Vantage point

Friday, May 26, 2006

Here Come The Excuses

We must give credit to the West Indian bowlers. They have bowled well up front with the new ball, and their spinners have controlled the game in the middle overs, at the crucial stages, by not giving us singles and keeping the pressure on.
A lot of our guys, and they are all young guys, haven't played here at all.
The one-day games come thick and fast, and we just haven't had the time to review things. The young guys also need some time to get used to the slow wickets here.

and he also says

It is not an excuse.

While Rahul Dravid's captaincy started with a whiff of freshness, one wonders if it had to do with the fact that the team was winning every one dayer in sight. When you are winning, you don't have to answer too many uncomfortable questions.

Now that India have been whipped 3-1, Dravid is coming up with the same predictable and tired excuses. We don't have the experience. We didn't get used to the pitches. Etcetra etcetra.

As for exprience, where has it gone, you ask? Tendulkar is injured, but others? Considering that your last series in the West Indies was barely 4 years back. Considering that a side which was then truly inexperienced managed to take the ODI series 2-1. And the equally inexperienced team became the first Indian team to win a test match in West Indies after 26 years.

You have just ended most of the careers of members of that team in a bizarre witch-hunt. Ganguly is now not even considered. Neither is Kumble. Laxman, an all-surface batsman is also never considered. And Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, two bowlers who did a commendable job last time around, may as well announce premature retirements.

And the one bowler who has actually gotten a measure of the wickets and is bowling with some decent pace (he was consistently around 87-88 mph yesterday) and troubling the batsmen, Ajit Agarkar, is being sent home after the ODI series and will not be playing the tests.

So please, Dravid & Chappell. You can not have your cake and eat it too. If fresh blood, young legs, baggage-less players are your mantra, you can not abandon it at the first whiff of defeat and make predictable excuses.

You need to look at the reasons behind every defeat and work on them. In the second ODI, half the team got out skying the ball when there was no need. The required run rate was below 4 and the team was holing out like madmen. Why? Then in the third match the team scored 42 runs off the last 15 overs. Did Holding and Garner return to bowl? How can a run rate of less than 3 in the last 15 overs be explained? Just by saying Dhoni was run out early and Yuvraj was injured?

In the 4th match, the team never showed any urgency whatsoever to step up the run rate. The "experimentation" which was supposed to prepare players to fit into any situations was not able to prepare anyone to take the score to 250 and beyond?

And what is the deal with the way the Windies spinners were handled? Not even taken for 4 an over! No use of the feet, no clever nudges, nothing. It was as if the boundaries were being shortened only when Ramesh Powar was bowling.

In general, I have not been a fan of Dravid opening in ODIs. He does not have that swash-buckling attitude to be a productive opener. Plus he is more useful in the middle order anchoring an innings.

I have said once before that the real test of cricketing skills happens in ODIs where the score is between 200 and 250. It means that the bowlers have a more challenging job to do than just bowl at an economy rate of slightly under 5 an over. The captain has to do more than just position fielders on the boundary. The batsmen have more to do than just get in line and swing. And typically just one player can't win the match on his own. He needs assistance.

And in such matches, India has been thrashed by a team which is in the bottom half of the ranking table.

One good thing about this tour is that the ODIs are first. In the last season or so, the tests have been first. So India loses or underperforms in the tests, but then wins ODIs and all is forgiven. This time it has started by losing the ODI series. So hopefully the team will be jolted into motivation for the test series. The World-Cup-centric Greg Chappell (I am willing to bet a thousand rupees that if India does not win the World Cup, he will not seek extension of his contract) will hopefully be shamed into looking at winning test matches as well.

One positive fallout of Tendulkar being injured is Laxman's test career, almost bizarrely under threat, gets another lease of life. One hopes he can make this series his own. The bowling will be completely to his liking.