Dravid Dropped: Right Move, Poor PR

There seems to be plenty of press about Rahul Dravid being dropped from the ODI side for the home series against Australia. “He got a raw deal”, “this is weird”, “It makes no sense” etc.  seems to be the common sentiment and understandably so.  Rahul Dravid was brought back to the ODI team after the young turks in the Indian team where found wanting when it came to negotiating the short pitched delivery.  Dravid played the series against Sri Lanka and the Champions trophy in South Africa and did a decent job before being dropped for the home series against Australia. The obvious questions that arise are: Why was he brought back? Shouldn’t the youngsters have been given a chance in South Africa to see if they are capable? What did he do to be dropped? Is this a way to treat one of our cricketing heroes?

Despite of all these legitimate questions, by far the most troubling was the fact that the selectors did not face the media after announcing the team (it is quite surprising given that Kris Srikanth is fairly outspoken).  This is ridiculous to say the least (PR at its worst) given that cricket is so obsessively followed in India. It is highly possible that the selectors didn’t have a discussion with Dravid either about the rationale behind the decision either. However, I guess that Dravid has the maturity to take this in his stride if not understand the thinking behind this decision. An interview with Dravid (while he was fielding!) in the recent Champions league gave some interesting insights to the man himself and his mental make up. The conversation went something like this ..”Rahul, you running around like you are in your 20s”…”Well, this is T20 and you have all the young boys running around so you can’t exactly hide in the slips like in a Test match”…”Well Rahul, for someone who holds the world record for the number of slip catches, I wouldn’t exactly call it hiding in the slips”

The decision by itself is not a bad one for several reasons.  There is plenty of proven young talent that can do well on Indian pitches.  Dravid’s dropping has little to do with his form or his performance. This series is a perfect chance for youngsters to prove their mettle against the best ODI team in the world. If they can’t deliver on Indian pitches then they are not up to “scratch” anyway. Besides, with the return of Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj there is plenty of strength in the batting order.  Moreover, this series is not like the Champions trophy where the stakes are simply much higher. Last but not the least, cricket is played all round the year, so there are always injuries and loss of form to deal with from time to time.  If such situations arise, Dravid can certainly be called upon like he was recently. I only wish the selectors had given Harbhajan and Ishant Sharma a rest as well. Both overexposed, jaded, out of form players who are being dragged around from series to series with no significant contribution to speak off, Bhajji’s five wickets against SL not withstanding.

p.s: The coaches were also fired. I guess someone had to be held accountable for the recent back to back defeats in two major tournaments. Wonder if this is a message to the captain?

Cricket: Rotation is the best policy

India failed to qualify for the semi-finals in two major back to back tournaments — the World T20 and the ICC World Championship. While the first had a lot to do with fitness (and fatigue following the IPL), the second was mostly due to poor performance, particularly by the bowlers. With a year long cricket season having become pretty much the norm, its impossible for players to perform continuously over a long period without succumbing to injuries or by simply losing form.There are no shortage of examples. Even Sachin Tendulkar looks his best every time he returns from a break.  Rahul Dravid and Ashish Nehra appear to be back in reasonable form after a break. Sehwag, Gambhir, Sreesanth, and Yuvraj have been struggling with injuries. Dhoni has run into indifferent form and has become a shadow of his former belligerent batting style. Gone are the days when Dhoni could whack the ball from the get go. Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa belong to the category of talented young players who lost form (though some argue that these two have been busy in fashion shows and the like).

It is best for the selectors to settle on a formal rotation policy — one which is well communicated and understood by the players without giving them the feeling that they are being dumped everytime they miss out on a game.  Ishant Sharma, R.P. Singh and Harbhajan Singh top the list of those badly in need of a rest.  It is a complete mystery as to why there have been no calls whatsoever for giving Harbhajan a rest. He has been so thoroughly overexposed that the Pakistan batsman appeared to be capable of playing him in their sleep. The Aussies had little trouble either. His  five wicket haul in Sri Lanka was an anomaly rather than the norm. Barring this fine bowling in the final in in Sri Lanka I can’t remember the last time he produced a match winning performance. He has played the role of defensive bowler for way too long while what India lacks is a wicket taking bowler. Pragyan Ohja and Amit Mishra are both promising younger players who deserve an extended run. Piyush Chawla and R. Ashwin are both capable players who deserve a shot as well. Besides, Romesh Powar and Murali Karthik are still around if experience is preferred. In short, Harbhajan badly needs a break and its time the selectors gave him one. His continued presence in the team is not only preventing India from winning it is also shutting the door on other promising, talented players.

Looking ahead to the next World Cup, India is still in need of an all rounder. Irfan Pathan has fizzled out. While his batting is impressive, his bowling is unreliable and is getting slower by the day. Yousuf Pathan seems more suited to T20. Abhishek Nayar and Ravinder Jadeja appear to have promise but thus far are mostly untested. India has to fill the all rounder spot if it has to consider itself as a serious contender for the next World Cup. It makes sense to rotate a pool of players, and pick those in form but give everyone a share of rest without making them feel dumped.

