Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No pain no gain

An innings defeat in this context is not as bad a result as it looks.

While it is true that the selection was questionable on many fronts, it would be unfair to blame the selectors alone for the result.

Three reasons for that:

0. Perhaps THE best spell of fast bowling seen in recent times. Dale Steyn , in days to come would rank alongside Allan Donald for the sheer intensity and impact. He will have ordinary days too, but every now and then he will produce such a series deciding spell. RD and VVS may have been around and the result may still have been no different. No shame in that. With Morkel and Parnell looking the part, South Africa look set to dominate.

1. Although the selection of fringe men lacked the totality that ought to be in a team - Mithun and Tyagi in the squad with neither realistically with a chance of being in the playing XI - the core team (under circumstances) still picked itself and they have played against RSA before. Saha was a questionable selection and the next time we may see him on NEO as a "former test cricketer" but the kid did himself no disgrace in the second innings and can walk with his head held high. Not his fault that he finds himself in the playing XI. Anyway that's what he is supposed to aim at. I can't fool myself that Rohit would have lasted as long as Saha did. In that sense, a major cause for defeat failing of the 2 of 3 main batsmen, Sachin and Gambhir, (As far as I am concerned, the jury is out on Dhoni as a test batsman) when they were needed to dig in.

Similarly, no matter who the fringe picks may have been, the 4 bowlers in the starting XI would have been no different - we have seen enough of MSD to come to that conclusion - save the Mishra - Ojha musical chairs game. It is Ishant and Durby who let the team down after Zak's twin strike. ( Let us cut some slack for Mishra who I must say has been shabbily treated in Dhoni's tenure ). And neither Ishant nor Durby is a fringe-man.

And how are India going to beat their nemesis at home when both the main batsmen and bowlers go AWOL?

2. Poor tactics

There would have been several key phases over 4 days and three innings but I must say here that India played some poor cricket in key moments.

Day 2, Kallis batted himself into a rut allright, but India would have realised the pressure on him. I could not see a concerted attack on him - like Durby to Ponting in the second innings in Bangalore 08. True that Kallis still managed to get himself out and true also that Ponting got away on that occasion, but by and large, Kallis was allowed to play his own game. There were not enough men crowding the bat and talking about Jason Gillespie.

Much has been said about Sehwag's brain fade in both the innings. The first innings was, naturally, more crucial. Another 50 runs between him and Badri and South Africa would have been on the run. Contrary to what Shastri and others may say, Viru is truly a thinking cricketer and is not credited enough for his smarts. Hence, his modes of dismissal are galling.

Another point which is being made in the popular sphere is about the lines Paul Harris bowled and how it tied down the batsmen. I beg to differ.

Such lines can be combated. Sehwag showed how to play Ashley Giles and VVS showed how to deal with Shane Warne (Warne is 10 times the Giles and Harris put together. Why I include him in the comparison is essentially because he too bowled into the leg stump rough and turned the ball across the right handers).

Seasoned batsmen would do well to draw on their experience. Remember Cape Town 2007 - Paul Harris - Lord Harris, AFTER Wasim Jaffer got a first innings 100 and India had posted 400 and there was talks of an "Indian type wicket" for the decider. This is not new. Many left arm spinners - from Don Anurasri to Ashley Giles - have tried this with varying effectiveness . Long story short - I found the approach of Sachin and Vijay perplexing on Day 3.

True, India had lost their IInd innings star Gambhir and Sehwag who strikes fear in all bowlers no matter the match situation. But Murali Vijay was judging the line well and looked comfortable and had raced to 22 off 21 balls faced. Heck, he even drew VVS comparisons from Danny Morrison. India's score at that point was 52/2 off 10 with 13 overs to go with Vijay on 22(24) and Sachin 7 (14). 3 an over from there on (which is a given for Tests) would have taken them close to 100 and assuming no wickets fell, they would have been better off. No one knows what the morrow would bring, but at least, they could go in with the feeling that they had made a fist of it. But, hey wait, we are trying to save a test match. India contrived to end with 66/2 off 23 at stumps Day 3 - Vijay 27(68) and Sachin 15(48). Harris was bowling in the rough, but 12 runs in 7 overs were flattering figures. What it meant was Graeme Smith was not made to think and was allowed to dictate terms. After the drinks break, Vijay had made 5(44) and Sachin 8 (34). I do not know if Harris and Jaques Kallis were as threatening. It was 'deja vu all over again' since they did not take the chance of converting a key moment to their advantage.

Pundits will point out that this is a Test match we are trying to save. Pundits will also point out that in a test match of multiple sessions, this may not have saved India in the final analysis. Agreed on both counts, but it is never a good idea to dig oneself into a hole. By padding and rumping deliveries when singles could have been attempted at the very least, India lost the momentum they had going for them, despite South Africa's vice-like grip on the test. And this was the only session apart from the middle session during the Viru-Badri partnership when Indian batsmen had something going for them.

