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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13 responses to “Courage, the need of the hour…

  1. That is exactly what I was thinking when I was reading about the second test. Sehwag’s double hundred just kept India in front, rather than being a foundation for a huge score. No one else, except for Gambhir really contributed.

    Michael Vaughan also provides a great example of knowing when to go — he could have kept struggling on, but sometimes you need to start building for the future. The question is, when do Kumble, Laxman, Dravid, Ganguly, and yes, even Tendulkar, realise this?

  2. theblackirishman

    Going by precedent set by changes to the 1-day side, I would expect those changes to happen only after Dhoni takes over the captaincy of the test team

  3. The arguments are so stupid. We indians tend to decide first and then look for justification instead of the other way.

    A win is a win at any cost. Although the team under Dhoni won several contests, it was mainly due to good performance by the players and Dhoni’s contribution was zero. So will it make the wins under Dhoni hollow? Sachin won the CB Series in Australia and none of the young batsmen did much. So is the CB Series win hollow?

    If the bad performance of fab four in the first 2 test makes you feel thaty they should retire, then why should we just stop at asking the fab four to resign? Shouldn’t we ask Dhoni-Yuvraj-Rohit-Gautam etc to resign following back-to-back final losses

    Dont write off the fab four so easily. They’ve had 2 ordinary tests but we already saw Sachin and Dravid improve in the second. It is the fab four which one several test series for us and they need to be there because they are the best test players for india today.

    Future as well as 2012 worldcup is the word invented by Dhoni and co to secure their positions today.
    If we are really concerned about future of indian cricket, why should we only look at next 4-5 years. Instead we should look at next 20-30 years and recruit 5-6 year olds so that they’ll take care of the future 20-30 years

  4. What I feel is that again why the finger is pointed toward dada staight away…MAN…how could u forget the SA tour..the last tour India had…now to me attacking dada….is simply a habit of some Indians…who points out Delhi and Punjabis..in an INDIAN team…man the team has won….not Delhi or Punjab…the transition policy should come but not immedietly..and the greats of the game know to leave the green carpet..no use showing them the way forcefully…its is simply showing disrespect for the great game….!!!

  5. I typed in a really long post yesterday but lost it when I tried to post it. Hopefully I Can capture all of the thoughts this time.

    Mohan, your comparison against Australia is not correct. First of all, the “phasing-out” started in 2002. Mark Waugh last played in 2002. And all of Australia’s recent changes were not because the selectors had a strategic plan but becos the players deided to retire suddenly. Is there really a strategic plan Australia selecting Simon Katich or the red-headed guy from WA (who’s moved to Victoria now)? IT is an easy argument to use “look at Australia” but really it is a failed argument here.

    With respect to Rohit Sharma, it seems to me that everyone’s already getting onto the “he is the next big thing” bandwagon. But really, look at Rohit’s performance in Ranji last year and it justn’t add up yet. A place in the team needs to be earned and Rohit hasn’t done enough to do it yet. Every member of this team has been a top domestic run-getter for at least one-year in the past except Sahin. But even Sachin scored centuries in several debut games before he was selected. And why exactly are we evaluating the “seniors” every two games? I can understand doing this if these guys keep losing but didn’t Saurav just play a great game against SA to win the final test for us? Hasn’t Laxman been fairly consistent in the last months? It is as important to win tests today as it is to win tomorrow. To use people like WAyn’e Gretzsy’s argument is somewhat out of context. American sports is played on a yearly champsionship basis and every year is a new beginning to try and win the championship. Test cricket isn’t like that – we are playing to constantly win matches and this pursuit of the future while forgetting the present doesn’t make sense. However, I do agree with your argument that there needs to be a strategic programme in place and I think the selectors have shown that vision in ODIs and clearly they feel that senior guys’ contribution is still good in tests to keep them around. I think we have a bunch of level-headed selectors today that seem to be doing the right thing and let’s also trust that the players know when they need to go. By questioning whether they know when to go we are questioning their commitment to the team and that is gross injustice to these guys who have served the team.

    Comparing against Michael Vaughn is just the most frivolous argument I’ve seen. Vaughn hasn’t first retired – he has taken a break. He has done this after 1 century in 10 tests and an average of 22! I thought our own Dravid did something similar last year and so did Sachin when he felt it was inappropriate for him to lead any more when offered the captaincy. Michael Vaughn has resigned after several home defeats not after a win againt one of the most formidable home teams. C’mon guys, show some perspective here!

    This win is a team win. To say that it was one by a few individuals is incorrect. Of course there are some star performers in every game but do we really think Kumble’s 5 wickets (Despite being tailenders) weren’t crucial? Or SAchin’s 33, Draivd’s 44 and Karthik’s 20 were insignificant? Every one of those scores, played with tremendous aggression I must say, contributed to the lead getting past 300 which allowed Kumbleto attack even when Samaraweera and Dilshan went on counter-attack. Here we, always lamenting that “we Indians tend to praise individual performances and not team victories”, and doing exactly that again! In a low scoring game like, is only a score above 50 considered good enough?

  6. @Sriranga

    If you could resist the temptation to call other people’s arguments “stupid”, we at i3j3 would appreciate it — and you may even get a response to your own points of view.

    @Prabu

    Long comment. I don’t think I will respond to all your points. However, I accept the point you make about Mark Waugh. It would not be right to consider him in the same bracket as some of the more recent retirements.

