Men in blue creating history
Can India replicate its performance abroad?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ishant Sharma celebrating after taking a wicket.
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.