August 3, 2011

No.1: who cares?!

Sourav Ganguly is a passionate man, if his playing days, the Lord's shirt spin and the way he got into the face of Australian teams and Steve Waugh are anything to go by. Off the field, however, those close to him claimed that you could not meet a man of greater equanimity: if you took the reactions of the Kolkata fans to Ganguly's being dropped as representative of reactions from Ganguly's own cricle, you are bound to get his personage wrong for Bengal is a passionate state and had to wait several decades to get its own superstar. Why am I saying all this? Because the man formerly referred to as the Prince of Calkootta is the one former cricketer who has got his reactions to India's bruising defeats to England dead right: accept it and move on!

I don't mind admitting pride over Team India's number one status in test cricket  - I am prouder of it than the 2011 World Cup victory - despite my recurrent emphasis on the fact that the ranking arrived by default and that it has been sustained not by ruthless greatness but by coming-back-from the debris performances characterised by basic grit. Great teams do not thrive on playing catch-up, though; they just happen to be better at catching up as well should it be required. None of this is to insult the contributions made my present and past greats in ensuring that India has built up a strong front at home and overseas in the last ten years. It is only to put things into perspective - the perspective that when the focus is on the process, as the Australians like to belabour and often rightly, other things will follow. That is exactly the perspective that is missing in the reactions to India's two consecutive defeats down in England. What is sad is that past players, who you would expect not to be drawn into superficiality, make a mockery of themselves by drawing the ranking into everything they discuss - including DRS - and leave out the question marks behind the dismal performance. The reverse pattern would be better recommended.

If Dhoni's own observations over what he felt went wrong after Lord's still had a hint of humour about them, the post-Nottingham responses seemed more like excuses from a brilliant leader who was expecting sympathy. But what could the poor man do? Being hamstrung by your premiere fast bowler's hamstring injury, not having your first choice opening firm - only to see the other half also ruled out by contingency - and having to respond to questions from an eccentric media about your own form with the bat (and less notably the glovework) can affect the blithest of spirits. But therein lies not the answer, but more questions, questions which I am sure Messrs. Srinivasan and others at the BCCI will not have Duncan Fletcher - or others - answer directly.

Does the over-reliance on Zaheer with the ball - and a lesser one on Sehwag with the bat, never mind four others average over 45:00 in that most enviable of line-ups - itself say something about how the Indian cricket is still a constellation made of some bright stars, at best, never mind the rankings? Dhoni says injuries do happen - we know that! We also appreciate - as much as a non-player can - that a fast bowler's craft entails by many counts the most tangled use of the body in sport, but why is it that fitness regimes elsewhere are better ? More to the point, why is our bench strength invariably second-grade and why is one other swing bowler - someone like R.P. Singh - not travelling with the team when we have taken a substitute keeper?  A more telling question - and it had better be - is why does someone like Sehwag need to 'show himself up' for Delhi Daredevils before he undergoes a surgery but miss two important tests? This is in pathetic, sometimes shameful, contrast to how Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson have opted out of the Big Bash League in Australia to focus on getting their country's test team perform better. (If there is something that does not look the eye as far as Indian players are concerned, such as volitional priority towards your franchise - or worse, compelled priority -, then the powers that be have some answering to do). We in India are used to excuses and when a player passionately says, "Nobody would demean playing for the country," we accept it. But is the passion in the words translated into action, the planning and the prioritisation of one's time and fitness? Is a Pragyan Ojha or a Rahane getting the right sort of signals from the behaviour of seniors? I leave this case here.

BCCI's handling of test cricket raises a different issue. While the Indian board's sudden enlightenment to play more tests since two years ago is a welcome sign for test cricket in the country - and test cricket as a whole what with India being modern cricket's Mecca - the reason for this shift in priority is as parochial as it is wrong. The wrongness comes to the fore precisely when the weather becomes rough. It is clear for all intents and purposes that the BCCI wants Team India to maintain the no. 1 status - but it is commonsense, let alone reason, that that can happen only if we win games. With the sort of scheduling (that always includes the IPL!) the Indian players have - and how some are free to take breaks - we are going to find it difficult to barely stay in a test match against good teams in alien conditions let alone win any. I may sound hyperbolic. The apocalypse has not yet come; but it may well do so sooner than later (and this is regardless of the timing of the stalwarts' impending retirement).

