Daily Archives: 4 August 2008

Courage, the need of the hour…

India’s sensational victory at Galle after the humiliation of Colombo posed more questions than answers, in my view!

This is not the first time in the recent past that Team India has scored a remarkable come-from-behind victory. But perhaps this is the first time that a come-from-behind win has left the India Fan posing several questions about the future of Team India!

As has been pointed out by Srikanth Mangalam, this victory, unlike India’s more famous past come-from-behind victories, does not taste as sweet. While this should not diminish either the sweetness of the victory or our appreciation for the team, there are many questions that need to be answered by the selectors.

In recent years, India has tried hard to dispel the bad-travellers tag that the team has acquired. They will make the leap from good to great only if they dispel the bad-starters tag too. In recent overseas tours, South Africa was the only tour when India started with a famous win at Kingsmead. In that series in 2006-2007, India disintegrated after that stunning victory. In India’s 2007 tour of England, Bucknor and bad-light saved India from a morale-dissipating loss at Lords’. India then came back strongly to finish the series with a victory. In Australia last year, under Anil Kumble’s feisty leadership, India lost badly in Melbourne and then had a most sensational, yet disappointing loss at Sydney. The team was written off as a combination of whingers, whiners, no-hopers and more. The Australian fans as well as the sports writers were divided over the brouhaha that surrounded the strange and largely incompetent decision making by Bucknor and Proctor. Just as everyone had completely written off the team, India rose from the dead to score an incredible victory in Perth. That was possibly the defining moment for this team. Of course, Kolkata in 2001 was where most Team India fans would say it all started. And that was a come-from behind victory in more ways than one — India had been mauled in the 1st Test of that series in Mumbai and was facing a mountain to climb after having been asked to follow-on in Kolkata!

So, Team India has had more than its share of come-from-behind victories. “Resilience” is a word that Anil Kumble uses as often as “Fantastic” these days, when he is asked to describe his team! And yes, one would have to agree that this team has demonstrated resilience. Personally, Perth was enough for me. If any team could bounce back from the nonsense of Sydney, it would have to have developed not only the temperament and ability, but also the self-pride, resolve and determination.

But, as Srikanth Mangalam has pointed out, this victory in Galle was a bit hollow. He puts it down to the fact that it was mainly 3 Delhi players (Sehwag, Gambhir and Ishant Sharma) and a Punjabi (Harbhajan Singh) who achieved this victory. The rest of the team contributed precious little.

One aspect of India’s victory that pleased me (and surprised me) the most was Harbhajan Singh’s huge hand in the victory. He has had a somewhat dismal overseas bowling record and had to start contributing when the conditions are not that favourable. Muthiah Muralidharan does it day in and day out. It requires an ability to adapt as well as dogged determination. In the past Harbhajan Singh would have just crumbled if he did not get a wicket every other ball. Here, he showed patience and was willing to bowl to a plan. This augurs well for India’s future and one certainly hopes that this maverick bowler has learned his lessons well in the self-inflicted time-off that he has had out in the cold.

The concern for me is three-fold:

  • Most Team India fans know that there is an urgent need for more strategic thinking around team composition.
  • In this match at Galle, most of the “older” players did nothing much.
  • It is much harder to institute change when one has just won!

To move from here on a change-path requires much courage; a quality that the BCCI, games’ administrators in India, do not have in spades. And if they do, they have hidden it away quite well from us! The selectors are part of the BCCI system and they have not shown too much inclination to think strategically about issues of importance to the team.

A look at the manner in which Australia has phased-out-phased-in would be sufficient to put the issue beyond the pale! Over a period of 2-3 years, players like Justin Langer, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Damien Martyn, Glen McGrath, Michael Kasprowicz, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, et al, have been slowly and systematically replaced. The players who have left could well form a team today and they would give the second best team a run for their money! Such is the quality that has been replaced in a strategic manner! Apart from Shane Warne’s replacement — more due to paucity of available options than anything else — one would like to think that the Australians have got it more right than wrong! The point, however, is that the Australian selectors look way beyond their immediate task of picking a team for the next match! They look beyond the ends of their collective noses to see what they need to do to work on a team that will take the park 2 years and 5 years from today.

As Wayne Gretsky, the champion ice-hockey player used to say, strategic thinking, “is not about where the puck is, but about where it ought to be”.

So what is required is extreme courage, especially given that the Indian team has just won an incredible come-from-behind victory! But such courage is desperately needed.

What India needs desperately is a blue print for the road ahead which would have to include a transition plan for Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar (perhaps in the above order) to be replaced by (respectively) Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Piyush Chawla/Pragyan Ojha, S. Badrinath and Suresh Raina.

And that transition has to start now. Sourav Ganguly has to make way for Rohit Sharma for the 3rd Test starting in 4 days’ time! Yes, it is quite likely that Rohit Sharma won’t rock the world on debut. It is likely that he would make less runs than what Ganguly made in the Galle Test match. And yes, it is harder to make changes when the team has won. But that’s exactly what longer-term sustainability demands.

Will the BCCI act? I do not have much hope. After all, it is only just realising that it needs a web presence!

– MOhan

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Sri Lanka lose second test (to Delhi!)

The two Delhi openers and their opening fast bowler (on the final day) with a significant contribution from their Punjabi neighbor won the test for India handsomely. The Sri Lankan batting looked very ordinary on the final day as the Indians through some lethal pace bowling and good catching ran through the line up. It was a good team performance on the final day but it is impossible not to recognize that this test match was hardly an Indian victory but for the fact that Sehwag single handled carried the Indian batting. While it bodes really well for the future that we have a really good opening pair, Ishant Sharma is not a one series wonder, and that Harbhajan can still trusted as a test winner, the famous five did not make it count.

The top Indian batting has to absolutely click in the final test if India wants to consider itself as serious contender for the test championship title. The Indians should consider playing Rohit Sharma in the next test match. I am not going to speculate as to who should be replaced but the replacement should happen if India has any long term plans. Also, I do not think it is a bad idea to test Parthiv Patel out in the next test match. Realistically, I fear, India will claim to play it safe and play the same eleven in all the three test matches.

This post is not to meant put a dampener on the victory but the victory did not seem to taste as sweet as the ones in England or at Perth! Interesting days ahead!

– Srikanth