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Letter of the Day

July 27, 2002

Big wins and even bigger defeats

It's 7.30 am in the morning in Berkeley, California, and England has finally lost their last wicket for a huge score of 487. The phrase is "lost their wicket".

India really did nothing to get the wicket. A better team than England would have easily scored more than 600 runs against the Indian captaincy, fielding and bowling attack.

Let's take them one at a time. First the captaincy. After the stunning win in the NatWest Trophy, the Indian media was all over the great captaincy of Sourav Ganguly. This was of course helped by stamps of approvals by Denniss Lillee and Steve Waugh. I still don't understand why we never hear what cricketing brains in India think about the Indian captain. I am talking about people like Pataudi, Mohinder Amarnath etc; people who used more than their God-given talent in their career. The media shows its colonial fascination every time it reports a quote from a Adam Gilchrist, a Steve Waugh.

The stunning victory in the NatWest final was acheived due to individual brilliance not a coordinated team effort led by a tactical captain. That is true not only of this game but really any big achievements in India's past history. Take away Laxman and Harbhajan in the Australia series and you have a 3-0 loss instead of a 2-1 victory. Yet, the winning captain will never be questioned.

Let's take a look at the NatWest final: Any captain worth his salt would have restricted England to 280-300 but we saw strange bowling changes -- Tendulkar never touching the ball; bowlers being tried for one over; all in all, a completely chaotic manner of control.

This has continued in the first innnings in the first Test. Sehwag's few overs showed the ball turning considerably but that's what he was limited to - a few overs. And again Tendulkar just fielded on the boundary as commentator after commentator talked about his usefulness as a leg spinner. Agarkar was given the ball time and again even after he was belted by every single batsman. Kumble was kept on, even as the number 9 batsman, playing his first Test, hit him all over the field. Zaheer was rewarded for his excellent bowling by being overbowled to the point that he started spraying it.

The Indian team looked lost and out of sorts as soon as any partnership got over 60-70 runs. There was hardly any noise. Tendulkar looks completely bored out of his wits these days. He is restricted to fielding at the furthest boundary almost all through the innings. Common sense will tell you that in any sport you need your best player to be involved in the action. It is one extreme to completely rely on Tendulkar but that is no better than this extreme where he is limited to a number 4 batsman in Tests and now also in one-dayers. A note about that -- when we all know that Ganguly is a good player of spin why has the possibility of Ganguly batting lower in the order not even been considered? Could it be that Ganguly would get bored? Or he enjoys the free hits in the first 15 overs too much?

Then there is talk about the much-improved Indian fielding. Yes, it is better than what it used to be but it is nowhere close to world class. Difficult chances are routinely missed. Time and again the pressure exerted by the bowler is relieved by a half-hearted attempt at stopping a single. In the first innings of the first Test alone Nehra was guilty of trying to use his feet to stop the ball and Ganguly himself twice let a ball go through him for a four and a double. Until the fielding reaches a level where direct hits are routine and cheeky singles are very dangerous, India will continue to let the 50/3 score deterioate into the 500, 600 totals.

And a big reason the fielding needs to be absolutely perfect is that India does not have a match-winning bowling attack. Yet. Nehra and Zaheer are a good start and Yohannan looks promising. But it's definitely time to end the Kumble, Agarkar Test match experiments. India's best spinner today is Harbhajan and he should play every game. Kumble does still get the occasional wicket but even a first clas bowler and maybe even a college level bowler would get a wicket here and there if he was given 42 overs to bowl in an innings. The justification given is that both Kumble and Agarkar can bat also. Take a look at the last 20 matches and you'll see that neither of them has batted well at all, and especially not when the chips were down.

The bottom line is clear -

  • India is seriouly lacking in strategic captaincy, world-class fielding and match-winning bowling
  • The good news is India will continue to win some big games based on individual brilliance
  • The bad news is they will also lose more often than they win, especially in Test matches, when the inadequacies in captaincy, fielding and bowling have enough time to be exposed.
  • Steps are needed to address the three inadequacies. These could be as simple as:
    • Separate the one-day team from the Test team. Ganguly, Kumble, Agarkar should be limited to one-day games. Keep Ganguly as one-day captain but make Laxman or Tendulkar as your Test captain.
    • Ganguly has not done enough to merit a place in the Test team. With Ganguly out of the Test team you have space to bring in Kaif or Yuvraj, which not only boosts your middle order but atuomatically upgrades your fielding.

      Wright told Faisal in a Rediff interview that if a player cannot field he cannot make it to the team. Why is this standard not applied to the captain?

    Do I think any of these changes will ever happen? Unlikely, and actually impossible, as long as "our very own" Dalmiya is around running Indian cricket. And make no mistake, as long as Dalmiya is around, Ganguly is untouchable as one-day captain AND as Test captain.

    Sushil Nachnani
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