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Sight Screen

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Urn -- August 31

So Sania won, and how cool is that! Truth be told, though, there are times when this young lady resembles the Indian team -- off and on, she seemed hell bent on complicating a seemingly simple ask with unforced errors and generally loose play, before producing a streak or three of brilliance to pull back into the game.
I guess, though, unlike with the Indian team you need to make allowances for Sania -- she is young, and yet to gain the experience that will help her play percentage tennis. Tell you what, though, it's great for India to have a sporting icon outside of cricket (we would have more, but then Vishy Anand's is a 'vegetarian' sport, as a friend once called it).
Back to checking out what the media is up to, and the Guardian produced the piece I was wondering how come no one had done before -- a story on Gary Pratt, the chappie who finds himself the unwitting center of the substitution storm. What you read here kind of reinforces the argument against such substitutions though -- Pratt is not even part of the Durham XI; in other words, his sole gift seems to be an ability to race around the ground and hit stumps from angles where most fielders can't even see the darn stumps.
2. More on England's pace quartet, this time from Duncan Fletcher's point of view -- given they were easily the key to the Ashes series thus far, and given there is a few days to go yet for the Ashes finale, expect more on the theme in the coming days.
3. Richard Williams, in the Guardian, examines the sudden surge of interest in cricket among the ladies, in the wake of England's Ashes heroics. Not to sound a false note here, but the England team is winning; while following the Indian team around, I've seen nymphet types blushing and giggling and attaching themselves limpet like to peripheral members of the Indian squad; you know, the one-tour wonders picked because there was some quota to fill, and as unceremoniously dropped? Makes you think, sometimes, that if the players had to fight for attention (in England they have to compete with Beckham, for starters; Australia has its swim stars; the Kiwis have their rugby team...), they wouldn't be quite so casual about letting their fans down.
4. Have you guys been following the Times online debate? The current one is on whether the Edgbaston Test was the greatest Ashes encounter of them all (in passing, why when confronted with excellence are we immediately tempted to rank it on some 'Greatest' list?). I donno about greatest of all time -- haven't lived that long, for starters. Tell you what, though, of all the Test series I have seen in say the last 30 years, this one has to rank in the top two or three for providing constant plot twists, heroes, villains, stirring solos... the works. What say you?
5. Steve Waugh says Stuart McGill must play the final Test. Can't really quarrel with that -- except that it will reduce Australia to a two-pace attack, with McGrath and Lee having to do a tremendous amount of hard work on the fast bowling front. Won't it be a game to watch, though -- two big-turning, attacking leg spinners against an England batting line up that has played Warne with a tad more authority than in the past? Australia just might find the choice made for it -- it says here, Shaun Tait has some shoulder niggle requiring attention.
6. Here's a point I've spent what seems a lifetime trying to make -- Shane Warne argues that technology should be used to adjudicate close LBW appeals.
I've been rooting for that to happen -- there is nothing more ridiculous than the sort of analysis that goes into each decision. 'Oh, that may have struck outside off, or the batsman may have had his foot a bit too far forward, or maybe he was thinking about playing a shot, maybe sometime this millenium...'
Sheesh! There is a rule. And then there are as many interpretations as there are umpires. And then there is the video replay, which within seconds of the decison being made conclusively proves it was wrong. So why not, in god's name, use it to get the decision right, in the first place?
Oh, yeah, there is that old chestnut -- it will slow the game down. Really? Any more than the game is slowed down by the 12 replays it takes these days to determine whether the fielder, in whole or in part, was touching the ropes at the point he fielded the ball? What beats me is this -- the authorities are willing to use video replays to adjudicate on a run, more or less -- but not when it comes to extending a batsman's tenure at the crease, or ending if where deserved? That one run can alter the course of the game, sure, but surely a wrongful dismissal -- or even a dismissal not given -- can alter the course of the game far more?
Here's what video technology can do for you: As with run outs today, it gives the umpires a fallback, for when they are not sure. That is for starters. Secondly, while it will not eliminate error entirely, it certainly reduces it more than the current panel of ICC umpires is able to, and that is another plus. Finally, if the worry is excessive appealing, consequent time lost, the video replays can in fact be used to determine -- and punish -- frivolous appeals, like when the ball is clearly going down the leg side and the keeper goes up frantically, hoping to con the umpire into not calling the wide.
What's the downside here?
7. Benaud -- Richie -- had with rare foresight warned that Australia is heading for trouble when the likes of McGrath and Warne reach their use-by date. Now another Benaud -- John -- elaborates on the theme, likening the current Australian situation to that of the Windies in the late 80s and early 90s.
8. And finally, there is this piece on the problems Ricky Ponting is facing -- decline in captaincy skills being the chief among them.
And in there, there is food for debate, and discussion, on here. Here's the thing -- someone recently said why Ponting, even his grandmother could lead this Australian side. At the time, the comment was laughed off, but think about it for a moment: Did the West Indies sides led by Lloyd and Richards, or the one Ponting inherited from Steve Waugh (or for that matter, even the one Waugh inherited from Mark Taylor) really require a mastermind to lead it?
Each of those teams had an array of talented performers; each of those teams boasted at least six match winners, each of them capable of turning a game single-handedly. An intelligent captaincy move at the right time could enhance the team's performance, but an average captain couldn't have produced lousy results, not with those teams.
When captaincy of the highest caliber is called for is when you have a less than brilliant side, and need to produce results (think Martin Crowe, say, in the 1992 World Cup; or Mike Brearley, for that matter). And this is the first time Ponting finds himself in that position - of having to lift a team that is not performing.
Clearly, he hasn't been up to it; and outside of that brilliant 196, his personal form has also slipped below par. (Another conundrum: Is his form slipping because of the pressure of leading a side that is not producing results -- or is his personal form slump triggering a lack of confidence that in turn is producing duh captaincy moments?)
Think of all of this -- then transplant that to the Indian context. It is not really about whether Ganguly is the greatest captain in the world or no. It is not about whether Rahul Dravid could be the next Ganguly or no. It is not even about whether Sehwag could be the next Dravid, come to think of it.
It is quite simply about whether we have the best 11 players for the job or no; about whether that chosen 11 contain enough players with the nous to play to, and beyond, their abilities; to be match winners. Interestingly, though, that is the one aspect of the Indian cricket situation that rarely if ever gets discussed, while the nation polarises itself on pro- and anti-Ganguly lines.
In passing, there is still another style of captaincy -- leading by personal ability/example. The most amusing story about this came from Clive Lloyd - who I once asked what it was like playing under Gary Sobers.
Oh Gary?, goes Clive. Thing is, the guy could turn a match just by being on the field. He could bowl pace, he could swing, he could seam, he could bowl chinamen, and if he wasn't doing all this, he would be standing in the slips, his mind on which horse he wanted to back for the next race, and he would pick a blinder out of the blue that would change the game. Or he would, failing all that, go out and win it off his own bat.
So, said Clive, during the Sobers era, team meetings, strategy sessions and such were unheard of. Clive told the story of how one time, Sobers reached the dressing room a couple of moments before the toss, said oh, good, you guys are all here, shucked his blazer, went out, tossed, came back in, said we are fielding, and led his team out. As they were walking to the middle, he tossed the ball to Wes Hall and went, 'You bowl... the rest of you guys scatter!'
That, apparently, was the art of captaincy, according to Sir Gary.

Good news...

...comes in strange packages; like this story that says Sachin has pulled out of the Zimbabwe tour.
Never could understand the selectors' insane rush to bring him back, without even waiting for a full-fitness report -- it was almost as if the five wise men figured that without Sachin, India wouldn't be able to beat even Zimbabwe in Tests.
Now that Sachin has decided to spend more time on his recovery, it is an opportunity -- for the team, to see how to rearrange the bits and pieces and to identify who will step into the breach when Sachin, sooner or later, finally calls it quits. And for Sachin, to work on his fitness, and his game, well away from the glare of the spotlight, and time his return for when he is really match-fit -- and the matches on the schedule are worth the while.
A question for you guys -- given the opening combo is likely to be Sehwag and Gambhir, is Dheeraj Yadav the best pick as SRT's replacement? Thing is, I have never seen him bat, so I have no take on that part of his game. Merely curious about where the selectors, and the team management, are coming from in picking another opening -- could it be Gambhir and Yadav opening and Sehwag slipping down to Sachin's number 4 slot? I hope not... but hey, stranger things happen...
2. So what did Azhar do *now* to get the D-Company all riled up? By way of non-sequitur, Bill Maher in the Real Time show was making the point the other day that you really have to stop giving these hurricanes cutesy names -- Katrina, being the latest. They are killers, the comic pointed out, not the girl you hope to score with tonight. On a similar vein, what the hell is with this D-Company business -- these guys are a bunch of cheap gangsters, for christ's sake, not the next Reliance.
3. Shriniwas Rao, in the Express, suggests that Mohammad Kaif batting at 3 is the future of Team India. Some of the recent experimentation has been easy enough to understand; the one that beats me though is this dicking around with the number three slot. Rahul Dravid has been a natural for it -- more so after he retooled his one day game and developed the capability of guiding the ball into the gaps and working singles. The position ain't broke -- so why fix it?
4. A Shane Bond column in Outlook is all praise for the Indian seamers. A little nugget, relating to his changed mental approach to the job of fast bowling:
Previously I was an emotional bowler who would just be fired up with the ball in his hand and try to bowl as hard as I could. Sustaining such methods throughout was a tough act to follow and sure the harder I tried, the more I opened myself to injury.
Now I am smarter and can switch to speed because my energy levels are better spaced. It is also a good protection against injury.

