Mission 2011 World Cup: Wrong Path?

August 19, 2008

The Indian ODI side has lost another battle to Mendis. I’d written them off even before a single ball was bowled in the series. Soulberry is postively miffed and strangely I thought they should have been doing exactly what SB suggests.

But the anxiety and emotion isn’t just about this series. It is about the so-called mission to win the World Cup in 2011.

While there is value in the vision itself (I do have some reservations on the over-emphasis that the World Cup is getting, but I’ll save that for another day), for some time now it has taken precedence to common sense. I think the selectors and us, the serious-Indian-cricket followers, have mostly overreacted to the T20 victory. Just because a young side that won us a World Cup in a abridged format does not mean that was the way to go. Again, we also overreacted to the ODI series victory in Australia, which I have said time and again was largely due to Tendulkar and some good fast bowling from the younsters: not the Uthappas and Rainas.

This reaction has brought about precisely two things: a meteoric rise in the importance of Dhoni and wholesale recruiting of inexperienced youth from an U-19 cricket team. Dhoni’s recent success has hidden his rather mono-dimensional-nature as captain and less-than-solid batting from scrutiny. Dhoni isn’t a thinking captain, Azharuddin was. Dhoni is a lucky captain, at least so far: his troups have delivered. While there is nothing wrong with that the lack of ingenuitity or depth is bothersome. Perhaps this is the series which might expose these aspects of Dhoni further more. I’m not suggesting that we sack Dhoni now. That would be knee-jerk and the problem isn’t really with the captaincy, though I must add he hasn’t been doing much either. Besides, we don’t have a replacement captain. Please don’t suggest Yuvraj, he’s even worse! This itself is a crisis unprecedented in the last 10-15 years. When Azhar had to go, there was Tendulkar; when Ganguly was sacked, Dravid was ready. Even when Dravid stepped down, Dhoni made it because there was no one else, not out of his own merit. The second issue is of more importance. We’ve had a good deal of failures even the recent past of 3+ years from the Chappel era of recruiting U-19s to the Indian team. A cursory look at these names leads credence to the view that this really isn’t the way to go: Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Mohammed Kaif. In Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Ohja we perhaps have our next failed experiments. Domestic cricket is there for a reason and cricket is not a boys’ game. It involves either genius talent ala Tendulkar or just pure hard work. Gambhir learned it the hard way and is now back after having spent some time in the domestic circuit. Barring Tendulkar, the other Indian batting greats of today, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman roughed it out before they were even considered to represent the country at the highest level. The selectors need to look back this tradition, gather strength and change the way things are being done, though I fear it might already be a bit too late. Give it another year or a few more failed U-19 stars, and we might have to wait another generation for a set of solid batsmen.

Honestly, on the mission World Cup 2011, I honestly don’t see it happening. Teams that win World Cups generally have about 4-5 members who have played in an earlier version and have a mix of solid and swashbuckling batsmen and quality bowlers with variety. Australia in ’99 was probably the best Aussie WC team in the recent past. India’s 2003 WC squad was also probably our best and will remain that way for some time to come. I won’t comment on the 2007 WC here, much has been said about it. If honest effort is made to nurture good batting and bowling we might have a competitive 2015 WC squad, and unless anything miraculous happens I don’t see this particular ODI side winning a 50-over World Cup for us.

Meanwhile, in Soulberry’s thread, some have suggested what I have been ranting about for over eight months now: the reinstatement of Dravid in the ODI side. I would suggest that we include Ganguly too. We need some stability and some sanity. We need a batsman to hang around so the youngsters can learn what it takes to build an innings. Right now there is no mentor in the ODI team for the younsters. And please, Dhoni isn’t one! What happened to the rotation policy?  We seem to only have a senior-elimination policy at the moment. Dhoni was picked as captain of the ODI side because he supposedly had a good rapport with the seniors, but the first thing that he did was sack Dravid and then Ganguly. We need to rotate the Big 3, not eliminate 2 and let Tendulkar chase his records. Having said all that, given the nature of BCCI, do I see it happening? No. But do I continue hoping? Yes.

