India won, barely. What next?

India played Sri Lanka in their 2nd match in the tri-series. India did win with 20 balls to spare, but it was anything but an easy win. India initially did well to restrict Sri Lanka to a score of 233 (in 50 overs compared to a 216 in 32 by Australia in first match). Indian bowling attack was very effective and Dhoni did not need a 6th bowler (does not happen a lot with Indian bowling). The most expensive was Vinay Kumar only at an economy rate of 5.60.

Well, after the first innings job was only half done and we needed at least 2 half-centuries to get close and 3-half centuries and a couple cameos to get across the line. Eventually, those did come – some expected and others not. Gambhir was not playing (even though he did well in the T20 win for India). Sehwag was brought back after being rested and he failed yet again (out on 10). Sachin and Kohli provided a much needed partnership. However, there was a twist in store when Sachin was out on 48, we Rohit, Raina and Dhoni scored 38 runs between them leaving Kohli to do the job. And when Kohli cramped up and got run out, India were reeling 181/6 needing 50+ runs with just 4 wickets and R. Jadeja and Ashwin playing.

I personally had lost all hope, but it seemed Sri Lanka is more screwed up then India and they let India slip away and Ashwin was the unseen Hero who took India to victory scoring 30 off 44 ball in a very serene manner – no riski shots, just common sense (all that was needed). Rohit and Dhoni were out playing needless risky shots and getting out. From test matches to one dayers, we see Kohli doing the best, Sachin trying to keep up and Ashwin being the surprise batsmen. Gambhir has had one odd good knock – rest everyone has been simply worthless. I wonder, how long will this team keep Sri Lanka at bay.

With Rohit, Raina making no impact in 4 matches they have played – we do need to ask ourselves if they are the best players to play on Australian bouncy pitches and if not not, then who else do we have? A quick look at the squad shows us that we do have Parthiv Patel, Manoj Tiwary, Irfan Pathan and Umesh Yadav on bench. to top it all, Dhoni said that because of rotation policy, he might rest Sachin / Sehwag to play Gambhir in next match.

Okay, we are struggling, but do we have to wait until all hell breaks loose to find a team that works for us. Or we start trying now and start loosing by making changes. And, if we have to make changes we have to make though full (intelligent or not will be decided if they work or not) ones like:

  • Bring in Manoj to replace Raina or Rohit
  • Pathn for Vinay Kumar
  • Parthiv to open with Sachin

These changes may not work, but will do two things a) make other players realize that they can be dropped to try new players if they do not play and b) allow new player a chance to perform. We just have to make sure we give enough some time for new players to perform (consider that Sehwag continues to play after no performance for god knows how many matches) and if they dont preform lets go back and find new players to beef up the competition and not revert back to players who are not playing. Having said all that, we should also consider to bring back old players in case they are ready to work hard and perform (fear of getting dropped for ever may do wonders).

Lets see what Dhoni does when India Plays Australia next on Feb 12.

Where is Indian Cricket Heading

It was in July-Aug 2011, during the Patoudi Series when India lost their #1 ranking to England. They lost the series 0-4 and it was pretty humiliating as it was coming off the famous World Cup win in April 2011. India’s win in World Cup kept India safe from the criticism. However, the dust storm was waiting to unleash itself, yet no one surprisingly saw it. Everyone was hoping that 0-4 loss to England was one off thing. And, then came the Agneepath series (Border-Gavaskar series) and all hell broke loose as India lost first 3 test matches to Australia in a humiliating fashion. As i write this post, yesterday was when India lost their 3rd test match and hence loosing the series as well. And thus started the blame game.

Dhoni is suggesting in a correct diplomatic fashion that after this series he will think about getting the right mix of senior and junior players. What surprises me is that in the article and many others comments he has made, yet there is no mention of how we can improve India’s batting and bowling in the nations where we have fast pitches, which evidently is everywhere else except the sub-continent. This has been the crest of India’s problems since FOREVER and even now after another mini-crisis looms, I do not hear anyone talking about fixing that problem. I will not call myself the best cricket judge over all the talent pool we have, yet I am surprised no one is talking about this or atleast I an not reading about it. I just read this article which finds Gavaskar say:

“I think a lot of soul-searching needs to be done. We need to look at first-class cricket structure, pitches that we play, scheduling of matches, it has to be a really long hard look at everything.” – Sunil Gavaskar

“When Tendulkar and Dravid and those boys retire in a couple of years, where is Indian cricket going to be. Are the youngsters coming through?”
Australian opener David Warner is perhaps mindful of Australia’s badly handled transition

This article summarizes quotes from many great players and I would agree with all of those, it simply suggest one thing – Dhoni and selectors have been waiting too long trying to ride the “luck” Dhoni has had. And, yet their Karma has expired finally. Things do not happen on their own, they happen because someone needs to do something about it. Thinking that everyone will keep doing their job which was half as good as Australia did when they were at their peak was calling for trouble and trouble came calling.

