Saturday, 28 January 2012

Is it the Fletcher Effect??

India whitewashed again. India have now lost 8 consecutive tests overseas with 4 against Australia and 4 against England last year. India in this period slipped from no.1 to no. 4 in the ICC test rankings. Umpteen reasons have already been cited for this loss but there is one more thing different in the Indian team of 2008-10 and the Indian team of 2011-12. In the former period the team was coached by the relatively young(by coaching standards) South African Gary Kirsten and in the latter, it is the Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher. So what are the reasons for India's loss in Australia? Can one of them be the coach, Duncan Fletcher?

While the most obvious argue would be that the team lost because of poor performance by players and that a coach cannot do anything about it. Even I agree with this but still how can someone ignore the fact that under Gary Kirsten, the same team was at the top but as soon as the coach changed, the same team stooped to new lows. And at a time when everybody related to Indian cricket is being blamed, there is no harm in blaming the new coach as well.

Old man with outdated ideas- Kirsten was a young and fit man who infused freshness into the Indian team. He used to run with the players, exercised with the players and gave throw downs to batsmen himself for hours and hours. What this did is that it made the players respect their coach and the coach was always available to the players. Such a coach not only did the job of instructing the players but actually played with them and together handled whatever difficulties players were facing. Fletcher being the old man could never do it. His role was reduced to a mere instructor. Now according to standard human psychology we are bound to work much harder under someone who himself also is working hard and is not just sitting in a corner and shouting. For instance Sachin Tendulkar's batting improved considerably by working with Kirsten for hours playing all kind of different deliveries. But now he has to ask net bolwers or Indian bowlers to bowl a particular line. That is the main difference between the 2 coaches. Fletcher instructs from the side while Kirsten instructs by being in the middle. And we all know what turned out to be successful in the end.

Bad handler of top teams- This one is purely non-cricket but something which is hard to ignore. Fletcher took over as England's coach in 2000. In his tenure England achieved an 8 test winning streak and helped England regain the ashes after 18 years. England rose form the bottom to no. 2 in test rankings. But then England started falling under him. They lost the ashes within 15 months and were whitewashed 5-0 by Australia. They put together a very poor performance in the 2007 world cup and soon Fletcher's term was over. When appointed India's coach, India was ODI world champions and no.1 in tests. But since then India have suffered 2 whitewashes which they did n't in years and lost an ODI series too. Maybe it is luck or something else, but 1 thing is clear, Fletcher it seems brings top teams down.

When Fletcher was appointed as the coach, I did not find it as a very wise decision as India had become used to a 40 year old coach running and practicing with them and would find it a little bit difficult to adjust with the 62 year old man. And as it turned out India have spiraled down very quickly under him.

Maybe it is rubbish to blame the coach for all this but being an Indian fan, I cannot ignore the very fact that with the change in coach, our fortunes also suddenly changed.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

If not Dhoni. then who?

After losing the test series against Australia and losing 7 tests overseas consecutively, India's future looks dark. Everyone is putting blame on the bowlers, seniors but the largest part of the blame has been forced on India's most charismatic and successful skipper, the man with the midas touch until July 2011, MS Dhoni. Dhoni has been banned from playing in the 4th test at Adelaide due to slow over rate. In that case Sehwag will lead the Indian side to restore some pride. But with talks of replacing India's test skipper, who would captain India's test team if Dhoni would indeed be replaced? Who can be the next captain for India in tests?

Sehwag- The first name that comes to the mind is Sehwag. Since Sehwag is slated to lead the side in Adelaide, we will come to know whether he is able for the job or not. Sehwag has always been India's vice captain and has captained only when the skipper is injured or rested. Sehwag has so far captained India in  3 tests against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand. He has won 2 and drawn 1. He averaged 28 in these matches as against his career average of 50.93. 2 out of 3 matches were played abroad indicating why the average is down. Well though his short captaincy record is n't bad at all, I still feel giving the reins to Sehwag would not be a step in the future. He himself is 34 years old and add to that he is not in good form. A captain should be confident at least about his own performance. Dhoni is suffering because he himself is not scoring runs and Sehwag too should therefore be not made the captain.