Interestingly, there is this suggestion that Shane Bond could sit out the September 2 game -- be surprised if it happens, though; Fleming is the sort of captain who knows the value of mentally psyching out a team, and given how the Indians collapsed at the sight of Bond the other day, the Kiwis would want more of the same, if possible, rather than rest him and run the risk of the Indians making runs, and gaining confidence, against the lesser bowlers.
5. Lokendra Pratap Sahi has the dope on impending changes to the laws of the game as relates to slow over rates. I'd rather wait for the final, official version for the exact wordings, but on first read, what this seeks to do, seemingly, is nail down the provisions so there is no future cause for conflict, appeals, and other theatrics.
6. And finally, who among you watched the New Zealand-Zimbabwe game? I only saw the first 10 overs, before sleep called -- but that left me with a thought the final scoreboard only reinforces: The Kiwis bat *deep*, yes, but they don't bat *well*; not, at least, against bowling of fairly decent quality. Which means that for all the gulf between the two sides in terms of ICC ranking, September 2 doesn't really need to be a one-sided affair; the key for India really is aiming for a 230-240 on the board, not in playing the all or nothing game aiming at 280-plus and failing by a mile. And that in turn means they can afford to give Bond some respect, and milk the rest, wouldn't you say?
That pretty much concludes the India round up... will be back, with the international one, later in my day as per the new schedule, and also with comments on your commens. Adios for now, guys

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

All's well

As someone said in one of the posts, here's word from the horse's mouth: All is well between Saurav and Rahul; any suggestion to the contrary is just the media trying to find a sensational story to sell more stories.
Here's the funny thing, though -- thus far, by my reckoning, two or three reporters (Harsha, Anand Vasu) have, in a very veiled, roundabout fashion, *hinted* that maybe things are not well in the Indian dressing room.
No one (outside of the odd idjit on ToI) has come out and said so; ergo, hard to see how many extra papers the 'media' has managed to sell out of this. Then again, it was equally hard to see what mileage the media got out of 'creating' a rift between Bishen Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar (or Kapil and Sunny, for that matter; or Sachin and Azhar -- in fact, Azhar at a media briefing once said these exact same words) where none existed, thank you very much.
On another note, my most fervent apologies -- donno why I added that off hand, half-humorous note on Agarkar, which appears to have stirred up a Katrina-sized storm in here. *L*
Righto, guys, he's god, no problem. The proof of the pudding, as they say... will come your way September 2. Me, done and dusted for the day -- it's home, and the US Open, for the rest of the night. (What do you mean, am I watching Sania play? Of *course*... which Indian, given the chance, wouldn't want to? Duh! *L*)
Good night, guys, catch you tomorrow, 2-ish.

The Urn -- the other side

The Indian media is often criticized for being unduly harsh on its team. Look at the Aussie and English press, look at the way they back their teams even when they lose, has been the subtext of a fair few mails in my inbox during my time as a cricket correspondent.
I disagreed then; I disagree now. I think if we as an entity have erred, it has been in the reverse direction: at the first sniff of a win, we have tended to exalt the team, and the individual components thereof, to undreamt-of heights.
Thus, our team has the greatest captain, the best batsman in the world, the man who invented leg spin, the best off spinner in the world, the Wall, the Bludgeon, the Blunderbuss...
Winning, typically, is an excuse to ignore the fault lines, to paper over the all too visible cracks, to go through a rosary's worth of hosannas. Maybe, I sometimes think, if we were more diligent in pointing to the flaws, fans would find subsequent defeat easier to take (this morning, I received a mail that I haven't replied to yet because I don't know what to say, from one of the most regular readers of this blog; the impassioned contents can be summed up in one short line: I have had enough).
How though to explain the Aussie reaction to its champion team having an off-day (okay, an off-series?).
Here's Alex Brown, for the Sydney Morning Herald:
So this is what's becoming of Australian cricket. Former captains queuing up to attack the incumbent. That skipper attacking the opposition over their underhand tactics. And the opposition preparing for their final attack on a team that looks increasingly like prey, providing further cause for former captains to attack the incumbent skipper.

Darren Lehmann (whose incisive commentary has been one of the delights of following this Ashes tour) tells Chloe Satlau, meanwhile, that Mathew Hayden deserves one more chance to rehabilitate himself. Saltau, incidentally, also digs up some salt to rub into Hayden's wound -- apparently the once dominant opener is now in the record books for all the wrong reasons.
And that does it for the Ashes round up for the day, folks.

The Urn - Telegraph

1. Sometimes, cricket writers run into a problem: A series turns out to be so gripping, you pretty much exhaust the thesaurus by the halfway stage, then struggle to top superlatives for the second half. It is a problem English cricket writers are now facing -- if you notice, the copy, so full of fire and fury at the start, when England gave the first indications that this series might not go per script, is increasingly tame, tired. Sue Mott, here, evens things out a bit with a piece on the roller coaster ride thus far, and why she doesn't want it to end.
Cricket, wonderful, glorious, nerve-racking cricket, has truly come of age. Demanding of intellect and redolent of theatre, this Ashes series has provided the most riveting sporting spectacle of the new century. Add to that the best loved, most charismatic villain since Darth Vader in Aussie spin bowler Shane Warne and you have the ingredients that have left us all drained and spellbound simultaneously.
At its best, as this has been, cricket seems to combine the work of Hollywood scriptwriters and Shakespearean actors. All that we needed to make Sunday night's denouement more desperate was the injured Simon Jones to score the winning run by limping the length of the wicket. Mercifully, the hopalong tailender was not called upon but the rest was quite terrifyingly thrilling enough.

2. Chloe Saltau sees the state of the Ashes series from the vantage point of the man who brought it home to Australia -- Allan Border.
3. Derek Pringle can't -- if you judge by the exuberance of his own inebriation -- seem to know quite what to make of it all. And who can blame the bloke? When the world order changes -- as it seems to be here -- it's the historian, not the journalist, who might manage in time to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, you are left with a breathless string of questions:
Are Michael Vaughan's team the new Australia? Are Australia the old England?
Is Freddie Flintoff the new Ian Botham? Is cricket the new football? All have been floated as people seek context for the rush of hyperbole cricket is attracting. Now there is another. Is England's fast-bowling quartet the equivalent of the West Indies of the 1980s, a period in which their dominance was absolute?

4. Simon Hughes has his own take on why Australia is facing the end of its seemingly endless reign -- arrogance.
Now they are under siege, as they perceive it: from England, the press, the public, the umpires, the match referees. Everyone and everything is against them, even the Almighty (injuries, losing crucial tosses) and, with the exception of one or two, not-ably Shane Warne and Brett Lee, they don't know how to respond.
They don't know how to respond because they didn't remotely expect it. As this series has unfolded, it has become abundantly clear that they totally underestimated their opponents. They arrived with a Plan A, to batter the bowlers and suffocate the batsmen to death, and that was it. There was no contingency for potential hurdles, no Plan B.

5. The race to get Simon Jones fit for the final showdown is taking on the contours of a Michael Crichton sci-fi thriller, you think?

The Urn - Times

1. Ever since that crazy end to a topsy-turvy Test, I've been wondering what Shane Warne would make of his Horatio act. Here you go, his latest column.
2. Richard Hobson puts his finger on the key differentiator between the two sides -- the fast men.
It's stunning, really. For Australia, Glenn McGrath has 14 wickets at an average of 20.21 and a strike rate of 34.7 in just two games -- despite tripping on a stray ball and mucking up his ankle; then doing his elbow a bit of no good. Brett Lee, the guy Trevor Hohns and company figured before the Ashes tour wasn't good enough to make the Test side, rehabilitated himself with 19 wickets at 33.68 and a strike rate of 46.7. Michael Kasprowicz -- the man who edged Lee out of the Test side -- has four wickets from two Tests at 62.50 and a strike rate of 78.0. And then there is Jason Gillespie -- three Tests, three wickets, an average of a level 100.00, a strike rate, if you can call it that, of 134.0. (Sure, there is Shane Warne -- 28 wickets at 19.67, a strike rate of 37.8, and a stunning economy rate of 3.11, but let's stay with the fast men here).
Against that, there is the England quartet: Simon Jones, 18@21.00 and a strike rate of 34.0; Harmison 16@28.87 and a strike rate of 51.9; Freddy Flintoff 19@30.36 and a strike rate of 50.5 and Hoggard, 12@31.33 and a strike rate of 49.0.
The most striking part of the England quartet's performance? Every single one of them has an economy rate under 4 an over, with Hoggard at 3.8 being the most 'expensive'.

The Urn -- Independent

One recurring point of criticism against the BCCI is that it spends far too much money, time and effort in playing political games, and not enough of each of those commodities in developing -- from the ground up -- a winning team. (Heck, if recent events are an indication, it doesn't spend any effort in ensuring that the team it does have -- mostly by virtue of our penchant for playing cricket on the streets and sidewalks, and working our way up from there -- gets to the venue of its next match on time!
Maybe it should. And maybe the way to convince it to focus on grassroots development (and, among other things, a team selection and nurturing process free of interference from on high) is to point out that the financial rewards are greatest when your team acquires that world beater tag.
Vide this story in the Independent, which suggests that England cricket expects to be richer to the tune of 20 million pounds, thanks to the Ashes heroics of Vaughan and his men.
Yet the unprecedented public interest in the national team - 8.4 million people watched the climax of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge on Sunday - has created a profitable market for DVDs, replica kits and computer games. Longer-term, and more lucrative, commercial deals, including licensing agreements for England merchandise, are in the pipeline, while future overseas broadcasting deals are being negotiated.