Ultimately - I say this as a cricket fan as well as someone who knows a bit about what people generally feel - I would prefer to watch a Team India that is up for a scrap, one which can fight for 140 overs in an attempt to bat 160 and still lose, rather than a team which is top of the tree because of accident, coincidence, its captain's nouse (and good fortune!) and the deteriortation of other teams in the circuit. It is the spirit with which a team plays its sport that reveals its nature and workings.

Australia have not been "harassed" even on their worst days, which is a sign of a good team, until their recent Ashes campaign - a coincidence that their opposition, too, was England? I think not! - because doggedness has been their trade mark for decades. Flair (the other spelling would do just as well!), as Sangakkara said in his glorious MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture, is the signature of cricket in Sri Lanka. It is that - or any - spirit which, by its absence, was appalling about India's cricket in the tests at Lord's and Nottingham. But one unlikely figure, who might not have been even in the frame for this series two months ago, quietly infused whatever spirit he was capable of into his seemingly one-dimensional game. He may never be the heartthrob of female fans or threaten the sleep of test batsmen but men like Praveen Kumar bring value to a team that can never be counted or commodified. He has got wickets to show for himself, too. A few others could learn a thing or two about lifting for the occasion from the young man, the praise for whom is always accompanied by the irritating phrases "despite his lack of pace" or "in England he'll always bowl well." May be, the pundits are right but cricketers with a will have a way of succeeding anywhere and the heart they bring to the game enriches it in a big way. Besides, If cricket has to be made up only of Steyns and Shane Warnes, it will be a game for the elite in terms of talent. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth as cricketing history shows time and again. And as for now, nothing could be less important than India's number one ranking. If imagining that it is lost would inspire them to fight without a cluttered mind, it is just as well.  

10 comments:

The Venk said...

I apparently dont buy almost all of what you're saying. It's absolutely unfair to treat India's no:1 status purely by luck and coincidence. That is pure unadulterated bullshit. They have come back from so many daunting positions. They have also dominated teams. So what if it is in home conditions? England are doing it in their home condition, arent they?

So what we were embarrassed two times? We hardly had our bug guns! Any team which loses its talisman will struggle! No matter how good your bench strength.

The fatal law of gravity; when you are down, everything falls down on you. That is exactly what is happening. This is first series we are losing since the bogus cheat win by the aussies in 2007 or i think against Mendis oops SL in 2008, if I am right.

Why is it that the no1 should always be dominant as hell?

"we are there because degradation of others" really what can we do about that? Does it really matter? Why does it have to defame the no 1 status.

I tell you we dont need a Zaheer Khan, we need our openers back not some phony dokku pair of dravid and mukund who make the game seem lost before it even starts and we are already on the backfoot.

Those two put too much pressure on our middle order even more than the English bowlers.

And yeah IPL, too much cricket has been done too death. Shall we move on.

All we need to do is win one test and things will look all the complaints and lame excuse by Mahendra lameass Dhoni will stop.

All we need is that one magic innings from Sehwag, which only he can provide, which not even Sachin or Dravid can do and send these English bowlers' confidence deep down the abyss.

I know its asking for too much from a player coming from a surgery. But he is the main missile.

Ian Chappell said we cant retain no 1 status, we've hold on to it for sometime now. If we are to lose, so be it. That doesnt make our reign any less or any more than any others who reigned before.

Srinivas said...

"we need our openers back not some phony dokku pair of dravid and mukund who make the game seem lost before it even starts and we are already on the backfoot." - just shows that you have to take a dig at Dravid every single time (for all your fairness, which you DO have, you have your biases, which I hope you understand). If that is your lot in life, then so be it.

