September 29, 2007

What the flux!
By Gaurav Sethi

Contrary to what everyone and their cricket punditjee may say, Indian cricket is in a heightened state of flux. And regardless of the India-Australia series’ result, flux is here to stay. It started unassumingly with senior players dropping out of the T20 tournament - gained momentum with each subsequent win - and became super-flux with the T20 championship victory.

Flux in Indian cricket is not a bad thing by any means. But it happened, as often does here, by default - with Rahul Dravid’s announcement that he, Tendulkar and Ganguly will not play in the Twenty20 World Cup. One thing led to another, and before we knew, flux had taken over the reigns of Indian cricket. And this is how it unfolded:

1) No captain, M.S. Dhoni takes over.
2) No deputy, Yuvraj Singh takes over.
3) No openers - Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag take over.
4) No Sehwag in finals - debutant Yusuf Pathan takes over.
5) No Gambhir at no.3 - Robin Uthappa takes over.
6) No Ramesh Powar - Harbhajan Singh takes over
7) No Zaheer Khan as spearhead - RP Singh and Irfan Pathan take over
8) No Yuvraj – Rohit Sharma takes over
9) No Ajit Agarkar – Sree Santh and Joginder Sharma take over.
10) No M.S. Dhoni as wicket keeper – Dinesh Karthik takes over
11) No lucky mascot – Piyush Chawla takes over

By the end of the tournament, nobody in the Indian team was indispensable. When did that last happen? For years, Tendulkar’s dismissal made fans dismiss their T.V. sets. Then, when Tendulkar’s star was on the wane, Sehwag was the chosen one. And after Sehwag, Dhoni now threatens to become the man upstairs. Meanwhile, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Saurav Ganguly worked their wonders behind the scenes.

The difference between the first and second lot is overall impact in all forms of cricket along with public and media perception: Tendulkar and Sehwag were impact players in both tests and one-dayers – also, they were perceived as big match winners in both forms. While Dravid’s and VVS Laxman’s impact in test cricket was unquestionable, their reputations as one-day players was never in the same hallowed ballpark. And while Ganguly was a top ODI player, his success in tests wasn’t quite the same. But these lacks were nearly compensated by his captaincy.

Today, M.S. Dhoni is young in both test and ODI years. Yet he threatens to reach cricket’s Everest, where Tendulkar and Sehwag once camped, almost unaccompanied. Two crucial test innings in England plus many more in ODIs and T20 plus a short albeit highly regarded stint as captain. However M.S.D. will do well to take a leaf out of Ganguly’s career book - as they say, the same thing that makes you live can kill you in the end.

Meanwhile, Yuvraj nearly usurped Dhoni’s exalted position in the T20 World Cup. But as in the case of Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, this was only one form of the game – and though Yuvraj gets top billing in T20 and ODIs, he is no cowboy in test cricket.

Ever wonder, why no one speaks of Michael Bevan and Mark Waugh in the same breath? While the short ball kept Bevan out of the longer version, Yuvraj needs to exorcise his spin demons. No accident that the Paki spinners bowled during Yuvraj’s T20 innings in the final.

Even though it is premature to gauge many of the T20 players just yet, by creating a larger pool of 33 players across 4 grades, there will clearly be no one Team India. Especially with the bizarre cricket calendar - an ODI vs. Australia just four days after a World Cup final – two days after returning home - with one day for pre-match conditioning; it’s now realistic to have two-three different teams.

While this could mean the end of the demigod cricketer, it might well ensure that players do not break down mid tournament or in between a series – or an ill-timed T20 World Cup doesn’t short circuit key test players. What if Australia was here for a test series (instead of the seven ODIs) with both Ponting and Hussey injured? If anything, players will have to be smarter about when they play and when they abstain.

Recently, when Sachin Tendulkar cramped in an ODI, barely half way through the innings, it was a strong pointer that enough is enough. According to Tendulkar then, two days recovery time between games wasn’t nearly enough. Even though Sachin spoke of himself and his adding cricket years, even a teenager will burn out at this frantic pace. In cricket, nobody is eighteen till they die. Not when the itineraries are on cocaine.

The India-Australia series has the same punishing schedule as the ODI games in England (with barely two days break between games), yet hopefully, better sense will prevail now. So if in one game Ganguly-Tendulkar open, in the next, Gambhir-Uthappa can kick off. This same logic could have Zaheer Khan make way for Sree Santh and Powar for Harbhajan.

As it was in the T20 World Cup, another player can always take over. Worst case, you lose without a key player. But then, you can also lose with that key player. And it’s better to lose the odd game, then a key player to the odd injury.

The key is not to panic when India loses with new blood. Better to write it off as an investment in future successes. Better to embrace flux today, rather than badly injure Indian cricket tomorrow.


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Best, Girdhar Gopal

P.G.Gopal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Naked said...

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