Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Fallen Warrior...?

Other than during the dark days of match fixing, there probably has never been harder times in Indian cricket than what they are currently facing. A side in transition after the retirement of two legends of cricket is never going to be easy, and as the results have shown, it hasn't gone too smoothly for India.

Against top teams, India have sunk to depths never seen before. Even during the 90s when India were poor travellers they were a force to consider at home. In the previous decade, they did well to remove the tag of tigers at home and lambs overseas, but recent results have erased out all the hardwork done.

When the team is not doing well, there will always be loud talk about who must be dropped and who must be selected. Though it is necessary to bring in changes considering the results in the past one year, change for the sake of changing is never a good option. India must realize, the side is going through a period where there will be instability as it won't be easy to replace Dravid, Laxman and in the near future Tendulkar. Chopping and changing players regularly will not help. It is very important that the youngsters coming in are given a fair chance. We have to realize that in order to become as good as some of the greats, they have to be given opportunites to fail and learn from their experiences. Laxman was pushed up and down the order initially but he was persisted with. Had he been dropped after some of the initial failures he had, world cricket would not be able to cherish such a charismatic stroke player!

One of the things which has come out very strongly during this debacle, is MS Dhoni's place in the test team being questioned. I find it quite bizzare that, when the entire top 6 is going through a bad patch, why question the number seven batsman only? Yes Dhoni hasn't been amongst the runs lately, but the replacement captain who the former chairman of selectors Mohinder Amarnath is considering hasn't been amongst the runs for the past three years!

Innings Runs Average 50s/100s
MS Dhoni 114 3784 37.46 27/05
Other Indian Keepers(From 1992-2012) 178 3530 22.7 15/3
Table Showing Runs scored by Dhoni and remaining other wicket keepers in Test Matches during the last 20 years
As we can see from the above stat how well Dhoni has done in comparison to other Indian keepers over the past 20 years. One of the points raised against Dhoni in Test matches is that he hasn't played match winning knocks like how Gilchrist did for Australia. But looking at the stats of wicketkeepers over the past decade (minimum runs scored as 1000), Dhoni has not only scored the maximum number of runs over this period, he is the third highest averaged batsman during the period. Dhoni hasn't played a single big defining knock in Tests, but he has played a lot of decisive 50s during the period. Unfortunately in India we are satisfied only if a batsman hits a 100.

Player Matches Inns Runs HS Ave
MJ Prior(Eng) 61 91 3269 131* 43.01
AC Gilchrist (Aus) 59 85 3136 162 41.81
MS Dhoni (India) 72 114 3784 148 37.46
BJ Haddin (Aus) 43 71 2257 169 35.82
KC Sangakkara (SL) 25 44 1510 185 35.11
Table Showing Highest averages by wicket keepers in Test matches during the period Dec-2002 to Dec 2012 (minimum 1000 runs scored)

When it comes to runs scored in victories, Dhoni is only behind Gilchrist during this period. It is no coincidence that India's best period came when Dhoni the batsman was contributing. With the rate at which he scores, he often gave the bowlers a few extra overs to get the opposition out.

Ideally, a 8-0 loss is good enough to end a captaincy career. But given the amount of success Dhoni had prior, it was natural that he was given a chance to redeem himself. Unfrotunately for the selectors, the senior members next in line Gambhir and Sehwag are woefully out of form themselves. The only way out here is to give Dhoni a chance to bring back the lost glory or give a young player an opportunity to rebuild the side in a similar way Grame Smith was trusted upon the captaincy at a very young age, thereby relieving Dhoni of the burden from captaincy and let him concentrate on contributing as a player.

Dropping Dhoni from the team at this stage would be a complete blunder. He has set the standards so high himself, that we expect another player to ease into his place easily. For all his contributions to Indian cricket, he deserves to be given a chance to make a strong come back. You never know the value of what you have till you loose it. Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of a cancer cell.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Thrills and Frills of Home

With all the hype surrounding the India-England series and the Indian media portraying the series as a grudge series, it is disappointing that the talk of the town has been about the nature of the pitches rather than about some engrossing cricket which has been played over the last two weeks.

A lot of talk has taken place about the extent of home advantage a team must have. I believe that’s where the beauty of test cricket lies, the different challenges one has to face when travelling to different countries is what makes cricket a very unique and intriguing sport. There have been times when spinning tracks have been ruled as unsporting and I find that pretty absurd since a green top is considered as a fair wicket. A track which turns from day one can be considered as unsporting only when the result of the game is highly dependent on the toss. A track can be considered as sporting when it favours both batsmen and bowlers equally. It has almost become a norm these days that if a bowler’s track is laid out, it is considered as a bad track, but on the other hand if it is a batsman’s paradise, no one seems to make a fuss about it.  That’s where I feel Dhoni’s unyielding request for tracks which have turn and bounce right from day one is a wonderful step in order to change the state of wickets which are prepared in India. For most part of the last decade, there have been way too many flat tracks which have been prepared leading to high scoring draws. As we saw in Mumbai, the toss was taken out of the equation, the spinners got turn and bounce from day one, fast bowlers found carry as good as one can get in India, Pietersen and Cook showed there was good value for your shots once you get in. Yes the creation of a supposedly tailor made track for India backfired, but we were able to witness some wonderful cricket, with the pitch not too inclined to support one facet of the game.

It has become a major talking point, whether India’s strategy of preparing pitches to suit their team is moral or not. Though I see no problem in having pitches suited to the home team’s strength, it is the Indian team and media’s attitude with which I am quite perplexed. The word which has been floating around has been about Australia and England preparing green tops to suit their fast bowlers, so why should India not prepare tracks to suit their spinners. The pitches during India’s tours to England and Australia where nowhere close to green tops. The only reason we lost is simple. We were outplayed in all the three departments! How else can one explain that when Australia and England used to pile up big scores, India could barely cross 250 in almost all of their innings? It wasn’t as though the pitch was green when India batted and became flat when they bowled!

There lies part of the bigger problem for India. With the retirement of stalwarts Dravid and Laxman, and Sachin’s colossal career coming to an end it is necessary they identify and back a group of batsmen who have the skills to play in all sorts of conditions. We need to give priority to performers in first class cricket -as of now we have lot of cricketers who are coming in through performances in the limited overs cricket. They can thrill but unfortunately it’s all frill! During the period between 2002 and 2007 when India did reasonably well overseas a lot credit was given to the remarkable performances of batsmen. But the most crucial element was the performance of Kumble during that period. He was the leading wicket taker overseas in the world during that period. Remarkable for a man who was considered only good for home conditions. How MS Dhoni must be wishing he had one such bowler who could perform such a similar role for him.

It is disappointing to see the team and BCCI not admitting that they performed extremely poorly during their last two tours. Results don’t matter but it is what you learn from the experiences is what Dhoni has been emphasizing on. But if you don’t acknowledge your mistakes, it is pretty hard to improve from there on. Only a couple of test wins more and Dhoni will become the most successful Indian captain ever in terms of wins registered. With the team in a transition period, and results not going his way, he is going through the most difficult phase of his career. How he performs from here, will define his legacy.

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