Tuesday, December 18, 2012

DHONI, THE ENGLAND SERIES AND A DEJECTED INDIAN FAN


I don't usually voice my opinion over Cricket, in fact I never have but now that I start to pen down this article, I do so with rage over the events of the past few days and the reactions to them that have more than appalled me to no end. To put it in simple terms: India were outplayed comprehensively and this occurred at home which made it all the more hurtful. There's nothing like a loss on your home turf, your fortress, perhaps the fortress has been breached. The attack might inevitably be, the first of many to come. There are a few key aspects that need to be touched and probably analyzed extensively as to what caused this fiasco and where to look from this point onwards.

What exactly happened in this series?

Most of us are actually still wondering as to what hit us, how did we lose a home series? This started off as a redemption series and ended as a sorrowful tale of adding insult to injury and probably some MDH laal mirch masala to the wounds, they had added salt back in England itself. Back in England, India were battered, to put it as politely as you could. Except for Dravid, I think there was no other player who stood against their attack except the occasional knock here and there. There seemed to be something lacking: fight. The batsmen just couldn't fight back. But this series ensured that the players would long to restore their pride, their bruised egos by setting things right and there was only one way to do so: A clean sweep at home. It started off in grand fashion with the Ahemadabad test victory. Dravid was gone, no Laxman either. And in came the Saurashtra lad-Pujara who rose to the occasion and made it count. Things looked good in the first match, the variations worked for Ojha and Ashwin and the partnership looked lethal(Like times when Bhajji and Jumbo rocked oppositions). England lived up to their reputation of being clueless in the sub continent.The English middle order looked shaky and the Indians probably made premature misjudgements about the middle order(Almost each of these bugger went on to score a century). Everyone was overjoyed. India had drawn first blood. But there was something that stood between India and England-Captain Cook. He showed amazing fight and would eventually turn out to be the difference between the 2 sides.

The next match had a pitched that turned square. Shane Warne style. When the trio of Bhajji, Ashwin and Ojha should have rocked the opposition and put them on the back foot, the opposition rocked Indian bowlers out of the park and the spectators into deep slumber. The spinners took wickets at painfully long intervals and that cost us the game. Also to be appreciated is the fact is that Swann and Monty took 19 wickets between them and India were bowled out for a lowly 142 in the second innings(less than Pieterson's individual knock of 186 in the first innings, maximum insult guaranteed). What was the difference? The English batted with a positive intent to score runs and the indisciplined bowling only helped their cause. Cook scored his second ton of the series to stamp his authority. Ashwin tried too many variations. The occasional leg side delivery helped them get singles and ease the pressure. That is where Monty and Swanny succeded, they bowled in one area consistently choking the singles and forcing the batsmen to drive. Result: The batsmen fell to good deliveries. Swann's pitch map looked more like a small nest of red dots and Ashwin's looked like a 2 year old had got hold of a gun and fired at the target. He was just all over the place. With things evenly poised we headed for the third match.

The story was absolutely dismal here. Nothing much needs to be talked about. Cook came good, yet again and India's woes with him continued. With India batting in the third innings, a good total was needed to challenge England and sadly India went from 86-0 to 122-6. This needed some seriously horrible batting and that is what we got. Sehwag had space for a minivan between his bat and pad, Gambhir made Pujara his second run-out victim after Sehwag in the first innings, Kohli drove on the up and gave away his wicket and the rest followed suit. If it hadn't been for Ashwin's 91, India would have had an innings defeat. What worse than an innings defeat at home? There was no fight to add to it. England needed just 41 runs, they came out casually throwing away easy wickets to tease India with Bell eventually having to get his pads on when he'd probably have been posting the victory status on twitter.

The fourth test had a different story, India fought back on a very difficult track but couldn't capitalize. Searching for runs seemed like a task of searching for water on a narrow cliff in a waterless desert with vultures looming to consume you if you lost balance. When India needed to bowl the English batsmen out for a low score in the second innings, they could only manage one wicket from the final day's play to bury hopes in a coffin deep within the deepest seas. With the way England batted, It could have taken 3 more days to even bowl them out. The umpiring was the worst I have seen in recent times. Dharmasena missed straight chances that were out and gave Cook and Compton out when the ball was a good distance from the bat. Pujara too did not look out, who knows, the match might have been different had that not happened. Cricket, after all, is a game of endless probabilities and possibilities.

If you don't bat well, you need to bowl really well to make up for it. If you don't bowl well, you have to get an extremely high total to provide some leeway for your bowlers. India did neither in a good part of the series. They just never seemed to have enough runs. And even if they had them, they needed to take 20 wickets to win a match which they did only on one occasion. The indiscipline in bowling by the seamers and spinners helped England score heaps of runs.
In a head to head we see a few differences
Total runs scored by England-2201
Total runs scored by India-1901.
The difference isn't strikingly large but do appreciate the fact that  India set shoddy targets on 2 occasions and England's tally could have been higher had they batted first instead.

In the bowling department, the numbers are surprising. England took 55 wickets in all and so did India but what separated the two were the averages and strike rate of the bowlers. India bowled more overs and with a high number of overs, the runs came on piling. England were the better prepared side and outplayed in all three departments.

The series was a wakening call for 2 reasons- first that we played spin like we'd woken up to be natives of a different country altogether,secondly we bowled spins like weak, out-of-subcontinent teams. Effectively we screwed up on both counts.

Should Dhoni be sacked?

