April 07, 2008

Average Guys.

“You have been weighed, you have been measured and you have been found wanting.” - when Graeme Smith declared overnight, only 418 runs ahead, he had slapped India’s batsmen with their net worth in runs. Had Smith a sense of humour, he would have declared at 152 – 76 runs ahead of India’s similar first innings total. However, taking into account inflation and a true 3rd day wicket, 494 for 7 declared was almost bold for the South Africans.

Here was a team that reveled in playing oppositions into the ground, specially the likes of New Zealand, Bangladesh and other one-day wonders. This however, was India. Fresh from one man’s wonder in Chennai, and a one test wonder in Australia. But with such teams, before long, wonders cease.

What’s disturbing is how the team selection plays blind man’s bluff. Presumably, the Aussie summer (along with Ponting) belonged to Ishant Sharma; but he only played after an injury to Zaheer Khan. Just as Sehwag played at Perth after the twin faults of Melbourne and Sydney. Or Irfan Pathan played here, because of Sachin Tendulkar’s injury. Or as Piyush Chawla may play in Kanpur.

Pathan’s inclusion may be the least of India’s concerns. He remained not out in both innings, scoring a fun 21 and 43. He bowled 21 listless overs, uncannily similar to R.P. Singh –in both input and output. Forget the Australia tour, darling, yeh hai India!
But how does a bowling all-rounder replace Sachin Tendulkar? Had Tendulkar played this test, would Pathan have played too? Unlikely. But he played due to a vacancy, while India couldn’t decide whether it was a seaming wicket or a spinning track. Also India had to first play its two best bowlers (on reputation, seniority, captaincy), so Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh picked themselves. But there was some green on the wicket. And India got greedy and took Tendulkar’s unavailability as a sign from God knows who. They decided to play Pathan in addition to the opening bowlers.

That R.P Singh was rueful at Chennai, in addition to being unfit did not matter. Most players carry niggles anyway – an injury occurs only when you’re fully incapacitated. Also there was a game to be won: three quicks, two spinners, let’s pulverize the Proteas with all we got!

By the time Pathan played his role as a bowler, the match was lost many times over. But to make sense of his selection, let’s flip Pathan’s role – and call him a batting all-rounder. Let’s revisit Jacque Kallis’ modest beginnings as a test batsman: initially Kallis’ test match average hovered in the 30s. But it wasn’t long before his average shot up through the 40s to the high 50s of today. While comparing Pathan to Kallis is nigh ridiculous, it’s a pointer for Indian cricket - to decide what it wants from Irfan. Kallis was always a batsman first, and then the 3rd or 4th bowler, in spite of being one of the world’s leading allrounders.

Repeatedly against the South Africans (in the tour games to that country) and now in Ahmedabad, Pathan has shown enough skill as a middle-lower order batsman against quick bowling to be taken seriously. But it’s his bowling that has failed him; at least in India. While the multiple roles, from test opener to pinch hitter at number three, in addition to the Chappell-Dravid experiments, have only confounded matters, it’s worth asking, why is only Irfan Pathan deemed special enough to be experimented with?

Today, Pathan’s test batting average is in the low 30s, much like his bowling average. Dhoni’s test batting average is a tad higher than Pathan’s. But while Dhoni is a power center, Pathan is a mere pawn. In spite of this, Pathan continues to look good with the bat.

Another player who has looked good with the bat is Saurav Ganguly. Over the last year, he’s scored regularly. His career average is in the 40s, as is VVS Laxman’s, who has also had a good last year. Not so with Rahul Dravid, in spite of which he’s still perceived as India’s most reliable test batsman. Most impactful batsman: Virender Sehwag. Most influential batsman: Sachin Tendulkar. The last three with test averages in the 50s. Untouchables?

In the make-believe joint family of Indian test cricket, all these batsmen should play together in harmony. But after 76 all out, there is a dire need for accountability. And frankly dropping Wasim Jaffer, Irfan Pathan or R.P. Singh, and including Piyush Chawla, Ishant Sharma or even Munaf Patel is far from the answer.

This cannot be more dirt under the carpet like the World Cup first round ouster. Where players conveniently return after a short sojourn. Until the time when a Dhoni wins a World Cup and demands his own one-day team.

What happened? And why did it happen? Can the shareholders of Indian cricket have some answers?

Or do we continue to blame an expendable opener or lower middle batsman? That is always easier. As the highly respectable batting averages continue to maintain themselves. With some feel good cosmetic changes to the team. And the circus moves on to the next town!

22 comments:

Ottayan said...

NC,
Agree completely with your writing.

I feel they are commiting the same mistakes again.

Straight Point said...

excellent NC!!

thoght the defeat is worst that could happen after high of down under...all is not yet lost and we are still good team...

lets have faith in our team...

lets not praise them to top after one win and dust them for a loss...

Naked Cricket said...

ottayan - give it a year or so, then new mistakes will be made.

Naked Cricket said...

