Tuesday, December 11, 2012

India-England Series - What is Troubling India’s Star Cricketers?

By Carl Jaison:

India has been annexed and annihilated. The England team has scripted a historic victory in the 3rd test played at the Eden Gardens by vanquishing India by 7 wickets, thereby becoming the first team to beat India in two consecutive matches since it last happened in 1999-2000. England coasted to a comfortable lead in the 4 test-match series 2-1, with the Nagpur test and the coveted series up for grabs.

The alarm bells have already rung for the Indians with some bold decisions being initiated by the BCCI, as against some irresponsible and impatient attitude of the home team. Experienced pace-spearhead Zaheer Khan, middle-order batsman Yuvraj Singh, and India’s once-upon-a-time prominent spinner Harbhajan Singh have been axed from the squad for the final test and the exit doors may well be shown to the remaining under-performers if India yet again bites the dust in the crucial Nagpur test.

The win augurs well for the visitors who have shown relentless hard-work and extraordinary temperament to receive glorifying praises from their ever hungry media and ex-cricketers alike. The comprehensive routing of India has indicated a hard truth - India is no longer a menace, even at home. All it takes to beat sub-continental teams is to give them a taste of their own medicine.

India’s evergreen greats of the game and cricket experts have lashed out hard at their successors terming that the team looked unprepared and erratic even before the commencement of the 3rd test. India has forgotten the art of playing test cricket which emphasizes the need to play stubborn and patient cricket, rather than exhibiting restlessness and quirkiness while occupying the crease. The body language of the Indians depicted a sense of complacency and egotism which undid their reputation.

The scathing remarks from the cricketing fraternity is sure to keep the demoralized unit introspect about their wrong-doings and most importantly, deduce the right way forward from this tricky situation.

How did India loose the plot after the convincingly winning  the first test? Post-mortem in sport is as difficult as it gets but there are evident differences from the 3 tests that India should definitely ponder upon. Usually India loves to win the toss, elects to bat first, and amasses a mammoth first innings score, preferably 500+. This is precisely what India failed to achieve in the 2 losing encounters. The Indian inability to muster a sizeable score has also been attributed to England’ change in team composition where the inclusion of Monty Panesar and Steven Finn has proved to be the turning point of the series.

If the wickets of Ahmadabad and Mumbai were rank turners, the placid track of Kolkata was sure to facilitate run-scoring and provide a conducive environment for accumulating personal bests, like the timid innings of England skipper Alastair Cook. This invariably reflects our heavy dependence on the services of the openers to provide decent starts, which was aptly delivered in the fourth innings of the third test where Sehwag and Gambhir raced to 86 at the end of the first session. From the very next ball (which was the first ball of the post-lunch session), India famously collapsed yet again, starting with the fall of India’s impact batsman, Virender Sehwag. This effected the fall of quick wickets and India eventually folded up, conquered and subjugated.

Virender Sehwag is no more the ‘Save’wag of the memorable Indian past. His rapid innings characterized by destructive and demolishing batting have time and again rescued India, staring at potential defeats and have often swung the match in his team’s favour out of impossible scenarios. His past credentials ensured that he was given the “right to run riot” over the opposition bowling attack by his captain and coach which further enhanced his confidence level.  However, his past records notwithstanding, Sehwag has turned out to be an unreliable batsman who bothers little to play according to the situation of the game, exercising his right to demolition almost shamelessly.

His ton in the first test gave hints of the Delhi dasher playing with responsibility but the following 5 innings totally rubbished the indications of improvement. That century also saved Sehwag from the swipe of the selectors axe; otherwise he would be cooling his heels at his residence. Nevertheless, Sehwag is no more entitled to his absolute and exclusive right of playing ‘slam-bang cricket’ and this has been made evident by the selectors who have dropped him from the T20 series scheduled to begin at the end of the test-series.

