Thursday, January 31, 2008

Begging to differ

About a week ago, Homer at Two Cents wrote an article about Indian cricket, in which he made the following optimistic statement:
self belief coupled with the ability to play attritional cricket coupled with the hard nosed element of being in the game at all times and we stand at the cusp of being a really really good Test unit.
So, why don't I just express some pessimism here? The way I see it, our chances of becoming a "really really good Test unit" have always been poor in a certain way. The reasons for this are manifold, so why don't I, in the fashion of good old Indian taxonomizing, just make a list? Here it is:

  1. India cannot seem to solve the opening batsman problem. In fact, we haven't solved it since the Gavaskar-Chauhan-Srikkanth days. Chopra/Sehwag came close to solving it, but they got broken up, and there is little chance the Indian selectors will bring them back again. For whatever reason, lack of form, the five-bowlers-so-the-wicketkeeper-or-allrounder must open theory, the make-room-for-someone-else-in-the-order theory, we cannot find a stable opening pair. As a result, our great middle-order suffers.
  2. Fielding and running between the wickets simply doesn't seem to get better. Some historical perspective would be useful here. Commentators on the game in India have been talking about this need for more than *twenty* years now. Very little has changed. Yes, we have a new young brigade coming up, but they can't seem to force themselves into the side on a regular basis, and there is little evidence that these skills are making a big appearance at lower levels of cricket in India. Its worth noting that when we won the World Cup in 1983, Srikkanth was an outstanding fielder, and people talked about how much of a difference this would make to fielding standards in India. Back in 1983!
  3. Our fast bowlers cannot stay fit. Our fast bowling in attack in England was Khan, Singh and Sreesanth. Come Adelaide, none of them were visible. Sometime this year, Ishant Sharma will break down. And the cycle will begin all over again.
  4. Spinning greats are nowhere to be seen. Harbhajan has been disappointing in tests for a long time, Chawla does not seem an adequate replacement in tests for Kumble. Even if Powar/Chawla are to take over, it'll take some time.
  5. The aggressive Indian captain (and I don't mean Ganguly-aggressive, I mean as in tactical-aggressive) is yet to be found. Fear of defeat continues to inhibit any Indian captain. And why shouldn't it, given the essentially irrational, over-the-top reactions that await him from an ignorant media and excitable fan base?
  6. Indian selectors continue to confuse one-day form with test form. Sehwag gets dropped from tests because of one-days, Dhoni continues to strut his chicken-scratch innings in tests because of his one-day reputation. More disasters await us in this area.
  7. The IPL is here. Plenty of bright young Indian talent will simply disappear into its gaping maws, leaving little talent for the longer game, whose popularity in India might be diminishing (might?).
  8. The BCCI continues to prioritize one-days over tests; it refuses to look into making pitches in India a little more bowler-friendly.

My overwhelming feeling is that we had a chance to make a serious move on the test arena had we found the bowling resources to go with the Fab Four, to keep our pace bowlers fit, to make our pitches a little more lively, to have improved our fielding and running between the wickets. Instead, while we did improve our away record and finally start winning tests overseas against all and sundry, we still suffer from most of the weaknesses mentioned above. And I do not see anything structural in Indian cricket that will change these factors.

As always, happy to be proven wrong.


Blogger straight point said...

Excellent SC!!

technically we are at the same position when we were after 2003-04 australia tour...

everyone was boasting of our success in oz and there were talks that we can be no.1 if we carry on with that...

same this time...

while some blame should go to players for not building upon that to next level...i would put most of the blame to system...the BCCI...

had they shown little interest in TESTS than earning money with meaningless ODI series after series and put some systems you mentioned we would have been no.1 by now...and its not an exaggeration...

we always talk about rotation policy but wonder whether i will be able to see it in my life...

rather we let bowlers, who show some signs of form, bowl match after match until he breaks down...

a part of this problem is US as well....we the FANs the overzealous MEDIA...look how every time a senior member is 'rested' we create so much of hue and cry that the process gets reversed...SA odi series is the case in point...we cant even embrace some meaningless defeats on the face of future...we HAVE to win every useless ODI we play...

somehow winning a ODI series becomes paramount (england ODI series is classic example) and up goes the rotation policy in thin air...

