Butt kicks for Indian cricket team, time hopefully for a wake-up call

Pak beat India fair and square at the Eden Gardens, one of India’s best grounds, at the momentous occasion of the platinum jubilee of the BCCI. If this comprehensive defeat is not enough for a reality check, I don’t know what is. Hats off to Salmam Butt, a very calm, composed and talented player with a bright future ahead of him.

The only thing consistent about the Indian cricket team are its consistent defeats. For a team that is packed with talent and plenty of bench strength, its clearly a sad state. Here are some thoughts on a new look towards approaching selection of the one-day team for India.

  • Full time keeper an absolute must: Dravid as the keeper has to stop. Whenever Dravid is the captain, he always brings in a specialist keeper. There is no better proof that India’s star batsmen does not approve of the 7 batsmen formula. The formula is no longer working and its about time its abandoned.
  • Kumble permanently out of one-day games: Bhajji is clearly a better choice for one-dayers. Then why bother with Kumble in the 15. If Bhajji is out of form, as a replacement, Murali Karthik is always a proven option who can perform as well as Kumble if not better. Or hunt the country for some fresh talent.
  • Laxman out of one-day games(though he faired decently in this match): VVS is by no means a great fielder, a poor runner between wickets and his batting form is not the best currently. Most importantly, I think he is a mis-fit in the one-day game. He can always be brought back into the test team, provided his form is predictable.
  • Time to kiss good-bye to Agarkar: Can someone tell me what on earth this guy is still doing in the team today? He has had enough opportunities to prove himself and barring that one test performance in Aus and a century at Lords, he has nothing to show for all these years in international cricket. Time to send him packing.
  • Captaincy change: Ganguly appears to have lost his magic and it might be worth re-thinking the overall captaincy issue. Undoubtedly, Ganguly has a record as good or better than any Indian captain. In fact, he has groomed a fighting unit unlike no other captain in Indian cricket history. At the same time he has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for all the recent defeats. To be fair, I think the selectors should influence Ganguly to re-think the overall team strategy. If he continues to be totally inflexible and hell bent on simply repeating the same old strategy, retaining him as skipper will simply mean more of the same thing.

In my opinion, the reason Australia is able to perform to the highest quality so consistently, is that they never compromise on quality or form. In other words, only the best make it to the team. Can you imagine someone like Katich being dropped after his recent performance? If he were playing for India, he would be a fixture in the team for a min of 5 years after such a performance! Unlike test cricket, there is little room to recover in one-day games, once errors are made. So if India were to dream of winning with some level of consistency, then they have to be brutally honest in its assessing players. One easy way to look at it is to assess each player against the four aspects involved: Bowling, fielding, batting and current form. Based on assumptions derived from these aspects, let us analyze the team competition.

Criteria 1: If possible all 11 players should be top notch fielders and excellent runners between wickets. If you strictly apply this criteria: Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble, Nehra are all candidates who won’t make the cut. Zaheer Khan is also a borderline case.

Criteria 2: 6 batsmen and 5 regulars bowlers who can consistently be counted to bowl their full quota is the ideal formula. The 7 batsmen-makeshift wkt keeper-4 bowlers formula has failed miserably. If you apply the criteria that all 5 bowlers must be counted on to complete their quota of 10 overs. Agarkar is certainly the first one to not make the cut. Nehra having been axed based on criteria 1, plus the fact that he has been injury prone, plus the fact that he has very few noteworthy performances, opens up two bowling slots.

Criteria 3: The team needs five rock solid batsmen, plus one wkt keeper batsmen. Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif are automatic first choices because they clearly are not impacted by criterias 1 and 2. Dinesh Karthik is the current choice for keeper.

Criteria 4: If possible all players in the team must be in peak form. This not always possible. Besides, its not good to disrupt the team by tossing players in and out. But there has to be some basic ground rules. Ideally, I think there should be a 3 strikes and your out rule. That is, fail in 3 successive games and you are out the door for a break. Several domestic stars who deserve to be consider for the team could be beneficiaries of the three strikes rule include: Badani, Sriram, Venugopal Rao, Ambati Rayudu, among others.

Criteria 5: India needs an allrounder, ideally a heavy-hitting allrounder, the elusive Kapil Dev replacement. Romesh Powar looked like an option, but the guy was hardly given an opportunity. Other press stories indicate he was out of favor with Ganguly. In any case, a player who fits this profile is an absolute must in the team. This player must ideally be able to bat in the last 15 overs or sent up the order for pinch hitting. Currently, the only players who are capable of big hitting in the Indian team are Sehwag and Ganguly (Shahid Afridi, Flintoff, Symonds, Abdul Razack, Ricardo Powell, Chris Cairns or examples from other teams).

Based on the above analysis, Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif, Karthik, Zaheer, Irfan, Bhajji make the top 9. Also, it means that, the two remaining slots have to be players who can be counted to deliver 10 overs in every match. In other words, ideally they should be bowlers who can also bat. If its a turning track, Murali should take one spot as a specialist bowler. If its not a turning wicket then one of the many bowlers (Salvi, Bhandari, Balaji, SS Paul) should take this spot. The other spot is the allrounder spot which in my opinion is completely up for grabs. Until India can find one, maybe Ganguly should take this spot, continue as captain with a new strategy, and drop down the batting order. If he is hell bent on batting up the order, then Sehwag has to drop down the order to play the role of the big hitter. Lastly, it should be made clear to Ganguly that time is running out for him and he has to deliver. The other alternative is to pick a captain from among the top 9 players and rotate the all rounder big hitter spot among currently available talent across the country. My pick would be to give Ganguly another 4-5 matches to revise his strategy. What would your pick be?

Author: Pran Kurup

Pran Kurup is founder and CEO of Vitalect, Inc.