Gambhir remained defiant in a handful of innings but India expected a Cook-like innings from this hard-working left-hander. He began the series on a disastrous note but quickly found his touch in the process of notching up a couple of half-centuries. The blatant mistake he committed was the occasional prod at wide deliveries which has plagued his cricketing style. He is the sort of player who has the requisite temperament to play the long innings and blessed with the gift of grinding out runs. But the singular flaws he committed often led to his dismissal due to which Gambhir has under-performed. His recent pugnacious knocks and deep-fielding prowess will ensure him an extended run but Gambhir’s knack of converting the starts to big scores will decide his fate.

Chetashwar Pujara is perhaps the only batsman in the current Indian test team who can confidently display his report-card but it is necessary for a youngster like him to grab hold of the available opportunities as a few more innings of low scores may lead to his ouster. Such is the thankless nature of the cricketing system that a beginner, who fashioned a remarkable victory in Ahmadabad, courtesy a fine double century, needs just a short string of bad scores to be shown the back-door.  That he has failed in only 3 of the 6 innings he has batted may defend his case but being the only apparent man-in-form, Pujara should soak in the responsibility of steering the team out of trouble, like he admirably did in the first two tests.

Sachin Tendulkar, on his part, just goes on and on. His former teammate and close friend Saurav Ganguly says a player knows when his body and mind will show signs of calling it a day, further adding that Sachin is best suited to make a call on himself on retirement lines. However, this comment no longer holds value. Just recently, Ganguly exclaimed that if he were in Sachin’s position, he would call it a day abruptly, without further embarrassment. Indeed, embarrassing were  Sachin’s dismissals. His reflexes have died out, the vigour has evaporated and his mindset captivated by uneasiness. His sole existence in the team is because of his enviable historical record but the yardstick employed to measure performance is current form which he has woefully lacked. If not for his face-saving 70-odd score in the first innings of the third test, Indians may have awoken to one of the most shocking morning headlines ever: Sachin Tendulkar ‘rested’ due to poor form. Because it is Sachin, it will never be ‘dropped’, as he is the unquestionable and irrefutable of Indian cricket.

Virat Kohli’s promising talent may have found sympathy with selectors,  making them shower him with excessive opportunities, but the fact still remains that if any batsman was to face the hard music - composed by the selectors - it had to be the U-19 World-Cup winning captain as he is yet to play an innings of significance in this series. Apart from being the only batsman in the team to be deprived of even a half-century in the ongoing series, Kohli’s on-field behavior has been pathetic, including his fist-up jibe at Trott after securing the winning runs in the first test and unnecessary reaction to Cook’s dismissal effectuated by his run-out.

Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary have proven themselves to be indispensable for their respective Ranji outfits, and if Kohli continues with his spiteful attitude, with his bat remaining silent, then he may well feature in Delhi Ranji Trophy games in the near future and loose his spot to the aforementioned talented trio. But, with age on his side, as well as backed with a savvy instinct, Kohli represents only a handful of tough-minded cricketers who relies much more than their sporting proficiency to mute the most aggressive of opponents. But if only his bat could advocate his stance…

If it was past performance that saved Sachin him from the blushes, the same accelerated Yuvraj Singh’s ouster from the team. Known to be a predominantly limited overs cricketer, Yuvraj has been often dropped from test series midway owing to shoddy performance. The stylish left-hand batsman, who made a comeback into the team after being sidelined due to health issues, played with consummate ease in the first test making his way to a scintillating half-century. But, his failure to replicate them in the next two tests has ensured that Yuvraj decided his own fate. But more than his incompetence with the blade, it was the manner of dismissals that prompted the selectors to crack the whip on the talented batsman. Clearly, he appeared unfit for match appearances as he tired down easily, overhauled by fatigue as witnessed whenever he chased the ball to prevent the boundary.

But the treatment he received from the selectors was vehemently opposed by Indian batting legend, Sunil Gavaskar who lambasted the decision of his omission questioning that if Yuvi was dropped due to poor performance, then others in the team deserved to be punished as well. Pity this Punjab lad who celebrates his birthday on 12-12-12, but numbers do matter in the eyes of selectors as well.

