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.

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Hindustan Times interviews Dravid

June 22, 2008

Given his style of handling the media makes you think he would have succeeded in Hollywood, where elusiveness is a key ingredient to success. Yes, this is our very own Rahul Dravid.

Somehow I’ve always had a sense of awe about this man. Perhaps it’s his enigmatic nature, maybe it’s his penchant for orthodoxy, I can’t tell. What is so endearing about Dravid, at least for me, is that he is testament to the fact that introverted-ness and success are not mutually exclusive. Understandably, that is only when accompanied with grinding hard work, determination and talent.

There are things he does that seem to momentarily defy logic – his relinquishment of captaincy being a prime example – but make a lot of sense with time. Consider that after the disastrous World Cup 2007 campaign, he had not stepped down from captaincy. India go on a win an inconsequential, mostly relief-inducing series in Bangladesh and follow that up with a history-making Test series victory in England. Then the ODI-series loss in England and then Dhoni & Co. go and win the T20 World Cup. With the loss at the hands of the Aussies in the ODI series at home, shortly after the T20 World Cup, he would have gotten sacked as captain. In retrospect, a wise decision!

In this interview, he is characteristically Dravid, or Dravid as we know him. He speaks of the rather tumultuous year he has had: relinquishment of captaincy; having made his peace with losing a place in ODI side; reaching 10,000 runs in Test cricket,which he downplays while shedding light on his unbroken attendance record in Tests; and his criticism laden stint in the IPL. There is nothing new on the stepping-down-from-captaincy front. “I just felt the time had come to move on, and I just knew it”, synonymous with his earlier “ captaincy has a sell-by-date” reasoning. On the IPL, says Dravid, “..playing T20 cricket was new to me and I wanted to see how I’d go in that form of the game.” When asked about his run in the IPL and mud and slush that Mallya turned out to be, he stays with the safe “..there were other things that could have gone a bit better as well both on and off the field”. He doesn’t say much despite the bitterness that he would have felt. The slightest indication comes only when he talks of his young son and says that he “nothing to live up to” when spending time with him. There are hints of retirement too, but not anything we wouldn’t expect. “I won’t be playing after five years”, is something that is almost obvious. The only unexpected part of the interview is his denial of adhering to “copybook style” cricket, for which he is a poster-boy.

Mostly a very predictable interview, yet worth a read. Check it out here.