Friday, August 31, 2007
Sack Dravid, anoint Yuvraj
Australia plays ODIs with only four fulltime bowlers in spite of having a wicketkeeper like Adam Gilchrist who is a full-fledged batsman. Every team in the world would love to use five specialist bowlers but they don't, simply because experience has shown that it's a strategy that loses more matches than it wins. India has lost two out of the last three matches with the five-bowler format, and if Dravid remains adamant we will lose at least two out of the remaining three. That would mean a 5-2 series win for England when most people had predicted India would win the series by that margin, going by the relative strengths of the two sides. Dravid alternately blames the batting and fielding for India's losses, but it's the thinking that is wrong. What great advantage did India derive out of playing five bowlers? Only the new ball bowlers Zaheer and Agarkar made inroads into the batting. By the time RP Singh got the ball there was little he could do with it. Would it have made a huge difference if Yuvraj and Sachin had got more overs instead? Or if Sourav had got a chance too? In fact, that might have worked to India's advantage, seeing the way Yuvraj spun the ball and troubled Bopara. In fact, having so many bowling options appeared to confuse Dravid who made too many bowling changes after having England on the ropes at 114 for 7. RP Singh was beating Chris Broad time and again outside offstump when he was taken off the attack, for instance. But more important was the absence of a sixth specialist batsman. India felt it was all over with three early wickets down and no other specialist batsman to come, which is possibly the reason why we went at less than three runs an over in the powerplay overs. That's a poor scoring rate even in Test matches. The thing about a long batting lineup is that it works to the team's advantage even if the sixth or seventh batsman contributes little, and that's because the top order is not so conservative, knowing there's more to come, and does not shut shop so early. That's what worked for us in the 2003 World Cup when Ganguly forced Dravid to keep wickets. It allowed the top order to bat without fetters. Dravid has gone in the opposite direction and India is paying for it. To my mind, Dravid has been a failure as a one-day captain and a more aggressive character like Yuvraj Singh would be a better choice. He has really matured as a one-day player, building an innings when there's an early collapse, as in Manchester, or hitting the deck running as he did in Bristol. The two matches in which he took India home to victory against the South Africans earlier in Ireland are among a number of such occasions where he has shown a great ability to handle the pressure of a chase. And being our best fielder, he could rejuvenate that aspect of our game, leading by example. But then, our cricket board in its infinite wisdom has gone for MS Dhoni as ODI vice-captain and 2020 captain. Best of luck to Dhoni, whose attitude I like, but Yuvraj was certainly the more experienced and more deserving candidate, because of the number of match-winning performances he has turned in.