I think at the end of this tour of Sri Lanka, we would have learned more lessons than we did in the past decade. The last instance of such a lesson-filled tour that I recall is probably the 99-00 tour of Australia.  We need a good mix of the old and new to win matches and to build for the future. The veterans need to be around to show the way and the transition to the new order gradual. We have learnt a valid lesson from the ODI squad and one only hopes that after the 1-2 defeat in the recently concluded Test series, the same mistakes aren’t made with the Test squad.


Dhoni gets Khel Ratna – How we treat our cricket heroes

August 4, 2008

I must thank SP and abisht, who commented on SP’s recent post, for egging me on to write this one (on a Monday evening) particularly on the way we treat our heroes.

MS Dhoni led the a young inexperienced T20 team to the T20 World Cup last September. The young turks won it and returned to a deservingly warm welcome. Cash prizes were showered, apartments promised and state governments competed with each other to confer their own honors and cash prized on their wards. Even that could be justified, but let me ask this question, while readying myself for the rotten eggs, tomatoes and what-not from the Dhoni fans. Does he deserve this? Tendulkar is the only other cricketer to receive the award.

Let us put the T20 World Cup victory in perspective, both the good and bad. While the lines between good and bad might be blurry as it involves the senior-junior debate, either way, something is either good or bad. The good, this allowed some young Indians who were inexperienced players yet promising to show case their talent. It allowed for us to see their performance as a whole, despite the limitations of the format, unencumbered by the so-called seniors and their think-tank. This gave us, the BCCI and the selectors the confidence to trust youth. It gave us fans hope that there might be a better-than-expected-life after the Holy Trinity of Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid. The bad, allow me to call it that, is that we are obsessed with the format and some of the players who brougt this home, primarily Dhoni, Yuvraj and Uthappa. Obsession with the format, gave rise to the massive mela that was the IPL. While I believe that the IPL can do more damage than good, especially for India with the glaring levels of mania about this format, time will give us the verdict.

Moving on, after the T20 victory, what happened (in the ODI scheme of things)? Indian lost a series to Australia, won against a weak Pakistan side, won a series in Australia (largely due to Tendulkar and the young bowlers), lost the Kitply cup and the Asia Cup. To me, this reads just as good or or bad as the early stages of Ganguly or Dravid’s captaincy. Mark my words, early stages. But is this enough to get the Khel Ratna? Shouldn’t the others have received it as well? Why are we obsessed with the T20 World Cup? I realize it’s not Dhoni’s fault that the others weren’t honored with it or that he is now. I’m just questioning the logic. To me it seems like a mass-media reaction. Don’t get me wrong, the T20 World Cup victory was special. To have witnessed it is a memory I will always cherish. It lifted our spirits as a cricketing nation. But does the T20 Victory alone justify Dhoni’s selection here? Given that cricket is a team sport, and that it wasn’t a couple of innings from Dhoni that brought us the cup (unlike the case of Tendulkar, who has single-handedly won us several matches in his early days), I find this a bit undeserving.

But then this is how we treat our cricket heroes. In this context “we” is the BCCI and the Indian media. One day, we go gaga over them, shower praise, prizes, money, titles and the next they are in the doldrums for the same people who buoyed a cricketer to the pinnacle, will push him from that spot only for him to careen downwards at breakneck speed. We are wrong with both the buoy to and the shove from the peak. The current seniors who come to mind are Ganguly and Dravid. Many times I think we don’t deserve good cricketers. Why are we like this? One bad series, heck, two bad innings, and we seek to sack the folks who have served Indian cricket with distinction. I have already written about the slack that we have been cutting for Yuvraj Singh. This isn’t about the fact that for some seniors the time to say goodbye may have come, this is about the fact that we don’t have the grace to allow them a decent passage into retirement. We want instant amends: the batsman scored a duck and a 5; sack him, he is 35/36 anyway and has had his time. It shouldn’t matter whether he is old or young, we need uniform yardsticks applied to all cricketers. Even if that yardstick is two innings, one dropped catch, two instances of lax fielding fielding, or one match without wickets, let it be uniform. As abisht points out (in the link above), we need to go the Aussie way with this. The way they handled Steve Waugh, at least outwardly, was graceful, respectful and fitting for his deeds as one of Australia’s best captains. We may not like some things that Australia’s cricket team or board does, but this we need to learn from them.

