Tag Archives: ICC World Cup 2011

MS Dhoni: An Assured Level-5 Leader…

This post first appeared in Clearcricket. The idea of a piece on MS Dhoni was initiated by Subash Jayaraman, founder and contributor to Clearcricket (@thecricketcouch on Twitter).

*****

I remember the day very very clearly.

It was the 8th of November 2008. A Saturday. It was the third day of the final Test match of the series (at Nagpur) between India and Australia. I had watched the most gripping session of Test cricket in my Melbourne home. Having commenced the day on 189 for 2 off just 49 overs (at 3.85 runs per over), chasing India’s first innings total of 441 all out, Australia had ended the previous day on an aggressive high. The first few balls of that first session of play on day-3 set the scene for that session, and that day.

My jaw hit the floor. “Was this Team India I was seeing?”, I asked myself.

I did not move from my place on the couch in that session — it produced just 42 runs from 25 overs at a run-rate of 1.68 runs per over! Dull cricket? Yet, I remember that session so vividly.

So what made it a gripping session?

Through the morning session India captain MS Dhoni set a 8-1 field with 8 fielders on the off-side and a lone leg-side fielder at square-leg. The bowlers who had been slapped around the previous evening, curbed their attacking lines and bowled a disciplined line to Mike Hussey and Simon Katich the two Australian left-handers. At the time this was thought of as a “defensive” tactic. The Australians were shackled. Their attacking shots were curbed. And they did not quite know how to combat India’s strategy — it took them a while to figure out that there was, indeed, a strategy! An Indian team did not just “rock up”. They were playing “thinking cricket”. The Australians were like rabbits caught in the headlights. In the process, Australia had lost a wicket too; Simon Katich lost his composure and got out — he had been out-foxed.

Rather than remove his foot from the pedal, in the post-lunch session, Dhoni continued his strategy in a ruthless and clinical manner. For Clarke he set a 6-3 field but still bowled a “defensive line”. In that post-lunch session, Australia scored 49 runs in 29 overs and had lost 3 wickets.

Many commentators — including Ian Chappell and Alan Border — attribute the loss in this Nagpur Test match to Ricky Ponting’s strange captaincy in the India second innings, when he had Michael Hussey and Cameron White bowling in tandem in a bid to catch up on Australia’s bad over-rate! However, I strongly believe that it was those opening sessions of Day-3 that led to Australia losing that Test Match. India acquired an Australia-like attitude, caught the match by the scruff of its neck, and did not let go. It called for mean-mindedness; an Australia-like bloody-mindedness. It called for a surrender of ego and pride. It called for discipline.

MS Dhoni’s tactics were rubbished by Ian Chappel, who asked for a rule-change to curb defensive and “boring cricket”.

For me, that was “exciting and gripping cricket” and not “boring cricket”. I had watched every single ball. There was drama and emotion. There was a battle; a battle of nerves; a battle for survival; a battle for supremacy; a battle to ascertain who would blink first. They remain the most gripping sessions of Test cricket I have seen in the last two years! Both sessions were “attacking sessions” in my view.

Dhoni had a clear strategy. He had a firm plan in his mind. He appeared to have communicated his plan very clearly to his personnel and got them to buy into his vision. His players responded to his plan, even though it meant that they had to swallow their ego and pride. The plan could backfire badly if it failed. Dhoni had to ensure that it was executed to perfection. Whether Dhoni had a plan-B or not, we never know. But his plan-A worked to perfection. And once he saw that it was working, he did not relent. He had placed his foot on the jugular and kept it pressed there. He had done to the Australians what they did to so many teams in the previous 15 years!

This was Test match cricket at its very best.

A few years back, in 2001, in that series, Sourav Ganguly had asked left-arm spinner, Nilesh Kulkarni, to bowl a negative line outside leg-stump from one end (especially in the second innings) while he attacked the Australians with Harbhajan Singh at the opposite end, in a must-win match at Chennai.

This was similar. Only better!

*****

MS Dhoni seems to have an astute, canny, discerning and incisive sense of his place in Indian cricket history. He comes across as an extremely perspicacious individual. Perhaps it is because of his small-town upbringing. Perhaps it is because a sense of sagacious, earthy and incisive unpretentiousness is ingrained in him due to his roots and upbringing.

That Test match in Nagpur witnessed two other moments that are enduring, stirring and indelible in my memory.

