January 21, 2008

One Day in 2011.

It took a Sydney soap opera to crack the cast for Perth. That old adage, “don’t change a winning team” also works well when reversed – so, India changed it’s losing team, and thank heavens, rather, thank hell for that. For, had India drawn that game (if that’s what it was), they might have persisted with Rahul Dravid on top and Yuvraj Singh in the middle. Even though by then Yuvraj looked he’d rather be anywhere than in the middle. But then, Dravid didn’t look too different a few games back; and it’s rash to write off class on the basis of a few no shows.

Wherein lies the problem with Indian cricket, and the different directions it moves in – each negating the other. Trust, this is a time to cherish a remarkable win at Perth, but it’s also worth looking at a strange sequence of events.

Makes one wonder - did the Perth victory happen by default? How does India lose by over three hundred runs in Melbourne and then rise like a perky Phoenix in Perth – in the space of a few weeks? Did new coach, Garry Kirsten chant a secret mantra in Afrikaans? Or did better sense prevail?

On what basis did Virender Sehwag make it Down Under? Nearly as confusing as why he was dropped from the test team in the first place? Sehwag’s exclusion and subsequent inclusion highlights the freakiness of Indian cricket. Are the vague links between ODI, test and Twenty20 form being used to manipulate players? Often a bad run in one-dayers can cost a player his test slot – and vice versa.

When Sehwag exited, Saurav Ganguly returned to his good old top spot. Goes to show what that opening spot in one-day cricket is worth: is that why Tendulkar resisted going down the order against Chappell’s wishes? Now, in spite of scoring over 1200 runs at an average of 44, Ganguly has been dropped from the one-day team. And not rested, as is often the case –like after the World Cup debacle.

While the opening slot has as many as five takers for the upcoming one-day tri-series: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and even Dinesh Karthik; until the Sydney test, India could not even muster two full-time openers. Instead they set free some fresh demons on an already dreary Dravid.

Two tests too late, India resorted to its only other tried and tested opener, Sehwag. One can argue that Sehwag should not have been in Australia, but not to play him once there, was foolish beyond words.

Into the Perth test, along with Sehwag came another ex star player – Irfan Pathan. And if Sehwag’s story is surreal, then Pathan’s is downright weird. Both pre ‘n’ post the World Cup (ODI) it was alleged that Pathan was either not fully fit or on the verge of regaining his old bowling form – he did not play many, if any games during this time to prove match fitness or form. However, he continued to tour with the team – as in the ODI World Cup, where he was a sprightly spectator.

A far cry from the Karachi hat-trick and the Multan triple century, these two erstwhile supermen of Indian cricket were seemingly powerless – but who was using kryptonite on them is still not known?

Both Sehwag and Pathan missed the England and Pakistan series – made it to the Twenty20 World Cup, and then the flight to Australia. In Perth, they both took flight.

In the absence of Sehwag and Pathan, India’s one-day team lost to an average English team, was thrashed by Australia at home, but won against a below par Pakistani team It’s worth noting that Saurav Ganguly played in these series, scored plenty, but at a modest strike rate – 73 per hundred balls for 2007.

While 73 is level with Ganguly’s career strike rate, the one-day game with the advent of T20, is now being played with even greater frenzy. Scores of over 200 are gettable in T20, and totals in excess of 400 are being overhauled in ODIs.

Both Ganguly and Dravid score heavily, yet strike in the early 70s. Where as Sachin Tendulkar’s prolific scores come at a career strike rate above 85. Doubtless, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for ardent Ganguly and Dravid fans, and a large section of the reactionary media, but the time is ripe, yet again (it was once before when Ganguly was reinstated) – to decide on who’s in, who’s out.

Whether the selectors have shot themselves in the foot or the arm, it’s too early to say – but if it’s time for the Uthappas, Rainas, Sharmas, Gambhirs, then they should be given a fair run. For without that, it will only be a case of one bad series, and back to the usual suspects.

It helps if there is clarity between the selectors and the senior players. Because if India’s one-day team is earnestly looking beyond them, these players should be informed in no uncertain terms that the agenda is the 2011 World Cup, and they do not figure in it. That of course, in no way undermines their standing as world-class test players. If VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble can play exclusively tests, then pray, why can’t Ganguly and Dravid? By sending an unequivocal message, the seniors too would know that it’s time to move on. And won’t try to win the selectors’ nod through out of character dare devil cameos in test matches – like Rahul Dravid in the recent Indo-Pak test series.

Of course, as always cricket has a way of making the selectors look silly – and don’t be surprised if Dada, Jammie or VVS play an innings at Adelaide that demands they be picked for the tri-series.

In such a case, regardless of the media pressure, the selectors should stick to their guns, and back MS Dhoni’s team. What it achieves remains to be seen. But there will be considerable clarity, one day in 2011. Over to the next World Cup, folks!


Straight Point said...

excellent analysis!!

for once i wold like to give credit to selector for not getting carried away by perth win and awarding berth-by-perth performances...i mean they could have been easily fallen on this populist trap..

also they made bold statement that other than your primary skills...secondary skills too will be important in selection if not decisive...

the only concern is that are selectors ready to weather storm of some failures??

Naked Cricket said...

Thank you straight point. "Berth for Perth" sure has a ring to it; good it didn't ring true!