Men in blue cre­at­ing his­tory

Can In­dia repli­cate its per­for­mance abroad?

Alive - - Content - by K.V. Venu­gopal

The re­cent cricket test se­ries be­tween In­dia and Sri Lanka, ended in favour of In­dia. How­ever, un­like the ear­lier ex­pec­ta­tion, the vis­i­tors pro­vided a sem­blance of re­sis­tance, as the hosts were able to win only one out of the three-test se­ries. In­dia bat­ted and bowled well, but the field­ing was not up to the mark. The ab­sence of fifth bowler was also markedly ev­i­dent, es­pe­cially a util­ity spin­ner like Kuldip Ya­dav, with a ca­pac­ity to bowl Chi­na­man in the third test at New Delhi. The en­su­ing over­seas se­ries against South Africa will be an acid test for Vi­rat Kohli and his men. It re­mains to be seen, how far In­dia will fare against bouncy tracks in South Africa and sub­se­quently against Eng­land and Australia in over­seas con­di­tions.

The Lankans be­low-par per­for­mance was not un­ex­pected, as the vis­i­tors caved in meekly dur­ing the In­dian team tour to Lanka early this year. The team led by An­gela Mathews, though bat­ted rea­son­ably well in the rain-marred Eden Gar­dens Pitch, and more so when the pace-track on the first day of the morn­ing pitch as­sisted them, their bowlers were not ca­pa­ble of tak­ing 20 wick­ets in a test match. Only their sea­soned spin­ner Herath was ef­fec­tive for some time, but, he too, had to with­draw dur­ing the half-way stage of the tour­na­ment ow­ing to in­jury. Nev­er­the­less, it is time for the In­dian team to in­tro­spect and iron out its short­com­ings when the go­ing is good.

The In­dian vice-cap­tain Ajankya Ra­hane’s lack of form is caus­ing con­cern to the team, al­though Kohli and the coach Ravi Shas­tri are not giv­ing much cre­dence to it. “Ev­ery player goes through a bad-patch and Ra­hane is not an ex­cep­tion”, says In­dia’s Mr De­pend­able, Cheteswar Pu­jara. His com­ment is

PREF­ER­ENCE Nor­mally a spe­cial­ist like Pu­jara should have been the au­to­matic choice for the spot, in­stead of ex­per­i­ment­ing with a player of the cal­i­bre of Ra­hane, who would be ide­ally suited for twodown or three-down spot.

be­ing echoed by other mem­bers of the team with a cryptic re­mark that it is a mat­ter of time be­fore he gets into the groove. The for­mer leg-spin­ner and the present tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor, Lax­man Si­vara­makr­ish­nan, is of the opin­ion that Ra­hane should not have been sent as one-down bats­man in the sec­ond in­nings of the third test at New Delhi, when he was out of form. Ac­cord­ing to him, nor­mally a spe­cial­ist like Pu­jara should have been the au­to­matic choice for the spot, in­stead of ex­per­i­ment­ing with a player of the cal­i­bre of Ra­hane, who would be ide­ally suited for two-down or three­down spot. How­ever, sources close to the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee as­sert that the cap­tain, vice-cap­tain and the coach ar­rives at an agree­ment be­fore tak­ing a de­ci­sion, thereby im­ply­ing that Ra­hane’s con­sent was sought, be­fore ask­ing him to pad-up after the opener Mu­rali Vi­jay got out early in the sec­ond in­nings of the third test.

Ra­hene off for Ranji

The for­mer test crick­eter Mo­hin­der Amaranth points out that it would be bet­ter for the team man­age­ment to re­lease Ra­hane for the on-go­ing Ranji Tro­phy matches, con­sid­er­ing his lack of form at the mo­ment, which would en­able him to pre­pare for the South African tour, in­stead of pick­ing him for the one­day­ers against Sri Lanka. Ac­cord­ing to Ravi Shas­tri, Re­hane has proved his stuff in tougher times and he is too good a player to be omit­ted for any se­ries at the mo­ment. The team is also not too wor­ried about the bat­ting front, says Shas­tri, be­fore adding, in the last two tours of Australia, though, Kohli, strug­gled to cope-up with the con­di­tion on the first oc­ca­sion, bat­ted like a cham­pion to the core on the next trip, after he sug­gested him to make some mi­nor ad­just­ments