Towards the end of the Nagpur Test match, MS Dhoni handed over the captaincy reins to a man who had started India’s march towards the top of the tree at the start of the decade. Sourav Ganguly marshaled the troops and rang in the bowling changes as India marched towards a Test and series victory in that 2008 series. It was a wonderful and honest gesture of extreme appreciation and perhaps even respect by Dhoni towards a man who had been nudged towards retirement. Ganguly was playing in his last Test Match. The match report reads, “A less secure man would have wanted to hog the limelight, but by ceding space to one of Indian cricket’s all-time greats for a couple of overs, Dhoni showed just how aware he was of the bigger picture.”

If that was emotionally stirring and if that was a signal of a man who was totally self-assured, what followed at the post-match ceremony tugged at the heart-strings even more. Dhoni called Anil Kumble to the victory dais to accept the Boarder-Gavaskar trophy. After all, it was during the series that Anil Kumble had retired.

Dhoni had scripted the strongest and most compelling farewell gestures to Ganguly and Kumble. This wasn’t, in my view, false humility. This wasn’t, in my view the act of a man devaluing his own accomplishments for the sake of receiving applause, accolade or adulation from others. His humility in these actions were real. He expected neither praise nor favors. These were, I believe, anchored in a strong and calm sense of assuredness.

And so, the baton had passed so wonderfully during that exciting Test match at Nagpur. India had commenced the decade with a strong statement against the Australians in 2001. In 2008, the baton passed to a man who would take the team from being just good to perhaps being great.

*****

I have long held the view that Sourav Ganguly was the first leader of men in Indian cricket. He had a vision for the Indian cricket team. He developed short-term and longer-term goals for the team. He wanted India to be competitive in world cricket; not just good at ‘home’. He believed passionately in this vision and committed to it with fervor. He had a road map to get him to the goals along the way. This included a professional coaching setup and an army of support staff. He was able to argue his case for adequate resources and quickly established himself as the leader of the team. He was able to rise above regional politics and demonstrated his will and commitment through his actions. He demonstrated that he was unbiased. He was quick in identifying talent and supported players through (sometimes multiple) failures. What he built was a systematic meritocracy where players would go to many lengths to give their all for him and for the team cause.

Of course, he did build his team at a time when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Saourav Ganguly himself formed the backbone of an evolving good team. There were still questions on how they would be “replaced” to affect a transition from short-term good to long-term great!

Meanwhile, all of Ganguly’s good work was somewhat undone in his latter years through a dip in his own personal form, which coincided with the arrival of Greg Chappell — right man at the wrong time and at a very, very wrong place.

Indian cricket, which had started the decade with much promise and hope, was suddenly hopeless again. Through Anil Kumble, some balance was restored.

It was in this context that MS Dhoni took over the captaincy of the T20 and ODI teams and finally the Test team.

The road from good to great had not yet been traversed. The plan for this road was yet to be developed. What was urgently required was assured leadership, a vision and an organisational setup.

*****

As a player, Dhoni had transformed from being a flamboyant thumper to being an ungainly, yet effective artiste. His wicket-keeping was steady, if not brilliant. It was as a batsman, though, that he made his mark.

Initially, he was type-cast as an ODI player. After announcing himself with a 123-ball 148 against Pakistan, he made his big announcement with a massive 183 against Sri Lanka. Pundits wrote him off as a failure in Tests even before he had started. But then he made a terrific century in a high-scoring drawn-match in Faisalabad against Pakistan. He then made a fighting knock against England at Lords’ to save a Test match. Suddenly, he was a Test match player too.

From there on, a new and re-invented Dhoni played with maturity and calmness. It seemed as though he was comfortable in the team. He became a player who was able to play in many gears. He sometimes curbed his natural instincts to become a grafter, but young-India identified with the buccaneering marauder in him. They wanted him to play his trademark helicopter shot every match, every over, every ball.

That shot itself became symbolic of the rural rustic fighting for his space in a complex modern milieu, fully armed with a sackful of attitude, a satellite TV and many mobile phones! Dhoni represented the man he wanted to be. They wanted Dhoni to be the pillager that would plunder and raid runs from the opposition. They saw in Dhoni the big-city boldness and brashness that they aspired to.