Rohit sharmas, badrinaths, tiwaris are kept in colds of bench while being in their prime form...and we just go round and round within same bracket...when will they get chance to show what they are capable of? they may fail as well but at least give them some platform to showcase what we have for next generation...

3:04 AM  
Blogger Homer said...


I am in agreement with everything you say. My optimism stems from the fact that there seems to be greater awareness of these issues and for all the inertia displayed by the BCCI, when the current captain talks of legacy (the first time any Indian captain has used that word in any context), people will sit up and take notice.


5:32 PM  
Blogger Gaurav Sethi said...

It’s funny, but I don’t see any of the present lot of test openers (barring Sehwag) going on for long – and this has nothing to do with their skill; it’s more to do with their personality, salability, adaptability to both test and ODI (why?!) ‘n other such dirty non-sporty words. So, Chopra, Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik don’t fit BCCI's bill. Not too sure about Gambhir either
In short, unless another Greek God superstar (who can also bat a bit) descends to open the innings (a la Yuvraj), India will struggle with their opening selection. It’s a convenient manipulation for a middle order star player. Indian cricket appears happy to play it like this – but whoever opens with Sehwag in the home test series should have a good run and buy a few overseas test series. Uthappa (not really considered as a test opener yet) are you listening?

9:37 AM  
Blogger John said...

Our opening worries are a product of our middle order luxuries. Once this famed middle order starts thinning, the opener will return to the position of preeminence as far as selection is concerned.
Till now, we have preferred playing our best batsmen at the expense of one of our best openers. Such thinking will end when the Sachin, Laxman, Dravid and Saurav leave because the opener we choose then (Jaffer/Karthik/Gambhir/Uthappa) will also be one of our best batsmen.

As far as fielding is concerned - Uthappa, Karthik and Rohit Sharma are excellent fielders and Pathan, Bhajji, Sree and Gambhir are safe. So as long as these guys manage their primary responsibilities properly, we have a good core of fielder in Gen Next. Of course Zak, Arpy and Ishant will still need to be hidden. Don't know too much about Manoj Tiwary and Badri who are quite certain to be part of that slip cordon in the years to come.

As far as spin is concerned, Bhajji is barely 28 and this is when spin bowlers are supposed to start peaking.. Lots to look forward to, I feel. And Chawla has shown the talent and the attitude to become a good spinner in 5-6 years.

Fast bowlers break down. Sure. But India now has a pool of three good left armers and three decent right armers to pick from. All of Zak, Arpy, Pathan, Sree, Munaf and Ishant are proven entities on the international circuit.

The biggest problem is one you missed out. Do we know enough about who will replace Ganguly and Dravid (surely the first ones to go?)

10:09 AM  
Blogger John said...

And Samir, you must have seen Chawla's googly. Pretty good, I'd say and if he is confident enough to try this stuff against Pietersen at this age, I don't see why he can't add more weapons to his cache.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Sorry about the late responses folks. I do think that the BCCI does bear some of the blame, but I also think that some attitudes need to percolate down to the lower levels of the game. Perhaps this means coaching the coaches, I don't know. I worry too, about the effects of the T20 win, and about the IPL, both of which I think have great potential to sap our test cricket potential. We might be limited overs champions very soon, but be slipping away in test cricket after this middle order goes.

Re: fitness. I look forward to the day that an Indian quick could show Courtney Walsh-like fitness, playing full seasons of test, ODI and domestic cricket. Thats the gold standard, and worth aspiring to.

As far as fan reactions are concerned, I don't think much can be done about it. Cricket is tamasha first and foremost in India. It's sports second. In these circumstances, there is little chance that fans' reactions will become sensible.

I suppose I should be reasonably optimistic about fielding (mind you, I'm still pessimistic about the chances of this young brigade maintaining their fielding standards over the course of a hot day of test cricket!)

This year will perhaps give us some indications of what the future test side is going start looking like. Should be very interesting!

11:21 AM  

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