The Urn -- Guardian

1. Mike Selvey suggests the odds are on England to take the Ashes -- but warns, too, that there could be many more twists in the tale.
2. There have been many theories about what's going wrong with this Australian side. Gideon Haigh adds one more: Ennui. Could the Aussies simply be tired of winning?
A good but not great Australian slow bowler called David Sincock once explained why he had retired young in the 60s to pursue different interests. It was not the travel, the training or cricket's relatively poor rewards at the time. What ground him down was the repetition. Having dismissed a batsman, he could not see much point in trying to dismiss him again the following week.

3. Given recent results, it was just a matter of time (I mean, India not so long ago made similar claims on the strength of having fought the Aussies to a standstill Down Under). So finally, Mathew Hoggard's gone and said what many seem to be thinking -- that this England side is the Australia of the future.
"The side we've got at the moment is capable of going on and doing some great things and being the Australia of the last 10 years," he said. "I think we can still improve. We're looking bright for the future."
You know what I can't wait for? England versus India -- at home. If I have to hold a gun to someone's head, I hope to travel back home for that series.
More updates, from other media outlets, coming your way shortly...

The India Round Up

1. This link is a touch behind the times, but a para in here, in Harsha Bhogle's take on the New Zealand side, caught my attention:
Crucially too they have a settled captain. Teams often play at their best when there is a clear line of authority. When two people are in the running for the same spot, ambitions can become narrower. Fleming is a fine captain, he is also a secure captain.

That bit about two people contending for one post is clearly aimed at India; strikes me that increasingly, reporters such as Harsha, Anand Vasu et al have been hinting at an unsettled Indian dressing room. It is very clear, very evident, that the team is not pulling together as it did not so long ago. All of which makes me wonder just how bad the infighting really is -- and how long it will be allowed to go on before the national selectors settle the issue in the most logical way, by settling the captaincy question, including the logical succession, for once and for all.
2. A coach cannot publicly trash his team -- any targetted criticism is ideally left for the confines of the dressing room; but I find myself wondering if Chappell means what he says here, about seeing improvement in the batting. I likely wasn't watching close enough, because frankly, what I've seen since halfway through the Lankan tour is a regression. Just one more thing to keep an eye on for the rest of the series, I guess?
3. Rajaraman's piece in Outlook on Vinod Kambli is cause for concern, surely? Hopefully, Deepti/Harish at Rediff will be able to provide some added insight; will keep you guys posted. Meanwhile, how many of you saw Iqbal? Any take/review on the movie much appreciated -- haven't gotten to see it yet.
4. Just about halfway through the Videocon Series, Fleming identifies bowlers -- especially the swing variety -- as holding the key to the trophy. Which means a recalibration of how you approach batting -- with the focus on innings building, keeping wickets in hand for a late order assault; timing that charge a touch earlier, say around the 35 over mark as opposed to the 40-over mark, in order to maximise run scoring potential and budget for the odd tight over an opposition bowler might send down at the death... In other words, a total revision of the game plan. Given that, can't wait for September 2 -- when India plays the Kiwis next; mainly to see if a batting side seemingly in a demoralized daze has the nous to change things around against high quality opposition.
5. And in passing, this Cricinfo interview with Irfan Pathan gave me a personal a-ha moment. Remember all those discussions about why his bowling had fallen apart? Started when India hosted Pakistan earlier this year? I was asked the question a few times and my answer invariably was, the guy's overdoing the weight training. Must confess that after a bit, I began to wonder -- that assessment, after all, was being made on the basis of television images of how he looked and how he was bowling. Good to know it was the right call -- helps make up for the other one dozen things I got wrong. *L*
Be back, in about an hour or two, to go through your comments and respond if needed -- and the international update, especially Ashes related, by about 7 pm my time. Cheerio for now, guys.

Q & A

Before getting down to today's collection of stories, a couple of points raised by you guys in posts relating to yesterday's entry:
1. From Suraj: How come the blog allows same usernames for 2 different guys. I am also Suraj and there's another suraj (stats guy). I thought it's supposed to give a message that the username has already been taken by someone else.

Donno, Suraj. This interface is not something we -- as in Rediff, or whoever -- has designed, we are using the Blogger interface as is. I thought when you register for a blog it is supposed to tell you the user name is already taken... not sure why it has not, in your case.
2. Alvin Junior says: I'm not sure if you're going to get around to reading this, but there's something I've been noticing in your writing. You're very careful in your analysis of the bigger stars but less so when you're writing about the fringe players. For instance, you make sure that you treat the likes of Ganguly, Dravid, Sehwag with as much neutrality as possible (praising good performances and criticising bad ones) which is admirable, but how about making the same concession to a chap like Agarkar. The deal seems to be that because the aforementioned batsmen have a huge fan following (or atleast polarize opinion strongly), you are careful when criticising them too much (this is counterbalanced by the natural viewpoint of a critic). However, putting down Agarkar is easy, because most of us hate him for one reason or another. It seems as if you do that without any consideration. Case in point - this is a game where he bowled well, recovering from a bad outing on his first comeback game. Instead of saying that he bowled well or even just leaving the matter alone, you find a reason to put him down. I grant that he hasn't been the epitome of consistency since racing to 50 ODI wickets faster than any bowler ever did. But he seems to have turned over a new leaf since winning us the Adelaide test that Dravid and Laxman set up. True, he still has the odd bad day, but most of the time he has been a notch above the others, which goes unnoticed because M/s Zaheer and Pathan are leaking runs worse than a sieve and negating the effectiveness of Agarkar and the spinners (another thing I cannot comprehend is how someone like Anil Kumble, who's the best bowler in the side is not in the team; if it's because of his fielding, what're Ganguly and Nehra doing in the side?) I'm not going to talk about AA's batting because the poor guy has been pleading to whoever will listen that he is not an allrounder. But his fielding is better than anyone in the side, apart from Yuvraj and Kaif and certainly several notches above Zaheer and Nehra.
How about treating him on a game-by-game basis? If he does badly in a game, by all means lambast him. But if he bowls well in a game, please give him the due credit.

Alvin, I get around to reading everything you guys say; this blog would be pointless otherwise -- I mean, if I only wanted to talk to myself I can do that in the shower! :-)
Secondly, I do not write for anyone's fan base -- this is not a commercial site, so I don't even have to think of putting people off, and thus losing eyeballs. I started this as a place where I could say what I thought, without bothering about extraneous considerations, and have readers similarly say what they think, without filters and cooling periods and such.
Specifically about Agarkar -- who, if I remember right, made his debut in 1998. April, was it? There or thereabouts. He is talented, there is no question about it. He is also way more inconsistent than a team like this can afford -- and that, too, to my mind, is a given.
Yes he has won us games -- but if you go through his career match by match (might help to go beyond the final figures, and focus on individual spells in context of match situations) I think you will find that time and again, he has come in to bowl at a time when the need was to just keep things tight, and ended up releasing the pressure through untidy bowling (incidentally, you'll find examples of this in his tours of Australia, among others).
The game against New Zealand is a pretty good for-instance: check out the match situation when he came in to bowl (the Kiwis behind the eight ball, pressure building to enormous proportions, tight line and length required to shut the batting side out) and then check the line and length used in the first three overs, which went for what, 17, 18?
Can't quantify this on a scorecard; we don't have a slot for such ebbs and flows. But surely I could argue that had AA backed up the lead bowlers by bowling one side of the wicket and keeping it tight, he could have helped prise out the remaining wickets, and India wouldn't have been chasing 150 let alone the 216 it eventually failed to get?
Tell you what... keep an eye on his individual spells, here on, for the rest of the series, and then tell me I am wrong. :-)

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Urn

Given that this blog is returning to regular duty after a haitus, it will be a while before I get caught up with all the good stuff we have missed; what follows is not a total recap of apres-Test reportage, but the few stories that caught my eye for various reasons:
1. In the Guardian, Richard Williams focuses on the contest within a contest; to wit, the battle between Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting. It's a touch ironic, really -- it is Australia that honed the concept of putting the opposition skipper under the hammer, as a way of cracking open the team; who would have thought Australia would get undone by that same tactic, turned against it? The bit I found interesting was this:
At every turn, however, Ricky Ponting has been finding himself out-manoeuvred by Vaughan, even in the psychological contest whose rules his own predecessors invented.
Never was this more clear than on Saturday afternoon, when Ponting himself was run out at a crucial moment by a throw from England's substitute fielder, a 22-year-old with a golden arm. As he left the field Ponting showered his opponents, the umpires and the England balcony with complaints. Responding in a way that would have been appreciated by earlier Australian captains, Vaughan brought on another in place of Steve Harmison.
Yes, this appeared to be gamesmanship. But it is up to the umpires to control the use of substitutes. Vaughan was simply demonstrating a refusal to be intimidated.

And still with the Guardian, this verdict on the Australian side, now faced with a must-win game if it wants to retain the Ashes, by Gideon Haigh is worth a read.
2. In The Times, a David Gower column reflects on a phenomenon Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis have commented on in the past: When first exposed to reverse swing, England had reacted by labelling the Pakistani bowlers 'Cheats', in a banner headline. Now, it is reverse swing that is doing the trick for England. Elsewhere on that site is a Justin Langer column on Shaun Tait, and a Simon Barnes piece suggesting England needs to raise its already surprising streak of ruthlessness to a new, higher level to seal the Ashes triumph. Like most others who have been following this Ashes series, Barnes seems to find the unrelenting tension almost too much to take:
Twist after twist after twist: just when you think that the plot of this summer can find no further complexity, another rich and savage day emerges, bringing with it new heroics, new heroes, more men savouring the taste of failure for the first time. It is all getting to be more than the nation can bear. Thank God there is only one more match to come, and we can get back to something safe such as football.