But he was equally at home in the bright lights. He had the flamboyance, the long hair and the party life-style of a city lad. He even spoke English with the panache and confidence of a city lad! When his “Well of course” opener to any question became a trademark, he was assured enough to realize it and use it to mock himself! Today, he uses “Wellofcourse” in self-deprecation and smiles through it, knowing that many out there are having a guffaw. He blended into the city and the city men wanted to be like him.

Here was a common man from rural India who led a massive team with an earthy and grounded set of pragmatic sensibilities. Yet, he was a shining and suave diplomat under bright lights on the world stage. He had become a hero to both rural India and urban India.

Slowly, India accepted him as a very clever cricketer who could sum up the situation and play the way the game needed him to play. They enjoyed his barbs and exhortations from behind the stumps. They loved it when he asked Amit Mishra to bowl “udhar se” (round the wicket) in the Mohali Test against the Australians in 2008 to Michael Clarke. Clarke was out off that last ball of the day, leaving the Australians in disarray! They loved it when he said to Sreesanth to move in the field and when the speedster didn’t pay attention, he said, “Your girlfriend is not there… just move a bit” (or words to that effect) in a Test match. They loved it when he announced to the world and also exhorted his team to put in extra effort because Badrinath’s wife had just had a baby in Chennai!

So, slowly, one could see his steady and assured ascent to a leadership role. It is true that he seemed to posses that special Midas Touch that leaders crave for. Perhaps he had that auto loan calculator luck. Perhaps he made his luck. I never saw him as an accidental tourist. His was, in my view, a calculated assault at the top job in the Team India. In Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, he had his ‘seniors’ in the team. He first became ‘one of them’ and then surged ahead as a perceived leader. It helped that while Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh had occasional lapses in ‘form’ and/or focus, Dhoni kept improving as a player and a potential leader.

When the time came, it was almost natural that he would be anointed leader of the ODI team and the T20 team. The victories came… He led India to a famous victory in ICC’s inaugural T20 World Championships. It came at a desperate and desolate time in the post-Chappell and post-Dravid months and a few months after India had been knocked out of the 2007 ICC World Cup!

It was an important time and an important victory for Team India.

That T20 victory gave birth to the IPL — admittedly, some fans may not agree that this was a desirous outcome. However, in a year that was a disaster from most other perspectives, the rise of Dhoni as a leader in the T20 world cup was an unmistakable positive. He was the future. He was the alternative. Even though Yuvraj Singh had smashed six 6s off a hapless Stuart Broad over and despite all the machismo surrounding that, Dhoni emerged tall as the leader of a young-bold India.

From then, his ascent to the top of the summit was strong, assured, dignified and steady. He was marked as an under study to Anil Kumble, the statesman. When the time was right, the reins were handed over.

Today, Dhoni is the leader of three India teams: Test, ODI and T20.

Over the last many months, I have had many debates with friends — fans of Indian cricket — who maintained that MS Dhoni, the captain of Team India, has been extremely lucky as captain.

Initially, I would have been quite happy to agree with them. Not lately. Not now.

He is, to me a Level-5 Leader who works hard at identifying where he wants to be and works harder at getting there!

*****

Jim Collins, in his article, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve”, [The Best Of HBR, HBR July-August, 2005, p.136-146] studies many successful companies. Collins concludes that perhaps the most important component of the transition from “good-to-great” is what he termed “Level 5 Leadership“. [I have extracted the concise summary below from here]

  • Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual who “makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.”
  • Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member who “contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.”
  • Level 3 is the Competent Manager who “organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.”
  • Level 4 is an Effective Leader who “catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.”
  • Level 5 is the Self-assured Executive Leader who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and strong professional will.”

In his study, Jim Collins found that every one of his “good-to-great” companies had Level-5 leaders in the critical transition phase. Interestingly, none of the comparison companies did!

To me, though, a Level-5 leader is one that has many paradoxes embodied in the one person. They can be timid and ferocious, hesitant and fearlessly-adventurous, modest and pompous, diffident and audacious. More importantly, they might demonstrate an ability to focus on the small things while demonstrating a fierce, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to big goals, large vision and high standards.

Dhoni has demonstrated that he is highly capable. He has a strong work ethic and makes stunning and compelling contributions to the team. He contributes as an individual and sets an example for everyone else in the team to follow. They do. He ensures that he has the people and the resources and backs them. He backed Yuvraj Singh through all his troubles. He sometimes backs players a bit too much, but that is his method of catalyzing commitment. He is a big vision guy for whom the smaller details are important too.