Perhaps it’s Dhoni’s day today. But one fears for tomorrow. If the BCCI and the media don’t alter their ways, Dhoni will be the next victim of mass scorn. And given some of the youngster’s skill level at the moment, that embarrassing tomorrow may not be too far.

Rant done. Ducks a bucket of rotten tomatoes from Dhoni’s female fans!


Mendis propells Sri Lanka to lift Asia Cup 2008

July 8, 2008

Ajantha Mendis was the reason for me to watch the Asia Cup final. Though I wished the result went the other way, it was an interesting cricket match to see, unlike several other matches in same tournament and the recently concluded Kitply Cup; also a good lesson learned for the Indian batting line-up and Dhoni.

To me, death-by-spin was bound to happen to this Indian batting line up. While Q states here that Mendis ran through a line-up known as the best players of spin, I say that while that is historically true, it isn’t of this batting line up. This Indian line up with “I-don’t-play-spin” Yuvraj and inexperienced youth like Rohit Sharma and Uthappa, who in my opinion lack soundness in technique that has thus far embodied Indian batting, is far from deserving of the “best players of spin” tag. Historically, India earned the tag because the batsmen had a chance to play against the some of best spinners. That is no longer the case. Other than Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, there isn’t too much of interesting stuff in India’s spin closet. And no, Piyush Chawla, though seemingly effective, has a long way to go.

As for Yuvraj, if I were captain, I wouldn’t know what to do with him. He’s doubtless got talent, but I’m of the opinion that you can’t play spin, you don’t belong in the middle order. Perhaps he can open the innings – something that if I recall correctly, he has reservations about. Even better would be to pack him off to play Ranji – and he isn’t the only one who should be going. So much for a guy who’s upset over not making to a Test XI.

Meanwhile, our “anti-Ganguly-Dravid” friend Ottayan (I took the liberty of branding you that, Ott) suggests that this web around the batting line up is likely to heighten voices “clamoring for Ganguly and Dravid” in the ODIs. Yes, Ott, it might do just that. Though I must say you surprised me with your comment as  “..itself is not a bad thing”. Guarded though it was, it was defense for “the Arms”, as Soulberry calls them. Yes, Ottayan, I will resume my own clamoring though I have done that time and again. 🙂 Thank you for egging me on.

Honestly, if were allowed to pick only two seniors, they would be Tendulkar and Dravid, who will play at the cost of Yuvraj and Sharma(?), at #4 and #3 respectively.

So what of Dhoni’s captaincy in the final? Well there isn’t much one can do if you pick Uthappa in place of a bowler. RP Singh has been off color and Irfan Pathan seems lost. These are folk, who along with Rohit Sharma (who I have lost patience with) that I will drop. The youngsters need seasoning and there is nothing like good hard Ranji for that.

Going back to Mendis, a star is truly born. He still has to a lot to prove, but judging by what we’ve seen so far, he augurs well for Sri Lankan cricket and for spin bowling.

This will make India’s upcoming tour of Sri Lankan more watchable. Mendis or not, I was interested in the ODI series for the Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid against Murali foremost and umpire-challenging second. But the ODI series is now spiced up with Mendis being a definte inclusion. If he is picked for Test, then all the merier.

Bring it on! I can’t wait for this tour!


