Thursday, July 26, 2007

Seniors vs juniors? Not really

It's interesting that the seniors have come under so much scrutiny after the near defeat in the Lord's Test. Kapil Dev has pointed out again that Sachin Tendulkar has rarely delivered under pressure. The Times of India compiled a list of his second innings knocks in an 18 year span, with the startling revelation that not once in this long career has the 'world's greatest batsman' ever scored even a fifty in the second innings of any Test India has won. The closest he ever came to taking India home to victory was in Chennai against Pakistan, but after a magnificent 136, with just 15 more runs for India to clinch what would have been one of its greatest victories, he tried to thump Saqlain Mushtaq over his head for a six, fell for the doosra, and holed out with a leading edge to Wasim Akram at mid-off. Why didn't he just collect the remaining runs in singles, instead of playing to the gallery? Captain Azharuddin was asked the question in a post-match conference, and his diplomatic reply was that one couldn't really have asked more of Sachin. Well, more and more people are asking now if we have got too little from the 'Little Master 2.0'. The original Little Master Sunil Gavaskar, we know, scored a century in that great run chase of over 400 to give India a famous win at Port of Spain against Clive Lloyd's team. Of course, an innings like that comes once in a lifetime, and perhaps it is churlish of us to ask why Tendulkar has never had one. But more than how many he got Lord's, what disappointed was the manner of his dismissals. In the first innings he fell to his now familiar bogey of playing across the line to a straightforward inswinger from Anderson. I suspect he keeps getting bowled or LBW these days because he has become a collector of runs on the onside, working the ball with his right arm, because driving would put too much strain on his dodgy left elbow. In the second innings, he again fell LBW, this time to a straightforward armer from Monty Panesar. He was tentative, and didn't stick his bat-pad far enough forward outside off-stump. But the most interesting aspect of this recent criticism of 'seniors' is that it clubs all the four - Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman - together. Now the clamour is that Yuvraj Singh should be in the team, and by inference that means he should take the place of one of the seniors. It can't be Dravid, the captain, who will make way for him in spite of failing to get to double figures in either innings. Surely dropping superhero Sachin is out of the question although he got only 53 in all. So the axe has to fall on either Laxman or Ganguly by default. That I find unpalatable. Laxman has just got back in after a layoff, he did get one run more than Tendulkar, and the ball from Temlett that got him in the second innings did keep low. As for Ganguly, who has become the favourite whipping boy, he got 74 - that's more than any other player in the team except Dhoni who got 76. Karthick and Jaffer did get half centuries, but in the two innings put together they scored 65 and 66 respectively. So really Ganguly should not be the one to sit out if we go by performance. Those who are saying that Yuvi should get in, should therefore spell it out - should Dravid or Tendulkar make way for him, or do they want Laxman and Ganguly's heads as usual? As you can see, it's really a question of seniors versus seniors.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Butterflies bothering batsmen too?

England has a coach, while India has to make do with a septuagenarian manager who makes excuses for the team: the bowlers flopped on the first day because they had butterflies in the stomach. Whatever the reason, the fact is India find themselves staring at defeat against an England side forced to go into the match with a second string bowling attack with Harmison, Hoggard and Flintoff all laid low. That should be shameful for a side that boasts a batting line-up with such legends as Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman. Or should we call them has-beens? Look at the Australians: none of their "seniors" have either opted out or been dropped from the 20-20 World Cup. If you think you are too old for 20-20 cricket, I think you are too old for any form of the game. Gone are the days of lazy Test cricket. Now you need peak fitness to match up at the international level. So I'm bemused that Gavaskar thinks Tendulkar should keep going for another four years so that when the final of the next World Cup is played in Mumbai, he will get a fitting see-off. Another four years of seeing Tendulkar playing across the line and getting bowled or LBW will erase any positive memories I have left of his batting.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The real positives on the Irish tour

While Sachin Tendulkar has drawn all the attention as usual, the other positives for the Indian team on the Irish tour have been glossed over. Dravid's captaincy for one. He not only made the right calls at the toss but also picked the right option after that, something he failed to do against Bangladesh in the World Cup. His handling of the bowling too seemed to be more dynamic than usual, but I may be reading too much into what may simply be a case of 'nothing succeeds like success'. Piyush Chawla also seems to be coming on nicely, although the South Africans, except Kallis, are poor readers of leg spin. And if two match-winning knocks signal a return to form of Yuvraj, that may be the best news of all. He and Dhoni are the only batsmen we have now who can match the Aussies in power.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Give the bowlers their due

It's the bowlers who won the series against South Africa by restricting them to 227 in 50 overs and 148 in 31 overs. Dravid helped their cause by winning the toss and putting the opposition in both times. It was harder to bat first up in these conditions. When it came to the chase, the main thing was not to lose too many wickets to the new ball. Sachin's 93 in the second ODI was therefore important, and it's after a long time that he has contributed significantly to a team victory. That he also crossed the 15,000 run mark during that innings meant all the media attention focussed on him. I suppose it is natural to celebrate an idol's milestones but I think longevity-based records are less important than current achievements. The bowlers, for instance, hardly got any credit for delivering the goods despite their inexperience. That India won the 2nd ODI with six wickets to spare suggests to me Tendulkar's knock was not the decisive factor. The man-of-the-match award should have instead gone to Yuvraj Singh who picked up three wickets as a part-time bowler and then calmly steered India home with 49 not out. He bettered that with a 61 not out in the next ODI which India won easily, despite the early dismissals of Dravid and Tendulkar.