The way MS Dhoni has gone about his task of leading this team is, in my view, a living example of an evolving Level-5 Leader. Even during the World Cup 2011 journey, he was at times shy-audacious, modest-brash, hesitant-bold. He was honest enough to admit his mistakes — and that effectively shut up the pack of loud jackals that were baying for his blood when they were not singing paeans of acclamation! By the end of the tournament, when the cup was won, there was no doubt that it was his team and he had done it his way.

He made decisions and made it clear that these were his decisions. After experimenting with several team-balance-options, he was certain that he wanted 3 pace bowlers for his team. He stuck to that format. He admitted that he experimented with various options along the way. He demonstrated honesty, when there was no need to do so. He demonstrated that he wasn’t quite sure of how to do it although it was quite clear what he wanted. In the end, he demonstrated immense personal courage and personal responsibility by coming up the batting order in the final match, at a time when the spinners were on. He didn’t place his gun on someone else’s shoulder and fire. He demonstrated extreme personal courage in the line of fire. It was a bold decision. It could have backfired like the 8-1 field. But he was determined to leave his stamp on the win. And if you doubted that, see the look in his eyes as he hits those winning runs, followed by that bat twirl.

He was very clear that he stood on broad and impressive shoulders when he thanked Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, for building the solid platform on which he stands today (although I would have liked it more if he had added Laxman’s name to make it a quintet rather than a quartet, but that is only a minor quibble).

Today Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly have already acknowledged Dhoni’s exemplary leadership. In Ian Chappell’s view Dhoni is amongst the great modern captains.

*****

The World-Cup victory did not actually mean much to me! At the risk of being stoned to death by unforgiving Team India fans, let me state again that it would not have mattered to me if India had lost in the quarters or the semis or indeed, the finals.

For me, it was a small — albeit important — step in a much more important journey. The road ahead for this team is hard and there are significant challenges as Dhoni takes this team from good to great. I am much more interested in seeing how this wonderful leader is going to take Indian cricket along that important journey. For, unlike Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, other outstanding leaders of excellent cricket teams in the recent past, Dhoni leads a team of committed players rather than a set of some alarmingly stunning players who could win a match on their own, if the situation demanded it!

In that sense, he is cut from the cloth that Imran Khan and Alan Border were made of. And that excites me tremendously. He seems to posses the dogged and unwavering occidental determination of Alan Border that allows Dhoni to focus so intensely on “methodology, standards and process” while retaining the oriental mystique of Imran Khan, which allows him to focus on the “absolute value of and need for individual expression”. This is a heady mix.

And that is why I have hope. I think back to that day when I watched two gripping sessions of Test cricket when an Indian captain was calm, mean-minded, inventive and fiercely determined. For that was the day my admiration for MS Dhoni commenced.

I think back to that 8-1 field that started the journey of fascination that I undertook with him. I also look at everything he has achieved in the 2 and a half years since that day. I then say to myself, “With Dhoni around as a Level-5 leader, there is much hope for this Team India fan.”

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

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More positives from India’s loss to RSA…

At the risk of getting my nose out of joint, let me state at the outset that I am quite glad India lost to South Africa. South Africa played exceedingly well over 60-overs of the match. However, they were aided commendably by India’s Bollywood-style “glamour” batting. The result was that Group-B becomes quite interesting — if it wasn’t enticingly poised already!

For the first 40 overs of the game, it appeared as though the only question worth considering was the margin of India’s victory. Then the wheels started falling off the India innings. India lost 9 wickets in 29 runs. After being 267 for 1 wicket after 39.3 overs, in the end, India did not even bat out the full quota of 50 overs! Moreover, India captain Dhoni — probably one of the best finishers in the World ODI scene — was left not out on 12 off 21 balls! It was more than mayhem. It was daylight thuggery. India had fallen some 40 runs short of what would have been a competitive total. More importantly, India fell about 70 runs short of what I thought the team would make — at the 30-over mark, India was 197 for 1!

South Africa needed 297 to win. Although India bowled and fielded well, the total was never going to be enough.

Much of the post-match commentary and analysis in India has focussed on whether Yusuf Pathan ought to have been promoted; whether Gautam Gambhir ought to be in the team; whether Harbhajan Singh ought to have bowled the last over instead of Ashish Nehra; why Ashwin is not in the team… yada yada yada.