Tell you what, though -- I'm lining up for my copy of the video of this Test series; it belongs in that small, but electric, collection of Test matches and series that are for the gods.
3. For humor, turn as always to Martin Johnson -- whose target this time is Geraint Jones. A sampler -- though to really savor Johnson, you need to read him in his entirety:
It's generally accepted that Australia have not had their fair share of good fortune in this series, and you can't get much more unlucky than Shane Warne was yesterday. "Stumped Jones?" No wonder he left the field shaking his head. If you were to compile a list of unlikely entries in a scorer's book, it would be right up there alongside "bowled Strauss" or "caught Pietersen."
Those who say you make your own luck in sport could point to the fact that, in the midst of what ought to have been a dogged rearguard action, Warne was halfway down the pitch waving his bat at thin air. However, on all the available evidence, Warne was entitled to believe that, with Geraint Jones behind him, halfway down the pitch was just about the safest place to bat.

But jokes aside, what is interesting is that Johnson, and a few others through this Ashes campaign, have not let the euphoria of victory stop them from asking tough questions -- in direct contrast to India, where we tend to deify the team when it wins even a no-account series, and ignore the fault lines till the next earthquake comes around and leaves it in ruins.
Also in the Telegraph, Geoffrey Boycott -- who (and again, he was not the only one) has had some harsh words to say of Ashley Giles -- praises the tail-ender's spirit and grit in hauling his team over the finish line. And still with the same paper, Simon Briggs suggests that with everything to gain and nothing to lose, the Aussies just might forget their doubts and inhibitions, and come out swinging for glory.
The position of the series, with England needing only a draw at the Oval to recapture the Ashes, could either crush Australia or liberate them to return to the free-wheeling assault that used to be their stock in trade.
Desperation drove their attack to new levels of ferocity yesterday. If Glenn McGrath reports fit, and they can get shot of the toothless Michael Kasprowicz, the Aussies will be more dangerous still next week.
"I've never been in this situation before, when we're going into the last Test having to win to draw the series," Ponting said last night. "But it might not be a bad thing for us, to tell the truth. Just to go out and play instinctively, play the brand of cricket we've played for a long time. There's almost a bit of pressure off now. If all the individuals just lift a little bit and play the way I know they can, I know the result will be different."

4. Not so long ago, Team India seemed inspired, and destined for glory. It has slipped a long way down from the standards it set itself -- but that is not the really sad part of the last year or more. What really churns you up inside is not the scope of the decline, but of the mindset that accompanies it -- the team has been surrendering, in game after game, without a fight. Without pride. In this context, Peter Roebuck salutes the Aussies who, faced with a match situation that could only end one way, came out fighting and damn near scripted a magical turnaround. Donno about you guys, but I could take India losing -- what I find increasingly difficult to swallow in recent times is the nature of those defeats; the overall air of a team that seems to stumble onto the field already knowing its fate, and not caring to kill itself trying to reverse it.
And that, for now, is that, folks. Be back, with a more extensive update, tomorrow by 2 pm, take care till then.

Same team, another day, same difference

It's always a mistake to extrapolate entirely from statistics; so maybe there are things about the India-Zimbabwe game those who were watching saw, that I -- who for once decided it wasn't worth the lost sleep, especially heading into the first working day of the week -- did not.
Here is what, from looking at the scoreboard, the player versus player stats, the wagonwheels, et al see, though:
1. A team that increasingly doesn't seem to know which batsman belongs where in the batting order: vide Venugopal Rao opening (you mean his batting performances thus far have filled the management with such confidence they believe he merits a try in that slot, even as a stop gap measure? If Sehwag was unfit, surely Dhoni at the top against a bits and pieces attack, with Raina coming into the middle, made more sense?); and vide Kaif at number three (surely now that he doesn't have to keep any more, the time has come to nail Rahul Dravid into that slot -- the rare exception being when the team feels the need to employ a pinch-hitting option)?
'Experimentation' is fine -- but wouldn't the logical thing to do be to fix firmly the slots you are sure of (Dravid at 3, Kaif at 4, Yuvraj at 5 suggest themselves) and *then* experiment with the other slots in order to get the mix right?
2. A team that, two years ago, was characterised by a seeming overdose of self-belief now seemingly shorn of that very commodity (when I checked the run-rate comparision charts I thought I was seeing things: 54/1 in 15 overs at 3.2 against this attack?!).
3. A lost opportunity for Saurav Ganguly to get some runs against his name, against an attack that in his prime he would have taken apart with silken efficiency.
4. A continuation of Dravid's alarming slump (his batting was the best thing about the first half of the Lanka tour -- since then, he seems to have lost his way, especially near that off stump; played on the other day misjudging distance and bounce, bowled today)
5. And finally, on a somewhat lighter note, a license for Ajit Agarkar to give away the next few games, against good opposition.
But then, I forget -- scoreboards apparently do not tell the whole story; both skipper Ganguly and coach Chappell appear to have seen the match in a different light (or a different match, altogether?)
Again, I am not suggesting that everyone get together and trash the team, individually and collectively -- but I do wish that if public comments have to be made (post match interviews, whatever), they hold up to the test of logic. If, as they say, the pitch was the sort where the ball was not coming on to the bat, how do you explain hugely experienced players going at 17 dot balls to 8 singles (Saurav); 21 dot balls to 7 singles (Rahul) and 82 dot balls to just 29 singles (Kaif, whose USP is the ability to work the ball around)?
The match reports I just read are pretty much as lethargic, tired, as the game itself was if you judge by the scorecard. Here is Ram Mahesh in the Hindu; the Hindustan Times, with an unsigned recap; and PTI's take, as carried by Mid-Day. Indian Express, among the major papers, seems unsure of what to say -- it is around 3 in the morning in India as I write this, and IE's site still leads with the curtain-raiser to the Zimbabwe game.
There is also Dileep Premachandran's match report, and S Rajesh's summation, on Cricinfo -- both, I notice, have refrained from going into ecstasies over the result.
PS: A quick note on schedules: You guys have over time gotten used to checking the blog around 11 am for the first update of the morning; here on in, that will happen at 2 pm my time, once I have caught up with the morning load at work.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

India-Zimbabwe

Watched yet another exciting Ashes climax this morning (this series is sort of like a month-long pass to an Alfred Hitchcock film festival or something)... and have no desire to wake up at 3 in the morning to watch Zimbabwe play India at cricket (talk of the sublime and the ridiculous!)
So, will leave this open thread lying around, for such of you guys as are watching... and pick up regular blog updates from my Monday morning. You guys take care and enjoy what remains of the Sunday.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Fleming

See if you can figure this out: India is 44/8 in the 14th over. Why... for what conceivable reason in the world... would you not use your remaining power play and be done with it?
Could it be that sometimes, clever captains end up being too clever by half? I've been wondering about this power play business, as Fleming has applied it, and damned if I can make sense out of it.
It's like the emperor's new clothes: Fleming is a clever captain, there is unanimity on that; ergo, whatever he does must be clever, if only we were clever enough to see that cleverness.

Bond...

Watch as Bond walks back to his mark, guys... am I seeing things, or is he favoring that right leg a tad?

Ones upon a time

At this point -- India 152/8 -- the team has collectively scored 40 singles. Of these, 30 have been taken by Yadav and Pathan. Tells you a little story right there -- about sense, and the lack thereof.

More JP

When he got to 50, he had 38 of his runs in boundaries -- an impressive display of waiting for the right ball and refusing to give up his wicket trying to manufacture shots. What is really impressive here, though, is the thoughtful use of the chip -- batsmen use it, yes, but it's been a while since I've seen an Indian batsman, in a pressure situation, so consistently use the calculated chip into the middle ground to keep the runs ticking over with minimal risk.
If a bowler, and a guy who is making a comeback to the side, can bat like this, what does it tell you of the ones who went before -- and of the sort of bowling attack the Kiwis have, which without Bond is on par with India's... if not worse?

Yadav the batsman

Evidently, the lad is not used to playing the tip and nudge game... his approach at the crease and that backlift is more in tune with someone who loves to make the ball go. To his credit, though, he's held himself back nicely, and shown the sort of application his supposed betters lacked.
Which brings up Irfan Pathan who, lately, appears to have decided that there is a value... a high value... on his wicket. Invariably calm, relaxed, unflustered... this guy, they really need to push, and to encourage.

Requiem

Right... so that didn't last long, which is the best you can say for it. Any other comments, on a game where the side chasing had merely to bat through 50 overs -- against a team with just one real high class bowler in it -- and manages to get itself bowled out before the halfway mark, wouldn't be printable, not on a family forum.
You guys take care. AS promised, Ashes and all other matters cricketing resume in earnest on here Monday onwards.

Bond. Shane Bond.

It would be even better in a Test situation, but can't wait to watch that guy bowl -- he's my favorite among today's fast men. Clean, classic action, no fuss, and unlike his peers Akthar and Lee, no questions at all in anyone's mind about his action.
Which brings up this other oddity -- five teams have played under the supersub rules so far -- India, Zimbabwe and New Zealand here, England and Australia earlier. And pretty much everyone has tried to hedge their bets, using a player who can bat and bowl a bit in that slot. Except for the Kiwis, who went for broke with a pure bowler.
Interesting reasoning -- if they have to bowl first, they supersub Bond in at the start and are no worse off than if there was no supersub rule. And if they get to bat first (obviously, if you use Bond as supersub, Fleming is thinking he will bat if he wins the toss), they get an extra batsman, then rotate Bond in and are sitting pretty.

Brilliant!

Irfan and Ashish being interviewed. Irfan struggles a bit with his English, so the interviewer questions Ashish in Hindi -- and he replies in fluent English!
I damn near bust a gut, laughing!