Sachin, despite the even 100 must take some of the blame. He must have been the one to take the initiative in that session. The Master can change gears at will and get out of the hole, but not the guy at the other end. In that sense, I was disappointed with Vijay for squandering the start he got after the first innings failure. Here is a batsman who looks the part, exudes a certain calm about himself (tangentially I like the look of little Umar Akmal - he too projects an air of calm, in the midst of madness) . He seems to have the ingredients to develop into a class player but at the moment seems to lack a certain bloody-mindedness that should come when competing to get into the Indian side.

He must get a 100 soon, or he will be quickly forgotten and the next 19 year old in the line will leapfrog over him. And its a matter of time before he would be branded and shelved, a move which noted writer Suresh Menon called a "classic Indian gambit" . Ask Jaffer, Aakash Chopra, Hemang Badani and Kaif why they are not in the reckoning. Why, ask VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid why they are not in the ODI scheme of things. Ask Badri why despite being India material he never is spoken about as a possible ODI middle order bat. To the wise men, it is the 100's that count. Even if they come against Hong Kong in an ODI in Karachi. That, to their infinite wisdom, would indicate a thoroughbred. Vijay had everything going for him. He failed in the first innings in which just about everyone else did. He got a fluent start in the second innings which no one else did. Yet, he made a mess of it. He must buck up for his own sake and for the sake Indian cricket. Vijay must also take the blame for dropping Amla and thereby the Test. For, by now we all have been told what a different bowler Durby would have been after a wicket early in his spell.

I do not see how India can level the series unless they win the toss and bat and make a huge score and manage to get Smith and Kallis early both times. That seems too much of an ask. But don't get me wrong, this is the way forward. This pain in a series or two could be the right way forward provided the wise do not miss the wood for the trees. What the wise men did not dare to do in Bangladesh, providence did here and for two newcomers, the intense scrutiny may yet do a world of good, if they take the right steps hereon.

Amit Mishra - It is tough to perform and maintain a stoic calm when you know you are not wanted by the skipper although the first choice spinner is a proven non-performer. But Mishra would do well to pick up the 'soft' skills. Strong body language, for one. Get rid of the hangdog look. (Popular blogger Straight Point makes a very straight point here) One thing Durby does is that he gives the impression that he is doing more than he actually is. MSD also does this in a subtle way. At the crease, he gives the impression of control even when things are not in control. No point in losing the battle before you actually lose it. Two - make it count with the bat. Again look at Durby and Zak. We know Steyn is an exceptional bowler, but surrendering your wicket and getting a pair in the process will certainly harm your chances of making the starting XI. We are not talking about his core skills - legspin. With more experience, he will have the confidence for variations and also to control the turn. No point beating the bat by a foot. Beating it by an inch is better.

After years and years of being in the periphery, Badri finally got a chance in the format of the game that was said to be his stronger suit (I for one believe he can be an excellent ODI/T20 player as well). Nerves and anxiety notwithstanding he gave a good account of himself in the first innings. Like Vijay, however, he shot himself in the foot in the nothing to lose 2nd innings. A fighting 60 or 70 may have strengthened his claims when UV eventually returns. As things stand, if he makes the starting XI in Kolkatta, that may well be his lifeline for after this match the calendar says IPL, ICCT20, WC 2011 and nothing else. Given his pedigree,I back him to give a decent account yet again, however I can also see UV sauntering in as Badri fades silently into obscurity.


  1. thanks for the mention...

    agree on most part... but hoping to win toss and plant a big score is a gamble... not solid preparation...

    india should seriously think if they lose toss do they have bowlers who can get opposition out cheaply on rather best conditions for batting...

    going for four bowlers is good only when all your four bowlers are in top form... but that's not the case...

    zak is usual... mishar bowled many luckless overs... bhajji's confidence is so low that he has resorted to bowling round the wicket for right handers and ishant is discovering the second season blues...

    team india required a balance and that's where i thinking selectors blew the opportunity by declaring the team so hastily... i would have selected irfan pathan for that would have provided me an option without compromising much on batting front... and would have brought powar in place of harbhajan singh... which would have shown to all and sundry the obvious flaws of bhajji has incorporated in sending one darts after another all this while...

    if we want to be no.1 and remain there... there should be no scope for non performers even if they are big names or we will find ourselves riding the same ladder again...

  2. Thanks SP. I meant to say that - depending on toss and all that, we are still likely to lose, but the big picture must be kept in mind EVEN if we are hammered in the next test and that is to keep faith with the Vijays, Mishras and Badris. Cheers