Some unkind reports have said that South Africa did not win the game — that India lost it. That is not only blind, but rude at the same time! The South African’s played really well. They pulled it back from over-40 and then batted sensibly.

In general though, the papers have got stuck into MS Dhoni.

As for me, I am very happy India lost the game. For me, there are more positives than negatives from India’s loss last night.

Three reasons really:

  • Final Group Standings: If India had won, India would have, in all likelihood, topped Group-B (barring a disaster against West Indies). If India had topped Group-B, the team would have, in all likelihood, faced Pakistan. Australia and Pakistan (despite recent results and despite the baffling and continued presence of Kamran Akmal in the team) are the only two teams that I believe Team India fears in Group-A. My sense and prediction is that Australia will top Group-A and Pakistan will come in at #4 in Group-A. So, as long as India finish either 2 or 3 in Group-B India will be fine. India will do well against New Zealand or Sri Lanka, in my view.
  • Team Balance: I think India team management — what is a “think tank” anyway? I just abhor that phrase and refuse to use it — needed a kick up its stubborn backside. The team balance is wrong and the current “imbalance” compromises and exposes her bowling terribly.
  • Batting approach: The team’s approach to batting — especially in the batting Power Play — is totally wrong and that exposes the rest of the batting. India does not play the power overs well — not because India cannot. The approach needs a re-think that is not really too hard. Especially from a team that wants to “win it for Sachin”, a more considered approach was required in a game in which the Master had scored 111! This was no way to “win it” for anyone! So, I was happy with this kick being delivered in a match that India could afford to lose.

Each of the above factors deserve a bit more of an analysis and that is precisely what I shall attempt below…

Final Group Standings:

At the time of writing this, New Zealand has beaten Canada. In Group-A, the remaining games (along with my prediction of the winner of the game in parenthesis) are:

  • Australia v Kenya (Australia)
  • Pakistan v Zimbabwe (Pakistan)
  • Australia v Canada (Australia)
  • New Zealand v Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
  • Australia v Pakistan (Australia)
  • Kenya v Zimbabwe (care factor?)

So I expect the final Group-A standings to be: Australia (11), Sri Lanka (9), New Zealand (8), Pakistan (8) since I expect New Zealand to have a better NRR than Pakistan. The two “tricky” games to predict are Australia Vs Pakistan and NZ Vs SL. But I have gone with Australia and Sri Lanka winning these games, respectively.

In Group-B, the “Group of Death“, the remaining games and my predicted results for these are:

  • Bangladesh v Netherlands (Bangladesh)
  • Ireland v South Africa (South Africa)
  • England v West Indies (England)
  • Ireland v Netherlands (Ireland)
  • Bangladesh v South Africa (South Africa)
  • India v West Indies (India)

The results for this group are a bit harder to predict. For example, the England Vs Windies and the India Vs Windies results are hard to call. But I expect the results to be as above.

Either way, I do not expect Bangladesh to beat South Africa. So, I do not see a danger of India not qualifying even if she loses the game against West Indies next weekend. If India loses to West Indies (and Bangladesh loses to South Africa, as expected), it is likely that India might end 4th in the points table and meet Australia. Oh well. Them’s the breaks.

However, I expect the final Group-A standings to be: South Africa (10), India (9), England (7), West Indies (6) and Bangladesh (6), with West Indies qualifying because of superior run rate. Of course, any number of apple carts will be turned if West Indies beat England and if Bangladesh beat South Africa.

Let us assume that the final standings are as per my simulation above. In that case, India will play New Zealand. I reckon that this is an easier game than either Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. So, in a strange way, I am glad India lost to South Africa last night!

I am not saying that India cannot beat Pakistan or that India needs to “fear” Pakistan. The problem is that one can never be sure which Pakistan team turns up on the day! I would, therefore, much rather prefer India meeting Pakistan in the Finals, if both teams get that far!

Team Balance:

I am even happier India lost because the team’s balance and batting approach are horrible, in my view.

I just do not accept that a powerful batting line-up should (or can) mask poor bowling resources. This is an utter fallacy. If we take that proposition to its logical conclusion, why then would we not stack the team up with 11 batsmen or with 5 batsmen, a wicket-keeper and 5 “bits and pieces” players?

