August 22, 2007

7 One-Days or 7 Wonders?

Even though one-day cricket is a different kettle of fish, lessons can be learnt from India’s recent test series win. None more important than making the English-weather work for you, as in the rain-saved Lord’s test match. The weather is still dodgy, obvious from the washed-out England Lions’ game. And though it’s late August, the weather can still be like early April sometimes.

India must factor in the rains, possibility of truncated matches, Duckworth Lewis, and then arrive at team selection and toss decisions. The Fab Four may not play the Twenty20 World Cup, but who knows what this series will fling at them.

Another lesson from the tests is how Kevin Pietersen can change a game in less than a session or the blink of an eye (whichever is shorter). Of course, when KP bats nobody blinks. With two smashing test hundreds, KP not only set-up the series for England, he counter-attacked when they were down and out. India must realise that for England to win big, KP has to fire. Team India must decode the KP enigma – and have at least 3-4 plans in place for him. For that’s where the game could be won or lost – more so in ODIs than in the test matches.

Both Bell and Collingwood wangled some batting form by their final Oval test innings. India cannot ignore their impact for long, especially the new Captain Collingwood. England will be bolstered by the inclusion of Andrew Flintoff, ODI specialists Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah. Flintoff’s batting form’s been on the wane, but he is an impact player who can win matches single-handedly, with either bat, ball or just by twiddling his thumbs on the field. In a way, he’s like Tendulkar -they both look great on a cricket field, often inspiring others to play out of their skins.

Seeing it’s a seven match series, India will have to use its resources shrewdly – and play the best team according to the conditions, and not because of reputations or rotational policy. Only once the series is secured, can India think of a liberal rotational policy.

If there are seaming, overcast conditions, should India play a specialist spinner at all? Will India dare to leave out both Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar? In a recent ODI v/s South Africa in Belfast’s seaming conditions, Chawla’s services were grossly underutilized. But then, the same Chawla rarely goes wicketless. However, if India plays four specialist seamers, there’s always Yuvraj and Tendulkar for the slower stuff; plus Ganguly who can swing it 1920s style in seaming conditions.

On the contrary, if it’s a bright, sunny, un-English day with a belter of a pitch to boot, will India play its best four bowlers – and if that means playing both Powar and Chawla, so be it. As it’s a long series spread across nearly three weeks, resources will have to be used wisely.

India will have to be perceptive about the opening partnership – Ganguly-Tendulkar may have huge reputations as one-day openers, but what good are Gambhir and Uthappa at No. 3? Especially as both players are more at-home opening. Will either Ganguly or Tendulkar agree to play lower down the order, so one of the young guns can open? By the way, Dinesh Karthik has also come off as an opener, albeit in tests.

It will be vital to balance the surfeit of right-handed batsmen (Tendulkar, Dravid, Karthik, Dhoni, Uthappa) with the left-handers (Ganguly, Yuvraj, Gambhir). In fact, the batting card must ensure righthand-lefthand partnerships run through the innings. Recently lefthanders Ganguly, Yuvraj and even Irfan Pathan have been silky smooth, while the righthanders have scrapped away. Also, when zeroing in on the seamers, can India overlook Munaf Patel’s lacks in the field? More importantly, is the big fellah fully fit?

Leaving the tests behind, we now move on to the board exams - because nothing makes or breaks cricket-careers like one-day cricket; at least in India. Credence to this is how the famous 2002 Natwest Trophy triumph kept Yuvraj’s and Kaif’s reputations as big match finishers afloat for years. And how the World Cup debacles dented reputations made over decades. This series will be no different. If the one-day series is won, the test victory will pale in comparison. And the seven one-dayers will transform into India’s seven wonders.

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