Monday, June 15, 2009

We wuz played

Kirsten said players may be tired after the IPL. Dhoni feels that complaining about tiredness is not a valid excuse - the more cricket you play the better you get. I think the Indian players were definitely tired, mentally more than physically. They were also somewhat smug, believing in their own press which was hyping them up as the team to beat.

The most telling comment yesterday was from Nasser Hussain, struggling hard and failing to keep to the condescending smugness out of his voice, as he remarked about Raina - "come on, I have heard a lot about this lad. Did they not bowl the bouncer in the IPL?" They did Nasser. Just that, the pitches in SA were worn, and the ball came on just that fraction slower, and stayed lower, giving Raina the time to play his shots. In England, the pitches are new and the ball is coming on faster, and carrying higher past the bat. Raina was hurried, and played right into the opposition plans.

So, shouldn't Raina have adjusted his game? Shouldn't Sharma? The two top Indian batsmen, in glorious form during the IPL and leading into the Super 8s, made 10 runs together in each of the two Super 8 matches they played. Worse, they were both undone by the pull - twice. Against the West Indies, it was forgiveable, since Edwards could (debatably) claim the benefit of surprise. Against England, it was plain criminal and stupid, because everyone knew they would be bounced. They have enough experience now, specially Raina, to adjust to conditions. They could do one of two things, both equally simple - either stand outside their crease, with a slightly lower stance, and cut instead of pulling; or, simply duck under the rising deliveries, and simply not play the pull shot at all. It was simply a matter of withstanding the initial assault for the first 3-4 overs, after which the second string bowlers would come on, and normal service could resume.

This is an obvious course of action to anybody. Why then did these cricketers with years of international experience between them, did not make the adjustment to their game? The short answer is a mix of tiredness and hubris. They believed they were good enough to withstand the short bowling, and were too tired in the mind to calculate the risks and rewards of playing the pull shot. The entire team was in a defensive mindset, chosing to field first instead of batting and setting a target for the English, and then holding back Yuvraj and sending in Jadeja to do a man's job. Dhoni actually claimed in the post-match press conference that Jadeja did not get out when he should have and by the time he did, the target run rate was too high for even Yuvi. That is muddled thinking from a defensive mindset.

I believe that more than the players, it is Kirsten who should answer for this defeat. It is his job to prepare the players tactically. Bad decisions were being made all around him, on the pitch and off it, and I'm not sure what he was doing. The Indian team is not as bad as they were made to look by the two decidedly mediocre teams they lost to. They just made bad decisions. And they were too tired from the non-stop cricket they have played (and still have to play the meaningless series in the West Indies.) Kirsten was the only one not tired, having had enough time to prepare his plans for the World Cup in England.

Is it realistic to expect the amount of cricket being played to be cut down? I doubt it. All boards are forcing their players into more and more engagements. Players are breaking down from fatigue - mental if not physical. The Indian team is as jaded as the Australians. The answer I think is to clearly separate the Test team from the T-20 national team, for all countries. There are great players around who do not like T-20 - Dravid, Laxman, Chanderpaul, Sarwan, Strauss and many others. They should stay in Test cricket, and their pay should be subsidised by T-20. There are players, like Gayle, Dhoni, Yuvi, Sanath, who do not really like Test cricket, and should be allowed to play T-20s and maybe one days, exclusively. Unless something like this is done, Cricket, and not just Test Cricket IS definitely in danger. T-20 is a distinct form of cricket, with its own demands, and there should be no shame in being a T-20 specialist who cannot succeed in Test Cricket. It is a cliché to keep saying that a cricketer's true test is in Test Cricket. It is also a cliché that a "good" cricketer will succeed in all forms of the game. These are frankly stupid comments by ex-cricketers that have been accepted by everyone as gospel. Well they are not. The reality is that each form of Cricket can have its own specialists based on its special demands. True, some gifted players can switch between the 3 formats and excel in each, but it is simply not realistic to expect every player to do that, and worse to hold that as some kind of a yardstick of how good the cricketer is. I bet that if the false yardstick about excelling in Test Cricket as the true worth of a cricketer is removed, Yuvi would be a far happier and more relaxed player because there would no shame attached to having a far superior limited overs record and a mediocre Test record.

The teams should be split up, based on clear priorities, and with pay parity. T-20 can and should subsidise Test cricket. Ishant Sharma is not a T-20 bowler, while Ashish Nehra will never play tests for India again - it is extremely unfair that Sharma is keeping Nehra out of the Indian T-20 team. Murali Vijay will never play T-20 for India as long as Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina are around. It is monumentally unfair that Raina or Sharma keeps Vijay out of the national Test side.
And everybody, regardless of the format, needs a real off-season. Time off is invaluable. The year round grind of cricket is grinding the sport down. The Indian team and its Captain are victims of their own success.


Samir Chopra said...

Interesting points overall, and I'm in wholehearted agreement that the problem with Raina and Sharma is not so much technical as mental.

Yenjie said...

I have been browsing around and pretty much everyone is in agreement about tactical errors and the failure of the Indian think tank in adjusting to the obvious England gameplan. How this was glaringly obvious to everyone else but was missed by Kirsten and Dhoni is the real mystery. The only sensible reason is that the team was jaded and defensive. That underscores the importance of downtime - thats where players can take a step back from the daily grind and focus on the technical problems that creep in over months of continuous Cricket. The current workload is preventing that, and the technical problems are not being addressed. I feel workload management is being ignored completely today and the two teams with the heaviest workloads in international cricket - India and Australia - are showing the effects.

Late Inswing said...

Very well written post and thoughtful points.

Kirsten was the o0ne who had time and rest. Nail on the head.

Hubris. Yes.Both in Rohit and Raina. An ageing Walsh and journeyman KEnny Benjamin made such a nervous wreck out of Vinod Kambli that he never played Test cricket again. If these youngsters are not up to 4 overs of shortpitched stuff, then, well...

As you said time for boards to look at specialists in each form and not working on assumptions.

Once again. Very well written

Yenjie said...

Thanks for the kind words guys.