Any team has to be balanced and at the moment it is just not balaced. The closest the team got to achieving that bowling balance was in yesterdays’ game against South Africa! If only the Indians had scored 20-50 runs more (easily possible, in my view) the bowlers would have defended it. Of course, that is a speculative assertion and in this space, any assertion that you make to the contrary is as good as the assertion above! But the fact is that, with a more considered batting approach, India could have scored 330 runs. The fact is that a lopsided bowling attack was not able to defend 330 in Bangalore (and the Bangalore and Nagpur conditions/pitches were similar). Hence my hypothesis that with the additional bowler that India had in yesterdays’ game, with an additional cushion of 30 runs, the bowlers may/would have been able to defend such a total. The South Africa batsmen would have had to take far more risks and may have folded!

But really. All of these are speculative still. I would like to be a bit more considered and firm in my analysis and conclusion.

The team just cannot afford to go in with 2 pace bowlers, 2 spinners and leave that 5th bowling resource to Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli (or Suresh Raina) and Yusuf Pathan. The Indian spin bowlers do not bowl well in the bowling powerplay — although they did do the job in yesterdays’ game. If Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel get taken to the cleaners by Chris Gayle or Brendon McCullum, you have to have another pace bowler to fall back on. Moreover, I have generally observed that Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bowl a more attacking line — even when they are attacked — if they know that the team has additional bowlers to depend on.

So I would like India to go in boldly with 3 pace bowlers and 2 spinners.

This inevitably means that one of Yusuf Pathan or Virat Kohli or Gautam Gambhir have to make way for a bowler.

I would rest Yusuf Pathan for the next game and bring in a spinner for the game against West Indies.

So in my view, the team for next Sunday’s game against West Indies (and for all other games after that) should be: Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel

That certainly weakens the batting. But with all the top batsmen in good form — everyone in that top 6 has scored well recently — if we cannot do it with those 6, the 7th bat will be useless too, in my view.

So India has to bite the bullet and go with the above, more well-balanced team. I have only been saying this for the last 2 months or so! And I will continue to say it till someone listens to me!

And for my money Ashwin is a better bowler than Chawla because, apart from being very good at his craft, he is apparently mentally stronger too!

Batting approach:

There is no point in blaming Ashish Nehra for the last over debacle. There is no evidence to suggest that Harbhajan Singh would have done a better job. One has to trust the instincts of the leader in the middle. However, with just 14 runs to get in the last over, that becomes a 50-50 situation whoever the bowler is. So discussion on who ought to have bowled the last over is simply quite futile. The captain made a decision based on his knowledge of the game, the opposition players out in the middle, his knowledge of his bowlers’ strengths and the game situation. He made a decision. It did not work. If it had worked, we would have hailed him as a genius! Chances are that it might have worked!

Nehra might learn from this that the yorker has not yet been banned from the game, yet! Generally, it is a good ball to bowl in the last over. Bowling it “just slightly back of a length” is not a smart idea when there are only 14 runs to get; when the batsmen are looking to smash it to mid-wicket! If his confusion persists all he needs to do is see that ball Dale Steyn bowled to Harbhajan Singh!

Ditto, Dhoni’s decision to promote Yusuf Pathan. He made a call. It did not work. What Pathan might learn from his sad outing is that he does not have to go for “glamour shots” off each ball. As far as I know, the “defensive stroke for a single” has not been banned from the game, yet!

But (I feel a Sidhu moment descending on me) one cannot drive forward by looking continually at the rear-view mirror! We do need to move on, really…

The main learning for the Indian batsmen is that they continued to go for “glamour shots” (in the words of Sunil Gavaskar). After being 267-1 in the 40th over, it was nothing short of professional negligence to fold from that point on for a mere 29 runs! In Dhoni’s words, the batsmen “don’t need to play for the spectators – they love sixes and fours in India but at the end of the day….,”.

In my book, a spot-on assessment by a smart captain. Was he right to call it that way? I think so. Tendulkar, Gambhir, Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan all went for “Bollywood” shots to please the crowd and the assembled Bollywood stars! Sometimes, it is useful to be boring. Dhoni was being boring. The game had changed in front of his eyes. He had to set aside his ego and machismo to pull things back. Sadly, several other Indian batsmen could not see past the end of their noses to realize that there was a world out there (Oh dear! Have I been listening to Sidhu far too much?).

Conclusion:

So in conclusion, I think there are silver linings all around. India will not top Group-B, and that is good. The team management will look hard at team balance and the inclusion of an extra bowler, and that is good. The batsmen will have learned from the game and will, I believe, try less to be “winners on their own”, and that can only be good.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

What was Silly Bowden thinking?