I will quote ESPN from an article

Srikkanth, stuck to his belief that the failure of the batting line-up was behind India’s abject performance on the tours of England and Australia, though he said it was too soon for a post-mortem of the series. “It is the same problem that we had during the England series. In the last two series, the batsmen have struggled to find form. I don’t think too much of a post-mortem will lead us anywhere.

In the same article, Shukla said:

all teams had disappointing periods in cricket, and that the Indian team management would take steps to ensure a better performance on the rest of the tour. “We admit that the team’s performance has not been up to expectations,” he said. “But it happens with all teams. Recently, former world champions Sri Lanka were all out for just 47 [43, against South Africa in Paarl].

“We have won on foreign soil in the past. No one says anything then; all this criticism has been raked up due to defeats in England and Australia. Corrective measures will be taken by the team management so that the team does better in the final Test and the ODI tri-series.”

What Shukla said is perhaps right, we do not say a lot when all is going well, and when things start to go wrong everyone feels it is everyone’s right to critisize. And IT IS. We are fans, who view the sports, who make it what it is. We are the ones who make Cricket what it is. If it was not for us, Cricket may have just faded like Hockey in India (which turns out to be our National Game). Yet, Shukla seems worried about the criticism. I wonder if this is because he was also riding Dhoni’s luck.

Enough of criticism; I believe in the philosophy that if you see a problem, bring at least one solution on the table.

India cricket needs a higher calling; they need to work on getting their home in order. Having spin pitches for international matches is not a bad thing. If Australian curators prepare fast pitches to give their team the advantage, India curators should do exactly the same. But, that should not stop us from getting our international team some practice on fast pitches during Duleep trophy and other domestic formats. I am not sure, how many of our international players play domestic format. But, there has to be a way of bringing up the right talent.

Why can we not have specialists for Test Cricket who can have the edge in foreign soil; time is now to find methods that go beyond the conventional methods. We need to reinvent the way we are selecting players. Pace academies have to be setup. Seeing a little of all matches in recent series, I can say with certainty that Australia’s bowling attack was not invincible like in the past. They won because of their consistency. We need to get our bowlers the same set of consistency – bowl 6 of 6 bowls in the same spot and then we will be what others. Lets have different coaches for each division with a head coach (a strategy followed by many American sports). Let specialist focus on the problem to solve it.

Lets hope someone does something. We can afford letting go of all senior players in a flash. We need the right mix of experience and fresh blood. As Anil Kumble said – we need to have a transition plan to make it work. We are already late by 12 months, but we have to salvage all that we can.

Related articles

Deep dive | India’s route to Test#1

Mahendra Singh Dhoni at Adelaide Oval

Image via Wikipedia

I blogged about some stats and when i was cross checking I noticed something was off and I did the correction. Also, while i was doing the corrections, I wondered what attributed to India taking #1 position and how did Dhoni impacted that revolution. What I found was a revelation of facts that a lot of is was favorable and because of Australia and SA not doing their best and India matching up their worst or just being a little better.

To begin with the correction from earlier post is: India streak in tests not loosing a match is 14. Started on 10/9/2008 against Australia (Draw) and ended when they lost to SA on 2/6/2010. during this period India went from 3rd position (100 points) to 1st position (124 points). Also note that during period Australia dropped from 141 points to 116 and SA went from 116 to 120 points and were 2nd in rankings when they beat India.

Lets see how India, Australia and SA fared in this time period:

Played Wins Loss Draw Home Away Wins Home Wins Away Opponents – Home Opponents Away
India 31 15 6 10 19 12 9 6 SA, Aus, Eng, SL, NZ SL, NZ, Bng, SA
Australia 37 17 13 7 21 16 9 8 NZ, SA, WI, Pak, Eng WI, Ind, SA, Eng, NZ, Pak
SA 28 13 8 7 12 16 5 8 Ban, Aus, Eng, Ind Ind, Eng, Aus, WI, Pak
Home % Home Win% Away Win% Win % Loss %
India 61 60 40 48 19
Australia 57 53 47 46 35
SA 43 38 62 46 29

So a pattern clearly emerges – India played less matches in this period and their matches played at home were significantly high. They just played 4 series against Aus and SA and rest were against weaker test teams like WI and Bangladesh (note Australia was not winning enough either and were declining)

Australia were loosing heavily and given their better win rates in 2004-2007, they were loosing points because of the 3-year cumulative match in the ICC Ranking system. That how even in some periods where they were not loosing, they were loosing on points because they played lesser cricket and were playing against teams way below them compared to in 2004 where they were facing top teams.

