Wins and losses

In case you haven’t done it already, go here now — and try replaying the 12th game of the FIDE world title fight between Anand and Topalov. If time is of the essence, fast forward to move 28 and play through from there, for a classic demonstration of attacking chess from the wrong  black side of the board.

And then think back to the magnitude of the effort it took for Anand to retain his title. Ever since Topalov, at the start of the 12-game championship round, announced that there won’t be any quick draws [the move played to Topalov’s strength, as he is renowned for his stamina in long games; against that, Anand is known for offering quick draws in games where he sees no immediate benefits, and conserving his energies for games where he sees distinct possibilities], the pressure has been on Anand to survive, mentally and physically, a tournament Topalov had just made more grueling.

You had to believe, during the back end of the tournament, that the pressure was getting to Anand. In game 8, he lost from what seemed to be an drawn position and allowed Topalov to draw level; in the 9th game, Anand meticulously prepared what seemed to be a commanding position and then repeatedly missing winning lines to allow his opponent to escape with a draw.

To shrug off both the serial disappointments and his own mental fatigue, to turn the pressure back on his opponent, and to ratchet up the pressure to the point where Topalov, almost novice-like, grabbed at a pawn that was laced with poison and to then capitalize on that blunder with an inch perfect handling of the middle/end-game — totally epic, on the scale of achievement.

Against that, yesterday also witnessed a once-proud team plumb unsuspected depths. Batting first and needing to put on a big score in order to pip Sri Lanka by a 20-run differential minimum, India seemed well set at the halfway stage, with 90 on the board and 9 wickets in hand. And then it spectacularly blew it, making a mere 73 in the final ten overs while losing four wickets — against which Sri Lanka, which seemed in trouble at 53/3 at the half way stage, piled on 190 runs for the loss of two additional wickets in the back 10.

That is the statistic that caught the eye — but what remains in the mind the afternoon after the defeat is a series of impressions. Of an ‘attack’ without a strike bowler [Harbhajan Singh, who had to play that role in a side where Zaheer Khan was way under par, ended the tournament without a single wicket to his name. He is bowling “beautifully”, commentators repeatedly told us — but whatever the artistic merits of his bowling, the central fact is that he could never strike]. Of a team that seemed to have been picked from a home for the walking wounded — a clearly unfit Gambhir, a Zaheer Khan who seems to be suffering from some mysterious injury that comes and goes, a Praveen Kumar who had to leave the tournament halfway through, to join the long list of Indian ‘pace bowlers’ in various stages of injury and rehabilitation, a Yuvraj Singh whose tournament and indeed recent form was best encapsulated by that moment, in the early part of the Lankan innings, when he let a ball pass through his palms, and between his legs… Add to that the ‘form’ of that fearsome finisher, Yusuf Pathan; the presence in the side of Ravindra Jadeja, whose preparation for this tournament consisted of practicing in the backyard with his brother; the lack of clarity about Rohit Sharma’s presence in, and utility to, the side… India has stumbled badly before — actually, thrice in world level competitions in the past 12 months alone — but rarely has the team under MS Dhoni looked quite so shambolic.

The television channels are already well into their “post mortems” — which in the case of that medium takes the form of handing out knives to all and sundry and inviting them to have a go. “Play more, party less” is among the more temperate bits of advice streaming in from the junta, and from there it gets worse. 24 hours later, this too will pass, and the knife wielders will be presented with a new target for their SMS-es.

I figure on putting my own thoughts on hold till the dust settles [and I get out of wall to wall meetings in Delhi, and get back to Bangalore, where there will be more mindspace.

In the meantime, appreciate your thoughts. Forget about the match itself — when you think, macro, about the Indian team in T20s, what thoughts occur to you?

PS: Am back in Bangalore late tonight and at work sometime tomorrow, but I suspect it will be Friday before I am settled and back on this. Talk to you then.

