Lessons from AdelaideReversal of roles: since most people are rejoicing and waxing eloquent on the famous victory later today, I thought I'd strike the jarring note and spend some time on looking at the negatives and the challenges ahead. (I would have loved to drool over the win in large fonts, but considering that Gaurav has written a post on the happier side, Anti has said quite a bit from the not-so-sure cricket fan's pov and BHVK has been saying a lot during our intermittent IM rendezvous, so I thought I'd apply what mgmt folks call the differentiating factor. A small thanks to these guys - because of them, I have been keenly watching the proceedings of the last few days with a view to analyze and understand, rather than simply ride the rodeo of emotions.)
Having achieved a tough goal, I hope the Indians will promptly revise their goals after taking a small amount of their time to rejoice of course. Dissatisfaction and reordering of goals is to my mind, quite important, instead of wading in the present-soon-to-be-past, one must criticise the performance, if the stated long-term aim is to improve and build on the gains.
My biggest grouse is that India's cricket team has played generally two kinds of Tests so far in the last 4 years: one in which they underperform (we assume they're underperforming as we have seen them do better on more occasions than can be attributed to luck) and either lose the Test to general disgruntlement of all, or scrappily manage to draw (this happens usually at home). The other is when someone plays the role of hero who does unbelievable feats of almost Bollywoodian proportions. My problem is with the need for heroism. When we can win test matches with solid performances from the majority of the players and lose only when the opposition does something extraordinary is when we can claim to have matured as a side. This is something I haven't seen all my life - I also want to witness Test match wins where India win with ruthless efficiency. I'm not complaining about the entertainment they have provided, but can sometimes do without losing all my nails. Whatever people have to say against Australia (everyone has happily and in some ways deservedly gone in for a lot of Aussie-bashing - from commentators to fellow bloggers), I still don't think it can be refuted that whatever team they put on a field, it plays to a certain minimum level and don't fluctuate madly. They make the other team play beyond that level for victory. This kind of performance doesn't have to come at the expense of flair - flair is reserved to pull that extra-special feat when it is needed, much like a hidden weapon that must only be unsheathed on thoe special occasions when the team is in trouble. For me, Australia always had only two extraordinary bombs in recent times - Gilchrist in batting and Warne in bowling (I have my reservations as to McGrath's flair quotient - he is ultra-efficient and that is enough to be successful on most occasions), Damien Fleming had the spark on some occasions as did Waugh Junior. Although Gilchrist is almost a uni-mode player, he always bats like a bomb and can't produce the restraint that is sometimes needed. Here Warne was even more extra-special as he could do containment and taking wickets out of nothing. Ponting can also do both modes, but I'm yet to be convinced of his rescuing abilities - I don' think any of his much vaunted ten recent centuries came in situations different from following a 50-100 run opening stand.
India, admittedly has some TNT of its own - Sehwag is a small bomb, SRT & Laxman have done it before. Dravid is showing that he can play in all modes whichever necessary. Sachin & VVS haven't had much success switching modes actually. Dravid was playing anchor to SRT & VVS today and was also able to snap into the leader's position when required - that is pretty awesome. The question is: if we can play extraordinary cricket when required, why can't we play standard, efficient cricket? Efficiency wins over flair on most occasions - flair must be judiciously used. I'm sure these players have the unique gift of combining both. When commentators describe Indians as boundary-batsmen, they're summing the problem up pretty well. The team has to suss out what they must do to raise the predictibility of their performances, or else this will be another short-lived spark.
India not only blew the lead in the Windies series, if I remember correctly, we also blew the lead in Zimbabwe. I was quite thrilled to hear Dravid say in his interview with Espn-star that he had been in quite a few losses (esp. 4th inngs losses) and didn't want to experience that pain again. Attaboy! Spoken like a true champion. Any professional who makes the same kinds of mistakes repeatedly either doesn't care or doesn't have the mental capacity to understand that. We see that happening repeatedly with Indian performances - no-balls out of laxity (and not out of an attempt for pace), not grounding the bat and being run-out, overthrows etc. and more. Mistakes directly lead to failure on most occasions. Most test matches are not lost due to someone pulling off a special effort, I can bet on this. Otherwise, every match would be as memorable as Calcutta. That doesn't happen all the time. After feeling before the last day, that whatever happens in the rest of the series, this victory is good enough, I now feel that (having revised my expectations) we should make the effort to win the series. There are enough indications that the team will attempt that - we shall see.