South Africa were kind of neutral, but definitely played more matches abroad and had series against India and Australia consistently.

Also, note that India remained on top because their Loosing % is significantly higher than other two, while their win percent is almost same. This means they were drawing a lot more than others.

Overall, it clearly presents a case where India has been more conservative on their test playing strategies – playing less, playing at home, don’t loose and play safe to draw.

Now, if all that was played just as I can see all of those, good strategy to be number one. It is like saying “Let the others fight and diminish their resources and we will come on top because of their losses.”

Now – please tell me what did Dhoni do to take India here – it just happened. With a good team and safe strategy forces were in our favor. I am happy we are number one, but Dhoni did nothing in all this to happen. As a captain he could not do what all others in the past have struggled – improve our performance overseas. Change that – and then be called a Great Captain.

India under Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian cricketer. 4 Test...

Image via Wikipedia

A chat discussion came up with the following questions quoted to me

Unbeaten in test series, t20wc, one day wc, vb series etc can all be somehow attributed to dhoni’s luck ;). btw, which captain has won 3 world cups?

My response is as follows:

India lost a match just last year to SA. The best winning streak India has had in Tests is 2 maybe 3 matches in 2010. Their best not loosing a match (includes win or draw) is: 7 in 2008 and 2009 which is not close to Australia who have had streak of 16 wins  in tests twice – 1999 to 2001 and again in 2005 to 2008.

Also, since 2009 where they have won India has played more matches at home than abroad – something India has not been doing in the past.

Again, I dont want to degrade the test status or anything that India has achieved – simply conditions have been favorable for us in last 4 years and we have had a great team which has not changed in recent era. Something that even Ponting had at his disposal in last decade. This is not an individual effort and definitely our captain has not done  enough “just yet” in adverse of the situations. All the “handle pressure situations” we have found ourselves in has been a result of bad planning. Sure, we came out well – but if we see some of the choices during the match and hear what some of the experts have to say (at this point I am not referring to my analysis), a lot of those dont make sense to anyone. Now we can say – all experts are wrong and Dhoni knows something that no one else does – I wont speak another word on this topic ever again. However, Dhoni sure has best that India has had – no questions asked and no caveats presented.

And maybe it is not Dhoni’s luck – it is simply India’s destiny/luck and Dhoni is in middle of all of this just like every other player is. However, I see other players perform on the field and Dhoni is so patchy with his batting and wicket keeping. Even in the World Cup, everyone around me had lost hope he will do anything and then one day he hits a big one – he has been so inconsistent recently – now that is a result which we cant debate. WC is a classic example where until the elimination round, India was hitting itself in every pressure situation – England, Ireland, Dutch, SA – also 2 cases I can recall clearly were in bowling department where we went down in pressure. In elimination round we did good but it was all in batting department and in those too Dhoni went down to pressure in 2 matches against Australia and Pkistan. It was Yuvi and youngsters that got us thru. Finals – he did very well and he was brave or desperation to do something. Whatever it was is was good as the result was good.

I was referring to Ponting who took Australia to 2007, 2003 and 1999. I checked and found 1999 it was Steve Waugh. So I am back to 2 WC and 25 match winning streak (1 match led by Waugh remainder by Ponting).

India’s Test Results from last 2 years

Year Opponent Result Where
2010 Bangaladesh Won Away
2010 Bangaladesh Won Away
2010 SA Lost Home
2010 SA Won Home
2010 SL Lost Away
2010 SL Draw Away
2010 SL Won Away
2010 Aus Won Home
2010 Aus Won Home
2010 NZ Draw Home
2010 NZ Draw Home
2010 NZ Won Home
2010 SA Lost Home
2010 SA Won Home
2009 NZ Won Away
2009 NZ Draw Away
2009 NZ Draw Away
2009 SL Draw Home
2009 SL Won Home
2009 SL Won Home
2008 Aus Lost Away
2008 Aus Won Away
2008 Aus Draw Away

Dhoni is the best captain but not the Greatest

Dhoni keeping the wickets

Image by pulkitsinha via Flickr

Yes he is Period.The stats say is all – 2007 T20 WC victory, #1 Test status and now prestigious WC in 2011. No one else has done it in the past. He is the first one to do it. Dhoni is the best captain India has ever had; but he is not the greatest. He needs to prove himself. This is just the beginning.

