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Sight Screen

Monday, August 01, 2005

A team for tomorrow

If you were picking one, what would your base assumptions be?
1. That Saurav returns -- and though I don't believe *any* player outside of Rahul Dravid on current form walks into this side no questions asked, SG's experience and the fact that he is match fit thanks to his county stint makes him a must-pick in context of the available personnell.
2. That you pick your playing XI based on two factors -- the opposition and, equally importantly, the ground.
3. That having got first-match rust and second match experimentation out of the way, you start slotting players into their natural place in the batting order.
With that in mind, how about this lineup?: Viru Sehwag, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Jaiprakash Yadav, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Ashish Nehra.
The axing of Venugopal Rao is not a direct comment on either ability or performance -- but JPY is in the side as the third of the new-comers, and you want to guage his potential before this series rounds into the business end. Raina and Rao are both offies -- and two offies are superfluous when you have Bajji as your main spinner, and Sehwag as backup. Yadav, as a right arm medium pacer, slots into the attack nicely as counterpoint to your two left arm lead seamers.
The axing of Yuvraj Singh is -- unlike Rao's -- a direct comment on form. Outside of his 78 at the Gardens way back in November 2004, YS hasn't had a single convincing innings (no, scoring 69 against Bangladesh from a position of 247/4 does not count) in his last 20 outings (a sequence that begins with the 8 he scored in his 100th ODI at the Premadasa Stadium in August 2004). His batting form is bad enough -- his confidence right now is zero, as evidenced by his fielding in these first two games. Backing promise is one thing, but it does presuppose that promise translates into performance at some point.
The third drop is Zaheer -- who in somewhat better rhythm, but still seems way short of match fitness judging by the way he has been moving in the field; 'lumbering' is a kind adjective, leaden-footed probably describes it better. Of the two, Nehra has been the more penetrating *and* economical, and deserves the new ball (Zaheer, incidentally, has tended to be under par with his first two, three overs with the new ball in both games -- and in low-scoring games, you don't need to give the opposition openers that luxury).
Otherwise, the team as picked brings in an opener who has the experience and has been there before (in an ideal world, I'd really love to have Saurav bat in the middle -- his ability to play the slow spinners makes him invaluable there, but for now, you first need to fill the opener's slot convincingly).
It moves Dravid to his best position, number three (and the team management, I would think, will have Raina padded up too, in case the first wicket falls inside the first 6-8 overs; beyond that point, Dravid comes in).
It gives Kaif a brief that suits his game -- work the ball around, anchor the middle, rotate strike and work let the three hard-hitting all-rounders, Yadav, Raina and Dhoni, bat around him.
It balances Bajji's attacking off spin with Kumble's attritive line and length (which, on tracks where the ball is keeping low, as Dambulla is, becomes doubly difficult to cope with) and provides back up in Sehwag and Raina.
It backs up the seam and swing of Pathan and Nehra with the medium pace movement of Yadav, which again on these low tracks is a perfect fit. And if the team collectively figures these are not tracks where you aim for 275 or beyond, and that the ideal gameplan would be to conserve wickets at the top and launch later with a view to putting up 240-250 as defensible targets, then this lineup answers pretty much all the questions Sri Lanka on the ground (and its former captain Ranatunga in print) are likely to ask.
PS: Off to work... back here, with the international round up and such, much later in my evening.


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