A HEALTHY TEAM In­dia can draw so­lace from the fact that it has a quar­tet of pace bowlers led by Ishant Sharma, fol­lowed by Mo­hammed Shami, Bhubaneswar Ku­mar and Umesh Ya­dav. In­dia would also be blessed with the pres­ence of medium-pace all­rounder Hardik Pandya. The plus point for In­dia is that al­most all our batsmen had been to South Africa ear­lier.

and stand be­fore the crease, in­stead of stand­ing on it while bat­ting.

A sec­tion of crit­ics are con­stantly harp­ing on the theme that Pu­jara can­not ac­cel­er­ate the pace. There is a ten­dency to un­der­mine his tech­nique, tem­per­a­ment and his steely re­solve to carry on with his in­nings, with pa­tience, per­se­ver­ance and dogged-de­ter­mi­na­tion. There is no doubt about it, as ac­cord­ing to for­mer In­dian cap­tain Rahul Dravid, Pu­jara puts a price on his wicket. He also proved his crit­ics wrong that, if the sit­u­a­tion war­rants, he can score quickly. His hur­ri­cane 49 plus in the sec­ond in­nings of the Delhi test, can be cited as an in­stant. It is a wel­come sign that Kohli did not get car­ried away even after scor­ing back-to-back dou­ble cen­tury in the sec­ond and third test. Kohi is aware, as rightly stated by the for­mer Aus­tralian cap­tain Steve Waugh that law of av­er­age will go against any player, when he gets go­ing and is in fine nick.

In­dia can draw so­lace from the fact that it has a quar­tet of pace bowlers led by Ishant Sharma, fol­lowed by Mo­hammed Shami, Bhubaneswar Ku­mar and Umesh Ya­dav. In­dia would also be blessed with the pres­ence of medium-pace all-rounder Hardik Pandya. The plus point for In­dia is that al­most all our batsmen had been to South Africa ear­lier and they got ac­cli­ma­tised to the con­di­tion over there. More­over, the In­dian batsmen have the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing 40 to 50 tests so far. The open­ing batsmen po­si­tion had been sorted out, it seems, after a con­sis­tent per­for­mance from Vi­jay and a fiercely mo­ti­vated Shikhar Dhawan. Adding to the pres­ence in the open­ing slot is the supremely tal­ented Rahul. An­other promis­ing bowler Jus­prit Bumrah has a unique ac­tion with which he is ex­pected to whip-up pace to a great ex­tent. The young dy­namic lad is more than a use­ful bat, too.

Sri Lanka made no tall claims. The vis­i­tors had al­ready de­cided to use the avail­able plat­form to spot play­ers for cer­tain po­si­tions. For in­stance, the bats­man Di­nesh Chandi­mal’s ag­gre­gate of 366 runs in the present se­ries did jus­tify to his style, but it was Dhan­jaya de Silva, who scored a whirl­wind ton in the Delhi test, when he re­mained un­beaten with

119. More­over, Mathews plucky cen­tury in the last test un­der­mined his value to the tam.

Im­pres­sive spell

The Lankan bowler Lak­mal, like in the one­dayer at Dhar­mat­sala against In­dia re­cently, im­pressed in the test too. The vis­i­tors are aware that the se­lec­tors are watch­ing their per­for­mances, and if they con­tin­ued to dish out dis­mal dis­play, the Lankan se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, sick and tired of their pa­thetic knock for a con­sid­er­able time, will not be averse to re­struc­tur­ing their se­lec­tion pro­ce­dure. For in­stance, nine play­ers, who were se­lected for the One Day­ers ear­lier against In­dia, were asked to stay back at the Colombo Air­port by the Lankan Sports Min­is­ter.