There is no other way to call this. So I am going to call it as I saw it…

It was one of the craziest matches I have seen, officiated by a lunatic who constantly puts himself ahead of the game.

Silly Bowden has to go!

Some 12 months before Steve Bucknor got a rude (reportedly, BCCI-inspired) shove, I had predicted that his time was nigh. It was. And when he he did not leave, he was pushed. It looked ugly and everyone blamed India for “muscle flexing”. Bucknor left because, when the end came, he had become incompetent.

Bowden’s time has come. He must leave, in my view.

My problem with him right from the time he made his debut is that he has made himself much larger than the game! The good umpires of the game just do their stuff and do it well. Even David Shepherd, with his one-legged Nelson-superstitions, never allowed himself to take center stage! ‘Shep’ would do his one-legged Nelson-dance almost in embarrassment! Unfortunately, Hair’s ego ran way ahead of the man, in my view! He got ahead of the game. He was shown the door! Good umpires like Aleem Dar, Simon Taufel, Darryl Harper, Asad Rauf, et al, do their stuff forcefully, but quietly.

Last night, first, we had Billy Bowden first pointing out to Zaheer Khan the exact spot he had to stand at in the field! Now there is nothing wrong with an umpire telling a captain — during the Power Play overs — that his men aren’t in positions that might be termed “close catching” positions. After all, in soccer, you regularly have referees marking out a position for the “wall” to line up before a “free kick” is taken. So there is nothing wrong, in my book, with umpires instructing a player to stand in a close catching position. Similarly, the umpire is well within his rights to get a fielding captain to have two of his players in genuine close catching positions.

The rule clearly states that in the first Powerplay, no more than two fielders can be positioned outside 30 yard circle (this is increased to three for the second and third Powerplay blocks). Moreover, in the first 10 overs, it is also required that at least two fielders are in close catching positions.

And “close catching” is defined as: 15 yards (or 13.7 m)

And this is where the first problem first arose yesterday!

On being told that Zaheer Khan wasn’t “close” enough, MS Dhoni agreed initially and brought Zaheer Khan closer up.

Silly Bowden took one small stutter of a step (half a meter) forward and insisted that Zaheer Khan be stationed that one third of a meter closer! Dhoni was seen clearly stating that, in his view, Zaheer Khan, the “close catcher” was indeed a “close catcher”!

A 2-minute conversation ensued!

Now, in all my viewing of cricket, I have never ever seen MS Dhoni fight against anything. He is no Ponting or Ganguly this man! He walks when he nicks a ball. He does not question decisions. He respects umpires and is always cordial with them. But yesterday, I suspect he stood his ground for that half a minute or so. He must have known that he couldn’t win against a stubborn man. But he must have been tempted to get Bowden to get his measuring tape out!

He then got on with the game.

My strong suspicion is that I-am-bigger-than-the-game-Bowden did not get on with the game.

In the 25th over of the game Team India gave a clear indication as to why it does not like the UDRS.

Let me state clearly that I am a great/strong fan of the UDRS. I always have been an advocate for the use of technology in sport. In these days of 360 degree cameras, overhead cameras and precision optics, we just cannot afford to get things wrong. Elite sportsmen know that a mere hundredth of a second can separate Gold from Silver in a 100m freestyle swim. Technology makes the call on the winner. It separates the victorious from those that came close!

In some cases technology assists the decision maker. I strongly support both sets of technology — that which decides and that which assists — but with a strong and important caveat in the latter case: The administrators should not be machines themselves! The administrators ought to be responsible and intelligent humans!

Last night, the UDRS was administered by a lunatic!

Bowden had the UDRS in his hands as a tool that assisted sharp on-field decision making! At the end of the process, the words “monkey and spanner” sprung to mind!

BTW, for those that are thinking of getting stuck into me here are a set of riders:

This post has nothing to do with the match result! And for the record, I thought that England ought to have won the game. India escaped with a “get out of jail for free” card, in my view. India had the wrong team composition and the wrong (arrogant) attitude when it took the park for the 2nd Innings. The players lacked aggression and seemed to exhibit an “all I need to do is rock up to the 2nd Innings and we will win this game” attitude — best exhibited by the way Harbhajan Singh approached the catch opportunity that Andrew Strauss provided early on in his innings! Team India players only showed aggression and intent in the 43rd over once Bell got out!