Rahul Dravid’s Return: It’s all about form

There has been plenty of analysis and theories about Rahul Dravid’s returnto the ODI team. Shouldn’t the selectors look to the future? What if he fails? Is this his ODI farewell? etc.

As cricket gets more and more commercial and players end up with a near 12-month cricketing calendar it is next to impossible for any player to perform consistently over an extended period of time (not to mention challenges posed by frequent injuries).  It is just too demanding and hard to sustain. Dhoni is a prime example. The man who burst into the scene with a slaughtering 180+ score against SL now says “I need time to settle, I can’t hit from the first ball!” Ironically, it was this ability of his that made him a favorite of so many Indian cricket fans.

To adapt to the year long cricket season, teams must select players purely based on current form. Proven stars like Viru, Sachin and Dravid are assumed to be in form unless proven otherwise. Dravid was dumped when he was out of form and returned when he showed that he was back in form. He is probably sufficiently rested and hungry to perform well again. The return of Ashish Nehra is another example. He showed that he was in form in the IPL and resurrected his career, thanks partly to Zaheer Khan’s injury and Ishant Sharma’s slump. Dinesh Karthick is another example of a player who worked his way back by virtue of good performances in the IPL and in the domestic season.

When India failed at the T20 World Cup, heads had to roll, deficiencies had to be addressed, so those out of form like Rohit Sharma were dumped in favor of those in form with the necessary skills.

Srikanth and co. deserve kudos for selecting “in-form” players regardless of age. It sends a clear message to young talented discards like Sreesanth, Rohit Sharma and Uthappa that if they return to form opportunities could open up for them. Unlike Australia, India does not have to worry about losing players to retirement all at once. There is plenty of bench strength and rotation among a pool of players makes a lot of sense.  There is no point looking to the future when India is losing in the present. India should try to forge a combination that can win in the present and the future will take care of itself.

End of Deodhar Trophy?

The BCCI canceled the Deodhar Trophy for 2009-10 season because of a tight schedule.

Its an interesting move and a sure sign that with the rise of T20 cricket something has to give. The big question is whether this is an isolated instance or a sign of trend that the 50 over game is slowly making way for the more trendy and fast paced T20.

Team India: Down and Out of the T20 World Cup Semis

Team India crashed out of the T20 World Cup. Dhoni and his boys have gone from being superstars to failed stars overnight. Here are some thoughts on Why India failed and some possible solutions.

Players Hiding Injuries

Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan were not fully fit for this T20 World cup. Between the BCCI, the team management and the players themselves, their lack of fitness was allowed to be overlooked. There should an investigation, followed by some firings. The players themselves must be banned from playing for India for a year. In this day and age, with so much financial benefits (among other things) at stake, the players and all those involved need to be strongly reminded that hiding injuries is simply not acceptable and will be dealt with in very harsh terms.

Dhoni’s Growing Pains

After a successful honeymoon period, India’s Midas man who has never captained a team before he earned the most demanding job in world cricket, seems to be suffering from growing pains. After he stepped into the job, he phased out the seniors, brought in young blood, and led from the front with impressive personal performances. Unfortunately, like most players he seems to have hit a lean patch in his batting of late. His team failed to make the final of the IPL. Many youngsters around him have started performing better than he himself. His aggressive out of the box moves have started to fail more often than succeed. His cool and calm at the post-match interviews has been replaced by irritability, annoyance and other such emotions.

The fact remains that Dhoni had an excellent team on paper but it fizzled on the field. Its all part of Dhoni growing up on the job. Thus far he has shown great talent, skill and the resolve needed to make a very good captain. At the same time he has shown fleeting signs of insecurity (promoting himself ahead of other in form players a la Dada), desperation to prove his point (playing the same team for the last match against SA despite being a turning track), and the rumored clash with Viru and its aftermath (a PR fiasco raising more questions than providing answers). However, it would be foolish and premature for India to pressurize him or even contemplate replacing him in the short term.

Player Rotation

Gary Kirsten was probably right when he said the team was tired and exhausted after non-stop cricket over several months. Unfortunately, in this day and age of “fast-buck” cricket, this is no longer a valid excuse. India is bursting at the seams with talent. Manish Pandey, Virat Kohli, Praveen Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, Pradeep Sangwan, Abhishek Nayyar, are just a few of the many talented players on the sidelines. There is no reason why the same set of players should be doing the rounds in all forms of the game. Why not have separate teams with a few common players in all forms of the game?

Thoughts on IPL 2.0

After a couple of weeks of the IPL in its new avatar in South Africa it is hard not to admit that it is far more exciting than the inaugural version held in India last year. If there is one glaring downside it is the size of the crowds.  A match played in front of 20,000 people is very different from  one played in front of 80,000+. Barring the size of the crowds IPL 2.0 is definitely far more exciting.

Bowlers Have a Chance

Unlike IPL 1.0 which was played on India’s dead pitches, the pitches in South Africa appear to have plenty in them for the bowlers. This is obvious when you look at the scores. Any score above 160 is huge plus. Besides, spinners have had a terrific run this time around. A veteran like Anil Kumble has become a force to reckon with. The duel between him and the hard hitting Yuvraj Singh was cricket at its best.