Decent debut...

10-0-46-1 Yadav; never mind that the one wicket came gift wrapped when Cairns had a duh! moment. The most complimentary thing you can say about his bowling is, he is smart enough to bowl within his obvious limitations. Would reckon though that it's a touch too early to rate him -- you need to see how he goes when he doesn't have the luxury of bowling on the back of an incisive opening spell.

Query?

Anyone have Yahoo messenger? Mail me your id, to prem@us.rediff.com

Give it up for Nehra

Nice track with the ball coming on to bat. 18, or is it 19, boundaries hit -- and yet one bloke, having bowled 39 deliveries when I type this, is yet to concede a four. Is it just me, or is Nehra the most under rated bowler we have in the side?

Oh christ, where's that fielder?

Off spinner landing outside off... either a slip, or a very short third man, to block batsmen from nudging to third man, surely? Holes opening up in the field, which is not too good a sign, the Kiwis getting runs without risk and keeping wickets handy for the death here.

*LOL*

Donno how many of you were listening, but that bit about supersubs from Arun Lal just now made the whole thing as clear as mud!
On another note... would have thought SG might want to bowl himself here. There is some movement in the air, he is very tight in line and length. Alternately, try Yuvi as variant for the Bajji off spin. The best of the options, though, would be to give Nehra two of his four here; he is an attacking type bowler and one wicket down here will hamper the Kiwis in the slog phase, which is creeping up.

The wicket

Remember how during the Sri Lankan tour, there were almost no runs scored in the mid on and mid off regions, except during the slog?
This wicket is harder, truer, more even paced and with better bounce -- so there you go, runs to be scored in front of the wicket, through the mid on and mid off regions. Check out the wagonwheels -- okay, ignore the top part, look at McMillan for instance; runs all around the park and most significantly, runs in that region, indicative of a track where you can come onto the front foot and drive/hit through the line.

Numbers three, four, five

Sri Lanka taught the team one thing -- that right now, Pathan and Nehra are their best bowlers. So, lo, the two get to share the new ball, which is all to the good.
SL also taught the team another thing -- that the bowlers who come after are, to put it kindly, pedestrian. On the evidence so far, that hasn't changed -- dropping Zaheer for Agarkar was always going to be cosmetic; JP Yadav is an honest trundler you might want to use to fill in a few fifth bowler overs, if that is he is worth the place for his batting.
Back to the drawing board, I would think -- the single biggest hole in the side's make-up right now is the bowling options after the opening spell. An early take -- Rudra Pratap, who has the pace, to play versus Zimbabwe, so the team can get a feel for how he goes, and RP can get his feet wet without too much pressure, and get the nerves out of the way before taking on the Kiwis. The man to go? Agarkar, I would think, assuming JP has what it takes to weigh in with the bat.

Great shot?

Strange -- I thought that was a catch for Yadav, not an 'extraordinary' shot as sunny would have it.
Basically, the fielder moved late, didn't judge the ball's arc, then found himself lunging like a goalkeeper, and ended up palming it over the ropes. Merited some comment, I thought, but what to do, the commentators right now are more busy talking of the shot. Ah well...

Locked out

To worma and others who asked, yeah, got locked out. Thing is, this guy in blogger was looking to trace the problem last time round... finally sent me a mail saying, send me a link when it happens next and I'll help. So did that, and will stay quite comfortably commenting on the main panel. :-)

The field

India is in the right position to do it, given the score -0- but still, noticeable that almost all fielders are standing further up than they usually do. The value of that immediately obvious -- the two batsmen have played 50 dot balls... and just 8 singles between them; the comfort factor of being able to push in front and stroll singles, which happens when we place our guys on the 30-yard line, now denied, so run-making becoming all the harder.

More on JP

In response to questions in there... not tall, no. Steady, open chested run up, switches to side on in the delivery stride, medium pace, and very little lift or movement. Outside of landing it on the spot, cant see yet what he can do. Putting the ball there time after time has its uses. Against that, on a true pitch like this one, if the batsman susses out that the bowler has no real variations, and is prepared to back his ability, he can do what McMillan did there... made a bit of room, freed his arms, took a half step into the line and thumped it high over a straightish mid on. Premeditated shot that, the batsman figuring righto, the ball aint doing much so if I get my swing down the right line, I'm safe.

JP Yadav

My first look at this guy, any of you seen him before? Seems an interesting one day type -- no fuss, no frills, straight wicket to wicket on that fullish length, bit hard to do anything but play him in front. Not enough room to work the angles square of or behind the wicket, so his USP seems to be limiting what the batsmen can do with his deliveries.

On commentary

Notice a lot of posts about the quality of commentary. Reminds me of this: Sunny G was once telling a few of us this story of his early days in the box. Once, he said, he found himself sharing air time with Richie Benaud. Some batsman scored a century and Sunny took off, all about marvellous batting, glorious, all that stuff. Felt a tap, looked, it was Richie Benaud beside him signalling to shut up. So Sunny kept quiet. After a while, Richie signalled for him to speak, and Sunny started off.
Later, Sunny said, he went back to the production room and looked at the clip. And realized what Benaud was telling him -- when the batsman got to the landmark, the images told the story -- his gesture, his taking off the cap and kissing it, the crowd roaring in appreciation. No words needed, till the applause died down and the batsman went back to his crease.
Was my first real lesson, Sunny said. And I'll leave it at that.

Power play on schedule

No-brainer, that one... second power play taken on the trot. Funny... since this newfangled gadget was introduced, never yet saw a game where there was some thinking for the captain to do on when to introduce his power plays... almost all the games so far under the new rules, the bowling captains took them in one lump.

More slips?

Ball is moving in the air and off the seam, Kiwis 5 down, wouldn't you want more than one slip in there, though? Seems to me a good chance to put some real pressure on the Kiwis and make them crumble... send the message out and see how they react.
The Kiwis still seem to be playing, at least in their minds, the Zimbabwe bowlers. Thus far, it's looked like they came out thinking, right, we missed 400 the other day, this is our chance. This is what they said about the Aussies versus England -- that the likes of Hayden needed to give the bowling a touch of respect. Thought the likes of Fleming and Styris in particular suffered a bit of Hayden-itis here, Fleming trying a back foot forcing shot to a ball climbing and seaming away; Styris plonking a foot down and trying to send another lifting, moving delivery into orbit over mid on. Not shots you want to play till you've sussed out the bowling.

Jekyll and Hyde

I guess this is why Team India has such an enormous following... also why most of its followers have white hair and bags under their eyes.
One day they can be abysmal, the next day outstanding, and there's no telling which day brings which. Same bowlers, on more helpful conditions in SL, looked pedestrian -- today, it is almost like a textbook lesson on where to bowl and how.

Righto, will be posting here

The header says it all. Thoughts, as and when, as fresh posts on this, guys. :-) You guys stay on that thread, easier to follow if all the comments are in one place.

India-NZ thread

Good morning, all...
New day, new series, new rules -- supersubs, power plays et al -- and Saurav says, quite right too, that it's time to put the Board's scheduling mess ups and related aggravations behind and focus on the cricket. (That incidentally would be what the Board counts on -- that the games will distract from the earlier brouhaha, all will be forgotten soon enough, and they can go back to dreaming up new ways to screw up).
Haven't been to bed yet, actually... let me go grab a wake up shower, make coffee, and get back before the game begins.
Will be in the comments field. Oh, and? If I get blocked again (you know how nice some folks can be), no issues. Will post fresh comments, as they occur to me, on the main page.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Like, wow!

So what is the lesson from all this mayhem, anyways?
That Zimbabwe's slide down the slippery-est of slippy slopes continues, with no end in sight?
That the Queens Sports Club ground, in Bulawayo, is as expected a batting beauty, and when India meets New Zealand the contest will boil down to who can slug the ball harder, and oftener, than the other? (Which among other things seems to imply packing the side with batsmen, with the supersub role becoming even more important when it comes to covering for a mainline bowler getting the stick)?
That the Kiwis are in great form -- which seems to underline Saurav's words, as the team was leaving India, that 'if we play to potential we can beat Zimbabwe' (A rather curious comment, I thought at the time -- why not 'If we play to potential we can win the damn tournament? Or are we not going in there with that ambition?)
And finally -- if the 400 ceiling had been smashed in this game, what in real terms would that record have been worth, considering the nature of the opposition? Or in other words, does this, for the nth time, raise the whole question of whether cricket now needs two tiers?
Oh by the way -- had a couple of concerned mails asking if I had succumbed to blogger fatigue. Nope -- am fine, blogwise and otherwise. Is just that a new, additional brief landed in my lap, and I need to work things out so I can fit the added workload into my schedule. Figured, it made sense to soft pedal the blog now, so's I have all that other stuff figured out before India starts playing cricket again.
In other words... this blog could remain sporadic till tomorrow (Thursday) evening, but from that point on, when we play our first game of the triseries, regular service resumes. Thanks for understanding, all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Omissions and commissions