So, my whine against Bowden has nothing to do with the result. As a Team India fan, I think a Tie was a great result last night. India secured one more point than what I thought she deserved at the start of even the 25th over!

Ironically, the incident I am about to allude to relates what happened in over #25!

At that point, England was cruising. Team India was on the mat. What’s more? There was no clear sign of where the wicket — that India so badly needed — was going to come from!

Yuvraj Singh bowled a faster ball. Ian Bell, who was on 17 then, went for a somewhat ugly paddle sweep and was, in my view adjacent. Billy Bowden turned down the resulting appeal, which he is well within his rights to do. No problems up until then! Yuvraj Singh convinced his reluctant captain to go for a UDRS review. His captain has been a reluctant user of the UDRS. He just does not trust it enough. He just does not believe it will be used properly and appropriately.

If I were him, after last night, I’d be keen to kill it off completely!

The ball pitched in line and hit in line. The HawkEye projection was that it would have hit the middle-and-off stump about a third of the way up from the bottom of the stumps!

Everyone seemed convinced that the bell had tolled for Ian Bell: The crowd, the Indian players, Andrew Strauss and even Ian Bell. Everyone, that is, except Bowden!

There was one criterion that needed a box to be ticked and the UDRS hadn’t done that. The UDRS indicated that the remaining distance for the ball to travel was more than 2.5m. In such instances, the UDRS throws the decision back to the on-field umpire!

The UDRS system is 100% accurate only within a narrow band of 2.5m (between the stumps and the point of impact). Fair enough! I also accept that, since the ball had another 2.6m (say) to travel, there could be some error in the path-projection algorithm beyond 2.5m. I also accept that at that point, the vision tracking system tells the human “I have assisted you all I can. From here on in, please make the decision using this projection only as a guide, Mr Human.”

Pity that the human that UDRS handed over to was an idiot on the night!

Ergo: Monkey and spanner!

The UDRS, in all instances, must be used as a decision aid in my view! The problem with Bowden was that his mind got clouded. His muddled and crooked thinking rendered him incapable of making a decision on the night.

If he had accepted the UDRS as a “decision aid”, he may have asked: So where might that ball have landed even if it had only a 50% accuracy? The moon? No. Perhaps it may have hit the stumps half way up and not a third of the way up! But it was certainly going to hit the stumps all right!

I would have forgiven Bowden if the ball was projected to hit the top of off stump and the batsman was 2.7m down the track. The benefit of the doubt had to go to the batsman in such a case! But in the case of Ian Bell last night, there was no place else that ball was going to go to other than the stumps! That is, of course, if the UDRS was being used as a decision aid by a clear thinking human!

Instead Bowden thought: That’s it. Another 2.6m (say) to go. 2.6m is greater than 2.5m. Hence, this ball was headed for the moon. Not out was my original decision. And it will stand!

If I am a player in this World Cup, given this laughable precedent, this is what I should do! I would mark out 2.5m on the pitch! I’d bat outside this 2.5m mark and I’d try and thwack every ball with bat. If I cannot do that, I’d give it a flying kick while pretending to play the ball! If I am given out LBW, I’d ask for a review! Bowden has set a precedent. I just cannot be given out! If I am given not out and the fielding captain reviews it, it has to be given not out!

Now let us look at what the actual playing conditions state. The playing conditions state that, in the case where a ball has more than 2.5m to travel “the on-field umpire shall have regard to the normal cricketing principles concerning the level of certainty in making his decision as to whether to change his decision.”

Bowden used no cricketing principles at all. I don’t know what went through his crooked mind. But he got his knickers in a knot, may have thought about the Dhoni-Zaheer field-placement incident and ruled “not out”.

Contrast this with what happened during England’s recent ODI series against Australia. In the seventh and final match at the WACA, the Australian batsman Tim Paine was adjudged not out to Liam Plunkett, and England reviewed the umpire Paul Reiffel’s on-field decision. The replays showed Paine was hit more than 2.5 metres from the stumps, but Hawkeye suggested the ball would have crashed into the stumps halfway up, and on that occasion Reiffel decided not to argue with the technology, even though he would have been within his rights to stay with his not-out call. He swallowed his ego and went in favor of HawkEye. His decision was assisted by technology because he adopted a common-sense cricketing principles approach!

Not Silly Billy Bowden, though!

Sorry! The man and his crooked finger have to go. There is no other way to call this!

Mohan