Gambhir- Gautam Gambhir can be another potential candidate. With age on his side and successful captaincy in limited overs for India, he can be handed over the captaincy. Gambhir has never captained India in tests but has captained India in ODI's. He has led India in 6 ODI's and has won all 6 of them, 5 at home and 1 abroad. He averages 90 in these matches with 2 hundreds. Add to that the IPL experience where he led Kolkata Knight Riders for the first time to play-offs in 4 IPL's so far. But again even Gambhir is suffering from the same lack of form problem. With lack of form comes lack of confidence and thus such a guy cannot be an inspiring leader. Gambhir's technique against fast bowlers is being questioned and even his place in the side is under doubt. So maybe even he is not the right man to be given the captaincy.

Kohli and Yadav- I will discuss their cases together for both are very young players who have just set foot in the test arena. If India go the South Africa way maybe we can see one of these 2 as captains. South Africa after failing to qualify in the 2nd round in the 2003 world cup appointed a very young Graeme Smith as captain who was not even a surety in the playing eleven at that time. South Africa was successful under Smith and rose to the top of rankings twice. So even India can go this way. But given the state of Indian cricket and the pressure an India captain has to handle maybe this won't be a very good decision. If one of these young lads fail at captaincy their career would be destroyed and India would lose 2 very talented cricketers. They need to be nurtured and helped to establish themselves in the test arena.

Zaheer- Zaheer khan might be another prospective candidate. He has never captained India in ODI's or tests. He is 34 year old and might not be a step into the future. But he has brilliant form on his side. 5 years ago India were in a similar state when Dravid left the captaincy and Dhoni was the leader in limited overs cricket. But for tests he was not considered suitable as yet. At that time 37 year old Kumble stood up. He was in good form and had never captained the side before. India played well under him and he was the man who took India very close to the no.1 spot. Dhoni was nurtured under him for 2 years and after that Dhoni finally took over the reins from him and captained India successfully. Similarly we can appoint Zaheer as captain. He is a clever bowler who has a sharp cricketing mind and respect not only among his team but all around the world. And like in the Kumble period, a young Kohli can be nurtured for a couple of years under him and can then be handed over the captaincy. 

So for me if Dhoni is sacked from test captaincy then Zaheer Khan would be the appropriate choice for 2 years.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Why is India losing so badly?

India have stooped to new lows as they managed to wrap up the third test at Perth against Australia within 2 and a half days. India lost by an innings and 37 runs and for the Indian batters getting 369 across 2 innings proved to be a daunting task in which they failed miserably. What the hell has happened to this batting line up? Australians get 369 losing 10 wickets and Indians lose 20 wickets and still are 37 runs short. Is this the same team that was no. 1 till July 2011, that defeated Australia dramatically at the same venue 4 years back? Where is Dhoni's midas touch, his unconventional captaincy? What can be the reasons behind this sudden shocking decline?

Individuals team rather than team India- Yes, when India was no. 1 the dressing room atmosphere was brilliant,players enjoyed each other's success and someone or the other stood up when the situation demanded. Everyone played for the team's victory. But now it is a little different. Its not that now players fight in the dressing room or they don't play for the team or there is truth in those reports of rift in the team. What I mean is since the England tour, many players are out of form and as a result in Australia every player is concerned about his problems. Gambhir wants to resurrect his technique, Dravid is looking for that crack in the wall, Tendulkar wants to get that 100th 100, Dhoni has his own problems. All in all nobody is thinking about the team, like a team precisely. They are not sitting together like they did in that golden period of 2008-10. Players are either busy with their families on this tour or busy concentrating on their personal problems. That team feeling seems to be missing.