When it comes to In­dia, though the team can be proud of their pace quar­tet, it re­mains to be seen, how far the spin­ners Ravichan­dran Ash­win and Ravin­dra Jadeja are go­ing to be ef­fec­tive in for­eign con­di­tions. More­over, their

bat­ting form has gone down, com­pared to their ear­lier stints. They were tipped as all-rounders ear­lier, but the duo was all at sea against Sri Lanka in the re­cent test se­ries. The for­mer legspin­ner Mu­rali Karthik, how­ever, opines that there it was heart­en­ing to see Jadeja spin the ball. The wily all­rounder is bowl­ing to suit the ex­ist­ing de­mands by at­tack­ing the stumps with his nag­ging line and length, Kar­tik rea­soned. Like­wise, it was heart­en­ing to see Ash­win us­ing the carom ball ef­fec­tively. When it comes to the bat­ting abil­ity of the two spin­ners, a sec­tion of cricket com­men­ta­tors are of the view that it is a mat­ter of time be­fore they get into the groove with their wil­low.

The long gap from the play­ing arena, as the duo were dropped for the ear­lier one-day se­ries against Australia and New Zealand, could be one of the rea­sons for the de­cline in their bat­ting form, they averred.

The for­mer all-rounder Manoj Prab­hakar says

Ishant Sharma has been a trans­formed bowler this sea­son, as he had ironed out a few tech­ni­cal is­sues, as far as his de­liv­ery stride is con­cerned. Prab­hakar also stressed that he had asked the lanky fast bowler to use the crease ju­di­ciously and worked on his ac­tion, as his head was fall­ing to a side and that was hav­ing an ad­verse im­pact on his line and length. Fair enough. The for­mer open­ing bats­man Viren­der Se­hwag, too, con­curs with Prab­hakar and opines that Ishant’s wrist po­si­tion was perfect and he was not averse to us­ing the new and old ball ef­fec­tively. Ac­cord­ing to Se­hwag, un­for­tu­nately in In­dia, the bowlers were sel­dom backed by their cap­tains, un­like the batsmen. When the team is in a po­si­tion to ex­tend its sup­port to a class bats­man like Re­hane, es­pe­cially, when he is woe­fully out of form, the same ben­e­fit of doubt should be ex­tended to Ishant and other bowlers like Mo­hammed Shami, Bhu­venswar Ku­mar and Umesh Ya­dav, says the for­mer opener, with­out un­der­min­ing the abil­ity of Re­hane.

The coach

Shas­tri is nat­u­rally happy over the per­for­mance of the In­dian team at home con­di­tions, and is op­ti­mistic that the team would re­peat its feat in the com­ing over­seas con­di­tions, too. The coach is aware, to rank as the best team in the world, the play­ers per­for­mances abroad next year would mat­ter more, as other­wise, the crit­ics will have the temp­ta­tion of not eat­ing his own words back, when he made a com­ment as a com­men­ta­tor more than a decade ago, after In­dia lost a test in Eng­land at Lords, “Tiger at home and lamp abroad”. Shas­tri also dis­pelled the im­pres­sion cre­ated by some cor­re­spon­dents that he rated the present In­dian team as the best in the world. Ac­cord­ing to him, he only meant that this team has the po­ten­tial to be the best in the world. Not only Shas­tri, even the gen­eral im­pres­sion among the cricket hun­gry-fans is that In­dia has a long way to go, though they are ranked as num­ber one team in the world now.

It is im­per­a­tive to fo­cus on field­ing of the team. For in­stance, in the Delhi test against Lanka, half-a-dozen catches were spilled and, that too, in slips by none other than the safe field­ers like Re­hane, Kohli and Ro­hit Sharma. Adding salt to the wound, the nor­mally re­li­able wicket-keeper Wrid­dhman Saha had missed some sit­ters and some stump­ing chances. Ash­win, had the mor­ti­fi­ca­tion of miss­ing a caught and bowled chance and thereby, get­ting in­jured in the sec­ond in­nings of the third test against Lanka. The crit­ics did not miss an op­por­tu­nity to pounce on the team, when they wanted to know, why ex­pert slip field­ers like Re­hane and Mu­rali were not asked to Mann the first and sec­ond slip. The ex­pla­na­tion touted was that, since Re­hane is an ex­pert fielder at gully and Mu­rali is com­fort­able out­side the cir­cle, the team man­age­ment felt that it was not wise enough to up­set their com­fort zones.