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53 thoughts on “Wins and losses

  1. Here are the things I would expect for the next T20 WC
    1. Captain of the team and the wicketkeeper shall not play more than 10 IPL match. Assuming that next year onwards there would be 20 league games and max 3 more after that, make sure that one does not play more than 50% of the matches. I know IPL is scheduled after WC, but still it has to be a rule enforced by BCCI
    2. If there is a tourney scheduled after IPL, ensure that players get atleast 2 weeks rest in between excluding travel, etc. It does not matter if their teams reach final and they want to play the final, BCCI would ensure that those selected will be available for camps
    3. Do not go by reputation, look at the past records as well. The likes of Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja have done nothing of note in the previous editions or when they have donned Indian colors. Just because Warne called them rock star or games best hitter does not automatically qualify them for Indian team. Take a totalitarian view to decide on the players. Look at the bowlers they faced, situations they scored their runs, chinks in their armour, [Yusuf’s inconvenience against short pitched stuff is legendary by now] before drafting them into the team.
    4. People like Rayudu, Uthappa, Kohli are anyday far better than Vijay, Jadeja and Pathan. If you select teams after seeing a few games in beginning of IPL, then you would not know how they fared latter. Vijay was a failure in the latter part of the tourney and he and his so-called batting compactness and technique was thoroughly exposed during SA test series. What do you make of best bowler and the highest wicket taker in IPL not being in the Indian team? Jadeja was inducted just for ego reasons. BCCI wanted to show that it is the boss and not IPL/Modi who had barred him. He was the single reason as to why Australia scored that many runs in the match and put pressure on Indian batsmen. Yuvraj consistently failed in IPL, still was chosen while Uthappa and Rayudu consistently did well and was neglected!
    5. Time has come for us to choose separate teams for the 3 formats. We are a big nation and we will be doing a big service to the players and the game if more players don India colours rather than select the same set. This is exactly the reason why we won the inaugural edition. Just playing IPL will not help players get the confidence and make them better, they need to face quality opposition elsewhere too. Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Sehwag, Dhoni, Zaheer seem to be there in every international match of any format and it seems to be not helping them in terms of going back to nets and improving their game or getting rest. You cant have half your team constantly playing for India and still turning up for IPL teams!

  2. The very thought of Dhoni’s is ridiculous to say the least. If you party hard and travel next morning, how come the player’s performance was not affected in the next IPL match? Does it take 2 weeks and some other match for fatigue to come to the fore? If the player’s performance had been affected in the next match, then it is obvious to blame the previous nights party. Blaming it now does not help. Please remember Dhoni’s comment when CSK entered semifinals: “Owners pay us so much, that it is our obligation to reach semis”. Wonder why he did not make such a comment and did not feel obligatory to push Team India into semis. Is it that he can only thrash the likes of Irfan Pathan, but is utterly helpless when it comes to facing Perera, Thushara, Randive? If you notice his pre- SL match utterances, it was as though he was tired and wanted to get back. He did not even think there was a chance for us to reach semis, when staticians did mention the possibility. Winning by 20runs was not an unthinkable idea especially when you are 90/1 after 10 overs. Promoting himself and not trying to even get out makes me think whether he really wanted to play anymore in WC.

  3. I think at mid point of IPL, the squad for t20 was announced. Virat kohli, Uthappa, Ojha, mishra, RP singh were all doing well at that point (Ashwin at the later stages). i was disappointed to say the least when atleast 2 or 3 of them couldnt find a spot..

    If the squad picked was Dhoni’s then i find it hard to believe that the 15 who went to caribbean are the best as he says….has he become too diplomatic..?

  4. Dhoni’s attitude was pathetic- he basically admitted before the Lanka game that they had given up hope of making it to the semis. Dhoni should resign, no captain should have such an attitude and I’m embarrassed that this man is leading my Indian cricket team.

  5. This World Cup fiasco was a combination of bad selection of initial squad and then not getting the playing 11 right. Too many people who played were not in any sort of form – neither during IPL nor during the WC.

    1. Rohit handled Aussie fast bowlers really well. He was the only person who seemed to have the form & technique to handle fast bowling on bouncy pitches. He should’ve played at 3 (especially when Raina was having trouble with short balls)

    2. Jadeja flopped badly against SA in the league stage and Aus in Super 8s. Chawla should’ve played against WI (maybe even the game against Aus)

    3. Someone like Dinesh Karthik has always had a good technique against short ball. He should’ve found way into the playing 11 somehow (especially after the Aus game)

    4. Yuvi is just an unwanted burden on the team at this point. He should’ve been dropped from team or sent to bat at 7 or at made to sit out as ‘injured’ 😛 (if the tour management didn’t have the balls to drop him from playing 11)

    Overall, the team wasn’t in great shape but we could’ve played smarter and maximized what we had. Dhoni is generally exceptionally good at doing just that but he was flat and uninspired – probably the tiredness from IPL & hectic cricket before IPL got to him.