I need to spend time today catching up on work. And then catching up on those oodles of posts you guys have put up. :-)
Before that, though, couple of quick thoughts on the team for the Zimbabwe-New Zealand triseries, that occured to me when I glanced through the team list that day:
1. Whatever happened to the selectors' determination that Sachin Tendulkar would have to prove his fitness at the domestic level before he is drafted back into the side? The same selectors now pick him provisionally without even being sure if he will be physically fit, never mind match fit?
What is the message here -- that the selectors are so worried about the tough opposition Zimbabwe will provide in Tests, that they feel the need for Tendulkar's presence as added insurance?
Surely the sensible thing to do was to not rush Sachin back into competition? To assess his progress on a day by day basis, draw up a timetable for when he can get back to heavy duty nets, when he can progress to playing the odd domestic game to test match fitness, all with a view to bringing him back when he is fully fit?
This way, you risk him at a time when he is still recovering; worse, you risk him in a Test series you should feel confident of winning even with a second string team; and this risk translates into the even bigger risk -- of him being out through a recurrence of injury later this year, when we play the really important games. So, in a word, why?
2. Rudra Pratap Singh being given a look in is interesting, and about time. But what earthly reason did the selectors have to drop Lakshmipathy Balaji? The only game he played on the Lanka tour was the league match against Lanka... where he went 1/48 in ten; not too hot, but surely not sufficient grounds for his omission (consider that in the same game, Harbhajan Singh went 1/49 in 9, and no, I am not comparing apples and oranges here).
Puzzles me, the axing -- just as I can't figure why a Zaheer Khan would be considered unfit for the one day game, but a must pick for the Tests to follow. Why was he dropped from the ODI squad? Poor form? Then why would the selectors have reason to think that will change in Tests? And uh oh -- Ajit Agarkar? Must be the 'promising all-rounder' bit. Or it could be, as I think I remember some of you guys pointing out earlier, that his stats look good in comparison with the rest.
Whatever -- makes me wonder if we have some sort of superannuation policy for Indian cricket? Or do we after each tour recycle the same tired names? You pick a player in say February of 2004; you never pick him again for the next six months, till August; then you drop him; pick him again versus Bangladesh; drop him; pick him for one game against Pakistan; drop him. Pick him...
On what basis do we select -- and equally, drop -- players anyways?
You could micro-analyse the team as selected -- but I guess you guys have done it all anyways, by now. So will go catch up with the work that has piled up, and later in my day, get back to reading previous posts. See you guys later.
PS: Need a day or so to ease back into this blog... way too much in the in-tray, so may not be back on here today. Will, though, pick up the pace tomorrow... and we should be back on regular stream by the time India's game comes around, on the 26th.

And without comment...

...this story.
Why without comment? Because any comment would be redundant... this is not the first time individual members of the team have acted in this fashion.
And it won't be the last, either -- not as long as we remain a nation of idolators, content to set up our preferred icons (icons, I said, do note -- not icon) in temples of our making, and worshipping them mindlessly, no questions asked.

There are times...

...when you think following Indian cricket is a mug's game.
After 8, 10 days of nose to the grindstone-type work away from office, got back today, ignored an enormous pile of stuff in the inbox, thought I'd spend some time catching up with cricket stories, and first crack out of the box, I found this.
Let me see, what does a team trying to repair its reputation and get its act together for a new season need? Some time and place to practise on. Some decent tour planning so you land at the venue with a day or two to spare so you can acclimatise. Some thought. Some consideration.
So what does the Indian team lack? Simple: Some time and place to practise on. Some decent... never mind, you know the script.
Does it strike you that a bunch of schoolboys would do a better job of organizing than the BCCI -- with its tour committee and schedules committee and travel committee and pitches and grounds committee (No practise pitches in MUMBAI??!!!!) and executive committee and all the other committees does?
Typically, such posts attract a standard question: What can we as fans do about it? Typically, the logical answer is the one no one has the drive to implement: Protest. I don't mean post messages on this blog, or on reader forums. I mean, take out a procession to the BCCI office; to the office/home of its president, its secretary, its 'patron in chief'.
The thing is, the BCCI honchos never feel the heat. Selection screw-up? Never mind, if the team wins anyway, all is forgotten; if the team loses, people will boo the team not the selection committee.
Scheduling screw-ups? Duh... so what? Who remembers? Who cares? And if these screw-ups impact on performance and the team loses, who traces cause to effect?
In this connection, I remember an incident relating to India's first ever tour of South Africa. The planning was atrocious, to put it mildly. India arrived in SA one day, played a three day match starting next day, had one day's break, and played the first Test the day after.
Which is not all. The practise match was played on the slowest pitch you ever saw, against opposition so weak, it wouldn't have won a game in Ranji competition -- because we never thought to specify such things as composition of opposition team for the warm up game. The team landed up for nets the day before the Test -- and found no net bowlers available -- because we had forgotten to ask.
The upshot? Madan Lal bowled to the Indians in the nets -- as preparation to take on Allan Donald and company on the fastest pitch you ever saw.
We lost. We wrote of how our team sucks. Of how India can never play Test cricket abroad. Of how India's batsmen cannot play pace on bouncy pitches. Of how we were tigers at home and lambs abroad. And we moved on... to other tours, other screw-ups. Oh, and? I remember writing a very angry column about it at the time. Mails flooded in. You have nothing better to do than criticize the BCCI, said some. You made that up, said others -- but then of course, Ali Bacher in a chat on Cricinfo actually admitted SA had "used the home advantage" in chosing the pitch for India to practise on, and denying India net bowlers.
Point being? Nothing changed then, nothing will change now -- because we as a group do not care enough to make our anger felt, where it should be felt.
Oh never mind... two days from now we will play our next game. And we can then analyze whether we used our power plays right... or messed up the super sub bit... or didnt bat well in the middle, top, bottom, and sides...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Auto-Pilot?

Way cool, this blog appears to have run itself quite comfortably without me! *L*
Slightest of changes in the schedule per my mail to Worma the other day... finished the project just last night... very very late last night, actually... and so, today is to recoup and guys, frankly, recuperation is a very very urgent requirement.
Am heading right back to bed... will try and stroll by in my evening, to spend some time reading (not blogging, just reading what you guys are talking about) so's I can get updated.
Later, guys...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Suspended animation

Dear all:

Been travelling, and in the midst of much; hence the absence. To those who sent worried emails wondering if I was ill, or dead, thanks much for the concern -- I am fine, merely that I was not in a position to update.

That situation likely continues through today, but should be back, regular time, tomorrow on. Thanks again all and best

Prem

Friday, August 12, 2005

What was the rush?

It didn't take a reading of the news story -- you only needed to see the headline: Ganguly back as capain -- for that question to pop into your head: What was the tearing hurry?
Forget the pro-Ganguly, anti-Ganguly rubbish -- that kind of knee-jerk labelling is merely the last resort of those who find themselves on flimsy logical grounds, and try to steer clear by cutting down the messenger rather than address his message. Incidentally, if say you are making a case *for* Saurav, as many on here do quite regularly, how would you like it if your reasoned arguments were summarily dismissed with the comment: Oh, but you are pro-Ganguly? Sauce for the goose, surely, can't be sausage for the gander?
Right, so think this through a bit. First, is the nature of the selection itself -- this is the first time in the last 10 years, at the least, that the national selectors were not unanimous in their captaincy call, which is in itself intriguing. (For instance, what or who swung the decision SG's way? What prompted the Telegraph -- a paper very openly allied with SG and with Jagmohan Dalmiya, to write such a vehement piece the day before, suggesting that it would take a palace coup for SG to be deprived of the captain's armband? What was the politics involved here, and who played it?)
There are questions. Key questions. And given how Indian cricket is run, there will never be answers. So let them lie, and revert to the central question -- what was the rationale behind the decision?
You pick a captain for his captaincy record, right? Right. So there had to be two reasons why Rahul Dravid was demoted after one series, and Saurav given the arm band back. One -- Dravid had to have sucked as captain, in the Indian Oil Cup. Did he? Not 'sucked', no -- would you agree that while he did not do enough to dub him the next Einstein, neither was he the class duffer?
Okay -- so let's label Dravid's captaincy credentials 'indeterminate' for now. Agreed? (That implies, incidentally, that you need more time and evidence to judge, which is a good argument for having given him the Zimbabwe tour as well, so he could either make his case, or give the selectors enough reason to revert him to the deputy's role -- but never mind that for now).
That leaves the other candidate -- Saurav Ganguly, and his captaincy record. Over his career, SG has led India in 142 ODIs (Why am I looking at ODIs? Simple -- we just picked, and dropped, a captain on the basis of an ODI series, didn't we? And the next series we are playing is also an ODI?).
So, SG's ODI record: 142 matches as captain. 73 wins. 64 losses. A batting average of 39.58. 11 centuries, 30 fifties. A 53.28 winning percentage. Cool. A 50-plus winning percentage is a platform -- a more than acceptable one when you consider that SG's prime task when he took the job was to rebuild a side low on morale thanks to the match-fixing scandal and internicine warfare between two rival factions.
But it gets even better. Remember how, shortly before the team for WC 2003 was picked, there was enormous debate on whether Ganguly was good enough to lead India to that tournament? Keep in mind the team-building and battling politics points above, and check his record as captain, up until the end of WC2003: 100 matches, 54 wins, 43 defeats for a winning percentage of 55.67. And the icing on those leadership stats is his personal record: 11 centuries, 21 50s, a batting average of 42.95.
Do note -- his captaincy record till WC2003 and his personal record are both better than his lifetime record.
Now consider chapter two of his captaincy -- the period from March 2003, till date: 35 matches played, 16 won, 18 lost, one no result -- a winning percentage of 47.06. And um, during this same time frame, his personal batting record is no centuries, 9 50s, and a batting average of 29.63.
One final factor: Saurav returned to the side as batsman, after having served out his ban. He played three innings, was retired hurt once when he copped a quick short one on the arm after turning his eyes away from the ball, and in the series, totalled 79 runs off 167 deliveries for two dismissals and one retired hurt. Of those knocks, his 51 in his first innings back was scratchy if you evaluate it in stylistic terms, but the creditable part was he buckled down, fought his own private battles with form as much as the opposition bowling, and gritted it out to play a knock that helped the team get a decent score on the board.
Right. So, when the selectors sat down, what did they consider? Did they say, SG was the captain, he was not dropped but was serving out a ban, now that he is back, the armband goes back to him until and unless he gives us reason to take it away?
If that was the case, if the selectors all along intended to return the captaincy to Saurav without any ifs and buts about form and record, then they erred in making Rahul Dravid captain for the Lanka series -- RD at the time was vice captain and would naturally have taken over the job when his captain could not play, and as naturally handed it back once SG came back onto the field.
Having decided however to make Dravid captain for the series, the selectors had a simple choice to make -- continue with him for one more series, or revert? Dravid's personal form did not show any signs of 'burdens of captaincy'; he led well enough if not brilliantly; the results he achieved are no more nor less than what the team has achieved in the past couple of years.
Against that, there is Saurav -- whose record post World Cup militates with the hype; and whose batting form is nowhere near par.
Would the logical step not have been to continue Dravid in the captaincy for the Zimbabwe tour, play Ganguly the batsman, give him the elbow room to get his batting form and confidence back, and then make the more permanent choice before the really big encounters?
Instead, they have removed the captaincy from a guy who did nothing with either bat or in the field to deserve the demotion; they have given it to a guy who has equally, in the time frame in question, done nothing to make a compelling case for it. And they have, to add a needless edge to this whole thing, put Ganguly on notice that both his captaincy and his batting form are under scrutiny. (On that note, why is his batting form under scrutiny, pray tell? Is it because the selectors think he is not back in form yet? If yes, why take the captaincy from a guy who was batting well, and give it to one who they think is not in top form? And if the selectors think there is no problem with Ganguly's form, then why put him on notice on that front -- just to mess with his mind?)
Great! The selectors could not have done better to destabilise everyone in sight if they had tried.
What I don't get is this -- what was the rush? What were the compulsions that pushed through this less than unanimous decision? And if it goes awry -- which my gut tells me it will -- will it be the selectors who take responsibility for results, or will we blame the coach, the stars, the planets, the 5-1-5 formula, and the political situation in Taiwan?
PS: It's the heck of a scene, here in office. Unfortunately, not able to be on blog the way I want to, and that will likely be true through the weekend as well. Will check out the team, in my morning tomorrow, and if possible log back on here much later in my evening to check out your comments, and to add a post or two. Meanwhile, you guys take care.

