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Sight Screen

Monday, August 01, 2005

Why did Kaif open?

The general theory appears to be that this is part of Greg Chappell's experimentation with personnel. Really?
ex·per·i·ment = A test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth, examine the validity of a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy of something previously untried.
So what known truth was this experiment intended to demonstrate? That Mohammad Kaif is a middle order batsman not suited to the task of opening an innings? Surely that is too self-evident to warrant an 'exeriment' in international competition?
To determine the efficacy of something previously untried? Not likely -- Mohammad Kaif is into his 89th ODI, or is it his 90th, and in all this time, IMHO, has shown no skill-set that points to possible 'efficacy' at the top of the order.
Examine the validity of a hypothesis? Likely -- the only question is, which hypothesis? Here's what I *suspect* happened when the team management sat down to draw up its batting order for game two:
They started with certain basic premises: 1. That Rahul Dravid's best position is number three if the openers did their job; and that a pinch hitter would be deployed if an early wicket fell, so that Dravid -- the only really experienced and in-form batsman in the side -- did not have to deal with the pressure of manufacturing shots in the first 15 overs, and could stick to his real brief, which is to nurse the innings along from the middle.
2. That Yuvraj Singh was not a viable option for the opener's slot -- his performance the other day at number three should have been a clear enough indicator, if his two earlier appearances in the number two position (scratchy efforts that produced a total of 18 runs) hadn't given you enough evidence.
3. That Mahendra Singh Dhoni is best used for late-innings bursts, lower down the order -- his predetermined move onto the front foot and his heavy bottom-handed style of play make him an iffy proposition against seaming, swinging deliveries at pace, the kind he can expect to face from the West Indies quicks, and even from Sri Lanka when the likes of Vaas, Zoysa and Malinga return to the lineup.
4. That Suresh Raina is a worthwhile experiment in the pinch-hitting position -- with the option of dropping lower down the order if the openers get India off to a good start (on the evidence of yesterday, it is an experiment worth a couple more tries; sure he played and missed at the odd ball, but who outside of Dravid didn't on a pitch where the Windies bowlers extracted good seam and bounce when they managed to hit their target lines and lengths? The management though might want to remind him that a pinch-hitter's job is the hig hits to take advantage of the field restrictions, sure, but it is also to work the singles when the ball is not in the slot -- 28 dot balls against 5 singles and 3 twos is a statistic he might want to pay attention to, and work on).
So -- given that VVS Laxman is apparently hors d'combat -- who does that leave for the opening slot? The management in all probability reckoned on Saurav Ganguly returning to that slot when he returns to the team August 3; in the interim, it had a match to play, and thus asked Kaif to do the job in the team's interests, and purely as a stop-gap measure.
All of which, IMHO, is indicative not of a side in a state of panic, but of a team going into its first series of the season with several key members (two potential openers in Sachin and Saurav, another experienced senior in Laxman who has done the job in the past, albeit unwillingly, and could have done it again at a pinch) unavailable for one reason or other.
PS: I did not examine the Venugopal Rao option for opener only because he clearly is not one.

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