  6. The first thing that strikes me when I think of the Indian T20 team is the acute lack of balance. I think in T20 (more than any other format) the balance of the team and the clear definition of roles is key to success. There should be 11 people in the team who can play a specific role and not just have various people who have the ability. It is also important to use the resources at hand in the best possible way. Dinesh Karthick had said in an interview that he was preparing himself through the IPL to bcome a quality finisher and what does he get to do for India – Open the batting even when Yusuf is struggling as a finisher.

    First thing the board needs to do is to set up a “Save the Quicks” committee before we go into matches with 5 slow bowlers. If only Irfan Pathan could improve his bowling slightly, he would be a wonderful asset to the team. He must be helped.
    The committee should also look at Ishant, RP, Sreesanth – all these guys need help.

    Yuvraj Singh looks to have totally lost his way and the Rehab center is what he needs (ala Tiger Woods!). Raina needs to talk to Ganguly to manage the short stuff if he has any ambitions of playing test match cricket. Gambhir seems lost when there is no Sehwag at the other end. Yusuf Pathan has had enough opportunities but his incompetence at this level is quite clear. The Kohlis,Pujaras,Uthappas, and Aswins might have to be given a look-in to see what they can do.

    Preparation as a team before an international tournament is quite important. It is very difficult to come together just a couple of days before the 1st game and gel as a team. Not that a couple of practice games might have made any difference but a camp before every major tournament should be mandatory.

    I am not really perturbed that the team failed in this T20 WC but am really worried about the quality of potential replacements to Sachin, Dravid, and Laxman in test match cricket.

  7. IMHO the team was good . What was lacking was in attitude with some casualness appearing .Technique was not an issue as all the player are good in that aspect. When you embark upon such important campaigns it is important to prepare well. Preparation has to be both physical/cricketing and mental. On the physical/cricketing front things were alright . But there was no mental preparation. Team needs to bond together well in advance, visualize the tournament, size up the opposition and iron out strategies. These things were missing as the whole team got together on the ev of the 1st match.

    In a difficult tournament such as this one if things go well good( 1st 2 matches). But if you are in tight situations then your mental preparations come to your rescue. That is what was lacking. All they needed was to get together 15 days in advance.

    This casualness has robbed off from the board. The board took it very casually. What prevented the board from asking the chosen 15 to report midway through IPL for preparations . After all it was a domestic tournament and internationals have to miss domestic engagements anyway.

    Go back to January and you remember Board asking RD to miss Ranji final and go to a meaningless bangla tour in advance. He could have very well gone there after finishing the Ranji final.Why IPL is getting special treatment?

  8. It boils down to three things:

    1. Mental – India has rarely done well when lot is expected of the team. ODI WC 1983 and T20 WC 2007 were achieved when India were underdogs and not much was expected off the team. Coupled with the expectations/pressure factor was the mental weariness after a long IPL season.

    2. Physical – IPL3 gave them the practice but not as a unit. Also, the quality of bowling was way under pas as rightly identified by MSD et al. Ability to handle short pitched bowling is a known weakness. In the least they could have played the waiting game — gotten singles and twos (like they did against SL in first 10) and then break loose. Bowling was disjointed; much has been said about Zak’s mentoring of young bowlers in last 3 years. With Zak’s form taking a dive our bowlers were like headless chicken.

    3. Luck – Besides the material shortcomings, lady luck didn’t smile on India either. Look Pak — lucky to get into Semis. At one level, they may likely deserve it more than India but you only have to look back at T20 WC 2007 when the talent (or lack thereof) between two teams was separated by one mishit from Misbah and one luck catch by Sree.

    I am glad the best 4 teams on their day are in the semis. Hoping Aussies take the cup as they deserve it most on their current form and momentum. Expecting Aus-Eng Final where Eng may likely choke.

    • .. and here’s hoping that England continue their run of not having any worldcup despite inventing the game!! 🙂

  9. Trying to see the bright side – Our cricket team’s repeated spineless losses has provided a sense of deja vu everytime we go to a world event (The BCCI too does its part to keep it a complete package – everytime the team lands at the event almost on the day our first match starts- beat couple of associate teams and sleep walk through the rest of the tournament and head back home).
    So this complete repetetion of events has made us a little mellow and we no longer burn effigies..we no longer throw stones or bring down houses of players.
    Isn’t that a good thing?