Matches Are Down to the Wire

One of the big pluses of this IPL has been the fact that most matches have come down to the wire making it that much more exciting.  If you miss the first 15 overs, the last five overs are bound to be worth watching especially in a close game.

Experience Counts

While veterans like Sachin, Dravid and Kumble have seen a fair amount of success the IPL, some of the newbies who had a great run last year like Asnodhkar, Dhinda, Gony and others have struggled. It is possible that their lack of success is result of limited exposure and inability to adapt quickly to the South African pitches/grounds. It is also possible that these youngsters will get their act together as the IPL progresses.

Wasted Big Bucks

Pieterson and Flintoff are easily the biggest disappointments among the big stars who were introduced for the first time in the IPL. Pieterson doesn’t recovered from his English captaincy mess and awarding him the BRC captainship was probably a wrong move. Flintoff seems to be eternally plagued by injuries. He never really clicked with the bat and it was embarrassing to seem him tonked around by the likes of Abhishek Nayar, a relative newbie.

KKR’s Downward Spiral

KKR’s damage was done well before the season started – John Buchanan’s blatant attempt to sideline Ganguly, the Fake IPL blogger, SRK’s clash with Gavaskar, the unavailability of Ponting etc. etc.  — all contributed to KKR’s poor performance this IPL. SRK has done little to help matters either. A post season clean up seems surely on the cards and seems necessary.

McGrath on the Bench!

Delhi’s decision to bench McGrath is baffling. The best part is that the team has done exceptionally well without him! Perhaps its  part of a plan to unleash him in the later games?  Nannes, Nehra and Sangwan have performed creditably throughout so its hard to justify dropping any of them. At best McGrath for Nehra perhaps?

An Indian Captain for an IPL Team Makes More Sense

Unless you have a captain known for his captaincy prowess (like Shane Warne), it makes no sense whatsoever to have a non-Indian captain.  Firstly,  each team can have only four non-Indian players.  Many non-Indian players have more experience playing T20 cricket and it makes sense to rotate those players and get the best out of them. KKR is now stuck with McCullum in the playing 11 though he has barely had any success with the bat.  Secondly, language and culture has a lot to do with leading the team. Some of the Indian players are not comfortable speaking fluent English. Its hard to imagine how a foreign captain can communicate effectively with them unless he has some gifted captaincy skills like Shane Warne seems to have. Thirdly, an Indian captain is bound to know local players much better. Kevin Pieterson for instance chose to repeatedly use Kallis to bowl at the death. Kumble on the other hand chose to bowl the penultimate over himself. Also, Pieterson barely used Vinay Kumar as a bowler in the match againts Punjab, though he is primarily a bowler, while Kallis bowled his full quota of four overs for a whopping 51 runs!

Ultimately, T20 is a crap shot

In the IPL any team can beat any other team (and this includes KKR, btw).  T20 is completely unpredictable. Unlike Test cricket and ODI cricket where performance has to be sustained over a longer period of time, T20 can change in the space of an over or two. There is little or no time to recover after the odd false move. Success in T20 calls for a huge slice of luck more so than in any other form of the game.

Specific strategies (multi-captain theory for instance, opening with a spinner, shot over the keeper) per se are still being worked out as this form of the game gains maturity. Dhoni has so far shown that his capataincy instincts can be equally brilliant in the T20 format. His move to bring in Suresh Raina in the CSK-Punjab was a master stroke. Shane Warne is brilliant as always. His one over to Badrinath on a turning track was an absolute treat from the master of spin bowling.  It was confirmation that given the right settings there is still room for sheer traditional cricketing class in T20s.  It will be interesting to see RR under Graeme Smith.

Balaji’s Return A Welcome Sign

The selectors in a surprise move replaced the injured Munaf Patel with the “smiling assassin” Laxmipathi Balaji. This move is no doubt remarkable for so many reasons. Most importantly, it is a sign that domestic performances count for selection to the national team. Balaji has performed exceptionally in the domestic circuit and has worked his way back to the team.

Secondly, its a welcome sign than those who have performed at the highest level of the game are not ignored when they are hit by major injuries. After a fine performance on the Pakistan tour a few years back, the promising Balaji has struggled to get back from his injury and prove that he is capable of still performing at the international level. There was no question that he had the promise and the potential. Unfortunately, he was hit by major injury and has been in the wilderness for the last three years (barring his performance in the IPL). Coming back after being away from the game for a long time is a challenge in itself. Being constantly ignored can make it worse. The selectors and captain Dhoni deserve credit for recognizing Balaji’s return to reckoning.

Last but not the least it keeps the current crop of fast bowlers in the Indian team on their toes, knowing that the bench strength is constantly knocking on the doors. I can’t remember the last time when India had a fast bowling bench strength of the likes of R.P. Singh, Sreesanth, Gony, Umesh Yadav, to name few.