    I am not sure if you have read Steve Waugh’s book. If you have, you will understand the impact that Aussie selectors have on career-planning of cricketers. Their job is not just to select the team for the next game. That’s a “given”. Their job is to look 5-10 years out. Waugh talks — in agonising detail — about the several painful discussions he had with the likes of Trevor Hohns. He alludes to the conversations that selectors had with players like Mark Taylor, McDermott, and a whole bunch of others. The only recent retirement that caught them “on the hop”, perhaps, was Damien Martyn. That came from nowhere!

    I agree that the Katich inclusion bucks the trend. And yes, as for “replacements”, I am not certain that the Aussie selectors will always get it right. If one knows what is right all the time, we would all be millionaires by now and will be spending a lifetime in the Bahamas rather than belt out responses on i3j3 🙂

    However, that again misses the point. The point is that they make hard decisions mostly at the right time. Bringing Gilchrist in for Healy at The Gabba against Pakistan is one that springs to mind. Mind you, Healey was ‘keeping and batting quite well at the time! And Australia was winning everything then too! So, that decision, like many others, was based not on sentiment and an impending record that had to be broken. It was a hard-nosed strategic decision. Sometimes the Aussies take it a bit too far in being tough-nuts and over-focussed in their sports administration — to the extent that the human element is removed from the equation almost completely — but I for one, admire their tenacity and their commitment.

    Wayne Gretsky’s comment, while it is set in the context of a sport, is applicable in all walks of life, not just American Sports or Marathon running. It is as applicable in sports — any sport — as it is to buying your groceries tonight as it is in running a large enterprise.

    You got to concentrate on where the puck ought to be, not merely on where it is! Where it is, is a “given”. Where it “ought to be” is in your hands.

    — Mohan

  7. First of, I would like to say that there are some things i agree with, and some that i don’t agree with in the article and within the comments.

    I agree that India needs to look beyond the next match and look towards the future. however I disagree that the correct manner in which this is to be done. It is understandable that with the recent failures of the big three; it is impulsive to try to send in Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, and Yuvraj Singh instead. But that in itself would be losing focus and looking at the next match, a knee jerk reaction.

    Raina, Rohit and Yuvraj are all great talents but they lack discipline. Test cricket is all about descipline and endurance. If we replaced our big three with Raina, Rohit and Yuvraj we would not only lose any hope of winning the series but perhaps more than a few in the upcoming year. The Indian test team needs to move forward but the correct manner in which to do this would be to let the big three take their decisions. They have to realize what is best for the team that they love dearly. When the selectors announce the next 15 for the next test series, they should throw in a few young players to learn first hand from the veterans.

    The only way the players will learn is by playing along side other veterans. If we overhaul the team into a young side, there won’t be much to seperate the young indian side and the bangladesh side. We would suddenly be looking at the bottom of the test rankings, the come from behind victories will be no more, atleast for another year or so.

    On another note, if that were to happen, knowing the media reaction as well as the reaction of Indian fans, the team would be looking at an overhaul more than a few times. It is in the best interest of the selectors to keep this team, to add an occasional young player.

    You are absolutely correct about the Aussie policy, however if you look carefully enough, they way the Aussies tend to bring people in to test cricket is by giving them a lot of playing time along side veterans first, and when the veteran is ready to retire, they bring the young player in for a full time position. The youngest player on their test side is Mitchell Johnson who is 26 years of age, and he wasn’t given a position on the test side until November of last year. All Aussie players are over 30 with the exception of Mitchell Johnson and Phill Jaques who happens to be 29 years of age.

    With the exception of Ishant, who bowls brilliantly and has an exceptional career ahead of him, I don’t think Rohit, Yuvraj or Raina have the discipline to play test cricket yet. Rohit who is barely into his 21st year, Raina who has also just turned 21, along with Ojha, and chawla who is only 19. We are looking at Yuvraj at 26 and Badrinath at 30, Neither of whom have proven to be able to play at test level. Yuvraj has had more hiccups playing test matches than expected. Infact the best position might be of Badrinath who has played in over 60 first class matches and has been a very effective asset.

    I would go with Badrinath and ease him in when Dravid is ready to retire. And slowly but surely over the next five or six years bring in the rest of the players. Perhaps Indian selectors should not look at the IPL for players on the test cricket team, for if they do there will be many more test matches we will see where words like humiliation and disgrace come up more often.

    – CWO

  8. Yuvraj’s position in one day itself is becoming very questionable.

  9. Mohan
    If the word stupid i used in my comment offends you, i apologize. Please dont take it personally and it was aimed at the comment, but not you. If you discourage the usage of that word in your page, I take back that remark.

    Thanks
    Sriranga

  10. Mohan,

    I was wondering and i believe there may be a slight mistake. Ishant Sharma plays for the Kolkata Knight Riders, not Delhi Daredevils.

    -CWO

  11. @Sriranga

    Thanks for your conciliatory post. It is up to you to say what you wish in your comments. This is a free-world. However, I do not believe it is good form to let off steam in a public forum and call someone else’s arguments “stupid” — the nil-response to your retort should provide some clues in that direction. I do not respond to people who may seem to have anger-management problems!

  12. @harinee

    I am not sure I’d agree with you 100%. Yuvraj Singh’s position in the ODI side should not be in the at-risk category, in my view. He had one bad Test series in Australia and, towards the end, when the ODIs were on, he seemed to have got his act together again.

  13. Pingback: Silver Lining… « i3j3Cricket :: A blog for fans of Indian cricket…

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