Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Campaign and the Captain

Just like in the 1999 World Cup and the 2003 World Cup and the 2007 World Cup (and perhaps others I may have missed), the Indian cricket team begins its campaign in a major international tournament weakly, and now finds itself in a situation where it is, to trot out an old cliche, not "master of its own destiny". Today's game against England is a must-win, as is the game against South Africa; the margins of these wins need to be handsome ones as well.

In suggesting that Dhoni stunk up the crucial game against the Windies, I seem to have conveyed the impression that I hold him solely responsible for the defeat. Not so; his efforts with the bat just stood out more dramatically against the backdrop of general incompetence from the top-order batting and the bowling, which failed to take advantage of a mounting required run-rate during the Windies' batting.

But perhaps all of this is to quibble too much. Twenty20 is inherently a format in which small mistakes get punished and results like these are only expected when significant weaknesses remain unaddressed in a team. Like the one in the Indian team, which features a captain who still seems to be struggling with an identity crisis.

For if there is a question that seems to confront Dhoni on a daily basis it is this: what shall I be, swashbuckler or canny pragmatist? Of recent years, Dhoni has steadily cast himself as canny, cool, level-headed pragmatist, a man dedicated to keeping the unpredictable Indian team on an even keel. In doing so, he has remade his batting to an alarming extent (and as I've pointed out on this blog in the past) and the change is not a positive one. In test cricket, it has meant that India's lower order threatens no one, and cannot change the course of a game with some aggressive batting. In one-day internationals, it has resulted in Dhoni the 'finisher'. In T20, I think it means that Dhoni is confused about what role he should be play. I think he prides himself on being flexible enough to switch roles easily but truth be told, we haven't seen a power innings from Dhoni in any format of cricket for a very long time. And so this means that invariably there will be times that Dhoni will imagine a T20 situation to call for 'level-headed batting' and take that to mean blocking away. But 'level-headed batting' in T20 simply means taking as many singles as possible - the limited number of deliveries available makes that into a no-brainer.

Dhoni started off as a fire-and-brimstone batter. With suitable adjustments made for particular circumstances, he should return to the basics: hitting hard and looking for the boundary when possible. Its possible to remain true to one's instincts and yet still modulate one's contributions to the team cause.

Dhoni's swing from one extreme to the other needs a correction; MS is talented enough to do it, I think.


Blogger David Mutton said...

If it's any encouragement, England and South Africa hardly have a great track record in winning important one-day cricket games.

11:43 AM  

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