Monday, September 17, 2007

Dhoni steals the whimper

One tie and one loss. Maybe it's too early to give the thumbs down to Dhoni, but what I've seen so far has done little to dispel the gut feeling I had about his potential as captain. But first the positives. He looked calm and determined, batted well under pressure against Pakistan and gave India a chance to win. He chose to field after winning the toss, which gave India an advantage against the Kiwis although it was frittered away. That brings us to the negatives. Dhoni said in an interview in England after his appointment as India's T20 captain that he had been paying attention to the captain's moves as Dravid's deputy and therefore felt prepared. Perhaps if he had paid more attention to the results of those moves, he might have avoided repeating them. India is again playing with five fulltime bowlers, two wicketkeepers, and four batsmen, just like at the start of the England series. Dravid was forced to abandon this composition midway through that series, and I hope Dhoni follows suit soon in South Africa. India just doesn't seem to get it. In general, the standard lineup of six batsmen, a wicketkeeper, and four fulltime bowlers, with two part-time bowlers from among the batsmen completing the fifth bowler's quota, works best whether it is Test cricket, or 50-50, or T20. There may be a case for flexibility in this but that would be rare. One of the reasons the Australians have been the most successful team for so long is that they keep things simple. India underutilised its bowling resources, by not giving Sehwag a single over so far, and ran out of batting resources in both the games. Surely Sehwag is as accomplished a bowler as a Jayasuriya or a Symonds. It seems tempting to play five fulltime bowlers because you feel four or five batsmen should be enough to see through just 20 overs. That's not how it works, because the need to get going from the word go and take more risks means wickets will fall more rapidly than in 50-50. The point is to maximise one's batting and bowling resources, and the 6-1-4 format works best for that, which is why you'll hardly ever see an Aussie team deviating from that tried and tested formula. This means the best batsman on the bench, presumably Rohit Sharma, should replace the worst of the fulltime bowlers, predictably Ajit Agarkar. How could Dhoni have entrusted in him the penultimate over against Pakistan after seeing his performance in England? He gave away 17 runs in that over and almost gave away that match. When Dhoni repeated that mistake in the next match, where Agarkar gave 21 runs in the penultimate over to the Kiwis, I could only surmise that here was somebody who was just going through the motions as captain, looking calm and confident, but basically doing everything that his predecessor had done, including handing the ball to Yuvraj in the death overs. Yuvraj we have seen simply does not have an escape route when a batsman throws caution to the winds and goes after him. In fact he just makes it worse by bowling faster and faster, instead of perhaps slowing it down, aiming for the blockhold or an armer. But then he's a part-timer who should only be bowling in the middle overs, not the 50th over in one-day cricket or the 18th over of a T20. Those are captaincy blunders, and I haven't even come to Dhoni's biggest blunder, which was also strangely enough one of Dravid's old failings in limited overs cricket. I think what really lost the game against the Kiwis was Dhoni's 24 runs in 20 balls. That was 7 runs an over, when the asking rate was 9.5 an over, and it came after India had already got off to a fantastic start, had lost only two wickets and was well on track. In fact, under his influence Gambhir too started playing for singles and lost his momentum. It also made little sense to me to disturb the in-form Yuvraj's batting position. On the evidence so far, I have even more doubts now whether Dhoni will make even a half-decent captain. Would Yuvraj have been better? Who knows? It's not as if we need a brilliant tactician as captain, we just need somebody who will get the simple things right, such as the decision to bat or bowl after winning the toss, the team composition, the batting order and the rotation of bowlers. If we have no such person in India, then we should at least hurry up and find an astute coach with a good track record. India has the richest cricket board and yet is the only country to field a team in the competition without a coach. Even the Zimbabwe and Bangladesh players are better served in this respect than ours.


John said...

