Lower order batting is India's problem
There is something charming, even attractive, about the format for the
ICC Trophy. Most tournaments of this stature have so much shadow boxing
that by the time you get to the big games, you are more than four weeks
into the event. It is like ordering the salad, discussing its great
merits, agonising over the dressing and preparing yourself for the main
course. It has its qualities, endurance is one of them, but sometimes
you want to get to the action straightaway and an all knock-out event is
I would venture to say that the ICC have got it right. A prestigious,
leisurely World Cup every four years and a quick burst of action over 10
games every 2 years. A four course meal and a tangy take-away !
I remember the first edition well. Jagmohan Dalmiya had come in for a
lot of flak for organising a tournament whose sole objective was to
raise funds and even more so, for allotting it to Dhaka. In one of the
more remarkable instances of passion powering everything else, Dhaka
committed itself to the event and not even a terrible flood, the streets
had turned into waterways, could halt them. It worked. The power of
human resolve overcame the obstacles of nature. The ICC Trophy couldnít
have had a better inauguration.
Now Kenya has to take the commitment of the developing nations to
another level. In terms of nature and its offering, Kenya is a rich
nation compared to the hardship of Banglasesh. But in Dhaka the people
did not mind foregoing power if that meant the lights at the cricket
could glow bright. It will be interesting to see if Nairobi can match
that kind of commitment.
I will be very interested in seeing how the pitches play. Any tournament
played at one venue always runs the risk of having wearing surfaces by
the time the final comes around. Traditionally, tracks in Kenya have
been slow and they have favoured spin; delightful words if you are from
the sub-continent. But we will need something much harder, something
much more resilient this time because ten matches on one square means it
is going to get a terrible pounding.
When India played the LG Cup there last year, the pitch was like a
lottery; turning square one day and providing a lot of life through
over-compensation the next day. I donít think we will quite see anything
like that this time and while that may not be very good news for Sunil
Joshi, most other cricketers will welcome it.
Nairobi is pretty high above sea-level as well and you donít always get
too many matches played at high altitude. It has led to some interesting
theories one of which is that the ball will travel longer with lower
air-resistance and that this might affect the length the bowlers will
strive for. To match those theories there are some interesting reasons
some players have chosen for missing out as well. Neil Johnson and
Murray Goodwin have gone back home from Zimbabwe, Stuart MacGill is away
getting married and Ricardo Powell, just the kind of player you thought
the West Indies could do with, is one of four promising players away at
the Australian Academy !!
Between injuries, retirements, bad form and study leave, the West Indies
have so little to choose from. Their cricket has very little depth at
the moment, the ability of their first eleven to make England look
outstanding is an example, and really I suspect it is down to picking
the first man who catches your eye now ! It is difficult to see them
going past a very good looking Sri Lankan side.
In fact the side I would be very interested in seeing is New Zealand.
They have got the right build up playing a lot of one-day cricket in
Africa and a lot of their key players, most notably Chris Cairns, are
playing the best cricket of their life. They are a very efficient
fielding side, with the likes of Chris Harris matching the best in the
world, they give themselves a lot of bowling options and they bat
deeper than most teams in world cricket. And under Stephen Fleming, who
is going through a rough patch himself, they are a side that has
discarded the petulance they seemed to be stuck with through the early
and mid-nineties. I wouldn't mind putting New Zealand in the reckoning
after the big three, South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
Those three are in a different league. They have each an incisive bowler
and, critically, the lower order bats strongly. A lot is said about the
importance of a very good start in one-day cricket but recent results
suggest that it is the team that bats deeper rather than the one that is
top heavy that is more likely to win. It is a sobering thought for Sri
Lanka and India neither of whom have the lower order batting power of
Klusener, Boucher and Pollock for South Africa, Symonds, Lee, Martin and
Bevan for Australia, or Razzak, Azhar Mahmood, Moin Khan and Akram for
That is the biggest problem for India. With a weak bowling attack, India
need to play five bowlers. Put an untested wicketkeeper in and that
places a huge burden on the top five. For India to progress, numbers
seven, eight and nine have to score runs, or at least provide the
confidence to the top order to score quickly, and among them, only the
erratic Sunil Joshi really has any pretensions towards doing the job. So
India go in with poor late order batting and no incisive lead bowler,
and that means if the openers donít put together a long partnership,
there are very few assets to fall back on.
You would have to be an optimist to back India but then, optimism killed
no one did it !! What I do know though, is that we should get some good,
tough international cricket and for our cricket lovers, so starved of
the action they love, there will be something to return to.
Mail Harsha Bhogle