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Sight Screen

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Harsha Bhogle preview

The series, says the commentator/columnist, will likely hinge on two key factors. On the ennui-inducing coverage that precedes a contest of this nature (and if you think this was repetitive and boring, wait till the England series begins and, more, wait for the next round of the Ashes):
A test match starts and the build up ends and there is relief on both counts. Few things can be more exciting than a good bowler running in to bowl to a good batsman and few things more dreadful than sundry comments from usual suspects. If the fizz in this series has been missing so far, it is because we heard the same things twenty months ago and ten months ago. Insipid is probably the right word. But we have created a monster and now we must feed it; those that speak against too much India-Pakistan cricket are spot on. Indeed, the journalists have a difficult job and they have been more serious and earnest than the people they have had to interview!

As to the two factors that could influence the series, Harsha says:
That is why I believe one of the two defining factors in this series will be how long India’s openers keep the middle order insulated from the new ball. It is something Sehwag and Aakash Chopra did very well on two good tours. It will be the difference between a well-set batsman playing the support cast of bowlers and a charged up fast bowler bowling to the middle order.
The other factor that tends to influence a lot of series is how the bottom five go head to head against each other with the bat. India probably win that 4-1 on batting reputation though we need to factor the quality of bowling they will be facing into that. Akmal rated higher than Dhoni at the moment but you would rather have a tail of Pathan, Agarkar, Kumble and Zaheer (or Harbhajan in that mix) than Shoaib, Naved, Sami and Kaneria.

I've been waiting for someone to bring up Akash Chopra's name -- I believe axing him was one of the bigger mistakes the Indian selectors have made in recent times. At the domestic level, he and Gautam Gambhir were pretty akin in terms of batting styles -- both good runners between wickets, both aware of the utility value of the short single, both free flowing strokeplayers.
When Chopra came into the national team, the side wished on him a job, and a mindset -- his role, and this was clearly told to him, was to hang in there. Let Sehwag go berserk if he choses, you bat steady, see off the new ball, we don't care if you are 25 not out at lunch on day one but the 'not out' bit is key.
Chopra took on that role, and performed it, often batting well within himself. His partnership with Sehwag in Australia was a very big reason for the team doing well (and the running between wickets of the pair, in fact, drew appreciative comment from Aussie commentators and even players, who said they were taken by surprise).
Once the team began doing well, though, the mindset changed -- Chopra began to be seen as too 'stodgy'. During that phase, the poor guy didn't have much of a clue what was going on -- there was much critical comment, but neither the team management nor the selectors really bothered to convey to him that he could maybe revert to his normal form of play. As far as he knew, his role was to form the buffer, see off the new ball; increasingly confused and disoriented, he kept switching between one way of playing and the other, until he got the axe. Gambir, the 'strokemaker', was picked -- and now the selectors want cover for Gambhir, having realized that his flash contains a risk factor even higher than Sehwag's.
With Sehwag at one end, and with quality players to follow, India needs one rock solid opener at the other end; unfortunately Chopra, who in the meantime was doing the hard yards in England, has totally fallen off the radar.


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