Monday, September 3, 2007

One day, some day…

We love watching one day cricket and notwithstanding the recent aberrations where we have won important test matches abroad, one suspects that our players too prefer the shortened version of the game, whatever they may say to media. God knows that our test cricketers have played more one day internationals than players from any other country in the world. Despite the predilection of our administrators and cricketers for the shortened version of the game it must be mentioned that our skills leave a lot to be desired. Teams like Australia have moved to a different orbit, if one may use the word. The first major match{to my mind at least} of the enormously long world cup of 2007 was the much awaited game between Australia and South Africa when the two top teams crossed swords in the small ground at St.Kitts. That game showed up the difference between Australia and on occasion South Africa and the rest of the one day cricketing world. Also one needed to have watched the India England match at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday evening to understand that while India may be a fantastic one day team on some day or the other in the future it is certainly far from that today. At the time of writing this India is 1-3 down to England who is hardly an ideal one day side!
Aussie Aussie Aussie !

It is difficult to talk about one day cricket without talking about the Australians and their fantastic record in this aspect of the game and in others as well. It might be worthwhile to look at a few key aspects behind their success and maybe see where we are with reference to some of these proven success formulae. .Win the toss and? Australia would invariably bat first and put on runs on the board, choke up the opposition for 15 overs and then the asking rate would climb, the opposing team would commit hara-kiri. You get the picture. Contrast this with what Rahul Dravid has been doing in England recently. We bowled and badly at that, particularly at the Rose Bowl. And as England piled up the runs, we were on the back foot and continued to be there till we lost the match by a mile. A margin of defeat over 100 runs is equal to a defeat by an innings in a test match. Of course we can say that the conditions looked deceptive and Collingwood played along by saying that he too would have bowled. How often do captains demonstrate charity to their counterparts? Quite often in press conferences at least!! More than the conditions I think the Indians believe they can chase pretty well and our mind must go back to Srilanka when they visited here and our own success with the West Indies. Well the artificial lights in England are different and the English bowling at home is a different kettle of fish. In fact England’s few wins in the past including the much vaunted Commonwealth Bank tri –series win in the finals in Australia have had the same formula. I think the learning for India at least has to be not to be guided by the past but by the conditions. Here too I would be guided by Steve Waugh’s laconic view that the conditions cannot change dramatically in one hundred overs so the toss should not be too important though in India all of us agonise over every decision or non-decision of Rahul Dravid! The Australians play at a frenetic pace so even when wickets are falling the run rate stays at 6- 7 in the first 20 overs at least. The power plays are made to count. But I suppose it helps if you have Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting batting in the first three slots with Clarke, Symonds and Hussey to follow. But Sachin and Sourav are no slouches except when it comes to running between the wickets. We often talk about why we do not need a coach. I wonder who will tell Sourav off after his appalling running between the wickets .Will it be the young Chandu Borde? The fact that Greg Chappell made a hash of his coaching stint should not make us believe that all coaches are bad or that we are great enough to play for ever without a coach. We need a coach who can teach running between the wickets definitely!

Demons in the mind or in the dressing room?

Another distressing habit that we have developed over the last few years in Indian one day cricket has been the frequent, unnecessary {in my view at least} changes that our batting order is subjected to. I cannot remember an occasion in recent times when Ricky Ponting has not batted at no.3.He will come in whether Gilchrist is out first ball or the score is 150 at the fall of the first wicket. Why does Dinesh Karthik have to shield Dravid who is arguably the best batsman we have? Dravid should theoretically get the best opportunity to score 150.He can do that only by getting at the top of the innings .Captaincy can play havoc over your thinking .Rahul Dravid has to remember that the greatest captaincy he can do is by playing a great innings first. The only game we have won on this tour in one dayers has been due to his fantastic batting at Bristol. I wish he has the same confidence in his batting that we have! Or is there something else that we do not know about?

Fielding, oh what a bore!

When we were at school and college, all of us would practice batting and bowling assiduously but by the time we had to do fielding it would be dark and we would all heave a sigh of relief. The Indian team sadly seems to suffer from the same malady. Romesh Powar who reminds me of Erapalli Prasanna in the way he tweaks his off spinners rivals the great man when it comes to immobility. How can young cricketers like him, Munaf Patel and even Gautam Gambhir be allowed to play a one day game with this level of fielding? The South Africans have demonstrated to us from the days of Jack Cheetham that fielding can and will make a difference to your team’s results. We all know that fielding is something that can be practiced and perfected even over a period of time. Even Monty Panesar is a far cry from his stumbling, bumbling efforts in Australia .Remember his well-flighted and yet accurate throw to get rid of Sourav Ganguly? It is really difficult to think of India winning close games if our fielders continue to let the ball rush for four through their feet, hands and bodies and dropping catches left, right and centre. Let us just get better fielders in like Suresh Raina even if he have some other cricketers whose batting reputations are better .That will improve our overall competitiveness which is now shakily resting on a few individual stars

Let us start at the bottom

India is close to the bottom of the one day cricketing pecking order or will soon be if we continue to field like this and run like headless chicken between the wickets. Soon three of our all time greats will no longer be able to play international cricket whatever the sponsors say .Let us blood more youngsters, give them more opportunities .Let us not expect anything from our team for the next 3-4 years. God knows that our expectations only puts unnecessary pressure on our players .Let us get a coach who is good. I remember the sad state of Australian cricket in the mid eighties and the difference that Bobby Simpson made to them .And let us not; even if we manage to win the remaining one dayers lose sight of one important fact. We have serious problems in one day cricket and the solution has to be long term not a quick fix that we are famous for. Let us be patient. For one day we shall rule the world!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

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