But my debate does not end here – the question that everyone really wants to ask is “Why is Dhoni the best captain?” Many don’t want to get into this debate even. Some are avid fans and others don’t know how to think and rationalize. I can understand the fan because that’s what passion is all about. But either ways if a ration debate happens it will become clear that what Dhoni does is pure luck. Don’t get me wrong, I love this man and respect him for his results but not his ways. But, why he is the best captain has many things behind it than a simple fact:

  1. He has the best team ever that India has played in cricket. I cant recall a time when India had a strong bench in every department – bowling , batting, fielding, all-rounders. This is the period when we have bench in every department and people who are capable of replacing one another.
  2. Australia saw some major retirements in last few years – Gilly, Hayden and may more. Pointing is not playing well. But Australia is no longer invincible. Everyone is beating them left-right and center. England beat them in Ashes in Australia. Why is Dhoni great? If this logic applies, every captain should be a great captain because Australia is no longer in shambles.
  3. We played in SA and lost 3-2. What did he do? Nothing. because he could do nothing. We do not perform well in foreign pitches and we did fail again. In last 4 years we have played more matches at home than abroad. Last 2 T20 WCs we did pathetic – why because they were not played in India. What has Dhoni did to improve the team to play well abroad. Nothing. Where is his foresight and captaincy.

Now lets look at the decisions he made in the WC and lets understand the rationale behind it

  1. Bring Piyush Chawla in the squad when he was not performing. We had 2 spinners with same spin type who were performing better. Eventually the next series after WC Piyush has been dropped and others come in. Then during the WC campaign, Dhoni quoted – “I am playing Chawla because he needs the match more than the team”. With Ashwin going into the SA without any match practice – is that a rational decision. Not but Ashwin did great and it was his capability and Dhoni’s luck. Remeber Chawla never played another match after that. Why did he need another game?
  2. He brought in Sree in finals quoting – “Sree is lucky for us. We won T20 WC with him on the team”. I need not say more
  3. Yuvi was in the squad for his vintage. yuvi was in no form for a WC squad and there were players sitting on bench in much better form. Where was his captaincy to call out lets sit Yuvi out (if not for the WC at least a match or two). But, he went with what was safe and took a chance. Yuvi was man of the series; lucky for Dhoni. But not a rational decision.

I am happy that all is going well for India and I am happy for it. But, please stop propagating how “Great” Dhoni is. He is damn lucky and I am glad for it.Dhoni is where Tendulkar was in 1996 just starting to prove himself. He has at least 12 more years to go to show what he can do for India. Ponting did it for Australis over a long period and it is just getting started for Captain Cool. But it is a long road and I wish he does well and starts to do what makes sense; eventually luck will run out – Sachin, Yuvi will retire; Zaheer and Bhajji will loose their speed and turn. I would like to see what he does to prepare the team for that day. If we make Dhoni the captain of Bangladesh team he wont do that good, but he can be greatest given what he does around him with a sub-optimal team. Time will test him when great guns retire and it is then he has to come on top. It is then the luck will expire and leadership will come out.

Cricket WC2011 – Dhoni’s Googly on Indian Spinners

Today finally Dhoni decided to reveal to the world what is happening in the India camp and giving rest to any speculations. Read the complete article here.

A few highlights and my take on those:

“We are still supposed to give Ashwin a chance, he deserves a place, so he will feature in one of the teams [that will play in the group stages].”

So we know now that Ashwin will get a chance and he is considered deserving. But, the question is is it being too late already? and will he be giving couple of chances just like Chawla has been given

“basically you have to see which was the player that needed this game most, rather than the team needing the player. I felt it was Piyush, who needed this game much more than Ashwin. You want your bowlers to be in a very good mental state in the second half of the tournament, where you play against the best teams and you will be participating in the knock-out stages – that was one of the main reasons why we picked Piyush ahead of Ashwin.”

Now this is a Googly I am talking about and everyone is thinking. Now this is where I see a leader is speaking up. Kudos to Dhoni, but the problem I see here is that he has already taken a huge risk by not giving Ashwin a chance to get valuable match practice. If I look at where India is in Group B, India is most certain to Qualify for Quarter Finals so Dhoni still has two games to try it with Chawla and Ashwin and he can see what works best for the team. The question is should he be experimenting in a tournament such as World Cup? What is all this experiemtn leads to team loosing the momentum or is Dhoni sure that we can get ourselves in the groove for last 3 vital games in knockout stages even with all this shuffling and experimentation?

He is the captain – Lets hope he knows what he is doing there.