This was a very very poor decision on the part of the team management. Kumble has been India’s main strike bowler on the two most recent series in Australia and Pakistan. He has not performed particularly badly on this tour either. Besides, Harbhajan has not exactly been in devastating form on this tour and is just about staging a comeback. Then why was Kumble dropped? I suspect this is entirely a “Ganguly call” when it came down to a choice between relying on a seasoned star and the much touted “backing your young talent”. Strangely enough, the last match against SL saw the inclusion of Zaheer Khan, while Nehra was dropped. This time around, despite a turning track, our best spinner was warming the benches while India was fielding three fast bowlers two of whom (Nehra and more so Zaheer) are as unpredictable as the weather. One can only hope in the interest of Indian cricket that Ganguly is not trying to build his own fiefdom at the expense of picking the best team.
If you look at the Indian team today, the “sure four” –Dravid, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Pathan are pretty much guaranteed of a place in the 11, no matter what. In short, they pick themselves. Then there is Ganguly and his favorites: Kaif, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Harbhajan. Of the remaining two slots, one has to be batsmen, since Ganguly is a big proponent in the seven batsman theory. VVS gets the batsman slot (he has ways to go before he can become like the “sure four”) by virtue of his recent good form in Pak and Australia. Given that Ganguly so badly wants to have Zaheer in the team, the second slot has to be another fast bowler for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, Zaheer has very frequent fitness problems. So going into the match without a back up regular opening bowler is very risky. What if Zaheer chokes and falls apart after his second over? Secondly, Zaheer’s bowling is completely unpredictable as we saw the other day where Jayasurya blasted 21 runs from one of his very early overs. What does the captain do under these circumstances, have a spinner bowl as early as the 6th over? Hence, the inclusion of Nehra. I am not a huge supporter of Kumble nor do I have anything against Zaheer. But its obvious that Zaheer needs a long rest to settle down, fix his injury problems, and develop some consistency in performance before he can come back to the team. And for all his captaincy skills, Ganguly could at a minimum treat Kumble with some respect, and not dump him at the slightest excuse.
Why does India have to stick with the same batting order in every single match? When the asking rate was climbing so dramatically, why weren’t Harbhajan or Zaheer sent in earlier to crack a few blows and get the runs moving? That would have certainly relieved the mounting pressure on Sachin. In my opinion, the batting order should be driven entirely by the situation. For example, if there is an early wicket, I don’t think Ganguly should go in at number 3 for the simple reason that he is best player of spin in the team and the worst player of the short pitched delivery. His position in the batting order must be entirely dependent on the likelihood of him getting a chance to play the spinners. Likewise, if VVS does not get bat within the first 25 overs, Yuvraj, Dravid and Kaif are all better equipped to precede him in the batting order. Yuvraj’s weakness appears to be against spin bowling, but he makes up with swift running between wickets to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard on a constant move. Dravid in his best form is perhaps the most flexible of the lot and can bat pretty much anywhere and at any juncture. It might be worth doing some serious thinking and strategizing on these lines prior to taking on the mighty Aussies later this year.
Sachin Tendulkar’s cricketing genius continues to unfold despite the controversy surrounding his much restrained batting style. His bowling performance on this tour has been simply phenomenal. Had he been more instrumental in guiding India to victory with the bat (particularly in the finals), without doubt he would have been the man of the series. Where he continues to fall short is with the bat, believe it or not. He is still the best batsman in the world, but definitely not the best match winning batsman in the world. He has certainly lost his fire. He had two opportunities this series to guide his team to victory and permanently answer his critics and on both occasions he fell short (the second ODI in Pakistan being another). The final is a classic example. Considering that we lost by a mere 25 runs, I certainly think he failed to “finish” despite having stuck it out in the midst of our dismal batting failure.
The scenario was similar in the earlier match against Pak, except that we were chasing a larger total. In fact, in the Pak game he failed to last long enough to even to see India through with the bonus point. Botton line, in both matches he simply failed to finish! This is not the Sachin the world has known. Once again, this is by no means a poor performance. It is is just that Sachin has set his personal standards so high during his peak, that today he himself is unable to meet the same standards. Unfortunately, the cricketing world has become so used to measuring him by these supremely high standard. Understandably, opposing teams now dread Rahul Dravid more than Sachin. In other words, Sri Lanka knew they had a good chance of victory the moment India lost Dravid, while the world number one batsman was still at the crease.
The current Indian team has repeatedly shown that they don’t give up easily. The addition of 60 odd runs after the fall of Sachin’s wicket in the final was very impressive. Likewise in the previous match against SL India did well to hold their nerve and win in the very last over. Ganguly certainly deserves the credit for this transformation in the team. With a little more fairness and a little less “chela-giri” (slang that means building a following of potential sycophants, by showing caring and partiality towards them), he can mould the team into a one day team that can actually win a few finals.