Blog news

Big day in the cricket... Saurav Ganguly back as captain, which merits a comment; England bowled out on a batting track for 444, and Australia as I type this, losing its first wicket.
Bad day at work, though... so both of these topics, and sundry others, will need to wait till 3 pm, when I will be back in here. Sorry guys... have a living to earn :-) See you later

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ashes thread -- Day one

Not in a position to wake early to catch the start of Test 3, unfortunately. Will likely only catch up with the action around tea -- meanwhile, this thread in case any of you guys feel like posting comments on the play as it develops. Good night, guys, see you in my morning.

Query for you

Was rapidly skimming through some of your comments; chanced on this one by Suresh Bala in response to the Mid-Day at mid-day post
Prem- i too was bemused by 'experts' criticizing Yuvis' departure. i am no fan of Yuvi, but he showed a mature facet of his personality yesterday in teh way he grafted and accumulated, eschewing all risk. he had been milking tehbowling with teh same sweep shot before he fell. only this time he thoughthe could clear the ropes with the shot. this happens man. batsmen get out. but both dravid and Yuvi brought us to brink of victory. 7wkts with under a 100runs @6 is a great position and even the WI B team wouldn't have lost it from there.In the old days people wud have cried, 'match fixing'.
and just the day before we all saw a magnificient display of spirit and determination at Edgbaston. the contest there was more unequal than the one at Premadasa, with {better} front-line bowlers holding nothing back against tailenders.
Its not a lack of talent as VS in his short burst showed. its not the lack of motivation. no side in the world celeberates its heroes like we do. its not lack of money, exposure or resources. the BCCI is the richest.
Discipline? now that is a grey area. professionalism? we certainly lack that in all facets of the game. But so do Pak and WI.
No i think some of our celeberated players lack character. teh first criterion to select players shd be to find the tenacious and determined young ones and not just the artists. 4 more RDs' with half his talent will turn this team into world beaters. tis is the ingredient that makes world champions and Olympians, neither of whom we have amongst a billion people. it can't be a race thing. but it is definitely a national thing.
the growth of 20/20 will introduce many countries to the game. these new countries, all of who have a better sporting tradition than India, will quickly assert themselves after a few stumbles and cricket in India will become liek hockey. Finally for India to not figure among the top 3 teams in field of 11 is a shame. it is even more pathetic when you consider that the game today, with the exception of Aus England & NZ is played only by developing countries.

So which is it? Lack of talent? Deficiency in character? If the latter, then what -- we shrug our shoulders, say Oh we are like this only, and move on? Love to know your thoughts -- on collecting enough, want to translate it into an opinion piece for Rediff.
And with that, adios for the duration.

Open Thread

Need to go off this for some hours; meanwhile, open forum guys... and appreciate any interesting links you find to throw up... surfing time is suddenly at a premium just now

The Urn -- Independent

1. Angus Fraser has a day by day calendar of turning points -- the list he comes up with underlines that this Test had more turning points than your average Epcot Center roller coaster.
2. It's always tough to ask questions of a player who is part of a winning team -- and, in fact, helped seal the win (If we in India were better at it, at divorcing results from personalities and asking hard questions, the national side wouldn't be on a seemingly endless national slide). But James Lawton asks it here, of Geraint Jones.
Now Geraint Jones, with impressive fortitude, has further complicated the issue with the most significant catch of his career. But he has not settled the debate. Glory comes and goes. A certain talent is permanent.

3. Check out this other Lawton piece, on how champions lose.
In the two-run defeat Australia came so close to a victory that would have scorched the bones of Vaughan's men. They also reminded us how real champions lose. They resent the idea so much it is almost as though the worry is that it might just contaminate their blood.

I've often heard the comment that India loses because it doesn't care enough. Not quite true -- our players do, but in a detached, Zen sort of way, very calmly philosophical about it all. And that is probably what keeps India from being a consistently good team.
'I am tough,' says Hillary Swank. 'Tough is not enough,' is Clint Eastwood's raspy-voiced response in Million Dollar Baby.
To care is not enough -- you need to hurt; to feel nauseated by defeat; to think that anything -- pain, broken limbs, anything at all -- is better than enduring the sight of the other fellow winning. Whether we have it, in our national psyche, to feel that one is the question no one has found answers for yet.

The Urn -- Times

1. An interesting graphic, here -- Anatomy of an Aussie cricketer.
2. Geoffrey Dean examines the Old Trafford track, and figures it should help the home attack.
Peter Marron, the Lancashire groundsman, has prepared a rock-hard surface that he does not expect to turn significantly before the fourth or fifth days. “You take one look at that pitch and bat,” Marron said, predicting that whoever wins the toss will not hesitate. If Warne and MacGill — assuming both are selected — will relish the extra bounce, so will the England pace quartet.

3. Simon Barnes examines England's decade-long drive to pattern itself on Australian cricket; you will see in it curious parallels with what India has begun to try.
Turning into Australia has been the England masterplan. Why not? Every painter wants to be Vincent van Gogh without the sad bits, so England cricket has tried to be like Australia without the sad bits.

In context of much that has been said, more written, about India's lack of self-confidence, this bit stands out:
But above all, it is the Australian attitude that England have sought to steal, the notion that nothing is compromised in the pursuit of excellence and that when it comes to matchplay, you play with your guts on show and you play to win. Above all — and this is the really difficult bit — you expect to win.
This business of expecting to win was at the heart of Australia’s extraordinary fightback from a situation in which all was apparently lost. Even when it was absurd to continue, they believed that they could win. And they near as damn it did.

The Urn -- Guardian

1. It was natural that Ashley Giles, having copped so much stick for his sudden implosion, would make a point or two in his post-Edgbaston column -- so here it is, with a headline reminiscent of Martin Johnson's famous Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field jibe at Mike Gatting's team. Inter alia, this bit amused me, as indicative of what happens when captains follow the ball, rather than set fields to bowlers and their lines:
Nobody says too much in such circumstances. Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz batted really well and their edges and mishits were falling safely. Vaughanie moved me twice at slip. I was at fourth slip and he switched me to fine gully - the ball flew through fourth, a simple catch, chest high. He moved me back and the ball went straight through fine gully, again exactly where I had been standing. I glanced at Vaughanie and he smiled. Talk all you like about captains' hunches. Sometimes it is just a toss of the coin.

2. Gideon Haigh, in a thoughtful piece, examines the changing face of the Australia-England cricket dynamic
Nonetheless, even before the second Test, watching Australia on this tour has been, at times, a slightly puzzling experience. England's summer mission statement has been pretty clear and simple: "Win the Ashes". Australia's seems to have been more ambiguous: "Yeah, yeah, let's retain the Ashes and all that. But let's become the Chicago Bulls too."
Defeat in a Test by England, as a result, is no longer felt viscerally, which is why Ricky Ponting can talk about the "positives" to emerge from one: all very up-beat and commendably analytical but smacking slightly of psycho-babble. Defeat registers instead as a minor check on the spread of Australianism, a doctrine whose manifest destiny is to rule the earth.

3. Mike Selvey looks at what Kevin Pietersen brings to the England table -- in a word, fearlessness when confronted with the big stage, as exemplified by his batting against Warne in the second innings of the Edgbaston Test.
So he has brought to the England side his flair, an unshakeable belief in his own skills, a considerable team ethic and, just like Andrew Flintoff, chalk to his cheese, an overriding impression that life in the hottest cauldron cricket has to offer is simply a hoot. Two Tests into his career and if people knew no better they would swear he was running the show, be it batting, bounding in at cover, crouching close to wicket or patrolling the boundary. The ball follows him as if trained to do so, and he loves it and the attention it brings.