Squad for Bangladesh tri-series, Asia cup sans Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar

June 1, 2008

Yes, for the first time without either of the Big Three (if memory serves me right). The squad is primarily the one that won the ODI series in Australia earlier this year with a few new faces.

Here they are: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt), Yuvraj Singh (Vice-capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, S Sreesanth, Yusuf Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, R P Singh, Piyush Chawla and Pragyan Ojha.

My issues? Not including either one of Ganguly or Dravid (honestly, I would have like to see Dravid in). Neither are out of form, definitely not Dravid. He has scored over 300 runs in the IPL- that is mind you, only 16 short of Dhoni’s run count – with an average around 30. The young team, preparing for the 2011 World Cup and that is fine, but I think India will do well to use some of the services of the war horses for they still have a year (if not two) of cricket left in them. Sad? Yes. Expected? Perhaps Yes. I still had a glimmer of hope. But I think I see the harsh truth only now. Dravid and Ganguly might have played the last ODIs of their career. Fellow blogger Soulberry, saw this coming much and bade goodbye to them (in ODIs) back in January. I could dwell on this for a while, but I will save that for another post.

Moving on to the rest of the squad. Going by his recent IPL outings and the last couple of ODIs Uthappa doesn’t deserve a place. RP has been a bit shaky of late. As for the new inclusions Ohja and Yusuf, I haven’t watched much of Ohja, so can’t comment on him. I’m not sure Yusuf Pathan is as deserving as some of the Southern folk, esp, Chennai Super Kings’ Badrinath (as Ottayan duly supports). Meanwhile couldn’t help but feel sorry for Manoj Tiwary: one jet-lagged T20 innings goes poof and so does his India cap eh? Wonder what is the deal with Joginder Sharma? Why hasn’t Dhoni be able to get him? He seems to have a lot of trust on the guy.

Anyway, I’m not very excited about this series. Call me old-fashioned, obstinate, or whatever else, but without Tendulkar, Ganguly or Dravid, the India spirt is missing, at least for me. I might take a break from Indian cricket and watch the Aus vs. WI or Eng vs. NZ. Damn my cable operator, I don’t get Star cricket. Hope to find one soon that carries it.


IPL Saturday: Rajasthan vs. Chennai, Mumbai vs. Delhi

May 25, 2008

Two darn good games made my Saturday! It felt really good to watch two matches without exactly supporting one side. That both went down to the wire added to the pleasure. Competitive cricket (albeit the T20 variety) was played and entertained well.

The first came with a lot of hype, and lived up to it for the most part. While the first half was all Rajasthan, the second half was the more exciting one to watch. Chasing 200-odd in T20 is not an easy task and I though the Chennai team game the Rajasthan a run for their money. Credit to the Chennai Super Kings for that. While Dhoni reminded us once again never to depend on him too much, Parthiv played a good cricketing innings: almost no crap shots and a fairly cool head on those shoulders. I was also impressed with India-reject Raina. The other part that was really commendable was the Chennai crowds – who not only braved the sweltering heat, but also seemed great sports. When it comes to crowd sportsman spirit – we Chennai-ites kick partisan Mumbai’s butt!

I almost didn’t watch the Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Daredevils fight it out, but somehow they kept my attention. Sachin flopped yet again, as I had expected. Uthappa came good with the bat but made up the sloppiness while fielding. Sehwag ramped up by attacking Pollock like very few batsmen can. You cannot help but ebb with pride when sehwag bats like this. Was disappointed to see him fall shortly after, but that was to be expected. Gambhir turned it on, though cautiously. Dhawan and Tiwary batted T20 style – irritatingly T20, but entertaining nonetheless. Karthik, was the pick of the batsmen – played classly, pulling it off well, especially when it was required of him and almost not expected of him. Way to go Karthik!

It will now be interesting to see Mumbai fight it out. They will most probably lose to the Rajasthan Royals and though it may seem absurd to wish, I would like to see Bangalore trounce them once again. 🙂