Here's my response - and just as aggressive as yours: don't even bring in Dravid into this, okay? Not in this series. And magic isn't about ONE MAN anyway, never mind the style associated with that player! (Sehwag made 195 at Melbourne 8 years ago and we still messed it up and Sehwag and Dravid ARE different players and will always BE. Period. If you want to know how the opposition looks at Dravid, look no more than at Stuart Broad's comments and if you still want to complain go ahead!) The others could not support him at Trent Bridge when we could have batted England out of the test. And you still blame Dravid for it?! Waah re waah! And what's the phrase? "make it look like the match is lost before it has already begun" - without Dravid, and I am speaking facts here not emotions, India would not have crossed even 200 in the first two tests! What happened to your captain with the Midas' touch then? His keeping and batting have been god-awful to say the least! I am not saying Dhoni has become a bad captain overnight nor that Sehwag is NOT missed but please don't overdo Sehwag's importance just as you underdo Dravid's.

Besides, Dravid was asked/coerced/forced to open or may be put his hand up because others wouldn't open - not SRT because he's GOD, not Raina or Yuvi because they can't play swing. So you (=generic) want Dravid to open, which he doesn't like, play well - and you compare him to Sehwag, inevitably - and even when he gets a hundred that could have set up the match you complain about HIM, you complain he's too slow, you complain that he puts pressure on others. Oh, come off it My Lord Venky! I am reminded of a dialogue from King Arthur and I am alterting it slightly: "Don't mistake a loyal servant for a fool!" So, don't even get me started on "this oh-Dravid-mokka shite!". I will have to open Sehwag's stats against NZ, South Africa and England then, which as you know are, to put it mildly, abysmal. I am sorry if I have come on too hard but Sehwag's way isn't the only way; nor has it succeeded in substantially alien conditions. If SEHWAG DOES play a match-turning innings in these conditions and against this attack which even Ponting & Co found difficult, even if we botch it up and still lose, I will be the first one to put my hand up and say I am wrong. I will even eat humble pie and tag you on a status message saying as much! You know me, but please don't go overboard. I say that simply because you're a man who likes others - me, more often :D - not to go overboard. So, let's wait and watch what Sehwag can do. I do agree with you on the observation that it may be too much to expect him to score a booming 150 eight days after coming in, so I will not judge him too much on the evidence of the next two tests. Sehwag is a fine batsman and he's a pioneer in his way. But to call him the "main missile" is an insult to the rest (this is not Dravid-specific!) even if you - I know - didn't mean it that way.

Srinivas said...

I agree with your observation that to treat India's no. 1 "entirely" as coincidence is unfair. I am sorry if that's how the post came across, for that was not the intention: what I meant to say was just that we have done "enough" to keep the no. 1 spot, no more. I will also accept your theory about England being strong at home. Let's see how they fare elsewhere especially in sub-continent conditions where they, including their batting, may be worse off.

As for Ian Chappell, I don't respect him or his brother Greg. Ian is nothing if not blindly nationalistic, the Australian version of Ravi Shastri - a shade better perhaps, but the point stands. :D Besides, Ian may be pissed India pushed Aus from no. 1 like Shaz is pissed about England being on the verge of doing the same to India. As they say in thamizh: "oree kuttayla oorina matta!" :D

Lastly: "Why is it that the no1 should always be dominant as hell?" Did I say they have to? Much the contrary in fact. Somewhere in the post you will find the word "scrap" - read that sentence and you will find the answer to this question. The post does not complain India's lack for dominance, it calls for better fight, which - I don't care if you're no. 1 or no. 6 - was lacking in the first two tests.

Srinivas said...

Finally: why had Sehwag to wait till some time in the IPL to wait for his surgery? You say that IPL-schedule line has been done to death - but you still sympathise - is that the word - with Sehwag expecting not much from him after an injury. My sympathies are there, too.

YOU - a fan, and so do I - know that he's important, if not integral, to the team cause. So why didn't he get himself into a position where he could be fitter earlier? I am not accusing Sehwag - may be it's the franchise heads, may be it's the BCCI overlord who knows - but on-field exploits aren't the only things, my friend. It's perhaps time that some of the Indian players, who earn enough anyway, started to think like Clarke and Johnson. I may sound too "proper" but I am unapologetic about it.

The Venk said...

First of all i wasnt undermining Dravid's contributions. But this idea of opening with two batsmen with such a defensive mindset, which did us real bad. I dont deny he is GREAT but he is defensive.