About team composition: Pathan should be considered a genuine allrounder in this form, given his modest accomplishments in other forms of the game. What we have then is the classic formulation of six batsmen, one allrounder and four bowlers. We can't whine about batting depth, now that Pathan's back. It would be nice however, if Bhajji and Sreesanth could contribute a bit more with the bat, but that I guess is asking too much.
Dhoni's biggest blunder so far is that he decided to trust Yuvi and Agarkar with the ball against NZ, when Pathan still had two up his sleeve. Apart form that, I think he's done pretty well. And when a confident batsman like Dhoni bats for 24 off 20 balls, it is because he knows very well that he can double that strike rate in five balls. Sadly, he got run-out. No one plans for that.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

john, pathan has to concentrate on his bowling first. he did well against pakistan in helpful conditions, but the jury's still out. to expect him to be one of the six batsmen on top of that is too much. even a really genuine allrounder like freddie flintoff has lost his batting form because he's struggling to get back his bowling rhythm after injury. we should pick six specialist batsmen and four specialist bowlers, whoever are the best in these departments, and then see who can chip in with a few overs. pathan is not among the best six batsmen available to us, and therefore he should only make it into the team if he qualifies to be one of the main four bowlers. we get muddled in our selection when we think in terms of allround abilities.

Soulberry said...

I didn't expect Dhoni to effect changes in the team so soon. Not that he will be able to do it at a later date with BCCI sitting firmly on his head.

I didn't expect he'd do away with DK, too controversial considering that DK still is a rival for the keeper's post. Plus, he is favored right now.

Agarkar too, I didn't expect Dhoni to drop him. How could he drop a Mumboy? Best let him write his own epitaph...even at the cost of a match or two and let his handlers strike him off. Which they did, because retaining him would have been too embarrassing.

What he could have done as a captain was use him when there was pressure on the opposition...bowl him out...Agarkar rarely comes back stronger if he has been bowling well in the previous spell.

Yuvraj is a mystery, but ignoring Sehwag is easily explained...a new skip, ready to be the next captain of India (the announcement for ODI's was made today after the match), why on earth would he give more opportunity for one who is a pariah in the bosses' eyes?

The new skip can do little...he is not yet strong with the board...heck! even Sachin couldn't sway the board nor Dravid...only Ganguly could but some will say, Dalmiya was at the helm then.

Maybe the same situation is sought to be recreated at the test level. It might have been at the ODI level too but for the obvious ageing of Sachin.

Having said that, I would give more time for Dhoni and at least ODI's to assess.

So far, he is either being shrewd and making himself stronger to take harsh decisions later or he is just a yes man. I do not know Dhoni to say which one he is.

Harish Khare wrote an interesting article in The Hindu today reagrding personal accountability and how Indian captains have responded to Board pressures.

On the field, Dhoni will learn better.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

soulberry, if dhoni is as shrewd as all that, then he may succeed. but i have my doubts. let's see. yes , he should have finished off agarkar's quota, but that's what is wrong - it's usually about how to limit the damage that agarkar can inflict, instead of just focussing on the game. besides, it would be unfair for the other bowlers to be taking all the slog and ending up with poorer figures. the skip-can-do-little excuse holds as far as selection. in choice of playing eleven, and on-field decisions, the buck should stop with captain and coach, and they deserve the flak they get if they allow selectors or board officials to influence these decisions too.

Soulberry said...

It should stop with the captain, but these are days when there is amore dominant force operating in Indian cricket than the captain of the team.

I may be ripped by a section of fellow posters but some moves in the Indian cricket scene are no longer subtle.

Dravid resignes after giving it deep thought...Harish Khare's article in today's The Hindu sums it up beautifully along with Makarand Waingankar's article.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

soulberry, thanks alot for the links. waingankar's piece was full of interesting detail which puts our cricket admin in perspective, but sorry - dhoni is no pataudi. harish khare draws an interesting parallel, but i would've accepted that if dravid had quit soon after the wc debacle, instead of first waiting for a bit of success. interesting reads, nevertheless.

Soulberry said...

Will he steal the thunder today?

He better!...But I just wish India takes everything that happens today in its stride and a big heart. It's a game after all.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

a game followed by millions, soulberry. and a true fan never minds a loss, unless it is due to admin that is inept or worse.