Vantage point

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How the Duleep Trophy Helps

Before the series started, everyone on either side of the border was of the border was of the opinion that India are favourites. The few who still gave Pakistan a chance did so on the basis of their battle-readiness. They reasoned that any team that has just spent a couple of months down under will be playing one level above itself. It may be short of confidence, but it won't be short of match practice. The Indians on the other hand had just been on a 2 month vacation. Prior to that, they played Bangladesh, who are not exactly top notch opposition. So one would expect the Pakis to be warmed up, and the Indians to be a bit rusty.

However the Indians seem pretty match fit, and this shows the merits of having your international stars play domestic cricket. Almost all the stars have been involved in a pretty competitive Duleep Trophy, and since the tournament is zonal, it ensures that your opponents are the cream of Indian domestic cricket. A South Zone vs West Zone match is much better match practice than a Saurashtra vs Assam match for instance. So those of you who are wondering how Zaheer started off his first spell with such surgical precision, and how did our pal Viru start middling the ball so well, go check up on the Duleep Trophy scores.

Well, now that the mystery of how the Indians are so match fit has been solved, let us analyse how come they are doing well (as a caveat I should add the words "so far" because Indo-Pak games are the exact opposite of subhash Ghai films when they come to predictability). For the simple reason that the team they are facing seems no better than any Duleep Trophy team!

What does a Duleep Trophy team have? Take your regular 6 top order batsmen, plus 4 on the bench, so that's 10 international class batsmen. Similarly take 5 pacemen and 3 spinners, so thats 8 international class bowlers. Now divide them into 5 zones, and on an average you have about 2 class batsmen, and 1.5 class bowlers.

Look at the Pakistani team. You have two international class batsmen in Inzy and Youhanna. And with Sami, Kaneria and Naveed combined you have 1.5 international class bowlers. Everyone else in the Pakistani team has been struggling to prove themselves. Just like last year. Only instead of Imran Farhat, Yasser Hameed, Shabbir Ahmed and Fazl-e-Akbar, you have Salman Butt, Younis Khan, Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan and Kamran Akmal.

Last year's team was much stronger than this team, plus it was playing at home. If you go by the book, India should whitewash Pakistan, or at least win it 2-0. And that will be the true test of Ganguly's men. Though the Indian team has been improving year-on-year, it still hasn't taken tis game to a consistent level, where it will wallop a weak opposition. Losing to the full strength world champs last year was no shame. But not crushing South Africa was disappointing. The way things stand right now, India is miles ahead of Pakistan. The one bowler who can change games in a session, Shoaib Akhtar, is not playing.

To truly stake claim to the Number 2 spot, India should win by at least 2-0. And as if by poetic justice, that would actually catapult India to the 2nd position in the ICC Rankings above England.