Lets say if we open with a Sehwag and Gambhir, we score pretty quickly and then if one them gets out, Dravid comes in and steadies, SRT builds on it and Laxman rescue us and Dhoni fucks it up, Bhajji plays blindfold strokes. Vola we have 350+ total for sure.

Thats why a sehwag is important for us. WI and this series we have not crossed 300. Why? No sehwag/Gambhir.

We open with Mukund/Dravid, they are already trying to steady the ship. We dont score truckload of runs. Boom! if they fail they'd be like 25/1 in 15 overs or so. It puts so much pressure on the middle order.
a. the bowlers are too confident after the wicket falls

b. The middle order has to now score more runs and not lose wickets

If Sehwag/Gambhir open lets say they'd be 60/1 in 15 overs. 25/1 and 60/1 are lot different. Now bowlers would be in a "habba" mindset not "I will dominate" you mindset It takes so much pressure of the middle order. All they need to do is build up on the momentum

Thats why i say Mukund/Dravid opening = Sehwag/gambhir failing everytime = Starting on the backfoot.

What i was trying to highlight is Sehwag can be the factor which can put over the English. As a bowler you really dont like people who take apart you. But they love bowling to a Dravid. That because he is orthdox, gives them time to settle and it is quite an enjoyable experience. Even if you dont get him, you would go on and congratulate him. You have thrown everything and yet he stood. But when you get a guy like sehwag. You'd go like "aala vidra saami!" Atleast thats how i feel.

Asking Dravid to open is too much. They should have carried another opener. Dravid is pavam. He has to open/keep.

Please look at post 2007 Sehwag. He has took apart every bowler and every team. If perth isnt alien condition I dont know what will be.

As far as the surgery. It's a judgement call of the player but there are too many factors and money riding on IPL. That may be not right in the idealistic world (i hate it as much as you do) but that is the norm in the realistic world.

Srinivas said...

I completely agree with what I see as the essence of your comment - aggressive starts put the opposition on the back foot and to a great extent Sehwag, and Gambhir, ensure that. But the lack of 300 scores to their absence alone, or absence of Sehwag, is taking it a little too far. My observation is not discursive but based on hard fact. Check the numbers out after 2007 for Viru:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/35263.html?class=1;template=results;type=allround;view=match

Firstly, Sehwag's contributions in the Perh test were decent, nothing alarming. He had a 20 and 40 in the two innings; hardly what you'd call match-winning but I still agree with you: he did done well in Australia as the final test of the 2007-08 series at Adelaide shows (a 50 and 150). He also had that brilliant 195 at MCG on Day 1 in that 2003 series!

Secondly, I tend to agree also to the assertion he's taken every attack apart. "Where" is the problem.

Sehwag scored one - yes ONE - 50 in the series against South Africa last year. His next highest score was 32. Admittedly, Dravid had a terrible series, too.

Sehwag's series in New Zealand two years ago was even worse. There was not a single 50 in four tests. So, that's two of the three non-subcontinent tours we have been on since Viru's return to the test team in 2007 - and he's hardly set the scores ringing in two of them.

None of this is to blame Sehwag. If he gets going in any of these conditions, he may still make it count. But so far he has not - except in Australia and I have a possible reason: in Australia the bounce is a greater proposition than swing and men like Sehwag and Laxman like the good bounce because you can rely on hand-eye coordination. England and New Zealand, and some wickets in South Africa, assist "swing" - in all its glory and rage - and Sehwag has failed in these conditions, perhaps - I am not sure - because of the lack of footwork. In some sense even Laxman has, till his last South Africa series, and the same can be said about him. Here again I am NOT likening Sehwag and VVS but comparing them along just ONE dimension: playing through the line which they are great at, arguably even better than Tendulkar at it.

As for Dravid being great BUT defensive - I wouldn't have it as a disjunction at all. Two years ago in the same NZ tour where Sehwag failed Gambhir played for two days in making 136 at Napier to save a test. Gambhir was playing in a way he's used to and was commended; may be Dravid has more often played "only" that way. Defence has its own value: that's not to say you demeaned defence, it is just a clarification from my end. I don't see Sehwag ever saving us a test match. May be he does not need to the way he bats but he's to better his record abroad for my money to show that all the hype surrounding him is vindicated.