SP -if only the team could have some of your sense of balance. seriously, there's an imbalance about this team that rears its ugly head every other test. Too many power centres, not unlike earlier Pakistani teams. And yet we win tests, is that personal brilliance or what? But then even the Windies won a test y'day.

Bhaskar Khaund said...

G ji , well we just need to see the big hype machine out there for what it is and go easy on expectations....there's been plenty progress down the years but for all that we're as average a team as ever (esp. against pace) - by definition , there will be deviations on both sides of the average from time to time...lets just feed off the good moments when they come ...actually , even as i write this , i've just realised how non-bothered i am about this loss..hey wow , i mean , until now something like this would have set off that usual chain of sarcy SMS's quicker than the 1st innings lasted ...yeeeeaaaaayh :-))

Straight Point said...

NC

which of the last few wins we had were coz of personal brilliance...?

infact, everybody (not so long ago) praising 'new' india that now its team india which is winning...

Naked Cricket said...

Bji, I can accept the fact that we're an average team, but frankly so are the SAFs and every other team that plays cricket today.

It's the law of averages - you win one, you lose some. The series in SAF got to me more, we had them, by the scruff of their saf necks! This series, I dunno, always more skeptical when we play at home. Esp after the Aussies ran thru us in Bangalore - and there I was running to Bangalore to watch.
send in the sms-es man, and write some cricket too. You gotta add some stink on sulekha.

Naked Cricket said...

SP,
Point taken.
My take on India's test team is that it's far from joined at the hip. Even when 3-4 guys have a major stake in a win (like Pathan, SRT, RD, VVS in Perth) they appear to succeed in spite of each other, rather than becoz of...

Here's my comment on SB's blog:

Right now, it's down to Dravid's entire test career vs Ganguly's last year of rediscovery as a test batsman.
One must outweigh the other for Indian cricket to find its balance.

Soulberry said...

Gaurav, a nice write-up and you raise a significant point when you say India is coming from a step or two behind since Australia. A reactive game and selection which you have aptly called blind man's buff.

It is only one match that India has lost, and it is suggested that one shouldn't panic, but it is the nature of the loss and the innings before this match which raises worry at home. For in effect India slipped at Chennai as well.

I would also consider the India-Pak series where India's bowling was once again found wanting at critical times.

All these suggest that India's home performances are slipping - bowling and batting.

I hope someone has the right solution to it all.

scorpicity said...

Maybe if they address all their injury problems and not play for the sake or greed to play, perhaps things may make some sense.

I definitely think that there is a rift now between the oldies and the duo of Yuv-Dhon on that Aus ODI selection. How else can you explain Yuv not playing in the test x1 in the absence of Tendulkar.

John said...

Did you notice Ganguly-Dhoni in partnership? Not once did they speak to each other.

John said...

Excellent write, btw.

Naked Cricket said...

soulberry,
When we somehow wangled a 1-0 vs Pak, again thanks to Misbah's misdemeanours, it was wake up time. Mixing up with ODIs here, but the 3-4 loss to Eng was wake up time again. Like 0-2 after Sydney. Like 0-0 after Chennai. Like 0-1 after A'bad. gotta wake up before they're barbad!
Play only fit players.

Naked Cricket said...

scorpicity,
man, they gotta address, phone, fax n email all the injury problems. How are we any different from the Pak side that bowls H.E. S. Akhtar I for cute li'l 3 over spells vs India. Ok, we bowl our injured blokes for 21 overs, grt! They gotta wake up n smell the stinkin socks.

re the rift, reckon, everybody's too touchy around here. It's not pro sport for a lotta guys, still the quota syst. gotta remove that cyst. Can get cancerous.

YS not playing, is ok. But in Kanpur he'll make his last test 100 again. In BCCI currency that will be Sehwag's 319 X 40; Top dollar billing!

Naked Cricket said...

Thank you John!
That's disturbing. At least they should call each other names!
Btw Dravid-Dada was another one - when RD clocked 10k, their exchange was so put on, got very put off! But this was hyped in the papers like a Castro-Mrs G-Brezhnev menage a trois.

Straight Point said...

i don't think dada dhoni thing is disturbing...not everybody can gel together...i will be more interested in if this affects team chances...

oz have had history of players who dont stand each other and infact went public about it...but once they step inside field everything is left behind but for common goal of doing good for team...

thats how see it and thats how it should be...

Naked Cricket said...

SP,
such stuff gets noticed when you win - post Perth Ponting had a go at Symonds re IPL contract vs playing for Australia. Sour grapes of a bitter man?
Btw who are these Aussies you talk about?

Naked Cricket said...

"gets noticed when you lose"

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Straight Point said...

waugh/warne

warne/gilly/ricky

warne and their coach...

and i am sure there were many instances in past too...

Straight Point said...

...john buchannan

Naked Cricket said...

thanks for the refresh. yeah, the buchanan-warne angle was wired.
in the present lot, there's a symonds-clarke-captaincy angle. but is that just a media creation?