Overloaded Dhoni- Mahendra Singh Dhoni. India's test, ODI and T20 skipper, wicket keeper and batsman. And captain, wicketkeeper and batsman in IPL and Champions League. That is a hell lot of workload. Add to that he is not in form. Dhoni has become a super busy man now where he is captaining every side he plays in. He is mentally tired. The team has started losing which has put more pressure on him. The captain has to lead from the front. But when the captain's confidence is itself down, how can you expect him to lift the team? A captain's shelf life nowadays is only about 3-4 years. Dhoni has completed that time in all the formats. Dhoni in any case was never a great test batsman. Its just that when the team was winning no one noticed. But now when the team is losing, focus has shifted to Dhoni's test batting. Dhoni's statement about retiring from tests has reflected some of his feelings towards the longer format. He is a brilliant player and a leader in the shorter format but in the longer format, darkness looms large.

Opener's failure- Everyone is busy questioning the middle order and their failure in scoring runs but meanwhile the opener's failure has been completely ignored. Sehwag and Gambhir, one of the best opening pairs of modern times have failed to put on any runs in the tests overseas this year. Both are terribly out of form and have always exposed the middle order to the new ball. Every successful overseas tour coincided with runs scored by openers. In 2003-04 we managed to draw the series down under because Akash Chopra and Sehwag gave India a steady start everytime. Gambhir and Sehwag did it when we were no. 1. But since then the story has been very different. Sehwag does n't even seem to be trying to do something to stay at the crease. Many will say thats the way he plays.But thats not done. You can't lose your wicket everytime with the excuse of attacking cricket being your natural game. Your job is to score runs and you have to do it whether by defending or by attacking. Gambhir meanwhile looks a pale shadow from what he was 3 years back. The IPL habits have taken hold of him and he continues to poke at balls outside off stump. He will score runs in IPL this way but in test cricket, just forget it.

That test in Dominica- India played a drawn test match against West Indies in Dominica in June 2011. That draw had a pretty big significance on the mindset of the Indian test team, their belief in themselves and Dhoni's tactics. India required 86 runs to win in 15 overs on the final day with 7 wickets remaining. Everyone thought India would press for a 2-0 victory. But Dhoni had other ideas. He settled for a tame draw for he believed that Indian batsmen might get out and lose that game within 15 overs. That was a shocker. That showed that Dhoni did n't believe in India's test batting lineup. That was a serious dent on India's self belief. If you cant dare to win against a West Indian bowling attack with 7 wickets in hand, how can you tackle quality fast bowling in England and Australia? Since then the Indian team has lost each and every test overseas.

While the culprits list is long and unending, these might well be the reasons why India is losing so badly overseas.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Sri Lanka and India- Batting Poorly

Sri Lanka suffered a shocking 258 run defeat at the hands of South Africa at Paarl yesterday. The way the wickets were falling in the Sri Lankan innings, it was hard to believe that the team was Sri Lanka indeed and not Canada. Sri Lanka were all out for just 43 in reply to South Africa's 301. This was Sri Lnaka's lowest ever ODI score and their captain admitted it was his career's worst game. Sri Lanka have not fared well under the captaincy of Dilshan and batting has been a big failure in recent times. While it was said earlier that Sri Lanka have not recovered from retirement of Muralitharan but its actually the batting that has disappointed. India too have been losing matches due to dismal batting performance over the past year. India and Sri Lanka were known as strong batting powerhouses but that seems to be a thing of the past.

Batting performance overseas-  Sri Lanka over the past year played 6 tests overseas winning 1 and losing 3. They crossed 400 in only 2 of them. In 4 tests they got out under 200. India over the last year played 9 tests away losing 6 and winning just 1, that too in West Indies. India crossed 400 in only 1 game during this period which was in Sydney recently. And in as many as 4 tests they failed to cross 200. Lets come to ODI's now. Sri Lanka played 8 ODI's overseas winning 3 and losing 5. They failed to cross 200 in 3 of those matches thereby losing all 3 of them. India in the last year played 16 away ODI's winning 6 of them and losing 8. They failed to cross 200 in 6 matches winning 2 out of them. It is clear that batting for both the countries has struggled away from home.