  10. I think the focus would be on Dhoni now. His performance as a captain in T20 and ODI is pretty bland right now. He escapes in Tests due to the time available to recover and also you have Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag in great touch.

    On a different note, another thing people seemed to have overlooked is our pretty decent performance in Azlan Shah Cup.

    • By focusing on Dhoni, we will be making the same mistake, again. Combination of things lead to this: Dodgy selection, Straight from IPL to WC, out-of-form players, over reliance on spin, players not able to handle short pitch bowling, our bowlers totally off color, injuries AND debatable decisions by Dhoni. TO focus on only one of these, is gonna cause the problems to arise again.

      • It would be wrong but that is the only thing which can improve. The administration, IPL timing, none of these are going to change. Hence I am being a little unfair on him 😉

        Selection- True, some of the players like Ojha, Mishra could have been there. Some like Yuvraj could have been dropped. But as per “sources” this is the team Dhoni wanted. Even Piyush Chawla was his choice. Again I dont think an Ojha would have made a diference. Our pace department is bare.

        Overall what has been dissapointing is the competitiveness of the Indians. I dont mind them losing, but it looked even in yesterdays match that it did not matter to them. And that is something the captain needs to work on. Sometimes he seems to be acting a little too callous and cool to retain the title of Captain Cool.

        • Ridiculous this .. when did you start becoming mind readers: “it did not matter to them”.. but Ravi, you are not the only one falling prey to needless exagerrations and extrapolations.. I liked how Harsha put it..

      • Oh and the last comment is related to T20 world cup. But my earlier comment was on his overall captaincy nowadays. He does have a pretty good Test and ODI side to choose from. But the ODI performances, particularly in tournaments have been lackluster.Even in Tests you remove a Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag and the team does not even give semblance of a fight.

  11. Well written & well put Prem…For all the hype and hyperbole around it, the Indian cricket team sucked big time…and seeing that in contrast with the relatively zero coverage of the one true World Champion – Vishy Anand is just painful! *Bows with deep respect* to the guy who is really a source of inspiration and pride!

    We’ve lost before. We were just a one man team throughout the 90s. So, it’s not as if we never had our disappointments before. What is appalling to see now is the abject “lack of intent” and the “lack of sense of purpose”. One tweet by Ramesh Srivats nailed it. It went something like “can never understand why we fill our team with 8 batsmen and play like we have no batsman left to score once we lose couple of wickets”. That is the killer. We lost the game in those last 10 overs of farcical batting! And am not even going to get into how ridiculous it was to leave out Ojha or Mishra (even a Chawla did quite ok in his first game) and instead pick Ravindra Jadeja who was BAD even in last T20WC! The guys who think they are superstars (the Yuvis & Bhajjis) need a solid kick on their backsides and told to earn their right to be in the team. This tournament was just basically about one guy, Suresh Raina. But for him, it would have been even more embarrassing, if this isnt already so!

  12. For a lot of reasons, I was supporting anand passionately. Not unlike CSK in the ipl final. So, fair to say the last 3 weeks were emotional for me. And I also had my quals prep going on where I was spending ~15 hrs per day. It’s a difficult thing to follow chess passionately… because its analysis cannot be done by simple journalist folks. Nor is it so huge that there are players turned commentators like Boycott (now, is that a controversial statement :). Even commenting is cathartic!

    For people following the chess world, this is a Good-Vs-Evil Clash. Granted Topalov is talented, but he is the quintessential bad boy. He claimed Kramnik “cheated” in the 2007 World Championship Final! He respects no one as his equal, leave alone better. And anand is the gentle good natured champion who still had to prove himself all the time, especially with Topalov’s claims of being rated higher. Ratings are useless in any sport… they fail to capture the emotion in the sport. Sadly, in chess it’s a necessary evil. So, say what one might, this match represented the clash of two opposing factions in the chess world.
    Finally, the eccentric chess world oddly has a genial ‘pragmatic’ world champion. No disputes.