Kohli rightly took up the is­sue of play­ing non-stop cricket, since the

Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy last year, and nat­u­rally, the team did not get enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice for the South African tour. “Ear­lier the tour­ing teams were given suf­fi­cient time to prac­tice and play against the county teams, be­fore open­ing up for test matches, says Sha­tri and added, for in­stance, the tour­ing Eng­land team in Australia for ashes se­ries had one month time at their dis­posal to get them­selves ac­quainted to the cli­matic con­di­tions, be­fore start­ing their first test at Bris­bane. Is it not time to take ex­tra load off the play­ers, as rightly pointed out by Dravid? After all, the play­ers are not machines, says the for­mer open­ing bats­man and the present min­is­ter in the Pun­jab Gov­ern­ment, Navjyot Singh Sid­dhu.

To come afresh

The for­mer cap­tain M.S. Dhoni was in a sim­i­lar plight and took time off from a se­ries to come afresh. Kohli is fol­low­ing his foot­steps when he with­drew from the present one-day and T-20 se­ries against Sri Lanka. It is quite nat­u­ral that too much of cricket will ham­per the progress of the play­ers in gen­eral. As the for­mer In­dian cap­tain Sourav Gan­guly said, it would be bet­ter to bal­ance the sched­ule in a phased man­ner. He is per­haps right. Shas­tri agrees with him and says that no longer has a sched­ule been pre­pared for three-to-four months at a stretch and even the vis­i­tors are adopt­ing a nu­anced ap­proach to the process.

For in­stance, when Eng­land toured In­dia last year, their team went back to their coun­try after com­plet­ing their en­gage­ments in test se­ries and came afresh to In­dia for sub­se­quent one­day and T20 events later.

An­other for­mer crick­eter ex-chair­man of the Se­lec­tion Com­mit­tee Dilip Vengsarkar said that in his days, the cricket was played only dur­ing win­ter in In­dia. The then Board Pres­i­dent Sri­ra­man was par­tic­u­lar that the test cricket had not been ex­tended be­yond Jan­uary ev­ery year, in­forms Vengsarkar. A few crit­ics blame the fa­tigue on the play­ers to cramped sched­ule and the need to ad­just to the tele­vi­sion broad­casts and spon­sors of the pro­gramme. Though cricket does not need mar­ket­ing, the hec­tic com­pe­ti­tion among chan­nels to pur­chase the rights of matches makes even the Board of Con­trol for Cricket in In­dia to hang its head in shame. For in­stance, when the Star Tele­vi­sion did tele­cast the In­dia-Sri Lanka one-day match at Dhar­masala, the chan­nel also an­nounced that it will tele­cast the Euro­pean Hockey League at Bhubaneswar, com­pris­ing In­dia-Germany match for the third place and later the fi­nal be­tween Australia and Ar­gentina at 1705 hrs and 1930 hrs re­spec­tively, lit­tle re­al­is­ing that the cricket match that started at 11.30 am, would not have con­cluded be­fore 8.00 pm. How­ever, the lady luck smiled on them when Sri Lanka thrashed In­dia led by

Ro­hit Sharma and fin­ished the game be­fore 5.00 pm in the one-sided match. Had In­dia not been bun­dled out for 112 runs in 38.2 overs, the hockey lovers would not have had the chance of watch­ing the match for the third-place slot be­tween In­dia and Germany in tele­vi­sion. The funny aspect was that the cricket com­men­ta­tor her­self an­nounced in the chan­nel, with the ex­pert and for­mer test crick­eter V.V.S. Lax­man around, that “it is time to watch the hockey match,” much to the em­bar­rass­ment of the mild-man­nered Lax­man.