Kings at home-The story changes dramatically at home. At least for India. Sri Lanka over the past year played just 3 tests at home losing only 1 and winning none. The solitary loss was against Australia. They crossed 400 once while failure to cross 200 happened in all the matches. India in this period played 3 tests at home winning 2 of them and losing none. They crossed 400 twice while did n't fail to cross 200 in any game. Sri lanka played 16 ODI's at home winning 9 and losing 4. They could not cross 200 in 6 games out of which 2 were non-result games and 2 were won by them. India played 18 ODI's at home last year winning 15 and losing just 2. India failed to cross 200 just 1 time and they won that match too. Sri Lanka in ODI's and India in both formats were pretty comfortable playing at home. That shows the difference between home games and overseas for the 2 nations.

Seamophobia- The trick to beat India and Sri Lanka in 2011 has been very simple. Prepare a seaming wicket. A wicket with movement, a wicket with life. Indian and Sri Lankan batsmen would perish very easily. Both India and Sri Lanka have become bad bullies at home but are chicken overseas. Bowling was always blamed whenever both the teams lost matches. But this year surprisingly their batting which was considered as their "strength" has been the bane. Yesterday all the 5 top Sri Lankan batsmen gave their wickets when the bowlers put pressure by pitching the ball short and cramping the batsmen for room. Short ball at off stump has been the nemesis for Indian and Sri Lankan batsmen this year. They are addicted with facing balls knee height on slow pitches back home. Whenever the conditions changed, the batting has let down.

The problem with both India and Sri Lanka has been over dependence on the experienced middle order. In India its Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman while in Sri Lanka its Sangakkara and Jayawardene. If these experienced pros don't score runs then the younger players surrender soon after. Both the teams have to make the transition and get their younger players to perform. Both need to groom younger players well for international cricket 'Overseas". Considerations on dropping or resting a senior player should only begin when an able younger replacement is well equipped to bat well "overseas". Meanwhile its India and Sri Lanka who continue to surprise the cricket world with awful batting performances.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

What Should India do now before the Perth Test?

With India losing the first 2 tests against Australia comprehensively with a collective batting and bowling failure, swords are already out. Heads are being counted and are being asked to slash. Everybody is giving his own opinion as to whom to drop, whom to pick ahead of the 3rd test. Whether India can actually do something to revive itself and comeback strongly into the series. So what Should India do now before the Perth test?

Bring in Rohit Sharma- Yes, that is the need of the hour. Batting has miserably failed in the first 2 tests and shockingly even on the good batting strip of Sydney. Rohit Sharma is a talented youngster who needs to be picked in the team. He is a technically sound player who has exceptional balance and good temperament to suceed. Plus he is in good form. I always preffered Rohit Sharma over Virat Kohli but still Virat is also a good player and there was not much fuss regarding his selection over Rohit. But after Virat's failure to cope with the moving ball, Rohit's selection becomes all the more important. Add to that he is in exceptional form considering performances at home against the West Indies.

Whom to Drop?- The real question is if Rohit is to be brought in then who should be dropped. I don't think Kohli should be dropped. He is a young player who needs backing for a long time to feel secure of his place and play freely. We all know his talent and he will definitely learn to adjust to these conditions. Tendulkar is in good form and Dhoni for obvious reasons cannot be dropped. So that leaves us with only 2 choices. Either Laxman or Dravid. I would prefer Laxman being dropped because Dravid would be better equipped to play at Perth than Laxman. Laxman has a tendency to hang on the back foot when the ball is moving and with it his feet too stop moving. He needs a spinner to get his feet to move and with a 4 pronged pace attack expected to be fielded by the Aussies, its Dravid who would be better off playing the pace bowlers at Perth.