Another goal revision was: it doesn't matter how they win, as long as they do it. I hope they do sit and revisit this to see why they couldn't win it any better. It could have been much better than a four wicket win. Remember and let not the victory wash over these:
* Australia scored 400 in a day - no excuse, however good the pitch was. * India failed to take Ponting out early, despite all the chances * India let Simon Katich make 75 - wholly avoidable * India was 80-odd for 4 - Sachin & Saurav/Rahul didn't play/run too smartly * Ponting dropped Laxman early * Bichel (despite all criticisms, if he's that bad, how can we lose wickets to him) picked up 4 wickets * Pathan & Agarkar got out poorly * Sehwag caused an unnecessary overthrow * Patel missed another crucial stumping * We had to rely on Tendulkar to pick up wickets * Sehwag stumped himself * Tendulkar made one of the worst errors of judgement I have seen - he is good enough to play with his bat, why does he fear MacGill of all people * Laxman threw away his wicket * The rough outside the leftie's off and MacGill caused a lot of problems. * Australia couldn't use Gillespie much
I don't intend the above as unrestrained criticisms, but more as a list to see what can be easily improved - they are quite obvious.
On team composition: I heard that Sanjay Bangar has been called to replace Harbhajan. I don't understand why. Is he going to play any Test match? Kumble having done well makes it difficult. Should we go in with Kartik who can turn the ball more? Zaheer will be back, and I think Agarkar will droop again - anyway, it's a matter of conjecture as to whether he can be as effective again. If he can work on getting his economy rate down - for he bleeds - it would be a start (no point in saying he is a wicket-taking bowler and he will give runs away, he can't take more than 3 normally, and they can't come at the cost of 150 runs). Should they play Nehra or Pathan? Will India need two spinners at Sydney - do they have the guts to do it?
It helps that Australia have a similar problem. Big-mouth Williams hasn't done much, in fact he's caused a lot of harm by removing Bracken. Even though fellow bloggers have heaped scorn on Bichel and MacGill, I think they're as good as the Indian bowlers. MacGill bowls three decent balls, then gives a full-toss or loose ball - Agarkar tends to do the same. Bichel doesn't do anything special, but occasionally does something - Nehra isn't too far off. Remember Lee will be back in the next Test (almost 99% sure). We also haven't batted first yet - we don't know how that will go. Genuine pace has always hurt us (it hurts everyone) and Lee is pretty good, plus he is a useful bat - it won't get easy. What kind of strategy to use against him? I feel somewhat bad for MacGill - he isn't that bad a bowler, but each time anyone talks about him, they compare him to Warne and then say, oh but Warne is in a different class, but the damage has been done anyway. India shouldn't complain about that.
Steve Waugh has definitely very little faith in his current crop of bowlers. Packing the side with 7 batsmen (is this what Harish will tackle in his thesis on Aussie selection policy?) - an unnecessary ploy. I was always quite surprised to hear Buchanan say that Aus would have declared at lunch on the 5th day. Astounding! Either they have so much faith that their bowlers could take 10 wkts (which everyone knows can't happen with this combination in 4 hours) or that they had to make the match secure. This meant that when the Aussies started their 2nd inngs, there were only 2 results possible : either India wins or a draw. Only by polishing off Australia early, did India open the possibility of Aus having a faint sniff at a victory for themselves - something they themselves didn't plan for. This admission is a huge plus - India must prey on this lack of faith in the bowling.
Well, I think I've a lot to say, but luckily for all, memory failure and the first waves of sleep (having got up quite early) are washing over me causing me to stop this incontinent thought-stream. Please feel free to ridicule or rubbish or point out inconsistencies or misinterpretations (Pardon all typos and factual errors - not checking this one bit). Did someone say something about a cricket consultancy? The last few weeks have brought a new angle to my cricket viewing - I'm enjoying it, but it's claiming a lot of my brainwaves...