Dhoni braved the post-match media conference in typical style suggesting that he is not going to shy away from taking up responsibility for the humiliating loss and rubbished rumors of him relinquishing the captaincy role. Surely, the Indian skipper’s stand is heroic and ethical, if not justifiable, but what goes against him is that it is not his captaincy skill alone that attracted criticism but his batting technique that has once again come under the scanner. Dhoni may have defended the googlies and doosras thrown at him by the media circle, but he failed to contain the spin twins of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann. He doesn’t have a reason like the one Tendulkar and Kohli have in their favor, instead Dhoni’s vindication is his role in the team itself. One would find it dumbfounded that the current squad has no reserve wicket-keepers, thus Dhoni is safe for the time being but what remains to be seen is how long he can escape criticism, banking on his skipper-role, when his batting in the longest format is preposterous. Irrespective of the Nagpur result, Dhoni should face some tough and uncomfortable questions and formulate remedies to ensure a path of futuristic action. His stubbornness  in wanting ‘first-day turners’ back-fired miserably as not only did India succumb to the visiting team’s spinners, but Dhoni won the toss on all 3 occasions which provides him minimal scope for excuses. Only a captain who can assuredly tackle spin on spin-friendly tracks can have the right to ask for the preparation of the same.

R Ashwin, the off-spinner, excelled, but strangely, on the batting front. Before the brickbats are heaved onto him, a word of acknowledgment is pending for this courageous lad who single-handedly took the fight to the opposition and ensured India avoided an innings defeat and managed to ensure that his team lived to fight another day. The Indian frontline batsmen should pick a leaf from his book. Not only did he develop partnerships with the tail-enders, thereby delaying the inevitable, but he also played his shots with extraordinary finesse and delicacy. The unexpected batting hero deserves great admiration, beyond recognition, because he performed something which he wasn’t expected to.

However, Ashwin’s stubborn innings of an unbeaten 91 will be a thing of the past and a short-lived memory. His selection in the team was to pick wickets, which he hasn’t effectively delivered. The much-anticipated ‘surprise delivery’, which he prophesized that he would experiment in this series, was hardly remembered. His opposite number, Graeme Swann, bowled with much more venom and thus, extracted good purchase from the pitch. Whatever the allegations may be, India should give a serious thought about elevating Ashwin to the top of the batting order.

Pragyan Ojha, was the hero with the ball for India but he was outclassed absolutely by Monty Panesar. Though Ojha picked up wickets even when he looked less likely to, the left-arm spinner is being urged by former spin-greats to fasten his ball-release, similar to what Monty Panesar is doing. Also, his follow-through after ball-release is weak, compared to the strong follow-through of Monty, which has been attributed to his ‘queer slanting position’ during time of release. As long as he is picking wickets, India would be well served but the problem is that the pace of his stock delivery is so predictable that the only way he can account for wickets is by forcing in the ‘arm-ball’, a left-arm spinner’s variation. He does generate mouth-watering flight in varying angles but it is the speed of his delivery which needs enhancement.

On a mysterious note, it is bizarre that no conventional left-arm spinner, neither Panesar nor Ojha, attempts to employ the unconventional chinaman delivery, which is a decent variation for a left-hand batsman. Probably, Shadab Jakati, who plays Ranji cricket for Goa, is the sole exception to this strange case.

To put it plainly, Zaheer Khan’s days in the Indian squad were numbered. It was only a matter of time before the injury-prone bowler would be eventually shown the exit doors as his wicket-taking ability has dried up. The usual sting he generates in each delivery was badly missing due to which even debutant Nick Compton played the veteran bowler with relative ease. Known for his knack of dismissing left-handers, Zaheer seldom troubled Cook who played him with caution mixed with aggression. He is widely touted as a sophisticated craftsman of reverse swing but rarely produced them as opposed to James Anderson and Steven Finn who reverse swung the ball with great skill and control. His problems further compounded when he found himself left out from the T20 series, hinting at a possibility of the tactful pacer taking to retirement.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Recent Posts Widget