HIS best chance (to win the world cup he covets), and he screwed it up royally…….” He screwed it up for himself. Too many times “the best players in the world” forget how much of an effort it is to reach the finals, and end up screwing up their one chance. Dan Marino, when he retired was the most successful quarterback in American Football by any statistic bar one – he had never won a superbowl. The one time he reached the championship game was early in his career and he has said in interviews that he thought then that he’d have other chances. Never happened again. He tried for nearly 18 years. Johann Cryuff – same story. Doesn’t matter how great you are at your sport – life is cruel and gives you maybe one chance at glory. SRT messed his one chance up.

        After Australia demolished the Indian bowling to score 350+, the only thing in SRT’s hands was to try and win it with the bat, and he screwed it up by collapsing mentally under the pressure. That one match above all else, makes me believe the SRT critics who claim he can’t handle pressure. He winds himself up too tight, gets too anxious. Australia did not get SRT out that day – he got himself out. In 2003 SRT was – 1. a legitimate contender for the the best batsman in the world slot, 2. the in-form batsman, and 3. the only batsman in the side capable of leading a chase of 350+. That was HIS team, HIS batting lineup to lead, shepherd and squeeze the best performance out of. He screwed it up.

        As for my passenger comment – can anyone really claim, based on what we have seen in the last year or so, that SRT will have a matchwinner’s role in the side even if India manage somehow to reach the WC finals? It will be Yuvraj, Sehwag, Gambhir and Dhoni’s victory, and SRT will be a contributor as he always is, but his best days are behind him. He can’t dominate attacks now, and he’s never completed a chase against a quality opposition when the others are falling around him. I doubt that he will win the worldcup – he’s not that SRT anymore – at best, he hopes he will be on the team that wins the worldcup. The team that already calls him grandpa affectionately. In 2003, it would have been HIS cup, singlehandedly, after that semi-final innings, if he has saved his best for the finals.

        • Do you really think that it is a fair comment? Judging a person’s whole career, mental strength on the basis of one innings. I don’t want to go into the stats as we can pull whichever stats suits us from statsguru. But if you spend a little time there you would see that top 5 performers for India have been Dhoni, Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Sachin. If we have wickets which are similar to the CT held in India, we will need him big time. The big hitters might not come off.

          Additionally I am yet to see Yuvraj or Sehwag score a lot of runs against Australia in the recent 2 years or so and it has been ages since we have played against SA (Two teams at par with India on paper). He’s definitely not the old SRT. Even if he is sometimes just a supporting actor we should remember how important that role is, considering not too long ago in the 90s a certain SRT used to toil away without any support and we used to lament that.

    • Pretty non-sensical(and inaccurate) opening post and more of it in here. Kohli’s 102* has come against the Bangladesis,not SL. And SRT has been one of India’s main men in both ODIs and Tests for the past couple of years. Kohli has been impressive, though he hasn’t played against strong opposition that much. Raina has been rather poor, infact.And all of a sudden, we now have talk abt how SRT is in the team as a passenger. Very funny, not.

      • Well if you had the patience to read through the post and actually understand it, I guess you wouldn’t have commented like this.

        No where is Prem suggesting that SRT is a passenger – rather his theme is that India for the moment has choice of plenty ! Pray where exactly do you read him stating that SRT is a passenger ?

        To be really cynical – Bangladesis ??? You can’t care to even write a country’s name properly !!!

      • Very interested in listening to that talk about how SRT is in the team as a passenger, Mayan. Where did you hear it? Not on this forum, AFAIK.

        There’s two ways of interacting on this site. One, you can respond to what is actually written. The other, you can vent the demons of your own imagination. Your choice, but I submit the former is more apropos.

        • Tifosiguy & Prem – Hmm..Maybe you guys need to take a look at the specific post to which I was responding(Gaurav’s). So, I was responding to Gaurav’s comment(which has the passenger line) & the OP.

          “I am not suggesting there is no place for Tendulkar in this lineup – there is, in fact, a fairytale feel to the thought that the veteran”.

          To me,that’s rather condescending, considering that he has been at the forefront of major Indian wins in tests & ODIs for the past couple of years. He deserves to be there as one of the best performers in this team and not based on any fairytale feel.

          Tifosiguy – Sir, ok sir. Bangladeshis. Will that do sir?

          • Cool. Would save a lot of confusion if, in that case, you clicked reply to the relevant comment, dude, so what you are saying follows from the comment that prompted it.

            Else, it appears the comment is a reaction to the post itself, which caused my confusion since I couldn’t see what had prompted it 🙂

            • Which is exactly what Mayan seems to have done – replied to Gaurav’s comment. But since Saum also replied to the same comment (and earlier than Mayan), Mayan’s comment does not appear immediately below Gaurav’s comment.

              • Okay, my bad. 🙂 When I read that post, it did not appear as a comment [you will notice for instance that this thread is shaded, and indented in a way the other is not — hence my confusion].

                Sorry, Mayan, if I was unduly harsh.

                • No offence taken.Though, I must be honest and say that I was also a bit critical of your opening post for the reason I highlighted in my previous response. 🙂

                  At the end of the day, I don’t mind a bit of needle while discussing sports. When there are a set of passionate people, each of whom have their own set of views & tastes , it’s bound to be there. 🙂

                  • Oh I agree, and discussion, with or without a bit of needle, is fine. What I bar is when someone just tells me [not referring to your comment, just general] that I’m an idiot.

                    Maybe I am, but you need to tell me how and why. That is criticism; without it, it is merely name-calling, which I bar. 🙂

                • Looks like the shading appear only when Prem responds to a comment – then continues for further responses after Prem’s.

    • I don’t really see the need for SRT to be in the squad for 2011 World Cup. I am reminded of Steve Waugh’s farewell series. This might very well turn out to be an unwanted distraction/burden on the team. However, accusing him of screwing up the 2003 final is a bit too much, even for a die hard critic like me.

  11. Virat Kohli has been good but I wonder how he (and other 2 as well) will fare against Australia or SA. Kohli and Raina are definitely better than Sharma. So they are the ones that need to be groomed for World Cup. But there is more urgent need to fix our bowling. That is a let down. 🙂

  12. Prem – One other point in Kohli’s favor: He has a wise head too. Saw opportunity – took opportunity. Like they say, it’s not the most qualified interview candidate who necessarily gets the job offer, it’s the candidate who performs the best. That said, good to see some strong batsmen emerge.

    Btw, don’t know how much you are following the Eng-SA test matches given the move, new job et al. But, that is some riveting cricket Eng is playing. I think it was Ganguly who said: “Before we start winning, we should learn how to stop losing.” Eng is following that maxim to the ‘T’. I think Strauss & Flower are really doing a good job. Hopefully, Eng will sustain itself and be a strong team so we have 4-5 teams who are competitive on a regular basis so us fans can enjoy more good games. Ind-Aus / Ind-Pak was getting a little too repititive / boring.

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