A Bowling Change- Bowling has also flopped barring the decent performance at the MCG. Apart from Zaheer nobody else has looked menacing. Ishant is bowling well but somehow does n't get wickets. Though we don't have much choice in the pace department we certainly have a choice in the spin department. Ashwin has not been able to pick wickets in the series. I feel India needs to do something different and what would be better than fielding the left arm spinner, Pragyan Ojha. Many would argue saying Ashwin bowled on non-spin friendly tracks and that he bats well too. But for India to win matches top 7 need to bat well. A lone 50 from no. 8 cannot take India to victory. As the Perth pitch would again be a pace friendly wicket there is no harm in changing the spin bowler.  And maybe the right handed in form duo of Clarke and Ponting might just struggle against the left armer. Ojha is bowling well and showed good signs in the test series at home against the West Indies.

While drastic changes must only be made after the series gets over, these kind of short term changes do need to be implemented to at least give India a chance of leveling the series. Mickey Arthur, the coach of Australia has said that Rohit should not be played straightaway at Perth. But I feel that Rohit needs backing and even if he fails at Perth he should not be dropped and must be given a long chance. That way he would be more confident and would play freely without fear of losing his place.

I can only hope that India fights back in the Perth test the way they did 4 years back. Fingers Crossed.

Friday, 6 January 2012

India- Back to the 90's

India succumbed to another massive defeat within just 4 days against Australia at Sydney in the 2nd test. The innings and 68 run defeat was their 6th straight loss overseas and ends India's dream of winning a series in Australia. India was said to be a bad team overseas until 2002-03. But things quickly changed as India started winning overseas. Over the last decade under Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble and then Dhoni, India have won tests in England, South Africa, Australia, West Indies and New Zealand as well. That means we have defeated all non-subcontinent countries in their backyards. But 2011 has projected a completely different picture as first we lost the no. 1 throne and then even the hard earned tag of good overseas players. Be it bounce. seam or swing, India have struggled.
The way India lost matches against England and Australia where they literally seemed to surrender reminds one of India's overseas performances of the 90's where switching on the television in the morning brought up scenes of India tottering at 50-5 or 80-6 in Australia. Those horrors have came back after 2 "successful" tours down under. All the respect that India earned in the last decade has been lost very quickly by India. In a period where teams are rebuilding and looking towards a bright future, India seems to be going back in time to their struggling days.

Another notable feature of Indian team of the 90's was the team's over dependence on Sachin. Be it the Chennai test against Pakistan in 1999 or the 1996 semi final against Sri Lanka, the team lost as soon as Sachin got out, it was clear that the team was heavily dependent on Sachin to perform. But with rise of players like Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Yuvraj, things changed and India had match winners other than Sachin. Those times it seems have come back. In the 2011 world cup when Sachin was batting well against England and South Africa everything seemed so well but as soon as he got out the team collapsed. In the first test at the MCG, India were looking well placed at 214-2 with Tendulkar and Dravid looking set. But then Tendulkar got out and India folded for only 282. In the 2nd test at the SCG in the 2nd innings, India was in a decent position with Sachin and Laxman batting on a 100 run partnership and India looking good at 271-3. Just then Sachin got out and India were suddenly struggling at 286-7 with all the top 7 batsmen back in the hut.

One man cannot win you matches. The team has to step up. The problem with India in 2011 has been a lack of team effort. Only one man is performing at a time while the rest simply don't click. In England it was Dravid, here it is Tendulkar. Even in bowling, India's bowlers are bowling well in patches but they are not bowling well together in tandem to put pressure. Someday its Zaheer, while on the other day its Ishant but they are not bowling well together. That has been the problem. When the team was number 1, 2-3 players performed together in any situation and thats why the team was winning matches.

Serious measures have to be taken before the Perth test. If that involves making tough decisions, then they have to be made. Otherwise India is staring at another nightmare, similar to the one they faced in England last year.