    • To paraphrase GM Ian Rogers – Anand was very much the underdog in this contest like Rocky in Rocky IV (Okay Topalov is not too young compared to Anand, but he was claiming it would be the edge in the contest). I really relished Anand’s performance. You can get excellent analysis of the matches in Chessbase.com

  13. In my view there could only be two reasons for such a performance from Indian cricket team.
    1. As many of you pointed out that the team selection was the main reason for such a disastrous performance from Indian team, I agree with it. But I am still not able to come to terms with Dhoni’s performance as a captain. Looking into almost all of his decisions in every match none of it make any sense. It gives me an impression that he intentionally wanted for India to perform badly in this T20 WC. May be he was not happy with the team given to him by the selectors to begin with and therefore wanted to show them a lesson or two. It was definitely not the right way to go about it but may be Dhoni decided to choose that way.
    2. The message from Indian team mangement to Indian team players before they left India was to go to WI on vacation and relax after such a hectic and draining IPL. The only condition is that in between you just have to play few matches. Otherwise how can you justify no warm up matches, no practice between the matches (even with a 5 days gap), no planning for any match, lack of any intensity in any of the matches and most heartening lack of any disappointment on their faces after the early exit. For them it was “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”.

    Now coming to positives from this WC only if concerned can understand and learn from it:
    1. A Player Fitness is much more important than his reputation.
    2. IPL performances are not a true reflection of a player’s ability to perform at international level. This is sadly true for most Indian domestic tournaments.
    3. Realization of weakness against short pitched bowling. I consider it a positive development that at least Dhoni has realized that it is an issue with all Indian batsman and nothing can be done about it if we continue to play on dead Indian pitches. Perhaps he should be reminded that Sachin, Dravid and even Sehwag lately have been playing on these dead pitches but found the ways to deal with it.

  14. Team selection issues:
    1. Not sure why Piyush Chawla was selected ahead of Amit Mishra/Pragyan Ohja
    2. Selection of so called all-rounders – Yousuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja ahead of specialists in the respective slots (7 & 8) –
    3. Horses for the courses – If yuvaraj is not in form, he should be dropped.
    4. Selection of unfit players – This is a repeated mistake from various indian captains(Dada, Dravid, Kumble, Dhoni). Not sure how this can be stopped.

    Problems in Technique:
    Failure to fix the issue of short balls for 2 consecutive WCs is a crime. Need to question the role of coach/selection committee here

    • Apart from the above
      1. I believe the timing of the selection was also a flaw. IPL being touted as the premier T20 Tournament in India, the selectors didn’t bother to wait until the end of it to actually announce the squad. Had they waited for the IPL’s completion I feel their selection would have been different in the following ways
      a) R. Ashwin would have made way into the team
      b) R. Jadeja , Piyush Chawla might not have got a look in.
      c) Y. Pathan’s performance towards the end wasn’t very pleasing
      d) Yuvi : less said the better

      Lets take R.Ashwin’s case: If one remembers well, in the second half of the tournament, he opened the bowling for CSK. More often than not, he was bowling against quality batters at the top of the order (Gayle, Kallis, Warner etc..)
      This would have done wonders to Dhoni. First he would have opted to open with Ashwin against Oz and WI. Secondly Bhajji, would have given some stability to Indian middle overs by bowling then.

      I am not saying it is entirely selection issue, There are loads of them. But selection is a key one. I wouldn’t like to have any half-fit players in my team even if it were a local saturday village cricket.

      • The timing of squad was forced by ICC. Can’t blame indian selectors for that. However, they have to be blamed for selection goof ups.

  15. Its not lack of desire as some of you point out. Every athlete who puts on the colors of their country, don’t just fiddle around. Its not for the lack of trying we lost — As Prem mentioned, it was motley group of OPT ward visitors, bandaged and out of form, but selected on reputation. The roles in the team were not defined well at all. The team composition was goofy. Over reliance on spin. Lack of overall direction for the team. If some of the blame goes to MSD for it, so be it, but i think we failed with the team selection (not that there were many other able bodied replacements lining up)
    http://thecricketcouch.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/captain-crucifixion/

    • “Every athlete who puts on the colors of their country, don’t just fiddle around. “— I dont think that always holds true. If you need an example, what about Yuvi?

  16. Plenty of reasons have been cited for an early Indian exit, ranging from IPL parties to wrong selection etc. I would not expect Dhoni to always know the exact reasons why they lost all the time ( for the same reason that we sometime fail to see our weaknesses ). IMHO, lack of technique against the short ball is just a symptom. The disease would be lack of commitment. I remeber, some years ago, Sachin used to practice with tennis balls and bowling machines to practice the bouncy pitches of australia. I don’t recall any current Indian players reported to be doing the same. We will find out soon enough if they have learnt their lessons. Afterall, T20 world cup happens every 6 months !

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