Hec­tic sched­ules

What­ever may be the mind-bog­gling blun­ders of the BCCI, it is ready to co­op­er­ate with the team man­age­ment in sort­ing out the hec­tic sched­ule of the play­ers. The air-pollution that had caused much in­con­ve­nience at Feroza Kotla Ground in New Delhi, to some Sri Lankan play­ers, as few of them wore mask on the ground, need not had been looked at as a con­tro­versy and by cast­ing as­per­sion on the vis­i­tors tac­ti­cal ploy to in­dulge in time-killing tac­tics. If the ul­te­rior mo­ti­va­tion is at­trib­uted to the Lankan play­ers, what was the rea­son for our own fast bowler Shami vom­it­ing on the ground? It may be noted that the pace­man ear­lier ridiculed the vis­it­ing play­ers for their al­leged wan­ton act. Our open­ing bats­man Shikhar Dhawan had saved the sen­si­tive is­sue en­velop­ing into cri­sis by has­ten­ing to point out that “even many In­dian play­ers are not used to the con­di­tion in Delhi, as they are com­ing from var­i­ous states of the na­tion.” It may be re­called that last year a Ranji Tro­phy match and later a Duleep Tro­phy event were called off at Feroza Kotla ground due to pollution. Will the Delhi Dis­trict Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion, if not the BCCI take such com­plaints into ac­count? For­tu­nately, the Lankan Cricket Board did not take them to task.

In­ter­est­ingly, there is a pos­si­bil­ity of the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil in­cor­po­rat­ing air pollution in its play­ing con­di­tions clause, after they heard the pa­thetic plight of Lankan Crick­eters dur­ing the test at New Delhi. As a re­sult, there could be an al­ter­ation in the clauses of the play­ing con­di­tions, where the health hazard of play­ers re­lated to air pollution can be in­cor­po­rated. How­ever, play­ing con­di­tions had not specif­i­cally men­tioned about air-pollution. It is more than likely, that per­mis­si­ble Air Qual­ity In­dex limit to play at the high­est level will be sanc­tioned sooner than later.

With cricket be­ing played round-the-clock, there is a ten­dency to ig­nore the Ranji Tro­phy by some of our se­lec­tors and play­ers. With In­dian Premier

League also tak­ing a toll on a large num­ber of play­ers, they do not hes­i­tate to skip the Ranji and Duleep Tro­phies, as Deo­dar had paled into in­signif­i­cance. More­over, the huge money they get from IPL can­not be com­pen­sated by play­ing in Ranji tour­na­ments. How­ever, the Un­der-19 coach Dravid made a valid point when much eye-brow were raised over his de­ci­sion to per­mit the swash­buck­ling batsmen and the up­com­ing young­ster Prithivi Shaw to par­tic­i­pate in the Ranji Tro­phy over the Asia Cup that the boys who are play­ing in the Ranji Tro­phy should not be de­prived of their op­por­tu­ni­ties. “Is it not time to move the play­ers from ju­nior to the Ranji for­mat and then to In­dia-A, be­fore hope­fully in the In­dian team,” asks Dravid with­out minc­ing words.

Dravid’s strat­egy

What Dravid meant, was that the slow, steady and sure progress of the play­ers must not be dis­turbed by look­ing for im­me­di­ate re­sults. He is quite right, as the play­ers need to el­e­vate them­selves to In­dia-A event from the do­mes­tic fix­tures. For in­stance, it was a wise de­ci­sion on the part of se­lec­tors in re­leas­ing Mu­rali Vi­jay for the Ranji Tro­phy matches against Mumbai, Vid­harba and Odisha, when he was not in the orig­i­nal team se­lec­tion for the first test against Sri Lanka at Kolkata. The bench­strength needs to be as­sessed ev­ery now and then, though our se­lec­tors would proudly de­clare that In­dia is in a po­si­tion to form three teams now.

Ajankya Ra­hane

Ishant Sharma cel­e­brat­ing after tak­ing a wicket.

Chetesh­war Pu­jara

In­dia's re­cent vic­tory over Sri Lanka in Test Match.

In­dian crick­eter M.S Dhoni dur­ing a match.

Pollution stops play at Delhi Test match.

Shikhar Dhawan

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