4. David Hopps looks at two interesting fast bowlers who might win a call up for a Lee-less Australia; Shaun Tait, who was a disaster for Durham, famously going on one occasion 113 in 12 overs; and Shaun Tait, the destroyer of good batting lineups in the last Pura Cup season. Darren Lehmann, whose insightful interventions have added an extra dimension to the Ashes television coverage, sums up Tait's potential this way:
"Shaun's the most exciting quick in Australia," he said. "To take 65 wickets for South Australia is unheard of. He might not have had a great time in Durham but I wouldn't read anything into that. He is a country boy who runs in hard and lets the ball go. He is like Jeff Thomson in that he has a slingy action and you don't get a great sight of the ball. He's up there around Thommo's pace but he doesn't get as much lift off the pitch. And he doesn't know where the ball is going.
"At Old Trafford the old ball can scuff up because the surface is rough and he has the ability to reverse the old ball. If he plays, it won't be boring, that's for sure."

Points to ponder

Will leave you with a Rajaraman column on my way out the door -- work, truckloads of it, beckon, will get back with Ashes and such later in my day.

Mid-Day, at mid-day

There's this sarcasm-laced progress report at least some of you might find yourself nodding along with.
Ian Chappell believes the key to the result was Yuvraj Singh's heroics at a time when none was required (a touch harsh, that? In context of the match situation situation (India 186/2 after 35, platform built; traditionally, with wickets in hand, it is here that you start looking to up the tempo) the shot itself -- a sweep to a delivery curling around off -- was not a wild heave; the catch is it went to hand, and in retrospect triggered a slide; had it bounced in front of the fielder, or gone for four, it would have provoked applause.
The wicket fell at the wrong time yes -- but on balance, I would think less blame attaches to the shot, than say to Rahul racing off for a non-existent run without even checking to see if his partner was halfway interested.
And Anshuman Gaekwad -- the 'man who knows', because he is the 'only coach to have helped India win a tournament in Lanka'; of such fragile material is an expert born -- believes India needs a psychologist. More so now, presumably, than when the team was losing under his watchful gaze.

Three pronged strategy

We need to field better, bowl better and bat better.

That is Greg Chappell after the Sri Lanka outing. Ouch! -- Wish he had avoided that particular line; it comes with too many memories, none of them good, attached.
To be fair, I would have been surprised if he had gone into a point by point analysis of the series, with a view to apportioning blame. Firstly because, if he is doing his job right, he has some very hard decisions to make and some very tough talking to do, and he isn't the man I hope he is if he choses the media as his preferred vehicle to do all that. And secondly, because there is nothing quite as dangerous for a coach as hair trigger analysis -- game over, here you go, the pros and cons all neatly packed inside of twelve hours?
Doesn't work that way -- a far better scenario is sitting down with the captain and senior management for a collective read on what was missing on the field of play; with the video analyst to work out the root cause of the more glaring problems; with the other experts on individual performances (As in, what's with Zaheer, really? Throughout this tournament, his run up has lacked that purpose; the gather and leap actually reduce momentum rather than accentuate it; the pace is missing, the control awry, the variations non-existent).
That's going to take a while... and I suspect the first indication of how well the job has been done will come when the team for India's next outing is picked.

Rohit on the imponderables

In his column, Rohit looks at those aspects of great sporting performance that cannot be reduced to numbers on a scoreboard: courage, determination, courtesy and much else -- what strikes you when you read through it is, these are the very qualities that have gone AWOL from the Indian cricket team for a long time now.

Chesterfield's report card

Trevor Chesterfield in his post match analysis presents a report card on the Indian performance.
I notice that almost every report out there (Here's Dileep Premachandran's) gives a sizeable chunk of the credit to the Sri Lankan spinners especially in comparison with India's; the figure cited most often in support (a couple of television commentators, including the inimitable Srinath, were also heard referring to this) is, as Dileep puts it,
Vaas, on his return to the side, showed why he has been second only to the peerless Wasim Akram as a left-arm pace bowler in the modern era, but it was Muralitharan and Upul Chandana - who picked up 4 for 73 between them in 19.5 overs - that authored the decisive twist in this tale, utterly outbowling India's own spin combination of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
The Indian duo went wicketless in their 20 overs, conceding 104 runs in the process, and were comfortably milked by the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and Russel Arnold. Kumble strayed onto the legs too often, and was also far too short, while Harbhajan appeared to be a pale imitation of the great Muralitharan.
I was looking at the figures for the Lankan spinners. Chandana, bowling to Dravid, conceded 18 off 22; 7 off 10 to Yuvraj, 11/15 to Kaif. Muralitharan went 6/16 to Dravid, 10/16 to Yuvraj, 6/11 to Kaif.
Harbhajan Singh bowled to *only* three batsmen - as it happens, the three top scorers. He went 11 runs off 14 balls to Jayasuriya, 16 off 31 to Mahela, 14/15 to Mahela and 41 off 60 overall; not bad at all considering this is an off spinner bowling (under perennial pressure, since he didn't get to bowl to the tail) to a team that practises against the spin of Murali himself. Given that, I'd think it's a touch unfair to club Bajji with Kumble as a collective (Anil, by the way, also bowled to the three top batsmen -- and went 19 runs off 16 balls against Sanath, 28 off 28 against Mahela, and 14 off 17 against Arnold).
The real problem for Anil (thanks to bowling way too often short, and on leg to the left handers -- which reminds me, whatever happened to going round the wicket?) was that he not only gave away fours, but couldn't check the singles either (26 singles, 6 twos, one three and five fours).
The point about Sri Lanka's fielding adding to the pressure was well taken -- but I'd think more than the Lankan spinners, this result hinged on India's poor catching and ground fielding in the first innings, and poor shot selection in the second.

Vitamin C deficiency

Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell have identified confidence as the missing ingredient in this team.
Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Rahul, Yuvraj, Kaif have all had a good knock or two in the tournament; Saurav played a gritty one his first time out; Dhoni came here on a confidence high. Pathan, Nehra, Bajji and even Kumble have all had good spells with the ball (Zaheer has in fact been the sole misfiring link, which makes his selection over Balaji a bit of a mystery).
Given that individuals had performances to their name, what caused the lack of confidence? In other words, why didn't performing individuals come together as a performing team? Wish GC and RD had given us some answers on that... because this particular factor has more to do with the dressing room, than the actual play.

Arjuna's arrows

The reports of yesterday's game you guys have already read... here's a look at the columns and general articles that take a broader view, starting with Arjuna Ranatunga.
The former Lankan skipper points fingers at the obvious flaws, on both sides (Bad fielding by the Indians, Sehwag's impetuosity against Vaas, Sri Lanka's team selection which, he says, was a bit less than perfect). And then he attacks the 5-1-5 formula India tried out in the final:
Somehow I remain skeptical about the five frontline bowlers theory. Do we have an example in world cricket where five specialist bowlers have mattered in one-day context? Even Australia restricts itself to four quality bowlers. India looked for thoroughbreds when multidimensional cricketers are the call of one-day cricket. The likes of Arnold and Dilshan, Brad Hogg and Ashley Giles, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi are able to don different hats as required in the fluid world of one-day cricket.
Somehow, I am not a fan of the 'precedent is against it' argument. There was no precedent for opening with a spinner till Martin Crowe tried it; no real precedent for launching a flat out assault in the opening overs till Crowe first tried it (with Mark Greatbatch) and Sri Lanka institutionalized it as a winning strategy (with Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana)... Hey, people lived in caves till someone thought of a house.
That multi-dimensional cricketers are the key to building good ODI squads is not open to dispute -- the question though is does India have any? Is there a player who will give us 6-8 good overs, and 30-40 good runs, on a regular basis? If yes, let's work on unearthing him (or, in cases where we spot potential, as for instance with Irfan Pathan), to develop it.
But if not -- or not yet -- then it seems a bit pointless to hang on to dogma ('I know of no instance...') at the expense of sense. And in passing, I would imagine the course of the game, and its result, is indicative of many things -- but the feasibility or otherwise of the 5-1-5 formula is not one of them.
For instance, quickly consider this: In the 8th over, Sri Lanka were 46/2. In the 9th, Jayasuriya, then batting 19, was dropped. At the end of that over, Lanka was 51/2 where it should have been 46-or-so/3.
Jayasuriya went on to add another 48 runs to his score; he helped take the score to 122 in the 26th over before getting out (which qualifies as the heck of a platform given the conditions).
But the runs he added after the let off is only half the story. India's fifth bowler on the day was Anil Kumble (It's a whole other question whether he should have been picked -- personally, I thought not, not against Sri Lanka, not on that pitch, which was the point I made the day prior to the game -- and that underlines one other aspect of this 5-1-5 business, namely, for the formula to work, it is imperative you pick the right five). Thanks to the let off, Sanath -- who has historically played Anil with ease -- was around when that fifth bowler was introduced. He faced 16 deliveries of Anil's... and scored 19 runs, with 5 singles, a two, and three fours (that is 1/3rd of his total number of boundaries, by the way). In the process, he ensured that Anil never got to settle down. (In passing, Anil gave away 64 runs -- of which 47 were scored by two batsmen, Sanath and Mahela (28 off 28 balls faced), both of whom were let off).
Which rounds off my point -- that the game yesterday proved a lot of things, but it did not prove, or disprove, the 5-1-5 theory.