A lot of fuss has been made about Dhoni's captaincy. People who think that he is not a good captain, he lacks skills, he is not able to stratergize, have grown exponentially in the past one year and there have also been a number of questions being raised about his technique. To answer them one by one,  first things first: Dhoni is not a bad captain at all. A captain can set a field and ask his bowlers to bowl to that field. Would you blame him for the fours that the opposition hit? For the mis-fields? For the bowlers giving away free runs down the leg side? A captain may have a rough patch but can he be blamed for batsmen falling one by one in line? The answer is NO. He cannot be singled out. He may have made a few strategic errors in the past games and have had a lean patch but to single him out and arraign him apart from his counterparts because he is the captain would be as good as blaming the captain of a sinking ship for the holes in the ship floor. It seems to Indian fans, that you win as a team and lose as a captain. Kohli, Sachin and Yuvi were abysmall. Sehwag, apart from the 117 knock scored 136 runs in the remaining 6 innings(An average around 23 runs per innings) and looked technically more unsound than probably, Ashwin. Gambhir was inconsistent and prodded at too many outside off. Ojha bowled well throughout the series. Ashwin was in T20 mode perhaps, trying too many things at once. He batted well thought, infact he had the 2nd best average in the Indian camp, hardly surprising the way others batted. The others were average. What made Indian bowling seem worse was the way England bowled amplifying the criticism manifold. However, this again does not point a finger at Dhoni. His frustration on the field clearly shows that he wanted desperately to win, putting to rest the notions that he plays only for money.This is a man who's given us enough to cheer about but as I've come to know in Indian cricket, the one wrong that you do overpowers 100s of rights that you have toiled for in the country's interest. To talk of Dhoni's record: Out of the 43 tests that Dhoni has captained India, he has won 20, lost 12 and drawn 11. Not a bad record. What makes it seem bad is that 10 of those 12 defeats have come in the past 1 year. Maybe the law of averages caught up with him. This is actually a pretty good record as compared to the others but then again I'm here to talk absolutes and I'd leave the comparisons to your better judgement. 

The Criticism and Flurry of Changes: A wise call?

There has been wide criticism over everything that happened. Speculations are rife that Dhoni might be sacked from the Indian captaincy. That he may even be dropped from the squad. Before that happens, I think the board should take a good look at individual performances and judge people on merit. Kohli had a bad series, yuvi was out of sorts, Sachin had a tally that he would be appalled to look at. Sehwag and Gambhir together did not give the start India would have wanted. Sehwag, in particular has been very inconsistent. The board might take a few harsh decisions in a flurry and they would dent the side permanently. To act rash and sack a few people based on the sentiment of the masses would be stupid to say the least. Giving the captaincy to a young player may have its own repercussions. The board should sit down and chalk out a plan for the long term instead of making short terms tweaks which brings us to the final aspect!

Where to from here?

Damage control is what the board needs to do right now. Plug the holes, selectors, don't sack the poor captain. Release the players who are out of form into the Ranji circuit and let them work on their game for some time. This would give them some perspective and the much needed temperament. Give them a county season to prepare them for the conditions abroad. This would do wonders as it did to Sachin, Dravid and Laxman for a good part of thier career there(all 3 played county). Zaheer who came back after a stint with Worcestshire literally won them the series in 2008-09(Read more at http://forbesindia.com/blog/grandstand/why-have-indians-stopped-playing-county-cricket/#ixzz2FOx1wexm). Why the BCCI stopped this practice of county and actually rebutted 4 internationals from going to play county is beyond my understanding. Probably taken England for granted? If you want to be the best you need to play in challenging conditions and embrace them. Not play on turning tracks all your life and look like a chicken ready to be slaughtered when you go abroad. A season abroad will help immensely. Just like IPL has exposed other teams to Indian conditions for 5 years on the trot now.


Do not give a place to players based on reputation. A player is as good as how he performs in a test match. The past record doesn’t earn him a place, his immediate form does. It is not about personal glory after all, it's about the team. A rotation policy with back up openers and immediate replacement for out of form middle order batsmen might be in order. An immediate assessment of the bowling department is critical. We need good quality seamers who can bowl for many matches at a stretch and not get bundled by injuries. A rotation of these bowlers to avoid injuries is a must. We don't want pacers to get injured and return to be as fast as spin bowlers(if you know what I'm getting at). India has always faltered when it has been too reliant on a single seamer, Zaheer being one of them for the past many series. His lack of form had a big role to play in the series as well. The coaches need to work with the players and let them play their natural game. The spinners, for me did a decent job. A little more discipline would do wonders. Ashwin is turning out to be a very handy batsman but he should concentrate on his bowling more than anything, probably get out of trying too many things and stick to the basics.

Also, of Late, a lot of talk has been made about the fact that Sachin should retire. That he should retire or not is his decision. No one can force him or tell him what to do. To ask him to retire would be to belittle him and make a mockery of his achievements. If you feel he is not in form, drop him, but raising talks about his retirement hardly seems fair. Give the man some respect, he's done a lot for the country. Don't give him freebies, he's a man of substance, he shall earn his place if he wishes to.

As a devout Indian fan, I sit in despair at the irrelevant and unnecessary criticism that is being meted out by the people and the media. To make matters worse, the local media has actually taken up issues of sacking players, sacking the captain, asking Sachin to retire and other irrelevant issues when it should back the players and try to offer constructive solutions for the future of the Indian side. There is a public outcry whenever we lose a match and people go overboard with their own expert advice to sack this player and ask that player to retire. I see other teams of the world and the way their fans back them up in bad times and it makes me cringe at our situation. This makes me feel in hindsight that we have not supported our previous players enough, many careers have ended due to harsh decision carried out with little logic behind them. Many people are yet to receive their due from Indian cricket. I shall not take names because the names are aplenty. All we can do is support the team in its pursuit and hope that all shall be back to normal again. As an optimist, I shall wait for that day and we shall cheer "GO INDIA" from the stands, from our TV rooms, perhaps even fully from our hearts again and see the team rise like a phoenix in its full glory.

Peace. . . .

stats coutesy: http://stats.espncricinfo.com