I also happen to agree with your argumant about ideality versus reality. Point is: how much money IS enough (especially when BCCI keeps giving away freebees when we win a WC, a tour in some country after thrirty years and so on)? It is definitely not a rhetorical question, not anyway for you! Contrast that with the poverty of someone like E. A. S Prasanna - read a sad article recently - you wonder what the fuss is all about!

The Venk said...

There you said it :-) Sehwags more often than not "win" matches. The Dravids "save" test matches. Situation demands we "win" a test match. That is why I say Sehwag is key. :-)

I agree those arent flattering number against NZ. But if you see the tour as a whole he annihilated them.

The 40's or 30's may not look great on scorecard. They way he gets that pushes the opposition back.

Srinivas said...

I didn't say that; I NEVER did - you seem to have a way of interpreting my statements which is quite condescending.

What I meant was a Sehwag can go for broke and win you matches - but to win and save (to do BOTH well) you need quite another gear. I need not tell you Dravid has won tests on his own. If you wish to forget them - I am not saying you don't - and remember Sehwag's blitzkriegs alone (naturally sparkles are better remembered!) I will smile and accept it gladly :)

And I think you read my comment abt the NZ tour wrong: go back and check the link again. During the 2009 tour - that is like 7 innings - he did not have a single half century. So, what annihilation are you speaking of? :D

I do agree with your comment about the quickfire 40's which sets the opposition back. However, the response from my end was with reference to your earlier comment about Perth which seemed to suggest that Sehwag had done exceeding well in Perth, which as a matter of fact he did not (he may yet correct that this year!)

Anyway, I don't really want this to be a good old Dravid-Sehwag debate which it already is probably. :D If we can win ONE test in this series, regardless of who takes wickets or who scores runs, I will be happy.

The Venk said...

If you look at just the scores as such you wont get why i say he did well in perth.

If my memory serves me right, Sehwag wasnt even part of the squad and Kumble insisted on him. Sehwag at that time was a having a rough patch. He didnt play the first two tests. Guess who opened the innings surprise! surprise! Dravid/Jaffer. We lost the test by 337 runs. Zak as usual got injured. I am not undermining Dravid! It is that he should not open the innings! It is not good for Dravid or the team. At least if he has to, it should with an attacking batsman. Because if both the batsman are fighting for their life. Dravid gets into this gear i call the "ostrich". He's too good a player to go into such a shell. He needs someone to free him up not strangle him.

And then we all know what happened in sydney.

Sehwag made a comeback in perth. Scores a uncharacteristic 29 of 48. Defensive/Offensive pair puts up 57 of 16 overs. Thats a decent start. Exactly what we needed. Now this is were Dravid is good at. He steadies the ship and scores 93. India ends up scoring 300+

Second Innings. Sehwag gets us off to a flier 43 of 51 and opening partnership 47 of 9 overs. We end up scoring 294 and win the test by 72 runs and not to mention Sehwag picked two crucial wickets (that is immaterial :-P I know we are discussing batting)

Now draw parallels and replace Jaffer with Mukund. Two guys who are pretty defensive. Deja vu isnt it :-D

Sehwag is the catalyst we need. He is the missing puzzle which can put off England.

Now can you see were i am coming from? :-)

As far as the NZ tour, I said the "tour" as a whole. It comprises of t20's, ODI's and Test. He pretty much got starts in most of the innings. He looked commendable. The odd delivery did him in. thats it. He was by no means struggling in those conditions. That is what i am saying. This was what he did in the 5 innings he played.

1st test 24 of 21.
2nd test 34 of 25 and 22 of 21
3rd test 48 of 51 and 12 of 7

ODI's 77,54,3,125* and 40

What i suggest is He can do well in moving conditions. Its not that he becomes a dolly when the ball is moving.

Srinivas said...

Surrender. :D ;)

I do agree with opening not being good for Dravid, in fact for anyone who is not used to opening and does not like it. And, yes, I remember Kumble insisting on the need for Sehwag! :)